Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do people reject evolution because it unnerves them?


Do people reject evolution because it unnerves them?

Posted: 25 Oct 2010 11:03 AM PDT

Do you ever get the feeling that one reason a lot of people can’t stomach the theory of natural selection is that they hate the idea that everything we see around us is the result of blind chance? Hostility to the notion of chance is certainly a recurrent theme in creationist objections.

Of course, evolution by natural selection is not really evolution by chance, as the creationists claim. But even so chance does play a role. Stephen Gould, in many of his essays, repeatedly drove home the importance of chance (or rather, contingency) in evolution. As he argued in the essay “Eight little piggies“, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason that we have five fingers, rather than 6, or 7, or 8. That’s just the cards we drew.


But there is another perspective, championed recently by Simon Conway Morris in his book Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. He emphasises rather more the many occasions of convergent evolution, and makes the controversial case that the development of sentient life was more-or-less inevitable – in flat contradiction to Stephen Gould.

I say all this by way of introduction to a rather intriguing study by Bastiaan Rutjens, at the University of Amsterdam. Along with his colleagues, he’s been looking at how threatening people’s sense of personal control can change their attitudes.

He takes his inspiration from Aaron Kay, at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, who has shown that making people feel like they are not in control causes them to activate beliefs that restore their sense that something, at least, is in control – like a belief in a controlling God, or support for a strong government. It’s a theory called compensatory control.

What Rutjens did was to prime students (140 in total) by asking half of them to write about a bad experience when they did not feel in control, and also to give three reasons why the future is not controllable. The other half did a similar task, but emphasising and reinforcing their sense of control.

Next, they were given three short descriptions of various theories of evolution, and asked which one they thought more likely to be true. The three theories were Intelligent Design (ID), the Theory of Evolution but emphasising its randomness (TE), and the “Conway Morris” Theory of Evolution (CMTE).

The graph shows what they found. Now, remember this is The Netherlands, so most of the students were pretty godless. Without the ‘loss of control’ priming, almost none of them approve of ID – or, for that matter, CMTE.

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.

But what’s really interesting is that ID and CMTE seem to be interchangeable. I wonder if presenting Darwinian evolution in CMTE terms might help to get religious people on board. After all, Conway Morris is himself a Christian, which has perhaps influenced his views on evolution!


ResearchBlogging.orgRutjens, B., van der Pligt, J., & van Harreveld, F. (2010). Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (6), 1078-1080 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.009

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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Bundle of Joy: 10/25/10 Atheist Cartoon

Posted: 25 Oct 2010 10:55 AM PDT

Debate on abortion should be about education, not religion

Posted: 25 Oct 2010 10:53 AM PDT

The debate on abortion is too often polarised and ill-informed, and should be about better education and not focused on religion, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has said today. The BHA has called for open and objective discussion in this week which marks the 43rd anniversary of the Abortion Act, which legalised abortion in Great Britain. The BHA has made its comments in light of actions by an anti-choice Christian campaigning group, which will be placing adverts on buses and holding events during the week, including a prayer vigil outside parliament.

Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, commented, ‘The debate around abortion is often polarised and ill-informed, with very vocal and strongly anti-choice Christian groups seeking to change the law and take away women’s legal right to access safe abortion. Those views, however, are not representative and surveys often show that there is large agreement in the population towards social, ethical and medical issues such as abortion, regardless of respondents’ religious or non-religious beliefs, with majorities supporting more progressive, liberal perspectives.

‘If there is misunderstanding about the facts on abortion it is not really surprising, given the lack of quality education on it. The inclusion of compulsory Sex and Relationships Education in the curriculum for all state-funded schools was dropped from legislation just before the election. For many students the only information they receive about abortion in schools is highly subjective and provided by well-funded, anti-choice organisations. Moreover, it was only earlier this year that the first television advert was broadcast to give women information about the options they have following an unwanted pregnancy.

‘Women in Great Britain have been able to access safe and legal abortions from the NHS or privately since the 1970s and the anniversary this week of the Abortion Act should be used to promote honest, open and objective discussion of issues about abortion.’

