A Child’s Intuition of Purpose in Nature Is No Accident

by Jonathan Wells
Evolution News


Young children perceive intuitively that the world is designed.

In 1929, child psychologist Jean Piaget called children “artificialists” who tend to regard everything as “the product of human creation.”

Piaget’s claim that young children’s minds are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between human and nonhuman causes was controversial, and subsequent studies have shown that he was wrong.

Yet he was right in saying that children start out with the intuition that the natural world was made for a purpose.

In 2004, child psychologist Deborah Kelemen suggested that young children are thus “intuitive theists” who are “disposed to view natural phenomena as resulting from nonhuman design.”

Intervention for Indoctrination

By the time they are adolescents, many children have suppressed their intuition of design. This suppression is largely due to influences from the community, especially from parents and teachers striving to acculturate children to a secular society, often in the name of “scientific literacy.”

Kelemen and her colleagues have proposed to facilitate this process with “theory-driven interventions using picture storybooks.” They wrote in 2014:

Repeated, spaced instruction on gradually scaled-up versions of the logic of natural selection could ultimately place students in a better position to suppress competing intuitive theoretical explanations such that they could elaborate a richer, more abstract, and broadly applicable knowledge of this process. Storybook interventions such as the ones reported here seem a promising start from which to promote scientific literacy in the longer term.

“Intervention” usually refers to an action taken to help someone give up an abnormal addiction.

For these psychologists, however, it means convincing children to give up a normal intuition. And it is not enough for them to teach “the logic of natural selection.”

That logic is quite simple: If organisms vary in certain heritable features, and some variations are more likely to survive in a given environment, then those variations will be more common in the next generation.

But natural selection can only operate on variations that already exist; it has no creative power.

So in addition to being taught the logic of natural selection, children must also be taught the Darwinian dogma that selection has the creative power to produce the illusion of design — a power that has never been observed. Only then might children be persuaded to suppress their natural intuition.

“Scientific literacy” usually refers to learning about current hypotheses and how to evaluate them critically by comparing them with evidence. For Kelemen and her colleagues, however, it requires believing uncritically in unguided evolution.

Thus education becomes indoctrination.

A Gaping Hole

But the intuition of design never completely goes away. Even highly trained biologists retain it, though most consciously resist it. As Richard Dawkins wrote in 1986, “Biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.”

In 1988, Nobel laureate Francis Crick wrote: “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” Why must they do so? Because (we are told) evolution is the “scientific consensus” of the experts, and who is qualified to challenge that?

Well, Douglas Axe, for one. He is a molecular biologist who earned a PhD at Caltech and subsequently did research at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, England. Axe now directs the Biologic Institute near Seattle, where he is engaged in laboratory research and computer simulations that examine limitations on protein evolution. In 2016, he published a book titled Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed.

According to Axe, the “universal design intuition” is: “Tasks that we would need knowledge to accomplish can be accomplished only by someone who has that knowledge.” Axe then highlights two facts.

First, we all validate our design intuition through firsthand experience. Second, we all make mental notes of our experience and build conceptual models to make sense of it, and we then compare those models to subsequent experiences and correct them if necessary.

This is exactly how science works, so we are all scientists.

Axe himself has impeccable scientific credentials. He has published articles in the prestigious Journal of Molecular Biology on the extreme improbability of getting functional proteins by chance.

Read the full article at Evolution News.