Posted by: Dan | November 30, 2008

Contemporary Creationism as a Form of Folkbiology

I think anyone familiar with science will realize that Intelligent DesignCreationism is not science. For various reasons, calling it philosophy doesn’t seem right either. Theology? Well… maybe it could be called Natural Theology (many called it that in William Paley’s time, anyway). None of these does justice to the inductive processes that go on in people’s minds as they think about causes in biology.

Theory of Mind is one way to explore how the mind develops to perceive purpose and how people perceive causes in biology. Another I’d like to explore is folkbiology. Folk biology or folkbiology is the cognitive study of how people classify and reason about the organic world. Humans everywhere classify animals and plants into obvious species-like groups.

Naturally, this ties folkbiology closely to systematics and taxonomy, and the inductive approaches of Linnaeus and his contemporaries. Like Linnaeus, the categorization or classification of the organic world into ontological categories leads to a fundamental impression of the immutability of species, or Essentialism.

Essentialism feeds upon the readily perceptible morphological, ecological and reproductive gaps separating species. The notion that members of a species conform to a morphological/behavioral “type” also fits well into the piecemeal and anecdotal way in which the average person fails to look at a species. For example, all “sea” gulls may appear indistinguishable to a novice birdwatcher; upon extensive observation however, one begins to notice and recognize that there are notable differences between some groups of gulls and others; and finally notice the degrees in which individuals of the same species of gull differ from one another.

Most people fail to make the effort to intensely observe the variation within and between birds (or other animals). And that’s exactly the case for the vast majority of creationists, it would seem.


  1. John Wilkins linked here with some helpful criticism.

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