For many people, the theory of evolution killed their belief in a higher power and the afterlife. This could also mean that they struggle to find a sense of purpose and meaning offered by the traditional religion.

Belief in a higher power and the fear of death

In fact, according to a new study, the fear of death creates a tendency in people to reject the science of evolution in favor of “intelligent design“.

According to this theory, people tend to believe that biological systems and certain phenomena of the Universe are so complex that they are impossible to be created spontaneously, which means that they are designed by some intelligent force.

Essentially, intelligent design is a variant of creationism, i.e. of the view that the Universe and the human were created by God. The difference is that intelligent design does not name this “intelligent force” and is considered as a scientific theory, although it contradicts science.

The theory of intelligent design does certainly reason for the afterlife, but it restores the idea that human life is based on a higher plan:

“Intelligent design says that human life has a purpose, that we have a reason to be here,” says Jessica Tracy, who led the study at the University of British Columbia.

The study argues that many people tend to prefer intelligent design because of a mental defense mechanism against the fear of death.

The study

For the purpose of the experiment, more than 1,600 volunteers were asked to think and write either about their death or about an unrelated issue such as a visit to the dentist.

In the next phase, they were asked to read articles written either by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins or those by the supporter of intelligent design Michael Behe. In the end, the volunteers were asked to answer questions about their religious beliefs and to rate whether they agreed with each article.

The analysis of their responses showed that the fear of death drove people closer to the intelligent design theory and further away from the theory of evolution.

However, this psychological effect disappeared when in the end, the volunteers were asked to read an article by astronomer Carl Sagan on naturalism, i.e. the view that life has a meaning even if there is no creator.

Higher power and meaning in life

So it seems that to feel that there is a deeper meaning to life, humans need some kind of belief in a higher power or being that governs the universe. Realizing that there is no ‘bigger plan’ and our lives are barely physical existence filled with meaningless coincidences can be devastating for some people. We may find ourselves feeling totally helpless in the cruel world full of dangers and cease to believe in the good in people.

If this is true, it also means that we simply cease to exist when our life on Earth is over. At the same time, religion with its promise for life after death gives some people the comfort of believing that even after physical death, our souls continue to exist. It also gives answers to questions like ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’

All this helps us make sense of the hostile surrounding world and feel like we have a certain degree of control over our lives. Since most of the world’s religions suggest that our good deeds will be rewarded while our evil acts will get us punished, having religious beliefs gives us the illusion that positive behaviors guarantee happiness and success.

What do you think? Do you believe that there is some kind of a higher power?

Anna LeMind, B.A.

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    Tiph Hunter

    “Life has a meaning, even if there is no creator”- i like that. I’ll read jung’s naturalism too soon!

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