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.
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 Some of the citations also seem a tad out of date.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,
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
So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got so arguments to start. Because someone is wrong on the internet.
- Thorpe, P.L., 2018. Christian High School Science Teachers’ Perspective Transformation: The Journey from Evolution to Creation.
- Dworkin, S.L., 2012. Sample size policy for qualitative studies using in-depth interviews.
- Streib, H., 2001. Faith development theory revisited: The religious styles perspective. The international journal for the psychology of religion, 11(3), pp.143-158.
- 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 Outreach, 8(1), p.23.