In Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Kinds of Minds, Dennett has focused on the idea that the intentionality characteristic of humans and other animals is a result of evolutionary processes. As such, the intentional stance is really a special case of the design stance, except here the object has been ‘designed’ by evolutionary processes. In this way Dennett hopes to account for the origin of the ‘patterns of intentionality’ within a framework that is consonant with natural science. (emphasis added)
That such an “agency detector” (to use the commonly accepted term for such a module) would have immense adaptive value is obvious. In an environment in which other entities do indeed have “intentions” (i.e. predators, competitors, potential mates, etc.), the ability to detect and infer the possible consequences of acting upon such intentions would confer immense adaptive value on any organism with such an ability.
Other psychologists take this one step further and link evolutionary intentions as the causal agent for religious beliefs. Allen’s student E. Broaddus cites the studies on intentionality and its relationship to religious belief.
Beyond our easily observable tendency to speak about things in teleological terms, research findings also lend support to the theory that teleology is our automatically preferred framework with which to view the world. Experiments by Deborah Kelemen (1999) found that preschool age children tend to infer purpose in all sorts of entities, including clocks, tigers and clouds. She also found that elementary school age children consistently preferred teleological explanations to physical explanations for natural phenomena, both biological and non-biological. Interestingly, adults preferred physical explanations for the non-biological phenomena, and teleological explanations for the biological.
There is also evidence for the existence of an innate cognitive purpose-detector which would be the root cause of our teleological viewpoint. experiments show that infants as young as 9 months of age tend to interpret the movement of self-propelled dots on a computer screen as “intentional, goal-oriented movement (Csibra, et al., 1999),” and are also able to interpret other people’s body-movements as goal-oriented and purposeful (Behne, et al., 2005).
The bulk of research referring to purpose-detection, or “agency-detection” as it is more frequently referred to in this literature, assumes its existence as a cognitive process and uses it to explain religious thought. (emphasis added)
It has been said that there isn’t anything Darwinian evolution cannot explain. The theory of Darwinian evolution gets this omnipotence because it is the only game in town. From Big Bang to universal fine-tuning, from abiogenesis to human soul, it all makes sense in the framework of evolution. Like the Project Genesis from Star Trek, everything can be rewritten according to the Darwinian matrix. I am being a bit facetious, but there is a method to my madness. The Project Genesis analogy, I think, is a good one and one that I will reference later in this post.
Allen suggests the evolution of an “agency detector” would have conferred immense adaptive value. In Darwinian parlance this means that our vertebrate ancestors have originated and fine-tuned this detector through cumulative selection to give us this innate tool. According to Richard Dawkins, this detector can only be passed on to subsequent generations through our genes, “the replicators” . As a matter of fact we are nothing more than “vehicles” for these replicators.
Now we can ask the question, assuming this nascent intentional detector magically appears in the genome of an animal. What would this gene look like? Does it code for a specific protein or does it code for new neural networks? Would it affect the brain size and chemistry? How many genes does it take to create this detector? It doesn’t seem so simple when you look behind the curtain does it?
For the sake of argument, let’s put the physical aspect of it aside. What would this nascent detector look like? Would it be based on size or motion? How would a size-based intentional detector function? e.g. If one animal sees another animal of a bigger size would it detect the larger animal as dangerous? It may be a false positive but it would confer a survival advantage right? Wait, not so fast. This nascent intentional detector can’t be that sophisticated already can it? That would be like, well, a miracle, and gradual Darwinian evolution don’t believe in miracles. Like Dawkins eye spot this nascent intention detector must be simpler. There is no reason for the animal to interpret a larger size as dangerous. It may infer the intention of the larger animal as friendly and the next thing you know that chance gene mutation is gone from the population. What if it infers the intention of a smaller animal as dangerous? That might prevent it from acquiring food and starve to death; again the gene is gone from the population. Since they are born with this intentional detector, it might even be afraid of its own mother and refuses to be fed, thereby killing it at infancy.
Actually, there is no need to restrict this intentional detector to biological forms as the studies have shown. This intentional detector could infer design to inanimate objects such as trees, rocks and mountains. Every time it sees a tree it could get freaked out and start running like a crazy animal from every tree in the forest. It might even do that with a rock or mountain. It seems to me that insanity might kill the animal before it has a chance to pass on its genes. It is not at all obvious that a intentional detector is advantageous to the survival of an animal. More importantly there is zilch empirical evidence to support the evolution of this detector. Like other Darwinian stories this is also created from whole cloth in the name of omnipotent natural selection.
The evolutionary root for an intentional detector is specious at best, but to stretch a speculative tale to justify a propensity for religious belief? That is beyond credulity. Darwinists are right about the teleological leaning but, not toward religious belief, rather it is the intentional interpretation of the data toward naturalistic worldview. Like the Project Genesis, Darwinism is the only game in town, therefore a pro-Darwinian scientist will instinctively rewrite any data to fit the Darwinian matrix. If we study the data, and not the opinions of these evolutionary scientists, this would become obvious.
This is not just my rhetoric. It is also the sentiment of the godfather of the “intentional stance” , Daniel Dennett. As I’ve quoted above, Dennett admits as much when he said “as such, the intentional stance is really a special case of the design stance, except here the object has been ‘designed’ by evolutionary processes.” . Even Dennett admits that he infers design, except he attributes this design not to a religion but to the deity of chance. IOW, Dennett is inferring teleology to RM&NS with the ability to design all the complexity of the universe and life. That, my friend, is a teleological disposition toward materialism and not religion.
