Now that you have had a chance to experience inattentional blindness, let me propose that something very similar is at work when it comes to the hypothesis that life was designed such that the subsequent evolution was shaped by this design. If this hypothesis is valid, I suspect that most people would not notice it much as most people do not notice the gorilla pounding his chest in the middle of a group of basketball players.
To see this, let’s begin with Jerry Coyne. Coyne is an excellent biologist and a professor at the University of Chicago who spells out a very common approach to biotic reality:
Either way, such a view completely violates the scientific presumption (and evidence) that evolution is a purely materialistic and unguided process — a process without a goal or, indeed, any determined outcome.
But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required.
If we’re to defend evolutionary biology, we must defend it as a science: a nonteleological theory in which the panoply of life results from the action of natural selection and genetic drift acting on random mutations.
Coyne this begins his analysis with a ground rule that excludes teleology from the start. His focus is purely on non-teleological explanations and this focus must be defended and never violated. Thus, if we think of this non-teleological focus as being similar to the focus on the basketball players in white, it stands to reason that a teleological explanation would be hidden in his inattentional blindness.
Of course, it is important to remember that Coyne is not eccentric on this point, but instead represents mainstream thinking. For example, Nobel laureate Christian De Duve employed the same ground rule when exploring the origin of life in his book, Vital Dust:
I have tried to conform to the overriding rule that life be treated as a natural process, its origin, evolution, and manifestations, up to and including the human species, as governed by the same laws of nonliving processes. I exclude three “isms”; vitalism, which views living beings as made of matter animated by some vital spirit; finalism, or teleology, which assumes goal-directed causes in biological processes; and creationism, which invokes a literal acceptance of the biblical account.
If you doubt that this Rule shapes the perception of many people, consider two simple dynamics that have been addressed on this blog:
1. If for some reason, some aspect of reality even hints of a teleological essence, it is immediately smacked down with disconfirmation bias. We saw this in play when peeking into the peer review process.
2. When asked what type of data would count for a teleological explanation, the non-teleologists struggle mightily with the question and typically can offer nothing better than a Gap. In other words, the only way to overcome the inattentional blindness is for a 900 foot gorilla to walk among the basketball players and that 900 foot gorilla is supposed to be a proof of something that evolutionary theory cannot possibly explain.
Thus, we have good reason to expect that something akin to inattentional blindness is in play when people begin their investigation by ruling out certain explanations. In this case, when people rule out a teleological explanation from the get go, it is not surprising that they see no evidence for design.
But what about the people who are looking for teleological explanations? Oddly enough, I think many of them also might be subject to “inattentional blindness.” Let’s look at that next.