Why do people reject evolution? Research reveals that it’s very complicated, with surveys showing that there’s a huge range of factors that influence whether someone turns creationist.

So why don’t we just ask people why they think the way they do?

Paul Thorpe thought this might be a good way to cut through some of the confusion. So he began interviewing people that turned into YECs in an effort to find out why1.

Having established what seems to influence belief, Paul Thorpe makes his recommendations on how to encourage more people to turn creationist. See, he himself is a creationist, researching this topic for a degree from Liberty University1.

The study

Paul’s research focuses on a series of qualitative interviews, hoping they reveal the nuance that might be lost in large scale questionnaires. The subject of these interviews is 11 science teachers at Christian schools who made the journey from evolution to creationism1.

This sample is a tad on the small size, with many sources suggesting you interview at least twice as many people for this type of research2. Some of the citations also seem a tad out of date. For instance, Paul interprets his interviewee’s responses through the lens of faith development theory from the 80s1. Since then there’s been a lot of follow-up3 and criticism, almost all of which is ignored here.

Nevertheless, Paul’s methods are thorough and I think he identifies some interesting trends in his interviews. So without further ado:

Why do people reject evolution?

Paul’s 11 science teachers took a wide range of paths to reject evolution. Some were atheists in the Navy whilst others were already teaching science from an evolutionary point of view. Despite this diversity, Paul found a few consistent threads in the journey to creationism.

For starters, all of them had some sort of spiritual awakening that renewed their faith in Christianity before their shift to creationism. This could be caused by many different things, ranging from family members preaching at them to inspirational Christian literature, but the end result was the same. They were born again1.

However, most didn’t reject evolution at this point. Instead, their shift came when introduced to other creationists. For some, this happened through osmosis from their Christian culture, but many were driven to seek it out by a spiritual dilemma: they now believed in the Bible, whose opening chapter contradicts evolution thoroughly. Reading the work of other creationists convinced them that contradiction stems from the fact evolution is wrong1.

In short, Paul’s subjects came to reject evolution after encountering biased sources due to their prior philosophical commitments. They found those sources convincing and the rest is history.

These results to line up with prior research on larger samples that also found religious sources of information had a strong impact on evolution acceptance. For instance, when Mormon students were taught about how the Mormon church endorses the theory, they were much more likely to accept it4.

So although I may have been a tad critical of Paul’s work, his results seem fairly sound. This raises the question:

How can we stop it?

Armed with the information that Christians find Christian-based science, Paul makes the recommendation that schools introduce it to their pupils early. Specifically, they should focus on creationist science, pointing out that more liberal views are inconsistent with a literal reading of Genesis1.

Countering this needs improved science education, diverse voices, yada yada yada. All stuff you might have been able to guess. However, what stood out to me was how insular many of these people were on their journey to creationism. Once they started down this bath, none talked about reading science-based literature for balance. It was all creationist, all the time1.

So, putting together great resources about why evolution is true might be helpful. However, their effectiveness will be limited by the fact by the fact many of the people who would benefit from them just won’t read them. And they would certainly benefit. Most participants were ranking the evidence for YEC a strong reason for their acceptance of it, so it does need challenging.

They just won’t do it of their own accord.

This has really changed my view on debates and arguments with creationists. They often get a bad rap for legitimising the psuedoscience. However, it turns out these might be the only times the audience hears an actual scientist speak about actual science. Maybe there is some value in that after all.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got so arguments to start. Because someone is wrong on the internet.


  1. Thorpe, P.L., 2018. Christian High School Science Teachers’ Perspective Transformation: The Journey from Evolution to Creation.
  2. Dworkin, S.L., 2012. Sample size policy for qualitative studies using in-depth interviews.
  3. Streib, H., 2001. Faith development theory revisited: The religious styles perspective. The international journal for the psychology of religion11(3), pp.143-158.
  4. Manwaring, K.F., Jensen, J.L., Gill, R.A. and Bybee, S.M., 2015. Influencing highly religious undergraduate perceptions of evolution: Mormons as a case study. Evolution: Education and Outreach8(1), p.23.

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Paul Braterman · 17th January 2019 at 3:04 pm

“[S]cience teachers should be able to clearly demonstrate [that] the study of origin is based on historical science which cannot be observed or tested.” This is one of the foundational claims of the twentieth century resurgence of biblical creationism. See Genesis Flood, 6th printing, p xxvi: “[S]cience (meaning “knowledge”) necessarily can deal only with present processes, which can be measured and evaluated at the present time; the “scientific method” by definition involves experimental reproducibility. Thus, extrapolation of present processes into the prehistoric past or into the eschatological future is not really science.”

