When “design” regarding nature is discussed, I am reminded of this study entitled “The Human Function Compunction: Teleological explanation in adults”
From the introduction
As debates about teaching Intelligent Design in American Schools illustrate, there exists substantial popular resistance to scientific ideas. While many factors contribute to such resistance, part of the explanation may be
found in various conceptual biases (e.g., Bloom & Skolnick Weisberg, 2007; Evans, 2000; Gelman, 2003; Kelemen, 1999a; Rosset, 2008; Shtulman, 2006). Among these is an early emerging ‘‘promiscuous” teleological tendency to explain all kinds of natural phenomena by reference to a purpose. For example, from preschool, children attribute functions to entities like lions, mountains, and icebergs, viewing them as ‘‘made for something” (Kelemen, 1999a). When asked about properties of natural entities like pointy rocks, children prefer teleological explanations over physical–causal ones, endorsing that rocks are pointy ‘‘so that animals won’t sit on them”, not because ‘‘bits of stuff piled up over time” (Kelemen, 1999b; but Keil, 1995). Among school-aged children, such teleological intuitions explicitly link to beliefs about intentional causality in nature (Kelemen & DiYanni, 2005) with children’s ideas not straightforwardly explained by parental explanations (Kelemen, Callanan, Casler, & Pérez-Granados, 2005) or ambient cultural religiosity (Kelemen, 2003).
Adults, of course, do not show much overt sign of sharing children’s beliefs about the intrinsic functionality of icebergs or a rock’s sharp edges. Presumably then, children readily outgrow such fanciful purpose-based ideas, especially as their familiarity with ultimate causal explanations increases. Indeed, research with college-educated adults seems to support this trajectory. When tested on child appropriate tasks, they eschew children’s broad teleological endorsements, restricting functional ascriptions to body parts and artifacts (Kelemen, 1999a; Kelemen, 1999b; Kelemen, 2003).
Despite this, however, recent findings hint that ‘‘promiscuous teleology” may not be a passing stage of immaturity. For instance, research using child-assessment materials that compared Alzheimer’s patients to healthy controls found that teleological intuitions reassert themselves when the coherence of causal knowledge is eroded by disease (Lombrozo, Kelemen, & Zaitchik, 2007). This raises the possibility that rather than being part of a childhood stage, teleological explanation remains an explanatory default throughout development. That is, while the acquisition of scientifically warranted causal explanations might suppress teleological ideas, it does not replace them. This ‘‘co-existence” position makes a prediction: Even
healthy, schooled adults should display scientifically unwarranted promiscuous teleological intuitions when their capacity to inhibit more primary purpose-based intuitions is impaired by processing demands. To test this, we asked undergraduates to judge the correctness of warranted and unwarranted explanations of various natural phenomena under speeded conditions.