Creationism and conspiracy-theories may not have a whole lot in common when you first consider them, but a recent study has connected them to the same error in thinking.
Teleological thinking is the tendency to think that there is a purpose behind every event. "Everything happens for a reason" or "God wills it" are the kinds of things a teleological thinker would say. Researchers in Switzerland have found that a strong tendency towards teleological thinking correlates with beliefs in creationism and conspiracy theories.
"We find a previously unnoticed common thread between believing in creationism and believing in conspiracy theories," says Sebastian Dieguez of the University of Fribourg. "Although very different at first glance, both these belief systems are associated with a single and powerful cognitive bias named teleological thinking, which entails the perception of final causes and overriding purpose in naturally occurring events and entities."
The researchers used multiple surveys of different populations to study this link. They surveyed over 150 college students, then they used a survey of over 1,200 people in France, and finally they recruited more than 700 people online to respond to questionnaires.
"By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events," Dieguez says. "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.'"
I am reminded of some of the points I made when I wrote about dogmatism in the wake of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally. Notably, how one of our faults as humans cognitively is that we like to form beliefs for emotional reasons, and then we cherry-pick the facts to justify those beliefs. In this case, the researchers found that when people believe that events happen in accordance with a purpose, or by the intervention of some agent (whether that be God or some kind of conspiratorial person/group), then they are prone to see the evidence for that everywhere.
The researchers hope that their findings will help science educators and communicators, as well as policy-makers, "discourage the endorsement of socially debilitating and sometimes dangerous beliefs and belief-systems."