Brainwashing Children to 'Suppress' Design Intuition | The Institute for Creation Research

Brainwashing Children to 'Suppress' Design Intuition

The Wall Street Journal praised psychological research on kindergarteners that demonstrates how a picture-rich storybook could replace children’s intuitive inferences of design with Darwinian natural selection.1 Is this a good way to apply child psychology?

Boston University psychologist Deborah Kelemen has led the latest National Science Foundation funded research to help teach evolution. Her technical report appears in the journal Psychological Science. The aim of her research was to intentionally “suppress” children’s “commonsense ways,” and to “explain why animals have functional traits and show signs of apparent design.”2

The WSJ lauded picture book “intervention” as vital to sparing our youngest children from what’s wrong in American science education, writing, “Studies show that many secular people who say they believe in evolution still don’t really understand it. Why is natural selection so hard to understand and accept? What can we do to make it easier?”1

According to the Psychological Science report, prior research had shown that “children in preschool and early elementary school show teleological biases to explain the origins of natural objects’ properties by reference to functions.”2 Kelemen then investigated the merits of exposing young children to a “non-goal-directed population-based process of differential survival and reproduction.”2 This way, even kids can understand that animal designs which look like they were built with a goal in mind actually arose by natural processes that had no goals and no mind.

Evolutionary Problem: Even Little Children See Design

People everywhere generally recognize the straightforward analogy between living things and man-made structures. Both have multiple parts working together for a specific purpose. Even young children do not need formal tutoring to discern that mechanical devices do not make themselves and that people make them with a “goal-directed design.” According to Kelemen, this early-age intuition of design impedes belief in natural selection.2

The WSJ reported, “But evolution by natural selection occupies a not-so-sweet spot between the intuitive and the counterintuitive. The trouble is that it’s almost, but not really, like intentional design, and that’s confusing.”1

Evolutionary Solution: Use Picture-Storybooks to Initiate Children Early

Kelemen’s approach to suppressing children’s normal intuition is multifaceted. First, she advocates catching their minds at an early age, before they are mature enough to logically integrate information. She wrote, “According to this view, then, an optimal time to begin comprehensively familiarizing children with counterintuitive scientific explanations is relatively early, during ages at which alternative commonsense explanatory frameworks are still relatively fragmentary.”2

The next step is to exploit characteristics of early childhood mentality. “They suggest that capitalizing on young children’s drive for coherent explanation, factual knowledge, and interest in trait function, along with their affinity for picture storybooks, is a viable initial step toward overcoming conceptual pitfalls that can undermine later learning about adaptation.”2

Finally, they present “six natural selection concepts” with realistic drawings of fictional insect-eating mammals with trunked noses called the “pilosas.” Some have thick trunks and others have thin trunks. Thick-trunked pilosas, “experienced sudden die-off because of the effects of extreme climate change on the location of their food source.” Insects have moved into narrow underground tunnels where only thin-trunked pilosas could capture them. The next generation of pilosas all had thin trunks “due to differential food access” because of “abrupt climate change.”2

Her storybooks illustrate how death helps by exterminating certain trait-bearers from populations. That is how “the selectionist mechanism” supposedly works.2 Other researchers summarized the issue when they wrote, “death is selective.”3 Evolutionist Richard Lewontin likewise recounted death as Darwin’s vital key to any adaptive process.4 Kelemen used the kids’ love for a good story to reinforce death’s role in evolution. She wrote, “The story is about life and death. Kids want to know what is going to happen next.”2

Evolutionary Results: Intelligent Design Replaced with Natural Selection

Kelemen said of children exposed to the intervention, “Before the children heard the story, the experimenters asked them to explain why a different group of fictional animals had a particular trait. Most of the children gave explanations based on intentional design.” Did her story-based “intervention” work? She wrote, “But after the children heard the story, they answered similar questions very differently: They had genuinely begun to understand evolution by natural selection.” Her team also found “that understanding persisted when the experimenters went back three months later.”2 The effects could last a lifetime.

Taken together, “The results confirm that children in early elementary school can be taught the basic logic of adaptation by natural selection via a brief but comprehensive storybook intervention…the intervention resulted in approximately 40-fold increases in children’s odds of increasing their factual and theoretical understanding.”2

“Collectively, such findings offer reasons for optimism,” Kelemen remarked in the Journal, “regarding the ability to foster an accurate, generalizable, basic understanding of natural selection.”2

Goal: “The secret may be to reach children with the right theory before the wrong one is too firmly in place.”1

The candid and enthusiastic embrace of training kindergarteners to “suppress competing intuitive” explanations has the flavor of Orwellian mental manipulation, with people coerced into accepting inconsistent concepts without dissent. Since advocates are psychological professionals trained to understand how young minds operate—and society entrusts them to use that knowledge for good—using them to teach Darwinism sounds even more perverse. Isn’t this essentially using a method of thought reform to indoctrinate a young child’s mind with a specific belief system against his or her will? Would it not be better to teach children how to objectively test competing explanations against factual data?

From a Christian perspective, the trust of a little child is supremely precious. If someone were to ill-treat that tender faith, the Lord Jesus said that it would be “better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”5 Our Lord’s heart for children is profound. He “called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”6

When future generations have a hard time inferring the presence of a Designer from His design, we may be able to point back to a particular children’s storybook and see it for what it is.


  1. Oumanski, P. See Jane Evolve: Picture Books Explain Darwin. Wall Street Journal: Life and Culture. Posted on April 18, 2014, accessed May 8, 2014.
  2. Kelemen, D. et al. 2014. Young Children Can Be Taught Basic Natural Selection Using a Picture-Storybook Intervention. Psychological Science. 25(4): 893–902.
  3. Gilbert, S. F. and D. Epel. 2008 Ecological Developmental Biology: Integrating Epigenetics, Medicine, and Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, p. 292.
  4. Lewontin, R. C. 1978. Adaptation. Scientific American. 293 (3): 212-229. Lewontin’s insightful observation concerns how death was the new and necessary step Darwin added to account for progressive adaptive changes. “Adaptation was introduced by Darwin into evolutionary theory by…variations that favor an individual’s survival in competition with other organisms…tend to be preserved (the principle of the struggle for existence). Darwin made it clear that the struggle for existence [is the vital “pressure”], which he derived from Thomas Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population,…” (p. 220.) In this way, death is transformed into something good, contrary to Scripture, which accurately shows that death is an enemy. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:26 says, “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
  5. Luke 17:2
  6. Luke 18:16

* Dr. Guluizza is the National Representative for the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on June 9, 2014.

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