The Role of Meaning in Attitudes toward Evolution

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

Document Type


Event Date



Humans seek to have meaning in their lives. Worldviews, such as science and religion, help structure one’s world and provide meaning. Both the Meaning Maintenance Model (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006) and Terror Management Theory, suggest the importance of meaning (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986). Threats to one’s meaning create existential anxiety, which causes one to reject competing worldviews (Greenberg et al., 1990). Worldviews manage existential anxiety by providing order and security (Rosenblatt et al., 1989). This existential anxiety and the need to validate our meaning may cause tension between competing worldviews—particularly between science and religion. Data were collected from a sample of 197 community members and Hope College students combined. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: meaning affirmation, meaning challenge, or control. Participants completed questionnaires regarding their views towards religion, science, and meaning in life. Next, participants read a fabricated essay, supposedly written by a Harvard scholar. Depending on condition, the essay addressed life’s importance (affirmation), life’s meaninglessness (challenge), or computers (control). Participants then completed measures of biased thinking. Next, participants read a mixed-evidence essay on evolution, rated the essay, and completed questionnaires regarding their attitude toward evolution. Participants also completed measures regarding their attitudes toward science, religion, and evolution again. Participants were then debriefed. Our hypotheses were supported and the results revealed that threats to meaning enhance biases. We also found that participants who hold religious beliefs centered on God’s protection and promises of specialness perceived the mixed-evidence essay to be significantly more critical of evolution when their meaning was threatened. This supports our hypothesis that meaning threats elicit worldview-consistent information processing, resulting in more negative attitudes towards evolution. This study shows that when our life’s meaning is challenged, we rely so much on our own worldviews that we dismiss divergent worldviews.


This research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

This document is currently not available here.