Are some people more inclined to believe in evolution than other people are?

Will Gervais answers

Most human beliefs are because of—and are supported by—a variety of factors. Believing the scientifically indisputable evidence for evolution is no different. If you look at current debates (not scientific, but popular) about evolution, I would say that some people are more inclined to accept evolution than others. But it isn't a straightforward story.

Humans seem to have a variety of potentially innate intuitions about the world that might support a creationist viewpoint. We see things in nature as being functional and serving distinct purposes. We assume that things exhibiting function and purpose are designed by intentional agents. So the notion of a supernatural agent creating things might come easily. At the same time, scientists don't know that much about variability in the strength of these intuitions across individuals. At the population level, people tend to show these kinds of intuitions, but some individuals might have stronger intuitions about purpose and agency than others. Beyond that, we also know that sometimes people can analytically override their intuitions. Intuitively, the earth seems flat … analytically, most of us accept the fact that it is a sphere. This recent paper found evidence that to the extent that people rely on analytic thinking instead of intuitions, they also tend to accept evolution rather than creationism.

At the same time, it doesn't just boil down to intuitions and analytic thinking. Cultural learning plays a huge role. These days, nobody spontaneously concludes that the universe was created 6,000 years ago, and nobody spontaneously concludes that all life arose over millions of years from the gradual process of evolution. We learn these beliefs from others around us.

If you want to predict whether people believe in creationism or evolution, I'd guess that first you'd want to know about their early enculturation. Who taught them what? Next, you'd want to learn about their education. Then, you would want to know how much they rely on intuitions and analytic thinking. Some folks might be intuitively predisposed to be skeptical of evolution. Other folks might be predisposed to be skeptical of creationism. But a lot of it boils down to what you learn from your surrounding community.

Will Gervais is an assistant professor of social psychology and director of the Beliefs and Morality (BAM!) Lab at the University of Kentucky.