Rocks are pointy so that animals won’t sit on them

By way of a third post concerning the brain’s tendency to warp reality, I consider a fascinating paper by Boston University psychology professor Deborah Kelemen and her colleague Evelyn Rosset in the journal Cognition. Their paper discusses the penchant children have for preferring teleological explanations for natural phenomena, namely explanations that involve intentions and purpose. The title of this post is one such explanation.

It seems to me that this innate attraction to teleological explanations has the potential to greatly increase children’s susceptibility to religious indoctrination.  Religious instruction given to young children usually focuses on the basic stories of their tradition’s scriptures, which often include theistic explanations for the creation of the natural world. It is likely that such intention-laden explanations would appeal to children more than the proper explanations, which involve rather complex processes devoid of any underlying intention or purpose.

As Richard Dawkins suggests in his recent TV program “Faith School Menace“, which features a short discussion with Dr. Kelemen, it is our duty to encourage curiosity in children so that they won’t simply take attractive, just-so-story explanations for granted.


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