Caution! The experiment I’m about to explain might increase your belief in God. It should only be attempted by academics who are immune to such deleterious effects.
Got a pair of dice? Before you throw them, guess what numbers will show. Obviously, what will happen is random, you have no control over the dice, and chances are you will guess wrongly. This is bad news. Because when you experience the dice’s randomness, you now are more likely to believe in God. Even worse, you might even toss your copy of The Descent of Man into the bin!
The result of this experiment really do appear to follow from the work of Bastiaan Rutjens, Joop van der Pligt, Frenk van Harreveld who wrote the paper “Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life” in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
These eminences hope that, “belief in God and other supernatural agents can increase as a result of psychological threats such as existential uncertainty…and lack of control.” They “hypothesize that a threat to personal control (which poses a threat to perceiving the world as orderly and structured…) only increases belief in an external agent (i.e., God) when no notion of an orderly world is available.” [Citations are removed from all quotations.]
[P]eople should be less in need of God when order in the world is affirmed, for example by offering an orderly perspective on evolution…[A] highly secular and scientific worldview …should be capable of protecting the person from the aversive experience of randomness, rendering belief in a controlling God superfluous.
See what I mean? If you had guessed what spots would show on your dice roll, your belief in a controlling God would be superfluous! But if you guessed wrongly and thus turn to God, you will find comfort because “Belief in God as a controlling agent thwarts notions of randomness in the universe and provides order.” No wonder gamblers pray.
To prove what they hoped would be true, Rutjens and his compatriots lassoed some undergraduates—the staple guinea pigs of academic psychologists—and asked them how religious they were. They then pestered them to recall “an unpleasant situation over which they had or lacked control” and to “provide three reasons supporting the notion that the future is (un-) controllable.”
Next, some kids were told about Intelligent Design (ID), others were whispered secrets about Darwinian Evolution (TE). ID has a controller, they said, and no randomness. TE was a mess, random from the get go. Our intelligent authors then designed an introduction to a third theory of evolution, one which is ordered and without randomness, but needing no controller (CMTE). And then just less than half the ID people heard of it, and just less than half the TE group heard of it. Finally, they asked the students to pretend they were biologists and to choose which theory (ID or TE; then ID or CMTE, or TE or CMTE) best explained all life as we know it.
Drum roll please, for the results are upon us. The kids who said they lacked control in their personally remembered “unpleasant situation” were more likely to believe in ID! These beset, twisting-in-the-wind kids were also more likely to choose CMTE over TE. It also appears (their graph displaying the results is sloppy—a mystery, since this article was peer reviewed) that ID just edged out CMTE.
Follow all that? Here are their conclusions:
[I]n the current study, affirming order provides in the same need as affirming belief in a supernatural agent, and consequentially nullifies increases in belief in such an agent.
[F]raming Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as depicting an orderly and predictable process [CMTE] 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.
I don’t need to tell you, my loyal readers, that once you believe in evolution (and I do), all of life’s blessings are yours, so that naturally we must convince all living beings of its monumental importance and, once convinced, the world will be as one.
But perhaps you were not aware that the best way we can free people from belief in supernatural agents is to present the world’s operations as proceeding from a comforting, orderly process. Of course, this might only be so for Dutch undergraduates who were able to remember “unpleasant situations” over which they felt they had lack of control.