How Gradual Acceptance of Evolution Mirrors the Five Stages of Grief

For those not in the know, the 5 stages of grief are an observed pattern of emotions people commonly move through when reacting to and recovering from some sort of trauma or loss. It was discovered and formalized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler in 1969.

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It’s been my observation that the historical reaction of Christians to evolution, ever since their first exposure to it with the publication of On the Origin of Species, has followed this model fairly closely. In particular the manner in which, having coped with the implications, today’s moderate Christians increasingly accept evolution into their worldview.

Some even go so far as to ret-con evolution into Christianity, claiming it was a part of it all along. While that’s a dubious claim, it represents progress from flat out denying that evolution is a real process that takes place in nature. Anyway, without further ado:

1. Denial: “Evolution is simply a hoax perpetrated by atheists/Satan to lead people astray. It will be toppled any day now.” (They’ve been saying this for about 150 years)

2. Anger: “Even if evolution were true, it would destroy public morals! Evolution is responsible for the holocaust! Evolutionists teach your kids that they’re animals!”

3. Bargaining: “Alright well, maybe evolution does happen. But only a limited form of it that I can reconcile with my religious beliefs.” (maintains view that evolution happens only within a “kind”, and that humans did not descend from other apes but were specially created)

4. Depression: “I made an ass of myself for years. Evolution was true all along, but I let myself be fooled by the creationist/homeschooling cottage industry. I’m an idiot. Nothing matters. If we’re only animals, then why even live?”

5. Acceptance: “I’ve over reacted. Evolution never actually meant life is worthless. That’s just another belief I was fed so that I would be resistant to accepting it. Whatever I choose to make of my life, there can be no scientific finding that actually renders it pointless.”

This probably applies more generally to the process of gradually accepting anything we don’t wish to be true. Such as the fact that Earth is an oblate spheroid, not a flat disc covered by a dome, or that vaccines aren’t why some kids are born autistic, or that we’re going to need to severely reduce our carbon emissions in the coming decades.

Often times whatever group wishes that we not accept a truth will ‘poison the well’, association that truth with many social ills and other things we hate, just to steer us away from giving it a fair evaluation. This only makes the eventual acceptance of that truth more painful, imo.

Recognizing these reactions in ourselves can be a handy method for realizing when we’re in the process of gravitating towards something which is either true or at least has stronger, more convincing arguments than what we believed before. It only makes it messier to drag it out, although perhaps there are no short cuts.

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