Posted by: paulgarner | January 24, 2012

Following your gut

Some campaigners against creationism seem to think that ignorance is the main reason people reject evolution. Creationists are creationists, they suggest, because they’re poorly educated “no-nothings”. If only the teaching of evolution were to be improved, so the argument goes, evolution would inevitably meet with a higher acceptance rate.

Well, maybe. But a fascinating new study by researchers at Ohio State University raises big questions about that whole approach.

Reported on the Science Daily website under the headline “When It Comes to Accepting Evolution, Gut Feelings Trump Facts”, the researchers showed that intuitive “gut feelings” about the “rightness” of evolution were at least as important as knowledge level in determining what people believed.

David Haury, associate professor of education at Ohio State and one of the study’s co-authors, said: “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.”

But Haury went on to point out that their study of trainee biology teachers at two Korean universities showed that “intuitive cognition has a significant impact on what people end up accepting, no matter how much they know.”

In other words, students with greater knowledge of evolutionary theory were no more likely to accept it, unless they also had a strong “gut” feeling about its rightness.

Interestingly, the Science Daily report says: “For the subjects of this study, belonging to a religion had almost no additional impact on beliefs about evolution, beyond subjects’ feelings of certainty.”

Perhaps what this study reveals is that none of us – whether believer or non-believer – is quite as rational and objective as we like to think. And perhaps – dare I add? – “gut feelings” are a better guide than pure rationalism in some cases?

The study is published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

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