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Current Biology


Correspondence Promiscuous teleology — the tendency ran a principal component analysis (with
to ascribe function and a final cause orthogonal rotation, Varimax method).
Creationism and to nonintentional natural facts and
events — was significantly, albeit little to
The KMO index proved satisfactory
(KMO = 0.81), and Bartlett’s test of
conspiracism moderately, correlated with conspiracist sphericity significant, chi2(21) = 1242.86,
beliefs scales, (e.g., r(155) = 0.21; p < 0.05. Following Kaiser-Guttman
share a common p < 0.05; 95% CI [0.05, 0.35]). In criteria (eigenvalues > 1), we retained a
teleological bias addition, teleological thinking was
negatively related to analytical
two-factor solution. We called the first
factor ‘animism’, as it clusters measures
thinking, r(155) = –0.30; p < 0.05; involving attribution of consciousness
Pascal Wagner-Egger1,*, 95% CI [–0.44, –0.15], and positively and agency to nonliving entities. The
Sylvain Delouvée2, Nicolas Gauvrit3, to esoteric beliefs, r(155) = 0.36, second factor, ‘finalism’, tapped instead
and Sebastian Dieguez4 p < 0.05, 95% CI [0.22, 0.49], into the attribution of purpose and final
which in turn were both related to causes to the universe and human
Teleological thinking — the attribution acceptance of conspiracist beliefs life. We then conducted a series of
of purpose and a final cause to natural (respectively r(155) = –0.30, p < 0.05, multiple regressions with creationism
events and entities — has long been 95% CI [–0.44, –0.15] for analytical and conspiracism as dependent
identified as a cognitive hindrance thinking and r(155) = 0.44, p < 0.05, variables, and animism and finalism,
to the acceptance of evolution, yet 95% CI [0.30, 0.56] for esoteric as well as science rejection, analytical
its association to beliefs other than beliefs). Confirming previous research, thinking and randomness perception,
creationism has not been investigated. randomness perception was unrelated as predictors. Finalism was the main
Here, we show that conspiracism — to conspiracism [3]. predictor for creationism,  = 0.55,
the proneness to explain socio- Second, we drew on a large-scale t = 17.19, p < 0.05, followed at a smaller
historical events in terms of secret survey in a representative sample of degree by animism, = 0.23, t = 6.93,
and malevolent conspiracies — is the French population [4] (N = 1252) to p < 0.05, whereas rejection of science
also associated to a teleological bias. test if creationism and conspiracism and animism were the main predictors
Across three correlational studies are directly associated. We found a for conspiracism (respectively  = 0.30,
(N > 2000), we found robust evidence of substantial correlation, r(1250) = 0.51, t = 8.80, p < 0.05;  = 0.32, t = 9.65,
a teleological link between conspiracism p < 0.05, 95% CI [0.47, 0.55] (Figure 1A), p < 0.05), jointly with finalism to a slightly
and creationism, which was partly which remained high when controlling lesser extent,  = 0.23, t = 7.26, p < 0.05
independent from religion, politics, age, for age and educational level, pr(1082) = (Figure 1C; Supplemental Information).
education, agency detection, analytical 0.45, p < 0.05, 95% CI [0.40, 0.50]. This Collectively, these results identify
thinking and perception of randomness. correlation also remained significant teleological thinking as a new predictor
As a resilient ‘default’ component of and moderate to high in every religious of conspiracism, independent of
early cognition, teleological thinking is group (r from 0.32 to 0.80) and for agency perception, anthropomorphism,
thus associated with creationist as well every political orientation on the French science rejection, analytical thinking
as conspiracist beliefs, which both entail political spectrum (r from 0.36 to 0.61). and randomness perception. As a
the distant and hidden involvement of Having found confirming evidence finalist and purpose-driven view of the
a purposeful and final cause to explain for our hypothesis of a link between natural world, teleological thinking has
complex worldly events. conspiracism and teleological long been associated with creationism
Although teleological thinking has thinking, as well as creationism, and identified as an obstacle to the
long been banned from scientific we then investigated more closely acceptance of evolutionary theory
reasoning, it persists in childhood this association using more refined [5,6]. We suggest that this powerful
cognition, as well as in adult intuitions measures to distinguish between cognitive bias extends to social and
and beliefs [1,2]. Noting similarities agent-based and purpose-based historical events, and nowadays
between creationism (the belief that life explanations. A diverse sample was to conspiracy narratives. As such,
on Earth was purposefully created by a recruited online (N = 733) and filled a creationism could be seen as a
supernatural agent) and conspiracism, new set of questionnaires (Supplemental conspiracist belief system (indeed,
we sought to investigate whether Information). Teleological thinking involving the ultimate conspiracy theory:
teleological thinking could underlie and was again moderately correlated with the purposeful creation of all things
associate both types of beliefs. First, we conspiracism, r(727) = 0.31, p < 0.05, [7]), and conspiracism as a type of
sought to establish whether teleological 95% CI [0.24, 0.37] and, as expected, creationist belief targeting socio-historic
thinking, classically associated with with creationism, r(728) = 0.32, p < .05, events (e.g. specific events have been
creationism, was also related to 95% CI [0.25, 0.38], which in turn was purposefully created by an all-powerful
conspiracist beliefs. College students (N positively related to conspiracism (Figure agency).
= 157; Supplemental Information) filled 1B), r(730) = 0.27, p < 0.05, 95% CI Because teleological and animist
a questionnaire including teleological [0.20, 0.34], thus replicating our previous thinking are part of children’s earliest
claims and conspiracist statements, results. intuitions about the world and are
as well as measures of analytical In order to investigate the correlational resilient in adulthood [8,9], they
thinking, esoteric and magical beliefs, structure of our different measures of thus could be causally involved in
and a randomness perception task. causal and intentionality perception, we the acquisition of creationist and

Current Biology 28, R847–R870, August 20, 2018 © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. R867
Current Biology


A 4.00 Scale B
3.50 0

-2.0 -1.5 -1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0



2.50 r(1250) = .51, p < .05


1.50 0
-3 Conspiracism
1.00 -4
-1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0
1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00 3.50 4.00 Creationism
Creationism French

Subjective 0.23
randomness Animism


-0.19 rejection Conspiracism

reflection -0.17 0.28
test 0.27
0.33 0.24

Finalism Creationism


Figure 1. A common thread between creationism and conspiracism.

(A) Scatterplot of creationism by conspiracism in study 2. (B) Scatterplot of creationism, conspiracism and teleology in study 3 (z-transformed scores), across
French and Swiss samples. (C) Q-graph of Pearson zero-order correlations between predictors (subjective randomness, cognitive reflection test (CRT), ani-
mism, rejection of science, finalism) and criteria (conspiracism, creationism) in study 3 (line thickness and darkness indicate strength of association).

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R868 Current Biology 28, R847–R870, August 20, 2018