Järnefelt, E., Canfield, C. F. & Kelemen, D. (2015). "The divided mind of a disbeliever: Intuitive beliefs about nature as purposefully created among different groups of non-religious adults." Cognition, 140, 72-88.

The article reports experimental studies in which we found that non-religious adults both in the US and Finland increasingly assessed natural entities, such as giraffe, maple, rock and river, as purposefully made by some being when they had to rely on their spontaneous impressions of the entities. We also found that, among these non-religious individuals, it was not the belief in God that consistently strengthened this kind of reasoning tendency but the beliefs in agentive nature and Earth (Gaia-beliefs). These findings lend empirical support to the notions that the tendency to think that some being(s) has purposefully made things in nature is a feature of automatically forming everyday reasoning. The findings also suggest that this tendency is related and strengthens, not solely in relation to a monotheistic or Abrahamic God-belief but, in relation to a wider scope of conceptions of supernatural or superhuman beings, which are believed to be able to mysteriously originate natural phenomena. In the future, this can partly help to explain why people so often misunderstand the physical-causal nature of natural processes and instead explain the phenomena in relation to intentions and purposeful design. 

Järnefelt, E. (in press). "Suspicion toward science and the role of automatic intuitions about origins." Rutten, Kris, Blancke, Stefaan & Soetaert, Ronald (eds.), Perspectives on Science and Culture. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.

The article discusses how spontaneous intuitions and everyday reasoning about purposefully made natural phenomena can affect people’s understanding and receptivity to scientific concepts, such as ‘evolution’ and ‘anthropogenic climate change’, that involve abandoning many of the automatic hunches that people possess about the origins and functioning of the natural world. I also discuss how these intuitions may have an effect on people’s trust on the scientists who form and present the scientific information to the public, and how scientists could tackle the challenge of communicating about science to the public in an accurate and welcoming way.



Järnefelt, E. (2013). Created by some being: Theoretical and empirical exploration of adults' automatic and reflective beliefs about the origin of natural phenomena. Doctoral Thesis. Department of World Cultures, University of Helsinki.


Conference activity

Talk:  Järnefelt, E. “The wider scope of everyday reasoning in relation to evolutionary science and personal beliefs.” International Association for the Psychology of Religion Congress, Istanbul, Turkey, August 17-20, 2015.  

Talk: Järnefelt, E. & Kelemen, D. “The divided mind of a disbeliever: A theoretical and empirical exploration of intuitive creation endorsement among atheists in two cultures.” 40th Annual Meeting of Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Vancouver, Canada, June 19-21, 2014.

Talk: Kelemen, D., Järnefelt, E., Rottman, J. & Zhu, L. ”Developmentally persistent natural intuitions about purpose and design in nature”. The Religious Research Association Annual Meeting in conjunction with the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Phoenix, USA, November 9-11, 2012.

Talk: Järnefelt, E. & Kelemen, D., “The Creator in the Clouds: Adults’ Spontaneous Reasoning about the Origin of Nature”. The 2012 Meeting of the International Association for the Cognitive Science of Religion, Århus, Denmark, June 25, 2012.

Poster: Järnefelt, E. & Kelemen, D., “Adults’ Spontaneous Endorsement of Nature as Purposefully Created”. 24th Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, Chigaco, USA, May 24– 27, 2012.

Talk: Järnefelt, E. “Adults’ Spontaneous Reasoning Concerning Biological Phenomena in Terms of Intentional Causality.” Cognition, Religion and Theology Conference, Oxford, UK, June 28 – July 1, 2010.


Invited talks

Järnefelt, E. "Experimental humanities - absurdity or possibility?" Trends and Challenges in the Cognitive Science of Religion, University of Helsinki, Finland, March 3-4, 2015.

Järnefelt, E. “The two minds of a disbeliever: Automatic and reflective reasoning about the origin of natural phenomena.” Categorization and Reasoning Lab, Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, USA, February 25, 2014.


 Departmental talks

Järnefelt, E., ”Exploration of Spontaneous Processing About Nature”. Spring Developmental Science Colloquia, Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, USA, January 18, 2012.