Science & Education

, Volume 21, Issue 8, pp 1167–1184 | Cite as

The Implications of the Cognitive Sciences for the Relation Between Religion and Science Education: The Case of Evolutionary Theory

  • Stefaan Blancke
  • Johan De Smedt
  • Helen De Cruz
  • Maarten Boudry
  • Johan Braeckman


This paper discusses the relationship between religion and science education in the light of the cognitive sciences. We challenge the popular view that science and religion are compatible, a view that suggests that learning and understanding evolutionary theory has no effect on students’ religious beliefs and vice versa. We develop a cognitive perspective on how students manage to reconcile evolutionary theory with their religious beliefs. We underwrite the claim developed by cognitive scientists and anthropologists that religion is natural because it taps into people’s intuitive understanding of the natural world which is constrained by essentialist, teleological and intentional biases. After contrasting the naturalness of religion with the unnaturalness of science, we discuss the difficulties cognitive and developmental scientists have identified in learning and accepting evolutionary theory. We indicate how religious beliefs impede students’ understanding and acceptance of evolutionary theory. We explore a number of options available to students for reconciling an informed understanding of evolutionary theory with their religious beliefs. To conclude, we discuss the implications of our account for science and biology teachers.


Religious Belief Evolutionary Theory Natural World Scientific Explanation Inanimate Object 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Parts of this paper have been presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, October 29-31, 2010, Baltimore, Maryland. This research was supported by grants BOF08/24J/041 and COM07/PWM/001 from Ghent University and by the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO). We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful remarks.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefaan Blancke
    • 1
  • Johan De Smedt
    • 1
  • Helen De Cruz
    • 2
  • Maarten Boudry
    • 1
  • Johan Braeckman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Moral SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Centre for Logic and Analytic PhilosophyUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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