Is the use of teleology immature?

Charles Darwin should be spinning in his grave: More than 40 percent of American adults still don’t believe in evolution. Though Darwin’s theory has been uncontroversially accepted among scientists, public resistance remains remarkably forceful. Meanwhile, creationism and intelligent design enjoy widespread public support. (1)

Clichés aside, I don’t think Darwin or any other naturalist should make reference to the continued existence of anyone post-death.  I don’t think most people, other than Darwin worshipers, should be too worried about the post-death radial velocity of Darwin’s remains. This is just another way of saying, “There are a lot of stupid people out there, and IDists and Creationists are among them.”

An academic psychologist, Tania Lombrozo, from a venerable Ivory Tower (2), UC Berkely, has tried to explain teleology from an evolutionary perspective.

Why might humans have evolved this kind of a reasoning strategy? Lombrozo has several ideas. “One possibility is that if you look at our evolutionary past or at our experiences growing up, one of the things we did most often was explaining human behavior. And human behavior is generally goal-directed — it does involve intentions and functions. We may be taking the mode of explanation that we’re best at and then applying it to other domains,” she says. “Another possibility is that it’s more effective. We’re going to learn more about the world if we go around assuming that things have functions and then sometimes discovering we were wrong, rather than the reverse.”

Lombrozo points out that, most of the time, functional explanations don’t do a lot of harm. In fact, they can sometimes help people understand concepts that might otherwise be too difficult. In chemistry, for example, it can be helpful to think about the electron wanting to go to where it’s positive, or, when learning about evolution, that the moth doesn’t want to be visible to its predator. On the other hand, says Lombrozo, systematically catering to what people find satisfying can be bad for their appreciation of science.

“Education is most successful when it gets people to undergo something like a theoretical change,” she says. Recognizing what kinds of assumptions people come into the classroom with will help in figuring out how to best accomplish this.”

For the Creationist, this can be taken as a compliment, although it is not meant that way:

3.  “Let the children come to me.  Do not hinder them.  The kingdom of God is people like this.  I say to you clearly.  Unless you are people who accept the kingdom of God as a child, you will never be able to enter in it,” (verses sixteen and seventeen).

4.  The words “to enter the kingdom of God,” it goes without saying, means our salvation.  So, the Lord says, “the kingdom of God is people like this,” that is, “it is people like children.”  Therefore, we understand that what we ought to learn through children are not things which only enrich our life, but what concerns our eternal salvation, which is something very much more important.  So, what in the world did the words the Lord gave mean? (3)

IDists will often find these remarks more offensive.  I find the remarks to be irrelevant.  There are many other factors that speak to the maturity of an individual, and apparently, spiritual aspects of maturity are not given high regard by Jesus.  Paul gives the other aspects of maturity a different treatment:

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.  (4)

So, the reasoning, thoughts, and speech of children, may be done away with, but the spiritual aspects seem to be important.  In this sense, being more “childlike” is better.

As mynym has pointed out, the “urge to merge,” is a psychological aspect of childhood, which seems to apply to many Darwinists.  This does fall into a non-spiritual category of “immaturity,” that relates to thoughts, speech, and reasoning.

(1). http://www.berkeley.edu/news/berkeleyan/2008/12/10_teleology.shtml

(2). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_tower

(3). http://www.j-e-s-u-s.org/english/1998/e980614.htm

(4). http://bibleresources.bible.com/passagesearchresults.php?passage1=1%20Corinthians+13:11&version=49

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14 Responses

  1. Talk about ‘sawing off the branch you’re sitting on’…

    In fact, Lombrozo’s opening statement: “Why might humans have evolved this kind of a reasoning strategy?” completey sits on an assumption of teleology!

    If what she says is true (teleology is basically illusion), then it must also be true that any claims to design and purpose in answer to “Why humans have evolved this kind of a reasoning” is also illusion. Hence, she completely self-contradicts her entire argument.

  2. If what she says is true (teleology is basically illusion), then it must also be true that any claims to design and purpose in answer to “Why humans have evolved this kind of a reasoning” is also illusion. Hence, she completely self-contradicts her entire argument.

    That’s right Mike. Her “un” teleological argument is self-contradictory.

  3. In fact, it’s perfectly clear that Lombrozo does not regard teleological explanations as misleading in all cases, since she says:

    “human behavior is generally goal-directed — it does involve intentions and functions. We may be taking the mode of explanation that we’re best at and then applying it to other domains.”

    So it’s not that teleological explanations have no place at all, but rather that we need to have ways of testing teleological explanations against other kinds. (And it should be insisted upon, I think, that there is no a priori limit on how many different types of explanation there can be.)

    Sometimes teleological explanations are illuminating — as when I determine whether or not my students have been cheating — sometimes they are not — as in the case of eoliths.

  4. “human behavior is generally goal-directed — it does involve intentions and functions. We may be taking the mode of explanation that we’re best at and then applying it to other domains.”

    To me, that completely turns her point upside-down as well. After all, the “goal-direction” (what ‘we’re best at’) of Darwinist thinking (the ‘intentions and functions’) certainly accounts for an awful lot of dogma regarding evolution (the ‘domain’)!

    And she then proceeds to shoot herself in the foot, and place said foot in mouth:

    …systematically catering to what people find satisfying can be bad for their appreciation of science.

  5. Mike, it seems to me — and of course please feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken — that your criticisms of Lombrozo’s research assume that “Darwinism” is not only false but that it leads to systematic misinterpretations of the evidence. So your comment above does not find fault with any details of her research; you disagree with her on a much more fundamental level.

    I think that weakens your criticism considerably — for it’s not as if you have taken the time to evaluate the methods and analysis of her work; rather you are taking for granted an entirely different world-view than the one on which she is working, and criticizing her research from the standpoint of that world-view.

