Fear death, dislike Dawkins according to reports in PLoS ONE 31 March 2011 and ScienceDaily 23 May 2011. Psychologists from University of British Columbia and Union College, Schenectady, N.Y. have carried out a series of studies to see why people believe in Intelligent Design rather than evolution, in spite of the way ID is condemned as being unscientific by the mainstream scientific community, including by these researchers. They wanted to test the idea that Intelligent Design provided “an explanation of life’s origins that better addresses existential concerns than evolutionary theory”. By “existential concerns” they mean being confronted with one’s own mortality.

Participants were first asked either to imagine their own deaths and write about it, or to imagine dental pain and write about that. The participants were then given brief descriptions of Intelligent Design and Evolution from the writings of two main proponents of these ideas – Michael Behe for Intelligent Design and Richard Dawkins for Evolution. The descriptions dealt only with scientific aspects of the theories, without any religious or philosophical claims. Study participants were then asked to indicate liking or disliking for both the theories and the writers, i.e. Behe and Dawkins. Those who had been confronted with their own death were more inclined to favour ID and Behe, and reject evolution and Dawkins, compared with those confronted with the unpleasant, but not life threatening, experience. Jessica Tracy, who led the studies, commented: “Our results suggest that when confronted with existential concerns, people respond by searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life. For many, it appears that evolutionary theory doesn’t offer enough of a compelling answer to deal with these big questions”.

Having obtained similar results with three groups of participants of widespread religious, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, the researchers carried out the same study with a group of psychology students, but with an extra step, described by the research team as “teaching participants that naturalism can be a source of existential meaning”. The “teaching” consisted of getting them to read a paragraph from Carl Sagan’s writings where he states; the belief that people are nothing but atoms gives meaning to life because “We make our purpose. And we have to work out what that is, for ourselves”. This group was more inclined to evolution than Intelligent Design. Tracy commented: “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”.

PLoS ONE, ScienceDaily

Editorial Comment: In spite of the much publicised views of Dawkins, deep down people know there is more to human life that just the material world, and being confronted with death brings that out. People know there is something inherently unnatural about death, but if evolution is true then death has to be accepted as just a natural part of life, and there is nothing that can be done about it, and whatever purpose we make for ourselves vanishes when we die.

The Biblical record in Genesis tells us the real “why” about how death came into the world; it’s not a physical necessity, but a moral penalty for disobeying our Creator. The remainder of the Biblical account is about how this moral penalty has been paid by the singular death of the sinless Lord Jesus Christ. So the good news is that all who put their faith in Him will also find purpose meaning in this life by knowing the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and better yet, the Christian need never fear death as God’s gift is eternal life in a brand new body in new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells.

Carl Sagan departed this life in 1996 and would have quickly learned evolution and materialism are not the answer to the search for meaning as he faced the God who is not only Creator but the Judge of all men. (Ref. mortality, philosophy, world-view)

Evidence News 9 June 2011