Uncommon Sense

November 18, 2019

Ah, It Is Called Promiscuous Teleology

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:44 am
Tags: ,

I ran across this very interesting blog post by George Hargrave (Promiscuous Teleology: Mislead By Our Evolutionary Past). Here are a number of excerpts:

“Humans, in particular children, frequently view and interpret the world in terms of purpose. They attribute something’s existence to its role or telos rather than its causal necessity. If you were to ask a child, ‘Why do mountains exist?’ they are more likely to respond, ‘so that animals have something to climb,’ than they are to with a more careful response that considers how they were actually formed. This cognitive bias — where humans use heuristics in an attempt to award a purpose or role to everything — is called ‘promiscuous teleology’.”

“The purpose-seeking psyche of humans is an evolutionary by-product of an historical struggle for survival that generously rewarded teleological rationalisations.”

“The perils of this cognitive tendency extend to religion also where its prominence has contributed to the propagation of beliefs in the supernatural. Even today only 47% of Americans believe Darwin’s theory of evolution to be true, with the other half opting for a belief in creationism and a transcendent deity.”

“Purposes are something reinforced by evolution and seemingly created by evolution.”

Scientists, actually natural philosophers, were not immune to this fallacy. Aristotelian physics, for example, claimed the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) were striving to reach their natural place in the universe. A rock fell not because of the forces of gravity but because it strived to reach its natural place. This is why I refer to Aristotle as a natural philosopher, rather than a scientist. Philosophers start with thoughts, add more thoughts, and conclude in thoughts with an occasional sprinkling in of evidence. Sciences, by contrast, have thoughts but immediately try to link those thoughts to observable behaviors that can tell the scientist whether their thoughts are any good as a description of nature. Scientists have a full-time arbiter of their ideas (nature) whereas philosophers have only their thoughts. (This is why philosophers are professional disagree-ers. To agree with their colleagues would leave them with nothing to say.)

So, purposes are something reinforced by evolution and seemingly created by evolution. I can hear apologist heads exploding all the way from here.


  1. The last sentence by Hargrave says it all: “Reality is not responsive to your whims or wishes — don’t be misled by your evolutionary past.”
    The first humans with their purpose driven brains created the supernatural in an attempt to explain what they didn’t and couldn’t know. Humanity has been saddled with this delusion forever since. There never was a supernatural realm, so all the mental machinations about religions, Gods, sin, resurrection, eternal souls, et al, is a waste of time and energy. If nonbelievers desire to put an end to this delusion the crazies must be confronted with their insanity. GROG

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by grogalot — November 18, 2019 @ 11:56 am | Reply

    • You see the light. I see the light. Why are so many others … not?

      On Mon, Nov 18, 2019 at 11:56 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 18, 2019 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

  2. Worst damn thing we humans ever did, invent gods and then organized religions. Yes, confront the crazies with their insanity! There are so many of them here in central Louisiana and my age and health are against me, but I do what I can any who. I have not been afraid of death in many long decades and dying don’t bother me either.
    I see most religions like the banking system. They actually are the same thing. Sin/repentance; debt/repayment. Difference? What difference?


    Comment by Walter Kronkat — November 18, 2019 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

  3. It’s really not complicated.


    Comment by john zande — November 19, 2019 @ 11:00 am | Reply

    • That is the shameful thing about it. I became an educator (aka teacher) because I thought that education would help people make rational decisions about the future. Sounds nice, but My idea was a failure. People are making decisions less rationally than a few decades past. This would be fine if our “hearts” or “guts’ made good decisions and weren’t influences by propaganda so easily.

      I still believe education is a “good thing” but it is not a panacea or a cure for poverty, or a automatic route to a thinking polity. We have much work to do and many, many people trying to distract us with shiny lights.


      Comment by Steve Ruis — November 19, 2019 @ 11:28 am | Reply

      • It’s not education. Well, it is when you start talking homeschooling. It’s the net. It can be wonderful, but it can also be the most destructive tool ever invented by man.


        Comment by john zande — November 19, 2019 @ 11:30 am | Reply

        • It is fascinating that gossip was invented as a social control mechanism and it worked by shaming people into better behavior. Then along came the Internet which allows us to gossip anonymously and … out the window goes this evolutionarily crafted social control mechanism. It’s like driving on the superhighway and reaching down and tearing out your brakes and throwing them out a window. What do we need those for?!

          On Tue, Nov 19, 2019 at 11:30 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — November 19, 2019 @ 11:33 am | Reply

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