The Less Religious You Are, the More Likely You Are to Believe in UFOs

If you've ever seen "The X-Files," you may recognize the phrase "I Want to Believe" from a poster in Agent Fox Mulder's office. It's his mantra, of course, but it's an idea that's much bigger than that, too. This phrase may be the common thread between two unlikely groups: avid churchgoers and UFO criers. Pull up a pew, Agent Mulder.

Related Video: What Exactly Is a Conspiracy Theory?

Angels or Aliens?

If you're not interested in traditional religion, try UFOs on for size. According to a 2017 study published in Motivation and Emotion, God and E.T. aren't so dissimilar after all. The study, conducted by North Dakota State University researchers, cites a sort of correlation between the two: The less religious someone is, the more likely they are to believe in aliens.

Not just any aliens, mind you. After all, there is overwhelming evidence that aliens are totally, probably, more than likely out there somewhere. (This isn't Mulder rambling; this is the math and science behind the Fermi paradox.) We're talkin' UFOs, alien contact stories, extraterrestrial intelligence swooping in on Earth — conspiracy theories, basically. If you've ever had someone try to sway you on Roswell, the Dulce alien base, or hollow Earth theory, you know who we're talking about.

I Want to Believe ... in Something

Listening to Area 51 truthers wax on about government cover-ups of moon men isn't as off the wall as it may seem (hear us out on this). Both the Martian conspiracy theorists and God enthusiasts are both, at least in part, motivated by the same thing: the pursuit of meaning. The previously mentioned study found that paranormal beliefs about extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) are partially motivated by the need for meaning, and that this existential motive helps explain the inverse relationship between religiosity and ETI beliefs.

Religion is also something people look toward in moments of existential stress. According to a 2013 study, people use religion as a tool to help themselves "resolve the challenges of their lives and identity crisis." In general, we all just want something to believe to make our lives easier, more sensical, and purposeful. When someone has an existential void, they'll seek out a belief to fill it. God? Sure. Ghosts? Go for it. Science? Hell yeah. Extraterrestrial intelligence? Why not. In our quest for significance, anything is on the table.

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Carl Sagan wrote the book on why people believe weird things — literally. It's called "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark," and it's definitely worth a read. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Why do so many people believe in conspiracy theories? To get some answers, we talked to renowned skeptic Steven Novella of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it on iTunes, Stitcher, or Gretta.

Why Do So Many People Believe In Conspiracy Theories?

Written by Joanie Faletto September 16, 2017

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