Macquarie University
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Teleology and the intentional actions of supernatural agents

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posted on 2022-03-29, 03:16 authored by Andrew J. Roberts
Adults have an enduring tendency to endorse teleological explanations of the natural world, where objects are explained with reference to some purpose or function. Research currently suggests that teleological and non-teleological beliefs about nature can, and do, co-exist, and that endorsement of teleological explanations of nature is positively related to a belief in the existence of supernatural agents. However, questions remain regarding exactly what aspect of belief in supernatural agents underlies the positive relationship, and how this can be reconciled with findings of an enduring teleological bias. Given that teleology is thought to develop from an understanding of intentionality, it was hypothesised that after controlling for other aspects of belief in supernatural agents, belief in the intentionality of supernatural agents should positively predict explicit teleological endorsement of the natural world, and that for non-religious individuals there should be a divergence of implicit and explicit teleological beliefs. In this study, participants were asked to judge as true or false a series of teleological explanations of biological organisms and natural non-living objects under either speeded or un-speeded conditions. After controlling for belief in the existence of supernatural agents, the belief that supernatural agents intentionally interact with the world positively predicted explicit teleological endorsement of natural non-living objects. For non-religious individuals, rates of implicit endorsement were significantly higher than explicit endorsement, whereas for highly religious individuals there was no significant difference between the two. These results are interpreted as being consistent with an intention-based theory of teleological reasoning, and help to reconcile the finding of a positive relationship between teleological endorsement and belief in supernatural agents with those of an enduring teleological bias. Theoretical implications of these findings are discussed, and several avenues for future research are identified from questions raised as a result of the current study.


Alternative Title

Teleology and supernatural agents.

Table of Contents

Introduction -- Method -- Results -- Discussion -- References -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 68-77 Theoretical thesis. Running title: Teleology and supernatural agents.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Colin Wastell


Copyright Andrew J. Roberts 2018. Copyright disclaimer:




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