The design stance, intentional stance, and teleological beliefs about biological and nonbiological natural entities

Andrew J. Roberts*, Simon J. Handley, Vince Polito

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Teleology involves an appeal to function to explain why things are the way they are. Among scientists and philosophers, teleological explanations are widely accepted for human-made artifacts and biological traits, yet controversial for biological and nonbiological natural entities. Prior research shows a positive relationship between religiosity and acceptance of such controversial teleological explanations. Across three large online studies, we show that the relationship between religiosity and teleological acceptance cannot be explained by acceptance of objectively false explanations. Furthermore, we show that anthropomorphism and a belief in supernatural agents each independently predict teleological acceptance. In contrast, the tendency to inhibit intuitively appealing, yet incorrect responses to simple reasoning problems was associated with lower teleological acceptance. These results provide strong support for an intention-based account of teleology, and further contribute to the existing literature which situates teleological reasoning within a dual-process framework. Several avenues of future research are discussed, including the need to dissociate implicit and explicit measures of teleological belief, and the need for a greater focus on cross-cultural variation in teleological beliefs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1720-1748
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume120
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • teleology
  • intentional stance
  • cognitive science of religion
  • anthropomorphism
  • dual process theory

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