Sunday, September 12, 2010

Deus or Darwin

A universe that’s seen as random
Frightens those who crave control—
They want a god, to walk in tandem;
Faiths arise, cos folks demand ‘em—
Comfort, really, is their goal;
Thus charismatic leaders’ fandom
Sell their brain to save their soul.

With their control in diminution
Some will act to ease the threat;
Hitting on a strange solution,
Lose their trust in evolution;
Try, instead, a different bet—
Some designer’s contribution,
Rather than a blind roulette.

But—frame selection as restricted,
Rather than as simple chance—
Now beliefs are less conflicted;
Life less random, more predicted;
Less chaotic; more a dance:
How god and science are depicted
Determines which one will advance.

(Rutjens, B. T., et al., Deus or Darwin: Randomness and belief in theories about the origin of life, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2010), doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.009)

Rutjens, B. T., et al. (in press) explore the contribution of control-threat (that is, the perception of a lack of control over one's events and environment) to belief in some version of design (non-designed Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design vs the Conway-Morris restricted Evolutionary theory). Control-Threat theory suggests that when our perception of control is threatened, we look for ways to restore control; if science paints a picture that is... what's the word? ... accurate, then we may get the feeling that we are just a tiny insignificant speck, here by the most improbable of chances, in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Rather than being gobsmacked at how wonderful this is, we may instead feel tiny, insignificant, and speck-like, and cast about for ways to restore our former (ignorant and blissful) larger place in The Order Of Things.

This is where religion can come in. Rutjens, et al., though, show that the grasp for order and control need not reach toward religion. An alternative framing (that word!) of evolution (Conway-Morris, 2005) was preferred by Rutjens's participants over intelligent design. (I find it interesting that Conway-Morris's description of ID was "a theology for control freaks"--the freewheeling, limitless potential of evolution is presumed to be beyond the ID-believer's comfort level, and the muttered safe-word "design" brings the needed control back.) An analysis of Conway-Morris is beyond the current post; what is important is that it was control or predictability, and not god that was craved in times of uncertainty. God just happens to be one means by which an illusion of control may be delivered.

But, hey, I can't claim immunity; I stick to the sheltered harbor of metrical, rhymed verse, avoiding the uncertain currents and swells of real poetry. (Others stick to their favorite foods, or music, or destinations; there, I will gladly embrace the unknown!) I doubt (just a gut feeling) that Rutjens's finding is something that is limited to one's views on evolution, but it is nice to have this particular mosaic tile, this part of the big picture.


DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cuttlefish said...

And with every comment he makes, DM illustrates the control-threat hypothesis. An insignificant man, impotent in a vast universe which ignores him, he craves control. Unable to achieve it himself, he latches on to an imaginary controlling deity, fawning like a beaten puppy desperate to earn the approval of his master.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cuttlefish said...

Dance for me, Monkey! Prove me right!

Cuttlefish said...

(Dancing Monkey has piddled a dozen more impotent threats and incoherent rants, continuing to illustrate the control-threat hypothesis. These comments are shuttled off to the spam file at leisure--if you happen to see one, it's simply because I can't be arsed to wasted time on insignificant matters.)

embertine said...

Metrical, rhymed verse IS real poetry.

To claim otherwise is like saying that a woman can only be a "real" woman if she's overweight. Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, just like us.

Now I'm trying to think of a way of saying I like Cuttlefish-shaped poetry best, without sounding like a creeper....

Cuttlefish said...


You are right, of course, and in a perfect world the poetry journals and English departments around the world would reflect that. Here at Cuttlefish U., though, we have tons of courses (from creation to appreciation) on poetry, and not one person or one course where students can learn about verse.

(although I did read, just the other day, a writer claiming something to the effect of "we all know that verse is all the rage now..." Maybe I just don't know the secret places where rhyming poets hang out.)

Thomas Atkinson said...

My other half, to whom I defer in literary matters, insists that what defines poetry is meter. Without some discernable rhythm, a string of words is just prose; incoherent, oddly-formatted prose maybe, but not poetry unless there's an underlying structure.

These modern "poets" who look down their noses at rhyming metrical "verse" and dismiss it as "not real poetry"... well, I think they need to be taken rather less seriously. You are a poet, Cuttlefish, and a brilliant one.

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cuttlefish said...

Dance, Monkey!

embertine said...

The Cuttlefish preferring to communicate in verse
Draws scorn from literary types: their mockery, or worse.
“Rhyming is so Edward Lear,” they snootily opine.
“Perhaps to little children’s tastes, but surely not to mine.

It isn’t proper poetry if anyone enjoyed it!
You’ve dumbed it down! You’ve ruined it! You’ve gone and hoi polloi’d it!
You haven’t made it gibberish, like proper poets should:
If the public understands it then it can’t be any good!”

The Cuttlefish’s tentacles conceal a secret smile.
He’s working on his rhyming verse, refining it the while.
He’s much loved on Pharyngula, his fanbase still is growing:
Reviews across the internet are uniformly glowing.

With topics fundamental all immortalised in ink
His gentle satire spreads with every clicked-on hyperlink.
So fie to literary types; we’re really not impressed:
The Cuttlefish’s timely rhymes are what we like the best.

Cuttlefish said...