Tom Aechtner, Senior Lecturer in Studies in Religion, recently discussed vaccine uptake challenges among a panel of experts exploring: Precedents for the Unprecedented: COVID-19 Historical Perspectives. Tom Aechtner has recently published on book that examines why the religion-science skirmishes known as the Evolution Wars have persisted into the 21st century, considering the influences of mass media in relation to decision-making.

The text delves into persuasion research and media effects models to probe questions of why disputes known as the Evolution Wars persist.  These so-called wars represent ongoing debates associated with religiously motivated antievolutionism and scientific theories of origins.  The book’s analysis breaks new ground, because while some literature has hinted at the importance of Evolution Wars media influences, there has remained a dearth of research dedicated to their suasion mechanisms and prospective outcomes.

The book’s analysis concentrates on the expression of cues, or cognitive mental shortcuts, in Darwin-skeptic and counter-creationist broadcasts. A multiyear collection of media generated by the most prominent Darwin-skeptic organizations is surveyed, along with rival publications from supporters of evolutionary theory described as the proevolutionists. The analyzed materials include works produced by Young Earth Creationist and Intelligent Design media makers, New Atheist pacesetters, as well as both agnostic and religious supporters of evolution. These cues are shown to function as subtle but effective means of shaping public opinion, including appeals to expertise, claims that ideas are being censored, and the tactical use of statistics and technical jargon.

What results are new insights into how these communications may influence audiences regardless of whether researchers have unanimously concluded that there should be no religion-evolution conflict, or if scholars have argued that such communications are factually spurious.  Because when it comes to how people make decisions about publicly contested science, the ways in which science communications are delivered can be as important as their factual bases.

Contending that persuasive mass media is a decisive component of science-religion controversies, this book will be of keen interest to scholars of science and religion interactions, as well as researchers of media and communication studies more generally.

Project members

Associate Professor Tom Aechtner

Associate Professor in Religion and Science, Discipline Convenor for Studies in Religion