Teleology and the intentions of supernatural agents

Andrew J. Roberts*, Colin A. Wastell, Vince Polito

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)
    12 Downloads (Pure)


    Teleological beliefs about the natural world often exist implicitly, and there is a positive relationship between teleological endorsement and belief in supernatural agents. In the current study, participants judged a series of scientifically unwarranted teleological explanations of biological organisms and natural non-living objects, under speeded or un-speeded instructions. After controlling for belief in the existence of supernatural agents, rates of implicit (speeded) and explicit (un-speeded) teleological endorsement were moderated by the belief that supernatural agents intentionally interact with the world. Amongst non-religious individuals, rates of implicit endorsement were significantly higher than explicit endorsement, whereas for highly religious individuals the difference was non-significant. This interaction was driven predominantly by explanations of natural non-living objects. These results are consistent with an intention-based theory of teleology, and help to reconcile the finding of a positive relationship between teleological endorsement and belief in supernatural agents, with the those of an enduring teleological bias.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number102905
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalConsciousness and cognition
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


    • teleology
    • nature
    • supernatural agent
    • intention
    • religious belief


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