Are we born ‘creationists’?

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It seems to have become an established truth that science and religion can never merge or go hand in hand. They both are incompatible with each other. The former proves that we are a product of evolution while the latter fails to make sense of evolution and puts faith in the ‘Intelligent design’. Now the argument of this blog isn’t about which one is right and which one is wrong. That’s a completely different story for another day. The argument is regarding our biases towards creationism because studies in developmental psychology are showing how children tend to believe in the blind watchmaker. 

Pascal Boyer, a French American Cognitive Anthropologist and Evolutionary Psychologist gave a theory called ‘Hypertrophy of social cognition’ which simply puts the fact that we have a natural willingness to see purpose, design, intention even when it is not there at all. Stewart Guthrie who is a Professor Emeritus at Fordham University, wrote a book “Faces in the Clouds” (1993) in which he explained how humans are always looking for some signs. So if we see a cloud or a tree or a bird or a leaf we try hard to perceive it as something even when it is nothing but a mere leaf or a tree. He further said that we look for intention even when it’s not there. Two prominent social psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel conducted an important experiment in 1944 to explore the experience of animacy. They made a movie using geometric figures including circle, triangles, squares. The movie was made in a way as if storytelling was going on. It was found that the participants started attributing figures to people in which every figure was either a hero or a villain or a bully or a victim. It was done instinctively. 

Developmental psychologists believe cognitive biases might be playing their role and help explain why intelligent design is so popular among people even in children. These biases are:

  1. Psychological Essentialism 
  2. Teleological explanations

Psychological essentialism is a belief that a basic, internal quality of a species will never change throughout life. When three year old children were asked if a Labrador undergoing a surgery will still look like a Labrador and not Rottwieler, they agreed. This showed that the pre-schoolers  have a basic understanding of an individual identity even when appearances change. In a way, psychological essentialism is a useful tool because it helps us categorize and get all sorts of other information for free. However, the fact that internal qualities in species do not change contradicts with the theory of evolution . Natural selection in evolution is a process which says that species constantly change and adapt so that they have better traits to survive in the environment than others. Maybe psychological essentialism is why people find it hard to digest evolution theory. 

Teleological explanations is another cognitive bias we have that underpins the importance of intelligent design among us. As already discussed in previous paragraphs that humans have a bad eye for randomness and believe everything has a purpose, this is what makes us not prioritise the theory of evolution. When children are asked why some mountains look like mushroom or why some rocks are very sharp and pointy they tell it’s because animals do not sit on them. Thus indicating a purpose or an intention. Rather the real explanation is that it is so because of processes like wind erosion taking place for thousands of years. It looks like creationism lies deeply in us. 

But Charles Darwin changed everything. His theory explained complex structure in living organisms without seeking help of a creator or an intelligent design. It’s very unfortunate that still many people do not believe in evolution. A lot of intellectuals belonging to the field of science do not believe in evolution. They rather believe the earth is only 10,000 years old. 

An important question remains: can we tackle these biases among people (even among children) so that there is more room for natural selection? Probably. Scientists need to understand that understanding evolution is not a piece of cake. It is not everyone’s cup of tea. People might study it at schools and colleges for the sake of passing the exams. But that doesn’t guarantee any firm belief in it. So, in the simplest possible ways, without getting too technical evolution should be taught to children. The illustrations should be filled with pictures and colours to make it all look very appealing and interesting. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that we are born creationists. 

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