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Gentiles: Born to Serve

Posted: 24 Oct 2010 06:47 PM PDT

If you read and listen to only American news sources, you missed some important information about the meaning of your life that appeared the Israeli press last week. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, one of the most influential God experts in Israel, had the following words of wisdom about people who lack the good fortune to be Jewish:

“Goyim non-Jews were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.”

“Why are Gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an aristocrat and eat. That is why Gentiles were created.”

“With Gentiles it will be like any person, they need to die but God will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die. They would lose profit. Their donkey is their servant. The Goyim is like a donkey to the Jews, they exist only to serve and are only allowed by God to live a long life because they are the beast of burden of the Jews. Were the Goyim to stop serving Jews, God would end their lives.”

If Rabbi Yosef were just a lone wacko, that would be one thing. But he’s not. He’s the “spiritual advisor” to the Shas party, a critical component of the coalition keeping Prime Minister Netanyahu in power, holding no less than four Israeli cabinet posts (an impressive ratio for a party that only won 11 Knesset seats). He served for ten years as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, and has won the “Israel Prize” for his theological writing. In 2004, Israel’s second-largest newspaper named him one of the most influential rabbis in the country; the following year, after Hurricane Katrina, he expounded on the sufferings of the Gentiles:

There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn’t enough Torah study. … Black people reside there in New Orleans. Blacks will study the Torah? God said, ‘Let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.’ … Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God. … Bush was behind the expulsion of the Jews of Gaza, he encouraged Sharon to expel the Jews of Gaza … We had 15,000 people expelled here in Israel, and there in America 150,000 were expelled. It was God’s retribution. … God does not short-change anyone.

Rabbi Yosef knows his Bible. The ninth chapter of the book of Joshua is God’s commandment for the Gentiles of the world to serve the Jews. When Joshua led his armies through Palestine, his routine practice was to exterminate every man, woman, and child in the cities he conquered; this is what he did, for example, after his conquest of Jericho. So residents of nearby cities, who did not wish to be exterminated, tried a ruse. They appeared before Joshua, pretending they were from far away, and asked that their lives and those of their wives and children be spared. Joshua granted this request, only to discover that these cities were high on his annihilation list. So he kept his word not to exterminate their entire population, but only on the condition that “Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God. … And Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation, and for the altar of the Lord, even unto this day, in the place which he should choose.” In the book of Leviticus, God ordered the Jews to make slaves of the non-Jews around them:

Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen forever: but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor.

God also dictated helpful rules about how Gentile slaves should be treated: “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.”

Though the Jews lost political control of Palestine in 64 BC, that did nothing to soften Jewish God expert disdain for Gentiles. The Talmud, a compendium of Jewish teaching compiled starting in the 3rd century AD, provided a detailed slave code, while commanding among other things that:

• If a Gentile strikes a Jew, the Gentile must be killed.
• A Jew need not pay a Gentile the wages owed him for work.
• If the ox of a Jew gores the ox of a Gentile there is no liability; but if the ox of a Gentile gores the ox of a Jew the payment is to be in full.
• If a Jew finds an object lost by a Gentile it does not have to be returned.
• When a Gentile murders a Gentile or a Jew, there must be due punishment; but when a Jew murders a Gentile, there will be no death penalty.
• Whatever a Jew steals from a Gentile the Jew is entitled to keep.
• Those who read “uncanonical” books (e.g., the books of the New Testament) will have no part in the world to come.
• Don’t leave your cattle with Gentiles, because Gentiles have sex with cattle.

Today we are in a new era of Jewish rule over Palestine, and little has changed. The sustained Israeli exterminations of Gentiles, such as at Deir Yasin in 1948, were relatively few, but sufficed to terrify most of the original residents of the land into fleeing for their lives. Those who remain behind are essentially “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for the Israeli occupiers, as Rabbi Yosef wants them to be.

Rabbi Yosef tells it like it is. America, which is 98% Gentile, goes deeper into debt by billions of dollars every year so we can fork over money to support Rabbi Yosef and the Jewish State of Israel. We work, we plow, we reap, and they sit like aristocrats and eat. We are “like a donkey” to the Jews, so that God will not end our lives. When asked to comment on Rabbi Yosef’s insight, President Barack Obama, on behalf of all Americans, responded:

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