March 31, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Psychologist Analyzes ID Belief with Emotionally Loaded Poll

Without any critique, Science Daily and PhysOrg reproduced a bizarre press release from University of British Columbia that alleges, “Death anxiety prompts people to believe in intelligent design, reject evolution.
    A contrived psychological survey, replete with imagining one’s own death and then reading quotes from Michael Behe and Richard Dawkins, scared 1,674 respondents into indicating a preference for intelligent design (ID), unless they read another passage from Carl Sagan’s writings reassuring them that naturalism can provide a sense of meaning, after which they showed reduced affinity for ID.
    This led psychologist Jessica Tracy to claim, “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.
    The poll was intentionally biased.  Right in the abstract of the paper in PLoS One,1 the authors called intelligent design “a purportedly scientific theory that lacks any scientific evidence,” as opposed to “evolutionary theory (ET), a theory supported by a large body of scientific evidence.”  It presented belief in ID as a psychological problem that needs to be remedied through education and mental manipulation.  The press release even got the definition of ID wrong:

British evolutionary biologist Prof. Dawkins, like the majority of scientists, argues that life’s origins are best explained by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  However, intelligent design advocates such as Prof. Behe, a U.S. author and biochemist, assert that complex biochemical and cellular structures are too complex to be explained by evolutionary mechanisms and should be attributed to a supernatural creator.

The definition of ID according to IntelligentDesign.org is: “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”  ID makes no claim about supernatural causes or God.  If the authors did not even understand what they were studying, it is doubtful their conclusions have any validity.
    The press release did not define “meaningful,” nor were any percentages indicated.  The questions were not stated.  Claiming that a majority of scientists believe something is a bandwagon argument that has nothing to do with the merits of a theory; in the history of science, many successful theories went against the mainstream for a long time.
Update 04/01/2010: Live Science came out with their take on the story.  Jennifer Welsh, reporter, provided a definition of I.D. closer to the actual definition, but proceeded to say ID is not a scientific theory (“It is not based in science”) but evolution is “scientifically supported”.  The article gave complete credence to Tracy’s study and opinions.


1.  Tracy, Hart and Martens, “Death and Science: The Existential Underpinnings of Belief in Intelligent Design and Discomfort with Evolution,” PLoS One, 6(3): e17349. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017349, 03/30/2011.

Time to turn the tables and psychoanalyze the psychs.  Wasn’t it fear of death and judgment that turned many a Darwinist to atheism – a convenient escape from worry about the hereafter?  Of course it was.  And isn’t it easy for anyone to call their critics crazy?  How about reading the ID literature instead of playing mental games on lay people?  Can you believe it – a “scientific paper” that rules out the validity of an opposing theory right in the front of the abstract.  Who are they kidding that evolution has loads of evidence and ID has none?  Jessica, how do you spell D-N-A?
    This pseudo-academic study is wrong on so many levels.  It was not subjected to any unbiased critique by scholarly adherents of intelligent design or by philosophers of science.  The pollsters could pick and choose quotes to achieve the desired outcome.  And even if the poll numbers mean anything (a very dubious notion, considering the subjectivity and up-front bias), the truth of a proposition has nothing at all to do with how it makes people “feel” or whether it makes them “uncomfortable.”
    Worst of all, the guppy media (again) showed themselves ever so willing to swallow whatever crud comes out of the Darwin culvert and barf it along to the people downstream, never stopping to think if it is even edible, if it even qualifies as science.  Understand: Science Daily and PhysOrg are shills for the PR departments of the Darwin-drunk universities.  When have they ever spit the crud back upstream?
    If Darwin-lovers think they can turn the pseudoscience of psychology on their critics, well, guess what; their critics can return the favor.  Nothing is accomplished by this kind of posturing other than granting its practitioners a certain intramural satisfaction, like peasants in the castle walls reassuring themselves that the Visigoths are not really a threat (05/09/2006, 02/01/2007 commentaries).  We sentence Jessica Tracy and her lackeys to read The Nature of Nature and Signature in the Cell as penalty for academic stupidity.  And we put the guppy media on notice: we’re sick of your barf and we’re not going to take it any more.  It’s not like the good old totalitarian days.  Now there is Creation-Evolution Headlines.
    As for whether or not Darwinism reduces any sense of meaning or purpose, read what the greatest proponents of Darwinism have said themselves in Jerry Bergman’s new book, The Dark Side of Darwin (Master Books, 2011), ch. 4.  Example: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” – Richard Dawkins.  Let Jessica Tracy read the book and tell us how anyone can get meaning out of that.

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