01/20/2012 11:53 am ET

Evolution Acceptance Study Suggests Gut Feelings Trump Religious Faith

Why do some people accept evolution while others refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence to support it?

New research published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching suggests that the cold, hard facts about human evolution may not be enough to convince people that it's real. Instead, it may take something akin to a leap of faith.

“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 written statement.

To investigate this assumption, Haury and his team asked 124 college students to answer questions that measured their acceptance of evolution, their level of factual knowledge of evolution and their gut feelings about these ideas. They also considered other possible predictors like academic year and religion.

What did the researchers find? They found that neither being religious nor knowing the facts about evolution were reliable predictors of an individual's acceptance of evolution. But "intuitive cognitions" about evolution were predictive. In other words, students knowledgeable about evolution were more likely to accept evolution if they also had strong “gut” feelings that the facts were real.

"When there’s a conflict between facts and feeling in the brain, feeling wins,” Haury said.

The students who participated in the study were all aspiring biology teachers. The researchers chose this population because they wanted to better understand acceptance of evolution among people who were likely to influence others' beliefs about evolution.

"Many biology teachers do not accept evolution, even though they are expected to teach evolution, so they represent a population of particular interest to us," Haury told The Huffington Post. "Since they influence student learning, we think it is particularly important that we learn what factors lead to lack of acceptance among biology teachers."