Teleology and the Intentions of Supernatural Agents

Abstract

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.

Publication
Consciousness and Cognition, (80), pp. 102905, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2020.102905
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