Aug. 20, 2018 (MedicalXpress) -- It's not uncommon to hear someone espouse the idea that "everything happens for a reason" or that something that happened was "meant to be."
Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on August 20 have found that this kind of teleological thinking is linked to two seemingly unrelated beliefs: creationism, the belief that life on Earth was purposely created by a supernatural agent, and conspiracism, the tendency to explain historical or current events in terms of secret conspiracies or 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."
A teleological thinker, for example, will accept as true propositions such as "the sun rises in order to give us light" or "the purpose of bees is to ensure pollination," he says. "This type of thinking is anathema to scientific reasoning, and especially to evolutionary theory, and was famously mocked by Voltaire, whose character Pangloss believed that 'noses were made to wear spectacles.' Yet it is very resilient in human cognition, and we show that it is linked not only to creationism, but also to conspiracism."
In previous work, Dieguez and colleagues showed that conspiracism wasn't explained by the tendency to assume that "nothing happens by accident." They realized that conspiracism isn't driven by a rejection of the idea that the world is random and complex, but that it still could be linked to the notion that events in the world are actively and purposely fabricated. They also noticed that this looked "striking similar" to creationism. If correct, they reasoned, then conspiracism, like creationism, should be associated with teleological thinking, and both types of beliefs should be correlated with each other.