Are Dennett and I right? Does cognitive research demonstrate Darwinian teleological bias or religious teleological bias? The first thing you have to ask yourself is that if these cognitive scientists are right that we are born with a teleological bent for an intentional agency and therefore a god. Why are there so many atheists? How is it that so many atheists are able to reprogram their genes to overcome this ingrained evolutionary survival trait? I thought this was a involuntary genetic predisposition that has been fine-tuned over millions of years of survival that resulted in us? How is it that so many of us are able to overcome this innate teleological leaning toward god so easily? Not only are atheists like Myers and Dennett able to resist this teleological urge but also they demolish it with vigor.
But what do these studies actually say? Dr. Deborah Kelemen’s studies on infants and young children are often cited, as Broaddus did above, to support the case that religious beliefs is a projection of our innate promiscuous teleology. Let’s look at one of Kelemen’s paper Are children “intuitive theists”?.
These kinds of promiscuous teleological intuitions persist into elementary school, particularly in relation to object properties. For instance, when asked to conduct a ”science” task and decide whether prehistoric rocks were pointy because of a physical process (e.g., ”bits of stuff piled up for a long period of time”) or because they performed a function, American 7- and 8-year-olds, unlike adults, preferred teleological explanations whether they invoked ”self-survival” functions (e.g., ”so that animals wouldn’t sit on them and smash them”) or ”artifact” functions (e.g., ”so that animals could scratch on them when they got itchy”; Kelemen, 1999c; but see Keil, 1992). This bias in favor of teleological explanation for properties of both living and nonliving natural objects occurs even when children are told that adults apply physical kinds of explanation to nonliving natural entities (Kelemen, 2003). In American children, the bias begins to moderate around 9 to 10 years of age, and this pattern now has been found also with British children for both object properties and, slightly less markedly, natural object wholes. These British findings are relevant because they weigh against interpretations that promiscuous teleological intuitions are a simple reflection of the relatively pronounced cultural religiosity, or religious exceptionalism (in postindustrial, international context), of the United States (see Kelemen, 2003, for discussion of religiosity differences). (emphasis added)
Specifically, there is evidence to suggest that people may be intrinsically disposed to invoke agency and intentional explanation in situations of uncertainty, or in the absence of knowledge (Barrett, 2000; Guthrie, 1993, 2002; Kelemen,
What can we glean from these 2 papers? As children get older their knowledge of the natural world increases. Part of that knowledge is the understanding of the causal agent behind some of these artifacts. As their understanding of this causal relationship increases promiscuous teleology decreases. This was the view of Piaget.
Piaget’s (1929) famous claim that children are artificialists, who lack a sense of physical causality, and therefore draw on their subjective intentional experience to conclude that all things are made by people
Kelemen disagrees with Piaget for the reason that ” children’s orientation to teleo-functional and creationist explanation results, not from children’s incompetence at physical causal reasoning but rather from their particular sensitivity to intentionality” This is illogical and contrary to her own data. It should be obvious the sensitivity to intentionality is due to a child’s ignorance of causality. While a child is capable of conjuring causal reasoning, that is not the same as true understanding.
IMO, I think children intrinsically know that they are fabricating a causal reason for the existence of an artifact and that fabrication has a teleological origin. The teleological origin is the child himself. Because the source is a teleological source (the child), the explanation of the artifact will of course reflect the intention (teleology) of the source for the artifact. e.g. Kelemen use the example of why are rocks pointy? The children have the choice of a physical process or perform a function. 7 and 8 year olds prefer a teleological function. (e.g., “so that animals could scratch on them when they got itchy” ) or (e.g., “so that animals wouldn’t sit on them and smash them” ). Is it really so surprising that their answers are functional rather than physical? They can’t relate to the physical process of pointy rocks because they are ignorant of the causal process. However, they have much better knowledge of being itchy or feeling small. Other than the child’s ignorance, let’s not forget their propensity to fabricate stories. Not necessarily because they are bad or evil, it is because their new brain is trying to absorb and make sense of the world they live in. When they come across a void in their knowledge it is their innate tendency to fill the void with what they know best, that again, is their own experiences. This shouldn’t be rocket science, folks. To turn a child’s desire to understand its environment to some evolutionary propensity for religious belief is ludicrous.
The parsimonious conclusion of these studies is that children relate to things with what they know. In that sense it actually argues against the Darwinian explanation of religious intentionality. Even in primitive animism, it requires the child to have knowledge of a being that exists beyond the object they are relating to. If they were able to grasp this detachable concept of an object they would be able to understand the physical causal aspect of why rocks are pointy.
I think these studies are indicative of 2 things. 1. Children have an uninhibited expression of their feelings. 2. There is a universal need for human beings to make sense of things. Unlike Dennett’s contrive “intentional stance” to promote Darwinism, which is self-contradictory because of the existence of atheists. My theory is universal and inescapable. It is true for atheists and theists. It is true whether atheists exist or don’t exist. The need for human beings to rationalize things is universal. When faced with a biological or non-biological object, it is our tendency to ask questions about that object. What does it do? Where did it come from? Why is it here?
The problem for Darwinists like Dennett and evolutionary psychologists is that there are diametrically opposite answers to these questions, teleological or naturalistic. When the Darwinist tries to define the teleologist as nothing more than a product of evolution, then he contradicts his own existence. The forced interpretation of these studies is only indicative of the teleologically driven agenda of Darwinism. Then again the Darwinists have no other choice, naturalism is the only game in town. So no matter how inconceivable the explanation is, it has to be right because it can’t be designed.