People who feel they have no control over life's outcomes exhibit a greater preference for religion than for Darwinian evolution, in comparison with people who have a feeling of being in control. These are the findings of research conducted by University of Amsterdam (UvA) psychologists Bastiaan Rutjens, Joop van der Pligt and Frenk van Harreveld. The results of this research will be published next month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Darwin's theory of evolution is still controversial, in spite of the amount of scientific research supporting it. Survey research shows that many people have trouble accepting this theory. There are also fierce debates between supporters and opponents of the theory on a regular basis.
The UvA scientists' research shows that one of the reasons for rejecting the theory of evolution lies in the fact that the theory assigns a major role to randomness. An important psychological need is the desire to maintain order and predictability; a need that Darwin's theory is less well equipped to provide than, say, religion.
ExperimentThe researchers performed their experiment on 140 people. Some were asked to recall a threatening situation in the past which they had no control over. They were also asked to give three reasons why the future cannot be controlled. Others were asked to recall a threatening situation where they did have control. Thereafter, the subjects were presented with three choices: the theory of evolution, the intelligent design theory (where the world can be explained by the idea of an intelligent 'designer') and a theory where evolution is an ordered process.
The researchers found that test subjects whose feelings of control, and therefore feelings of order, were experimentally lowered showed an increased preference for intelligent design when the alternative was evolutionary theory. Subjects who were not made to feel they had less control, however, opted en masse for the theory of evolution.
A modified version of evolutionary theory, which argues that evolution is an orderly process, led to the increased preference for intelligent design disappearing altogether. This orderly view of evolution counteracts feelings of randomness just as well as the belief in a universe that was created by a higher power.