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Why do some people reject evolution?

May 6th, 2007 · Posted by Who Knows? · 7 Comments

Yup, here goes. Lets see if I can tackle something like this without letting it get time-consuming…

For my international readers, a little background on why this relevant to me: I’m studying at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Stellenbosch is situated about 50km from Cape Town. The town is host not only to a University, but also to a diversity of churches. Apparently there are more than 30 Christian congregations of various denominations. Many of these (I’m being optimistic here) are not in conflict with science, rational thought, and critical thinking, but a couple are, and pride themselves in it. In certain groups of friends, the greater majority rejects evolution and embraces young earth creationism (and most of the rest are not prepared to stand up for evolution). Some embrace the “fundamentalism” label as something positive. (Maybe in a similar way as I might embrace “geeky” or “nerdy”, using some specific definitions of those words, but rejecting others.) There was some controversy at the beginning of the year, when the student newspaper, Die Matie, published an article titled “Dosente bevraagteken Shofar”, roughly translated “Lecturers question Shofar”, one of the pentecostal churches that denounce evolution. (If there is interest, I can write a bit about it, though some translation of articles might be necessary, and my time remains limited.)

Enough background, which I’m sure made my supposed “bias” in the matter rather obvious (to those that consider it bias). Let’s state it directly. I accept the theory of evolution as our best explanation thus far, and this post is obviously written from that perspective. This isn’t the place for a debate, “debates” just waste time. If you want some arguments, take a look at TalkOrigins’ An Index to Creationist Claims, responding to creationist claims from the perspective of mainstream science, or look at Answers in Genesis, arguably the leading site on Creationism. (Somehow, it pains me to link there. But I’ll get over it.)

So, why do people reject evolution (including theistic evolution)? Thoughts on “deeper” reasons behind such rejection, can be found at old posts (2005) on 3quarksdaily, majikthise and pharyngula. I found these three links at darwiniana.


My explanation is simply this: Human beings have a strong visceral reaction to disbelieve any theory which injects uncertainty or chance into their world view. They will cling to some other “explanation” of the facts which does not depend on chance until provided with absolutely incontrovertible proof to the contrary.


Mostly, evolution makes people uncomfortable because it explains how life could have emerged without any external purpose or design. Evolutionary explanations are threatening to people who assume that naturalistic explanations undercut meaning in life. If we assume that we were designed by some creator, it follows that our existence has at least some built-in purpose. At the very least, we could say that we were designed by someone for some reason. It wouldn’t necessarily follow that we were designed for any good reason, of course.


Ultimately, what brings people together to reject evolution is a sense of identity and belonging to a group that has a non-rational anti-evolutionary dogma as a part of their social toolkit. It’s not assessment of the evidence that drives them away from science, it’s entirely because the evidence challenges a facet of the beliefs they recognize as distinguishing elements of their tribe. In a war between reality and their social group, they cling to their subculture. It actually makes sense, in an evolutionary and biological way: an isolated human being is not a particularly viable unit, and it’s the cohesion of the clan and tribe that is more important for long-term success.

Please go and read the original posts for more on these ideas, read on for my list of “shallow” reasons.

In the light of these possible “deep” answers, I’m rather shy about the more “shallow” reasons I want to list. I’d like to think I’m being more “practically minded” because it’s rather close to home. (Many friends typically reject evolution, and many members of my extended family are also very likely to.) Maybe I’m just being silly, of course, if symptomatic treatment is ineffective and the “deeper” reasons, the origins, are the true power behind the rejection. (Discussing symptoms might help make the root cause more accessible though?)

Reasons (“shallow” reasons) why people reject evolution:

  1. uninformed (lack of knowledge with regards to evolution)
  2. misinformed (believing another evolution-denier, who might fall under another category)
  3. apathy towards, or rejection of science (favouring some other form of authority, possibly their church’s leadership, despite being informed)
  4. a perceived threat to cherished beliefs/memes
  5. a perceived controversy in the scientific community, making it “more arbitrary” which perspective (of two “equally valid” perspectives) is chosen.

These reasons do intersect in places, and it is usually a combination of reasons. Some examples that do not fall into this list, so that this list can be lengthened? Or might this list be shortened? I don’t think so?

Categories: Religion and Science
Tags: · · ·

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // May 6, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Of course, this wasn’t nearly as quick a post as I had hoped. Oh well.

    Having the short list in the “more” section allows me to change it without it getting “out of sync” with feed readers.

    This comment also serves to help me cheat: it gives me a “first-post” that I can go and edit retroactively. (Pity that rss feeds are often not updated… I need to find out more about which feeds/feedreaders will, and which will not, notice an edit…)

  • 2 Pieter // May 6, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    I think that the thing about evolution is that it is not obvious.

    Just as much so as the claim that the earth is a sphere and not flat. Yes that isn’t obvious as well…it took us thousands of years to realize that. (“What? There are upside down people _underneath_ me? Lunacy!”). Try thinking how you would convince a disbeliever of earthen sphereness without the help of high altitude or long range travel.

    The thing is that evolution can co-exist fine with other religions, just as the spherical earth notion is now commonly accepted, even though it also conflicted with scripture at a time. And not to mention the earth as the center of the universe idea…Galileo had a real hard time with that one.

    So we have a non-obvious idea, some people that really prefer to believe something else and will do so with all means necessary, and other people that would rather listen to some people.

    Perhaps we should just wait for Magellan to sail around the world again.
    “The Church says the Earth is flat. But I know that it is round. For I have seen the shadow on the Moon. And I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church.”
    — Magellan.

  • 3 Hugo // May 6, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    Great comment, thanks!

    On the list of “shallow reasons”, your example classifies under “uninformed” or “misinformed”, I think.

    The example “The Bible Says So” classifies under “rejection of science” and/or “threats to cherished beliefs/memes”. (This post isn’t the place to argue about that, this comment hopefully serves a pre-emptive role. We can talk about that some other day.)

  • 4 scribbles // May 7, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Pedantic comment – actually the earth isn’t a sphere either. It’s an oblate spheroid… 😀

    The one diameter is bigger than the other.

  • 5 Riaan // May 7, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    I would be very interested in a post regarding the article in “Die Matie”. Hope you get round to it…

  • 6 Johan Swarts // May 12, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    Mense is stupid. Dis ons lot. Punt.

  • 7 Hugo // May 13, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Hehe. The truth of that statement is really a lot deeper than some might be inclined to think — it can be either “people are stupid…”, or “humans are stupid”. I vote for the latter. It’s all part of the human condition? Still, we don’t give up, we strive forwards. Every now and then we do successfully identify roadblocks holding us back, usually we eventually clear such roadblocks… (Another aspect of the human condition: hope…)

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