Putting Meaning in Naturalism: The Role of Science Films and Support for Evolution
Only 19% of Americans believe that human beings evolved over millions of years and that this occurred without any divine creator, according to recent Gallup polls (Swift, 2017). Despite overwhelming supportive evidence for evolution theory (ET), the public remains hesitant; instead, many continue to embrace creationist accounts, including Intelligent Design Theory (IDT). While the reasons behind this phenomenon are numerous and complex, underlying psychological factors have demonstrated strong abilities to influence such beliefs. The present research examined how one such psychological factor, the fear of death, can influence support for worldviews that provided different accounts (or absence thereof) of life’s meaning. Meaningful and meaningless accounts for the origins of life, based on creationist and naturalist worldviews, were presented to participants through 2-minute science films with narrations either explaining creationist or naturalist accounts. They then read two similarly worded articles discussing the evidence for ET and for IDT, reporting their support for each theory. Because ET alone provides no comfort for existential concerns, death-primed participants were expected to show less support for this theory after watching the meaningless film. Instead, agnostic participants remained supportive of ET and were less supportive of IDT. I suggest through these findings where communication of ET to the public could improve, not only through how the theory is presented, but also through which mediums. The study informed the production of the creative component of this thesis: Changing the Game: A Theory on the Fringes of Darwinism, a 25-minute natural history documentary detailing ‘niche construction theory’. The theory suggests that species can impact their own evolutionary paths by changing their environments. This perspective offers a greater sense of meaning in the origins of life than traditional natural selection, and thus may be an effective tool for communicating evolution to the public.
Advisor: Bering, Jesse
Degree Name: Master of Science Communication
Degree Discipline: Centre for Science Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: evolution; film; communication; science; naturalhistory; religion; naturalism; terrormanagement
Research Type: Thesis