  6. Mike, you make a legitimate criticism. Lombrozo’s point seems to be that the attribution of function is immature. At the same time, this is a the very thing she engages in. It is also what Darwinists constantly engage in…everything has a function attributable to Darwinism (the ultimate cause). So, it is a self-refuting argument.

  7. Carl said,

    you are taking for granted an entirely different world-view than the one on which she is working, and criticizing her research from the standpoint of that world-view.

    We are all working and researching this (in one way or another), and all of us, including you , have a “taken-for-granted” world view: for some of us it’s based “on faith, not sight, in God,” and for others, it’s based on ideas, or fantasies, that haven’t been substantiated! Some of us are doing this in the real world, while others huddle in universities or research labs, where productivity and results are dirty words.

    It seems to me, Carl, that you’re committing the same act here that you’re accusing Mike of. You seem to believe that you and this giant of science, and the like, are the only ones who have really investigated what they believe, or at least that is how you come off.

  8. Carl, if I were merely attacking her worldview because I don’t subscribe to it, that would be rather poor of me. Shrink has apparently no problem seeing the contradiction in her reasoning. Hmm… perhaps you are the one being blinded by a worldview here! 😉

    I’m essentially just making the observation that she doesn’t apply her understanding of human nature to her own conclusions.

    ( By the way Carl, I should still like to know what you think of the “Empathy” philosophy (‘spiritual Darwinism’), if you get a chance to look into it. Did you see the link I provided in another post?

    http://thinman.com/empathy )

  9. We are all working and researching this (in one way or another), and all of us, including you , have a “taken-for-granted” world view: for some of us it’s based “on faith, not sight, in God,” and for others, it’s based on ideas, or fantasies, that haven’t been substantiated!

    Yikes, that’s kind of harsh DB! I wouldn’t say Carl has a “taken-for-granted” view of things. In fact, I often wish he *would* take a few things for granted! But that’s the “ocean” he chooses to “sail” on.

    Also, keep in mind that things being ‘substantiated’ is subjective, after all.

    “Let each be convinced in his own mind” !

  10. Mike,

    It wasn’t harsh, in my estimation. I said at the end of my comment, “or at least that is how you come off.” Carl, sometimes, does come off that way. We all take things for granted, as I stated, because of our fleshly ways.

    I said,

    “It seems to me, Carl, that you’re committing the same act here that you’re accusing Mike of. You seem to believe that you and this giant of science, and the like, are the only ones who have really investigated what they believe,”

    and I stand by it!

  11. Mike, yes, I saw the link. It seemed interesting but to overstate the case. It seems to me that empathy is a natural feature of human psychology (and not only human). It is not something to be justified or debunked.

    Perhaps evolutionary theory and neuroscience can shed some light on explaining the origins of empathy, or the mechanisms which make empathy possible, but I do not think that they can shed any light on how to be empathetic, on why it is better to be empathetic vs. not, or what it means to be empathetic.

    I suppose that the real crux of the matter, from where I stand, is that human beings are not naturally selfish — but that we are naturally tribal. (Just as gorillas and chimps are.) We find it easy to be spontaneously compassionate towards someone in pain who we know — who is part of our tribe — and extraordinarily difficult to care about people in pain who are half-way around the world, and whose entire way of life is unknown to us — even if their suffering is bound up with the affluence and privilege that we enjoy.

    I do not know if understanding more about the neurological basis or evolutionary origins of empathy will result in a more just world.

  12. I suppose that the real crux of the matter, from where I stand, is that human beings are not naturally selfish — but that we are naturally tribal. (Just as gorillas and chimps are.) We find it easy to be spontaneously compassionate towards someone in pain who we know — who is part of our tribe — and extraordinarily difficult to care about people in pain who are half-way around the world, and whose entire way of life is unknown to us — even if their suffering is bound up with the affluence and privilege that we enjoy.

    That would explain the Buddhist aspect for sure. It’s certainly easier to “empathize” with “all that is” when you are in self-exhile living in a mountain retreat somewhere! It’s when one gets one’s hands dirty in the world that empathy becomes real and “lived”. (God on a cross – even if only viewed as archetype – is sufficient example of that).

    Also, you touch upon something else I believe regarding the Christian ethic, that I have mentioned on other posts: Empathy as a part of ethics and “way” is only realized neighbor to neighbor and brother to brother, not en masse, group to group (tribe to tribe), or nation to nation – which is the corrupting of ethics via politics and power.

  13. You make a very good point, Mike, about the fragility of compassion in action — although it should also be pointed out that there are many Buddhists who do get their hands dirty, etc.

    Empathy as a part of ethics and “way” is only realized neighbor to neighbor and brother to brother, not en masse, group to group (tribe to tribe), or nation to nation – which is the corrupting of ethics via politics and power.

    I agree almost entirely. For one of the truly remarkable things about human beings is the capacity for imagination — through which we can see the world from perspectives other than those to which we are accustomed, and so come to see that it is as wrong to hurt those we don’t know as it is to hurt those we do know.

    I would add that one of the most powerful expressions we have of the ethical imagination — which has made it possible to transcend differences of tribe and nation — is the message of the Gospels and of Paul’s letters. In particular I am thinking of “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. (I’m partial to the King James!)

    In other words, just because I don’t accept the metaphysics of Christianity, doesn’t mean I’m unappreciative of the influence that Christianity has had on ethics.

  14. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”.

    An example of that is during Paul’s missions, when he took up a collection amongst the predominantly Gentile churches, in order to help the Jewish church in Jerusalem, which had been hit with hard economic times. It was brother to brother, all members of one body. No worldly authority or power was involved, or acted on anyone’s behalf, or on behalf of itself.

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