Belief in Evolution Boils Down to a Gut Feeling

Gut feelings may trump good old-fashioned facts, and even religious beliefs, when it comes to accepting the theory of evolution, new research suggests. “The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it, if they really knew it, they would see the logic and accept it,” study co-author David Haury, an associate professor of education at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

But, he noted, research on the matter has been inconsistent. While one study would find a strong relationship between knowledge level and acceptance, another would not. Likewise, studies have contradicted each other on the relationship between religious identity and acceptance of evolution, he said.

Haury and his colleagues figured that another unexplored factor must be at work. Previous research has shown that the human brain doesn’t judge the merits of an idea solely on logic, but also on how intrinsically true the idea feels: Could this process of intuitive reasoning help explain why some people are more accepting of evolution than others?

To find out, the researchers recruited 124 pre-service biology teachers at different stages in a standard teacher preparation program at two Korean universities. They chose to look at students in Korea because teacher preparation programs in the country are quite standardized. “In Korea, people all take the same classes over the same time period and are all about the same age, so it takes out a lot of extraneous factors,” Haury explained.

Moreover, about half of Koreans don’t identify themselves as belonging to any particular religion, he said. In the United States, only about 16 percent of people are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. (Religion can be a reason for not accepting evolution, as some think it goes against a god as a creator.)

via Belief in Evolution Boils Down to a Gut Feeling

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2 Responses to Belief in Evolution Boils Down to a Gut Feeling

  1. alfy says:

    It comes as no surprise that gut feelings triumph. The main difficulty is that very few interested parties have any understanding of the formal logical structure of the theory. This is mainly because it cannot be explained in five minutes. It needs some time and concentration to absorb what is being explained, and these qualities are not widely found nowadays.

    Of all people, fundamentalist religious adherents are those least likely to be prepared to listen carefully to the logic of the structure. They begin, openly or privately with the mental reservation, “This can’t be true because it leaves out God/Allah etc”

    I first encountered this in the 1950s when I was doing my A Levels. A student colleague of mine, a Plymouth Brethren adherent said, “I’ll learn this (evolutionary theory) to pass the exam. but I don’t believe it.” I asked him to explain to me, where in the intellectual structure of the theory Darwin had gone wrong. He would not accept this challenge, because he knew he could not demonstrate an error.

    His mind, like that of most people of those beliefs was totally closed and it was quite pointless to try to discuss the issue with them. This why I praised a posting on deskarati last year when a professional biologist took the time and trouble to set out the case for evolution for fundamentalist Christians. Most biologists simply do not bother, anymore than a professional astronomer would bother to enter a discussion with a “flat-earther”. Time moves on and they have better ways of spending that time.

    The “gut feelings” mentioned in the posting are perhaps a bit more precise than the phrase suggests. I think that most thoughtful non-specialists take the view that I am going to set out here. “There are lots of extinct animals and plants that were once around but are no longer here, like the dinosaurs. I trust the geologists when they say they died out millions of years ago.

    Similarly lots of our modern animals and plants did not exist millions of years ago. Again I trust the fossil experts on this. Clearly animal and plant life has been continually changing over millions of years. I am sure this is a fact. This what evolution is about and that is why I think the Theory of Evolution is correct.”

    While this may not be an intellectually rigorous position, as it depends on accepting the authority of experts, the layman might well say, “Why would they bother lying to us?”

  2. Deskarati says:

    Great comment Alfy. Although as a thoughtful non-specialist I have always considered that my gut feelings to be good and, if I’m truthful, better than everyone else’s. But I assume this is a self fullfilling prophecy of my own beliefs. We all feel we are right or close to it and this biases us toward our own preconceptions. Therein lies the paradox.

    Surely gut feelings are essential to the individual but are meaningless to the truth. In the Land of the Gut, evidence is King.

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