Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Death anxiety' prompts people to believe in intelligent design, reject evolution, study suggests

Date:
May 23, 2011
Source:
University of British Columbia
Summary:
Researchers have found that people's 'death anxiety' can influence them to support theories of intelligent design and reject evolutionary theory.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.) have found that people's 'death anxiety' can influence them to support theories of intelligent design and reject evolutionary theory.

Existential anxiety also prompted people to report increased liking for Michael Behe, intelligent design's main proponent, and increased disliking for evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

The lead author is UBC Psychology Asst. Prof. Jessica Tracy with co-authors Joshua Hart, assistant professor of psychology at Union College, and UBC psychology PhD student Jason Martens.

Published in the March 30 issue of the journal PLoS ONE, their paper is the first to examine the implicit psychological motives that underpin one of the most heated debates in North America. Despite scientific consensus that intelligent design theory is inherently unscientific, 25 per cent of high school biology teachers in the U.S. devote at least some class time to the topic of intelligent design. And in Canada, for example, Alberta passed a law in 2009 that may allow parents to remove children from courses covering evolution.

British evolutionary biologist Prof. Dawkins, like the majority of scientists, argues that life's origins are best explained by Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. However, intelligent design advocates such as Prof. Behe, a U.S. author and biochemist, assert that complex biochemical and cellular structures are too complex to be explained by evolutionary mechanisms and should be attributed to a supernatural creator.

"Our results suggest that when confronted with existential concerns, people respond by searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life," says Tracy. "For many, it appears that evolutionary theory doesn't offer enough of a compelling answer to deal with these big questions."

The researchers carried out five studies with 1,674 U.S. and Canadian participants of different ages and a broad range of educational, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

In each study, participants were asked to imagine their own death and write about their subsequent thoughts and feelings, or they were assigned to a control condition: imagining dental pain and writing about that.

The participants were then asked to read two similarly styled, 174-word excerpts from the writings of Behe and Dawkins, which make no mention of religion or belief, but describe the scientific and empirical support for their respective positions.

After going through these steps, participants who imagined their own death showed greater support for intelligent design and greater liking for Behe, or a rejection of evolution theory coupled with disliking for Dawkins, compared to participants in the control condition.

However, the research team saw reversed effects during the fourth study which had a new condition. Along with writings by Behe and Dawkins, there was an additional passage by Carl Sagan. A cosmologist and science writer, Sagan argues that naturalism -- the scientific approach that underlies evolution, but not intelligent design -- can also provide a sense of meaning. In response, these participants showed reduced belief in intelligent design after being reminded of their own mortality.

Tracy says, "These findings suggest that individuals can come to see evolution as a meaningful solution to existential concerns, but may need to be explicitly taught that taking a naturalistic approach to understanding life can be highly meaningful."

Similar results emerged in the fifth study, carried out entirely with natural science students at graduate and undergraduate levels. After thinking about death, these participants also showed greater support for the theory of evolution and liking of Dawkins, compared to control participants.

The researchers say these findings indicate a possible means of encouraging students to accept evolution and reject intelligent design.

"Natural science students have been taught to view evolutionary theory as compatible with the desire to find a greater sense of meaning in life," says Tracy. "Presumably, they already attain a sense of existential meaning from evolution."

The study received support from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jessica L. Tracy, Joshua Hart, Jason P. Martens. Death and Science: The Existential Underpinnings of Belief in Intelligent Design and Discomfort with Evolution. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (3): e17349 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017349

Cite This Page:

University of British Columbia. "'Death anxiety' prompts people to believe in intelligent design, reject evolution, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110330192201.htm>.
University of British Columbia. (2011, May 23). 'Death anxiety' prompts people to believe in intelligent design, reject evolution, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110330192201.htm
University of British Columbia. "'Death anxiety' prompts people to believe in intelligent design, reject evolution, study suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110330192201.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Mother And Son Find Woolly Mammoth Tusks 22 Years Apart

Newsy (Aug. 15, 2014) A mother and son in Alaska uncovered woolly mammoth tusks in the same river more than two decades apart. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Fossils Reveal Ancient Flying Reptile With 'Butterfly Head'

Newsy (Aug. 14, 2014) Newly found fossils reveal a previously unknown species of flying reptile with a really weird head, which some say looks like a butterfly. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

Clearing WWII's Explosive Legacy in the Pacific

AFP (Aug. 11, 2014) The hulks of tanks can still be found rusting in the jungles of Palau, but the fierce fighting that scarred the Pacific island nation in WWII has left a more dangerous legacy - unexploded bombs that pose a constant risk to locals. Duration: 00:47 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins