Skip to main content

Are creationists rational?


Creationism is usually regarded as an irrational set of beliefs. In this paper I propose that the best way to understand why individual learners settle on any mature set of beliefs is to see that as the developmental outcome of a series of “fast and frugal” boundedly rational inferences rather than as a rejection of reason. This applies to those whose views are opposed to science in general. A bounded rationality model of belief choices both serves to explain the fact that folk traditions tend to converge on “anti-modernity”, and to act as a default hypothesis, deviations from which we can use to identify other, arational, influences such as social psychological, economic and individual dispositions. I propose some educational and public policy strategies that might decrease the proportion of learners who find creationism and anti-science in general a rational choice.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Festinger L. (1957) A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA

    Google Scholar 

  • Gärdenfors P. (2000) Conceptual spaces: The geometry of thought, Vol. x (p. 307). MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  • Gigerenzer G. (2000) Adaptive thinking: Rationality in the real world, Vol. xi (p. 344). Oxford University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Gigerenzer G., Goldstein D.G. (1996) Reasoning the fast and frugal way: Models of bounded rationality. Psychological Review 103: 650–669

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gigerenzer G., Selten R. (2001) Bounded rationality: The adaptive toolbox, Vol xv (p. 377). MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  • Gigerenzer, G., Todd, P. M., & the ABC Research Group. (1999). Simple heuristics that make us smart, Vol. xv (p. 416). New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson P.E. (1995) Reason in the balance: The case against naturalism in science, law & education (p. 245). InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL

    Google Scholar 

  • Libet B. (1985) Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in voluntary action. Behavioral and brain sciences 8: 529–566

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Libet B. (2002) Do we have free will?. Journal of Consciousness Studies 6: 47–57

    Google Scholar 

  • Lombrozo T., Shtulman A., Weisberg M. (2006) The intelligent design controversy: Lessons from psychology and education. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10: 56–57

    Google Scholar 

  • Plantinga A. (1996) Science: Augustian or Duhemian? Faith and Philosophy 13: 368–394

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine W.V.O. (1969) Ontological relativity and other essays. Columbia University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Richerson P.J., Boyd R. (2005) Not by genes alone: How culture transformed human evolution, Vol. ix (p. 332). University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Simon H.A. (1978) Rationality as Process and as Product of Thought. American Economic Review 68: 1–16

    Google Scholar 

  • Simon H.A. (1986) Theories of bounded rationality. In: McGuire C.B., Radner R. (eds) Decision and organization. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp 161–176

    Google Scholar 

  • Simon H.A. (1990) Invariants of human behavior. Annual Review of Psychology 41: 1–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Verhey S.D. (2005) The effect of engaging prior learning on student attitudes toward creationism and evolution. BioScience 55: 996–1003

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to John S. Wilkins.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wilkins, J.S. Are creationists rational?. Synthese 178, 207–218 (2011).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Bounded rationality
  • Epistemic commitment
  • Creationism
  • Anti-modernism