June 13, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

How to Correct a Theophobe

Psychologists are the worst when it comes to illogical theories about the “evolution of religion.”

Another young Darwin bigot has put forth his ideas about the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs. Among those afflicted with a Yoda Complex, evolutionary psychologists seem the least self-aware. A press release from the University of Otago where Dr Thomas Swan deceives unlucky students begins,

Feeling anxious can direct our attention and memory toward supernatural beings such as gods, a University of Otago study [prepare to be hoodwinked] has found.

Lead author Dr Thomas Swan, of the Department of Psychology, says the research may help explain how religious beliefs are formed….

Anxiety is an emotion that evolved to make us pay greater attention to potential threats, so when we feel anxious, a god that can read our thoughts and punish us for them, or flood the Earth, is going to be memorable,” he says.

A rather young and slender Kiwi chap, Dr Swan seems oblivious to the fact that he has shot himself in the foot. If punishing gods emerge from human anxiety, cannot his own anxiety about a real God who might punish sin cause pseudo-scientific thoughts to emerge in his material brain? This would give him “memorable” consolations that Darwinism may help relieve his anxiety. Writing up a “study” could thus be his evolutionary strategy to protect his fitness. Dr Swan takes on the role of a shaman, offering salvation to those fearing a righteous God who left a world of thick horizontal strata filled with billions of fossils to show he did indeed flood the Earth, but also loved his creatures enough to provide eternal life by sending his Son to take their penalty on himself.

Dr Swan fails to recognize that the evolutionary story undermines his attempt to appeal to truth and morality. Everything becomes a fitness strategy of the blind forces of nature. Yet he uses the “should” word three times – a moral judgment. Yes, it is true that people should avoid cults and superstitions. How about his own, the cult of Darwin? How can he presume to teach or influence his readers, when his own worldview has no moral categories for doing so? How did he presume to climb out of his material body to some exalted plane where he can pretend his pronouncements are true and his advice is morally good?

This calls for severe therapy. Satire might help. Here is how the press release should have been written:

<satire> Feeling guilty can direct our mind and conscience toward illogical premises such as Darwinism, a University of Otago study has found.

Lead author Dr Thomas Saint, of the Department of Logic, says the research may help explain how Darwinian beliefs are formed.

For the study, published in The International Journal for Ethical Logic, 972 participants completed an online recall test to determine if a bias to embrace evolutionary theory was stronger in anxious people, rather than non-anxious people.

Those who felt anxious were more likely to remember Darwinian just-so stories than those reading philosophy of science books or the Bible.

“Anxiety is a God-given emotion stemming from one’s conscience, to make humans pay greater attention to real moral guilt, so when we feel anxious, a philosophy that can assuage the conscience by claiming that God is imaginary is likely to be attractive,” he says.

Previous research has shown anxiety can lead to greater levels of trust in Darwinian stories, with the explanation being that belief provides comfort. However, this so-called ‘comfort theory’ has problems: why are there theories that rob people of purpose and meaning when these are far from comforting?

Dr Saint believes the theory also fails to address what comes between feeling anxious and becoming a Darwinist. This research suggests the first step involves the cognitive effects of anxiety, which cause people to attend to and recall threats.

“In our previous research, we found that a moral Creator is perceived as potentially threatening because He has power of life and death and the afterlife. The present research confirms that the cognitive effects of anxiety also extend to the positive feeling that is afforded by a God who offers salvation.

“Ironically then, our research suggests comfort theory has it somewhat backwards: anxious people are attracted, at least initially, to atheism, which may explain why so many atheists are proud and insufferable bigots. A false sense of comfort, we suspect, comes later when some people sear their consciences so that they no longer sense moral guilt,” he says.

The research also suggests other Darwinian concepts – such as fitness, emergence and purposelessness – will be digested in the same way because of how they alarmingly defy our expectations about what is logical.

Dr Saint hopes the research prompts people to develop a greater understanding of how their emotional states affect the information they look at and remember, particularly evolutionary speculations.

“We should all be mindful of how we came to believe the things we do, especially those with anxiety disorders who feel anxious much of the time – they should be mindful of what they are attracted to and why. If they find themselves reading How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses, that may be harmless. If they find themselves wanting to major in evolutionary psychology, then it’s time for some reflection. The same goes for people without disorders who are just in anxious situations, such as sitting in a hospital bed or suffering financial troubles.”

On the flipside, he hopes pastors and churches pay more attention to people’s desires to escape their guilt.

“They should be providing care but also giving people the gospel message before Darwinist teachers try to integrate them into a highly materialist system of beliefs and practices. If they are still willing to join the Darwin cult when the gospel of grace has been shared, that might be a more regrettable moment.”  </satire>

Too late for this Darwin bigot.


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