Friday, 24 August 2018

Now We Know What Causes Creationism!

Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias: Current Biology

Creationists will probably dismiss it as a conspiracy, but researchers in psychology at Fribourg, France, believe they have shown why creationism and conspiracy theories have so much in common in terms of rejection of science and belief in agency.

The cause is teleological thinking, which is ironic, given that the 'Teleological Argument' from religious apologetics and Intelligent Design, depend entirely on this retained irrational and simplistic psychological response from childhood.

Ask a three year-old why it rains and you might well be told it's because the flowers are thirsty. Ask an adult creationist why a parasite exists and you might well be told it's because Adam and Eve sinned or because God just wanted it that way. Ask an ID proponent why trees have leaves and they will tell you they were designed that way by a creator.

Ask Donald Trump why scientists argue that Earth's climate is getting warmer and you will be told it's a Chinese plot to make US industry less competitive.

There is a deeply embedded psychological tendency to ascribe agency to an event or a phenomenon, or to unwelcome news, which is retained from childhood where it supplies easy answers in the absence of knowledge or understanding. There are probably good evolutionary reasons for this tendency to assume agency. But, as a way to make sense of the world, it is singularly inapt, providing merely satisfying, utility 'answers' rather than accurate ones. Creationism is but one manifestation, being perhaps the ultimate conspiracy theory - God did it, and God has a plan!

The researchers from Fribourg found that teleological thinking was associated with the rejection of evolution and the acceptance of its pseudo-scientific alternative, creationism. But the researchers also showed a strong association between creationism and conspiracism. Evolution is constantly under attack with misperceptions arising from teleological thinking. In fact, teleological reasoning is so pervasive that there is much evidence that it impairs people's ability to learn the concept of natural selection in the first place.

The team identified a number of basic beliefs in the sample, the two main ones so far as creationism and conspiricism were concerned being:
  • Animism - the belief that inanimate objects have some form of consciousness. Rain falls because the flowers are thirsty. Flowers are scented because they want to attract pollinators.
  • Finalism - the belief that everything had a purpose; that there is some plan or objective. What is the Universe for? What is the purpose of life?

Along with rejection of science which comes from the strategy of dismissing bad news or anything which contradicts precious beliefs, they found a strong correlation between finalism and creationism with a lower correlation between creationism and animism. Science is itself often seen as a conspiracy. Conspiracism on the other hand was strongly correlated with animism and less so with finalism.

The team concluded:
Because teleological and animist thinking are part of children’s earliest intuitions about the world and are resilient in adulthood [8,9], they thus could be causally involved in the acquisition of creationist and conspiracist beliefs. However, our results do not rule out the possibility that acceptance of such beliefs could, conversely, favor a teleological bias. Yet, in both cases, the ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘it was meant to be’ intuition at the heart of teleological thinking not only remains an obstacle to the acceptance of evolutionary theory, but could also be a more general gateway to the acceptance of anti-scientific views and conspiracy theories.

It's now clear why creationists continually demand an explanation for how natural selection knows what to select and mock the idea when no explanation is forthcoming. The idea that dinosaurs 'decided' to evolve wings or that apes decided to become human seem like illogical claims of 'evolutionists', easily dismissed as ridiculous. And how come if apes (or monkeys) decided to become humans, some didn't? The problem is the creationist can't get passed the idea that there must have been a teleological reason for something to evolve. They can't accept that there is no reason or plan and no animist intent, and so try to force the scientific explanation into a teleological claim. It really is like arguing with an arrogant 12 year-old who believes himself to be an expert but is emotionally incapable of seeing the other point of view and accepting that their assumptions are not necessarily right.

Scientists and writers are themselves sometime guilty of perpetuating this thinking in a lay readership, often finding it easier to talk about, for example, a flower producing enticing perfume in order to attract pollinating insects or a giraffe evolving a long neck so that they could reach the leaves of tall trees. The problem is, this is understood by readers educated in evolutionary theory and accepted as a form of shorthand for the cause and effect of natural selection. To a teleological thinker however, it seems to imply intent on the part of flowers or giraffes. In fact, of course, flowers produce enticing perfumes because the ones that did attracted more pollinators and so produced more descendants; giraffes evolved long necks because those with longer necks got more food and so were more successful at reproducing. There was no intent or plan driving the evolution of either scented flowers or long-necked giraffes.

