Hardwired to See Design

Hardwired to See Design

A review article published in Science a few weeks ago makes some remarkable assertions. Regarding a commonsense psychology, the authors highlight a “promiscuous teleology” among children:

…children naturally see the world in terms of design and purpose. Additionally, when asked about the origin of animals and people, children spontaneously tend to provide and prefer creationist explanations.

They continue and note that:

Another consequence of people’s common-sense psychology is dualism, the belief that the mind is fundamentally different from the brain. This belief comes naturally to children.

According to the authors this commonsense psychology appears universal among children. Interestingly, the authors then argue that these psychological biases cause a resistance to science that can extend into adulthood if reinforced by sources deemed trustworthy.

They choose evolutionary biology to illustrate this resistance to science. While the theory of evolution clearly falls within the realm of science, declaring it the final answer on the origin and development of life on Earth seems premature. I would argue that sound scientific reasoning leads to skepticism regarding evolution, especially considering the numerous scientific controversies that may turn out to be fatal for the theory.

Even more surprising, the authors argue that

The strong intuitive pull of dualism makes it difficult for people to accept what Francis Crick called “the astonishing hypothesis”: Dualism is mistaken—mental life emerges from physical processes.

The scientific case on this issue is far from resolved. Additionally, dualism stands as one of the most hotly contested philosophical issues of today. Even if the theory of evolution and the astonishing hypothesis are correct, there remains a huge philosophical problem. Why should we expect the inferences drawn from our brains to be rational when the processes responsible for our brains do not possess that quality? Remember, natural-process evolution would have produced the “false” psychology universally observed in children.

The authors conclude that “resistance to science, then, is particularly exaggerated in societies where nonscientific ideologies have the advantages of being both grounded in common sense and transmitted by trustworthy sources.” I would argue that the resistance arises not against the science but against the undergirding naturalistic philosophy that denies the existence and activity of God in the world.

In fact, the psychology described fits perfectly in a Judeo-Christian worldview. God created man in His image with a capacity to relate to God—primarily through his mind. It follows that man sees the world in terms of design and purpose and instinctively knows that his mind extends beyond the physical processes of his brain. That we can, as adults, suppress this capacity to see God gives new meaning to Jesus’ admonition to “receive the kingdom of God like a child”.