We ourselves open to this kind of nonsense when we teach that there really is such a thing as *the* scientific method, met in its purest form in the physics laboratory, and that other forms of investigation are somehow inferior.

Actually, it’s the other way round: https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/why-historical-science-is-the-best-kind-of-science/

    Adam Benton · 17th January 2019 at 3:41 pm

    It’s also an especially silly argument that nobody actually believes. Think of all the astronomy, animal behaviour, crime scene science etc. that doesn’t happen in a lab yet people are perfectly happy with. Yet as soon as something bumps up against their world view it’s all “well I don’t believe it if it hasn’t happened in a test tube”.

    I don’t think lions have ever eaten a human in repeated, observable experiments. So you should be fine hopping in the lion cage right?

realityisdharma · 17th January 2019 at 3:40 pm

Confirmation bias. We tend to begin making all our views line up with the major belief system we espouse. You missed one point. Christians feel that any attempt to give information which runs counter to their beliefs as an attack on what they believe. “a slippery slope”, or “the devil at work tempting believers, as he did with Eve”….. it is no different than any other superstition…. the response is fear.

    Adam Benton · 17th January 2019 at 3:47 pm

    That point did kind of rear it’s head when the subjects were talking about their earlier, more evolution accepting life. People would talk about secular sources “pushing” stuff on them like there is some sort of conspiracy (that even Paul alludes to in his discussion). Of course, that’s them as Christians now looking back on it. How much of a factor it was in their thinking at the time is unknown.

sombodysdad · 18th January 2019 at 5:12 pm

Most people reject the claim of evolution by means of natural selection, drift and any other blind and mindless processes produce the diversity of life. The den=bate is NOT about mere evolution which is just a change in allele frequency over time. YECs accept that genetic variation occurs.

People reject what Dawkins called blind watchmaker evolution because it is untestable and because of that not scientific.

    Adam Benton · 18th January 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Actually, young earth creationism is a minority view everywhere outside of the Muslim world, and even within a good chunk of it (Indonesia has a high rate of acceptance for example, although Turkey and ISIS have made overtures at banning evolution).

    Perhaps this broad acceptance of evolution stems from the fact that, contrary to your claims, it generates a wealth of predictions that can be tested against data. For instance, Darwin himself hypothesised that the oldest hominin fossils should be found in Africa since our closest living relatives are also found there; a prediction vindicated in the 1920s. Since then, countless other evolutionary hypotheses have been vindicated, demonstrating the theory’s reliability.

      sombodysdad · 18th January 2019 at 7:44 pm

      It doesn’t matter about YEC. The point was they accept evolution. Darwinian evolution, ie evolution by means of blind and mindless processes does not make any predictions. It doesn’t have a mechanism capable of producing eukaryotes so forget about us.

      I would love to see you post one testable hypothesis pertaining to the posited mechanisms

        Adam Benton · 18th January 2019 at 11:45 pm

        Well, let’s break it down. Evolution almost follows the structure you might see in a logical argument:

        Premise 1: Things reproduce with heritable variation.
        Premise 2: Some of those variants will have a better chance of reproducing, as they offer benefits in the local environments
        Thus: Those beneficial variants will become more common in the populations living in those environments.
        Thus: Eventually, populations living in different environments will shift in different directions, as different variants become more common. Ultimately, those different groups become so distinct they can no longer interbreed and are effectively different species.

        Each of those premises and conclusions can be tested. Do things reproduce with heritable variation? Do some variants have a higher chance of surviving? Does that lead to a shift in the species average? Eventually, does the average shift so much that different groups can no longer reproduce.

        Each of those tests have been carried out, with the answer to each being “yes”. Thus, evolution is testable, has been tested, and is valid. Further details on these steps, and the examples of them being validated, can be found in the website from Berkley I linked in this post; found here.

        sombodysdad · 19th January 2019 at 3:05 pm

        Holy shit- YECs agree with what you posted, Adam. That means it has NOTHING to do with evolution by means of blind and mindless processes. Clearly you are just an equivocating fool.

        Good luck with that

        Adam Benton · 19th January 2019 at 6:30 pm

        Except that those principles of evolution I listed above are the inevitable, natural consequences of certain criteria being met. If animals reproduce with some inheritable variation that influences survival, species will change. No mind or direction is needed, like in any other natural process. Water inevitably, mindlessly, turns to ice in certain situations. Animals change in others.

        Of course, the fact that creationists actually accept this sort of “mindless” evolution highlights the absurdity of their rejection of evolution in other scenarios. Imagine making the same objects to other natural processes, like ice formation. “Oh yes, water will turn to ice. But to form a whole iceberg? Impossible, they must be the result of magic. No way mindless ice could cause such drastic formations”.

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