A new article published in the peer-reviewed journal "Cognition" cites recent studies that found something fascinating about believers and nonbelievers, alike: both groups "showed a default tendency to judge nature as purposefully made by some being."
This means that there's likely a deeper tendency, even among atheists, to believe that elements in nature were formulated by something or someone -- at least based on these results.
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"Construing nature as created may not solely derive from religious enculturation, the study abstract reads. "Understanding nature as created is rooted in everyday cognitive biases."
The article, titled, "The Divided Mind of a Disbeliever: Intuitive Beliefs About Nature as Purposefully Created Among Different Groups of Non-Religious Adults," and written by authors Elisa Järnefelt, Caitlin F. Canfield and Deborah Kelemen, includes information on three related studies that were conducted at Boston University.
In one study, 352 North American respondents were asked to look at 120 pictures of landscapes and man-made artifacts to assess whether they believed each image shown was "purposefully made" by a being, according to the abstract, answering with a "yes" or a "no," Pacific Standard reported.
Where the study became a bit more interesting was when the group was split; half were given a very short time frame -- no more than 865 milliseconds, which is less than a second -- to respond.
While religious individuals were more likely than their atheist peers to believe that purposeful creation was at play, nonbelievers also ended up being likely to select purposeful creation when given such little time.
A second study included 148 respondents; it replicated the first experiment, though it relied heavily on email lists of atheist and non-religious groups. And a third study based on respondents in Finland came to a similar conclusion, according to Pacific Standard.
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The study's authors contend that the results show that seeing nature as a designed phenomenon finds its rooting in "evolved cognitive biases" as well as "cultural socialization."
"Despite strong performance on control trials, across all three studies non-religious individuals displayed a default bias to increasingly judge pictures of natural phenomena as 'purposefully made by some being' under processing constraints," the abstract reads. "Personal beliefs in the supernatural agency of nature ... consistently predicted this tendency. However, beliefs in nature as purposefully made by some being persisted even when such secular agency beliefs were controlled."
Read more about the study here.
(H/T: Pacific Standard)
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