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Teleology’s long shadow

Authors
  • Werth, A.1
  • Allchin, D.2
  • 1 Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, VA, 23943, USA , Hampden-Sydney (United States)
  • 2 University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 55455, USA , Minneapolis (United States)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Evolution: Education and Outreach
Publisher
Springer US
Publication Date
Mar 05, 2020
Volume
13
Issue
1
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1186/s12052-020-00118-8
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

We describe the ubiquity of teleological language and thinking throughout biology, as a context for understanding how students think about evolution, as well. Examples can be found in molecular biology, physiology, ecology, and taxonomy, at least. Recent research documents a deep human psychological tendency to attribute purpose or intent (and thus normative meaning) to natural phenomena. We present a possible evolutionary explanation. Still, these cognitive habits help foster scientific errors of projecting human norms onto natural phenomena (what we have elsewhere termed the naturalizing error). Subsequent appeals to “nature” are used (inappropriately) to justify cultural ideologies. Accordingly, we advocate explicit learning about teleological dispositions and their cultural consequences as an essential countermeasure.

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