Science, Death and the Supernatural. Supernatural Thinking in the Scientific Worldviews of Finns

Roosa Haimila, University of Helsinki

Science and religion are often pitted against each other (Pew Research Center 2015). However, many people identify with both institutions, and some utilize both natural and supernatural explanations for phenomena (Baker 2012; Legare et al. 2012). Also, previous research has found that reminders of death increase the appeal of the supernatural (Jong et al. 2012). My doctoral dissertation investigates supernatural thinking in scientific worldviews of Finns, and how reminders of death effect these worldviews. The dissertation addresses classic themes in the Study of Religions, such as existential concerns, from a viewpoint that acknowledges the Finnish pro-scientific discourse and the increasing secularity of Finnish spirituality.

The effects of death awareness on worldviews have mainly been studied in the social psychological framework of Terror Management Theory (Greenberg et al. 1986; Burke et al. 2010). The dissertation integrates the aforementioned methodology to earlier work in Study of Religions suggesting that 1) death and suffering increase religious belief, and 2) that religiosity, supernatural thinking and endorsement of science may be overlapping categories in vernacular worldviews (e.g. Sibley & Bulbulia 2012; Legare & Shtulman 2017). The dissertation applies a mixed methods online questionnaire and an experimental study. In this particular presentation, I suggest an operationalization of key concepts, supernatural and scientific worldview, by applying research on cultural worldviews and core knowledge confusions (e.g. Pyszczynski et al. 2015; Lindeman & Aarnio 2007).

The presentation participates in the discussion on underlying assumptions concerning scientific worldviews, and suggests that scientific worldview does not equal to nonreligiosity. Therefore, the growing body of research investigating the nonreligious does not directly inform us of the psychological dynamic of science and religion. Also, the presentation accentuates a vernacular supernatural, which includes not only the uncanny, but also the seemingly natural. Both aspects of supernatural may contribute to public understanding of science.