So now we know that creationism, like conspiracism, is a psychological strategy which comes from infantile and irrational thinking combined with the view that inconvenient science can be dismissed, which is retained into adulthood. It is no coincidence that trying to debate with a creationist so often seems like trying to debate with a 12 year-old.

You only need read creationist websites and the 'arguments' of creationists and conspiracy nuts like flat earthers and anti-vaxers to see the truth of this paper but it's nice that we now have a name for it - Teleological Thinking.

What is more than a little worrying is that the American President has this infantile level of teleological thinking and a significant proportion of the American electorate can't see any problem with it.




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3 comments :

  1. I disagree with the scientists behind these findings concerning their way to define animism. I just googled animism and found these two definitions: 1) The attribution of a living soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena. 2)The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.

    Do you think, Rosa, that is the same as saying animism is "the belief that inanimate objects have some form of consciousness. Rain falls because the flowers are thirsty. Flowers are scented because they want to attract pollinators"?

    BTW, what's the difference between animism and panpsychism according to you, Rosa?

    I also found this article: https://metascientist.com/panexperientialism-vs-panpsychism-vs-animism/ .

    Two quotes from that article:

    1) Panpsychism is the view that everything in the universe is conscious. That everything from the smallest such scale as quantum particles to the largest such as galaxies and in fact the whole universe possesses consciousness.

    2) Animism is a spiritual concept and it is the oldest known belief system in the world. It is much similar to Panpsychism although slightly different. This is the belief that everything, including inanimate things, has a spirit. The sea has a spirit, so does the wind, the forest, the rocks and the moon etc.

    Do you agree or disagree, Rosa?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the first definition of animism is exactly the one used in the paper. The idea that particles could be conscious seem ridiculous. Where would information be stored and what could be the mechanism for thought, let alone communication?

      Delete
    2. Yes, forests may have 'souls'. Vines sense objects that are suitable to climb into. Flowers react to sudden changes in their rhythm and environment. They have a pinpoint of wareness. But be careful with animism, as a child I went through a phase that made me not want to eat eggs, grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts. "My apple is screaming when I bite into it!!"
      I don't want to think about brainy rocks. I can't live with the idea how the glass industry has been mass-murdering grains of sand for thousands of years!

      Almost all animal species are outfitted with a defense system. But the metaphorical Mother Nature has set some adaptions in motion that clearly ran rampant. Resulting in limbless snakes, overdressed peacocks, ruminant cows. Animals that makes you think, what's the bloody use?
      The whale giants, okay? One can say that they need a huge mouth to be able to fill their stomach every day, but why not opt for a more common size, more mobility and the ability to swallow and digest tuna fish and sharks. Next to that, what came first: plankton food, or the giant oral sieve to harvest plankton?

      Now why should a giraffe's neck evolve to the extreme? Wat made it necessary? Does it mean that during thousands of years there was no food for them on ground and eye level so some biological crane or ladder system was developed? What's so special about leaves from high trees? They are more suvvulent I guess. But so are leaves from less high plants.
      None of the other quadruped herbivores have this neck. And elephants on towering mosquito legs have been seen so far by one human only; the guy ran away screaming and turned into a surrealist crackpot.

      I'm inclined to see these animals as misfits. A tortoise may not realize it but the bunker he lives in is an incredible burden. His longevity only makes his life worse.
      The biological vehicle of the peacock, another example of lacking evolutionary brakes. In a million years from now this travesty of a bird will have such complex tail feathers that the rest of the animal is no longer visible and even a light summer breeze will blow it away.

      Nature is so crazy- the nightmare called Fruits of the Deep Sea! - that I am inclined to believe in a Creator, an Intelligent Designer. Unfortunately He has shown less intelligence than Nature.

      Delete

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