People who think this way are more prone to believe Conspiracy Theories

…and as the saying goes, sometimes the reason is because you’re stupid and make bad decisions.

A recent study out of the University of Fribourg shows that people whose thought processes involve believing that everything has some sort of intrinsic purpose—teleological thinking—are more susceptible to irrational beliefs, including and especially conspiracy theories.

From the study’s summary:

Here, we show that conspiracism — the proneness to explain socio-historical events in terms of secret and malevolent conspiracies — is also associated to a teleological bias. Across three correlational studies (N > 2000), we found robust evidence of a teleological link between conspiracism and creationism, which was partly independent from religion, politics, age, education, agency detection, analytical thinking and perception of randomness. As a resilient ‘default’ component of early cognition, teleological thinking is thus associated with creationist as well as conspiracist beliefs, which both entail the distant and hidden involvement of a purposeful and final cause to explain complex worldly events.

We especially appreciate that section in bold (our emphasis), because it’s a stinging jab at how childish this type of thinking really is.

Teleological conference
Scientist stumbling into a conference of teleological thinkers

And if you suspect we’re exaggerating, here’s the first line of the main text:

Although teleological thinking has long been banned from scientific reasoning, it persists in childhood cognition, as well as in adult intuitions and beliefs. 

Teleological Thinking

“It was just meant to be..”.

“There’s a purpose for everything…”

“The sun rises every morning to give us light and warmth.”

“A banana fits perfectly in the Human hand because it was designed by God to…”

These are examples of this kind of “thinking”, and if you noticed, they got progressively dumber, culminating in a steaming pile of… teleology that was presented by none other than 80’s teenage heartthrob Kirk Cameron in support of Creationism

♫ Show me that smile, again… ♫ …although to be fair and balanced, atheists have a problem with bananas too. We’ll let you look that one up for yourself (hint: it’s “amazing”).

To be clear, we don’t normally fire shots across the bow of religion here on Bullshido, at least not directly. But we couldn’t avoid it in this case. Because the above study shows that same cracked cognitive foundation that leaves one susceptible to conspiracy theories, is also correlated with belief in that banana bullshit.

A banana as “designed” by God, or Nature, or whatever.

Why is that bullshit? Well if you grew up in a banana republic—for our purposes here both a literal one and the retail clothing store will work—you may be unaware that the modern banana shares very little in common with its original, natural form. People have been modifying it through selective breeding for hundreds of years. The above image is what a wild, “intelligently-designed” banana looks like; certainly not perfect for fitting in your hand, or… (AMAZING!)

Everything Happens for a Reason
Even Grandma knows better…

In short, the fact that everything happens for a reason doesn’t mean everything happens for a purpose, and the fact that a lot of people need for there to be a purpose to everything, doesn’t mean there actually is one; much less does that make it necessary to pull one, like a banana, out of your… erm… atheist.

Sources and Further Reading

Study: Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias

RationalWiki: The Banana Argument

Video: Succinct Argument Against Conspiracy Theorists and Creationists

Phrost
I don't write articles for people who read Vox or the New Yorker, I write articles for people who read microwave pizza instructions more than once but are significantly more dangerous as a group. Head Knuckle at Bullshido
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3 Comments

  1. I believed in conspiracy theories once. Then I realized I was smarter than the conspiracies.

    Leave it to those who need heroes to believe in them. There is a place for everyone in the world.

  2. […] Well, yes, but no. Everything happens for a multitude of reasons, not any singular reason, and the drive to reduce anything down to a single cause is partly driven by the fact that people don’t want to think very hard about things outside of their control. Doing so is well-beyond uncomfortable, it can be downright terrifying to acknowledge how utterly random the causes of events are. And even more so, the fact that everything happens for a reason, doesn’t mean everything happens for a purpose. […]

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