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Psychologists Say “Awe” in the Face of Nature Is a Problem for Science

David Klinghoffer


This almost seems like a parody, but it’s not. Researchers at Claremont McKenna, Yale, and Berkeley sound an alarm about the peril in experiencing awe when we’re confronted with nature and its wonders. They warn in particular that this should be “disconcerting to those interested in promoting an accurate understanding of evolution.”

The Abstract from the journal Emotion, where the research appears, summarizes:

Past research has established a relationship between awe and explanatory frameworks, such as religion. We extend this work, showing (a) the effects of awe on a separate source of explanation: attitudes toward science, and (b) how the effects of awe on attitudes toward scientific explanations depend on individual differences in theism. Across 3 studies, we find consistent support that awe decreases the perceived explanatory power of science for the theistic (Study 1 and 2) and mixed support that awe affects attitudes toward scientific explanations for the nontheistic (Study 3).

You mean all those splendid David Attenborough nature documentaries actually undermine a Darwinian view rather than, as intended, reinforcing it?

Dr. Douglas Axe, protein scientist and author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed, hits the nail on the head over at The Stream:

All those jaw-dropping nature documentaries have been messing with our minds.

Most wildlife shows are packaged with the usual Darwinian narrative, spoken in an authoritative tone that isn’t supposed to be questioned. But it seems that wildlife itself, in stunning visual display, is conveying a different message — more powerfully, in fact.

Everyone is awed by life, and experiences that accentuate this awe seem to affect us, whether or not we believe in God. The new study suggests that these experiences affirm a sense of faith in theists and a sense of purpose-like natural order in atheists and agnostics, both of which cause problems for instructors wanting to churn out good Darwinists.

An Awful Blind Spot

Maybe “good” isn’t the right word there. I mean, if something as obviously good for science as awe works against a “scientific” idea, wouldn’t that suggest this idea isn’t really so good or scientific in first place? How good can a way of viewing life be if excitement about life undermines it?

Common sense provides the clearest take-home message here. Since awe and wonder have always drawn people to scientific exploration, any form of teaching that calls for policing those emotions can’t possibly be in the best interest of science.

As clear as that seems, the people who did the study don’t see it that way. This is a perfect case of academic researchers being so constrained by their materialistic worldview — so convinced that the physical world is all there is — that they can’t see the implications of their own work clearly.

Read the rest.

If we could take a pill that dulled the sense of wonder, would these psychology professors recommend it? If awe is a problem that stands in the way of science — meaning atheism — it’s hard to see why not. Perhaps, to put an end to that deplorable intelligent design nonsense once and for all, let’s prescribe it for kids along with their Ritalin.

Photo: Autumn Leaf butterfly, by Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.