Teleological fallacy:

Conceptual Fallacy
Definition Example
When there is the claim that some object or idea has a purpose or necessary end point in the absence of evidence for that end point. Why would God have given us noses if he hadn’t planned that we should wear glasses?
  Notes
Only after the existence of an end point has been evidentially established can it serve as a foundation for other dependent concepts.

Case Study One

According to Bertrand Russell, it was once claimed that rabbits were created with white tails so they would be easy for hunters to shoot.


Case Study Two

Evolution is often misunderstood as teleological as evidenced by suggestions that humans represent the apex of development. Evolution might be better understood as the genetic movement of a species to better align its genetic composition and related behaviors to the environmental context, rather than striving towards some genetic goal independent of an environmental context.


Case Study Three

One creationist infamously created a video purporting that the hand-shaped banana was evidence of a designer thinking ahead to when humans would grasp bananas. The fact is that modern bananas have been bred by agriculturists to have the shape they do.


Keep in mind that a fallacious argument does not entail an erroneous position.


4 Responses to Teleological fallacy:

  1. Robert LeChef says:

    Teleological fallacies are those which might assign purpose or false purpose to things which do not have any. However, there is a fundamental misunderstanding what teleology really means (even those young earth creationists et al. fail here, taking a very naive view owing largely to their acceptance of the common mechanistic worldview). Aristotle and Aquinas have in mind something much for fundamental, that is, that towards which something is ordered. For example, when you strike a match against a matchbox, the match doesn’t turn into an elephant or start an new big bang. It is determined to function a certain way. Some may call this affordance, but affordance presupposes a a nature or an order. Now, one might argue that the match will behave differently depending on the efficient cause, and this is true, but that’s those are rather lesser realizations of a thing. The environment that you speak of is not special because it too evolves and indeed other living things also constitute the environment for a given individual. Since the environment is made of things, they too are ordered and thus one may say that the entire universe is by extension ordered toward something.

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  3. boggojones says:

    “Evolution might be better understood as the genetic movement of a species to better align its genetic composition and related behaviors to the environmental context, rather than striving towards some genetic goal independent of an environmental context.”

    This still appears to be a teleological argument. The only difference is that the goal striven towards is not independent of an environmental context. Evolutionary science is conceived in such teleological terms. An alternative concept, surely, is that there are ordinary physical processes that entail that one ‘part’ of the environment is contiguous with its surrounding ‘parts’. The hidden teleology in evolutionary science as currently conceived is akin to asking why the bottom of the ocean so closely matches the shape of the sea floor. Given known physical forces, how else could it be?

    • We can, of course, stipulate a non-conventional broadened definition of “teleology” denoting an obeisance of any entity to any force of nature, but then teleology becomes a trivial fact. When most people refer to a teleology, they are referring to an end purpose external to the forces of nature. We employ that conventional notion of teleology here.

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