The “Uncertainty” Effect
Reminding people that they can’t always control the outcomes of situations decreases their belief in Darwinian evolution.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
In his latest blog posting, Tom Rees looks at a recent study that showed how reminding students about their lack of control over life’s outcomes can affect their belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution (with an emphasis on randomness), as well their views on “intelligent design” (which posits a controlling God) and Simon Conway Morris‘ theory of evolution, labeled CMTE (which frames the process as “orderly and predictable,” but without a controlling external agent):
Without the “loss of control” priming, almost none of them approve of ID—or, for that matter, CMTE.The researchers have a graph to illustrate the effect: And they conclude in their paper that:
But when primed to feel loss of control, the students were much more likely to prefer either ID or CMTE (although still a large majority accepted evolution).
So the students seem to compensate for their feeling of anxiety and uncertainty induced by their loss of control by turning to theories about life that reassure them that there is some kind of plan in place.
All this may help explain why evolution is unpopular in parts of the world where life is full of uncertainty. And it might help explain why religion and rejection of evolution so often go hand in hand. Both are tools that provide compensatory control.
although it has been argued that science and religion are fundamentally opposed explanations of life … , it seems that they can be deployed interchangeably to restore order … . As we have seen in this study, framing Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as depicting an orderly and predictable process reduced the need to bolster belief in a supernatural agent. In other words, increases in religious belief under threat are nullified when other (even science-based) options to restore order are present. To conclude, because of its emphasis on random processes the theory of evolution in its original form will in all probability continue to spark controversy around the world, especially in uncertain times.
Heather Wax: Science + Religion Today
Heather Wax has been covering issues at the intersection of science and religion since 2003 and spent three years as the features editor of Science & Spirit magazine.