Swiss and French scientists have discovered a psychological link between two seemingly unrelated beliefs – conspiracy theories and creationism. Their results could impact science education as well as our understanding of critical thinking.
The link identified between the two ideas, the researchers said, was “partly independent from religion” and a “previously unnoticed common thread”. The results of the study were published in the latest edition of Current Biologyexternal link.
"Although very different at first glance, both these belief systems are associated with a single and powerful cognitive bias called teleological thinking, which entails the perception of final causes and overriding purpose in naturally occurring events and entities," said Sebastian Dieguezexternal link of the University of Fribourg in a Cell Press statement.external link
A teleological thinker will believe propositions such as “the sun rises in order to give us light” to be true, explained Dieguez. While this approach is not shared by scientists, it is “very resilient in human cognition”, the researchers said, adding that it is linked to both creationism and conspiracism.
Creationism is the belief that life on Earth was purposely created by a supernatural agent. Conspiracism is the tendency to explain historical or current events, like the moon landings, in terms of secret conspiracies or conspiracy theoriesexternal link. There has been a lot of talk of conspiracy theories of late with the advent of “fake news”.
The team from the universities of Fribourg in Switzerland and Rennes and Paris-Saint-Denis in France conducted some tests to see how far the similarities between the two mindsets went.
They started with a questionnaire of 150 college students in Switzerland and found that the tendency to ascribe function and meaning to natural facts and events was “significantly, though modestly, correlated with conspiracist belief scales”. A large-scale survey of people in France also found a strong association between creationism and conspiracism.
Finally, the researchers looked at 700 people who had given answers in an online questionnaire. The data again confirmed the associations between teleological thinking, conspiracism and creationism.
Dieguez said that by drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, the researchers hoped to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories.
"We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called 'post-truth era'," he said.
Cell Biology/University of Fribourg/ilj