A universe that’s seen as random
Frightens those who crave control—
They want a god, to walk in tandem;
Faiths arise, cos folks demand ‘em—
Comfort, really, is their goal;
Thus charismatic leaders’ fandom
Sell their brain to save their soul.
With their control in diminution
Some will act to ease the threat;
Hitting on a strange solution,
Lose their trust in evolution;
Try, instead, a different bet—
Some designer’s contribution,
Rather than a blind roulette.
But—frame selection as restricted,
Rather than as simple chance—
Now beliefs are less conflicted;
Life less random, more predicted;
Less chaotic; more a dance:
How god and science are depicted
Determines which one will advance.
(Rutjens, B. T., et al., Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.009)
Rutjens, B. T., et al. (in press) explore the contribution of control-threat (that is, the perception of a lack of control over one’s events and environment) to belief in some version of design (non-designed Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design vs the Conway-Morris restricted Evolutionary theory). Control-Threat theory suggests that when our perception of control is threatened, we look for ways to restore control; if science paints a picture that is… what’s the word? … accurate, then we may get the feeling that we are just a tiny insignificant speck, here by the most improbable of chances, in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Rather than being gobsmacked at how wonderful this is, we may instead feel tiny, insignificant, and speck-like, and cast about for ways to restore our former (ignorant and blissful) larger place in The Order Of Things.
This is where religion can come in. Rutjens, et al., though, show that the grasp for order and control need not reach toward religion. An alternative framing (that word!) of evolution (Conway-Morris, 2005) was preferred by Rutjens’s participants over intelligent design. (I find it interesting that Conway-Morris’s description of ID was “a theology for control freaks”–the freewheeling, limitless potential of evolution is presumed to be beyond the ID-believer’s comfort level, and the muttered safe-word “design” brings the needed control back.) An analysis of Conway-Morris is beyond the current post; what is important is that it was control or predictability, and not god that was craved in times of uncertainty. God just happens to be one means by which an illusion of control may be delivered.
But, hey, I can’t claim immunity; I stick to the sheltered harbor of metrical, rhymed verse, avoiding the uncertain currents and swells of real poetry. (Others stick to their favorite foods, or music, or destinations; there, I will gladly embrace the unknown!) I doubt (just a gut feeling) that Rutjens’s finding is something that is limited to one’s views on evolution, but it is nice to have this particular mosaic tile, this part of the big picture.