Lifting the taboo regarding teleology and anthropomorphism in biology education - Heretical suggestions

Anat Zohar*, Shlomit Ginossar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Teleological and anthropomorphic explanations are considered illegitimate by many biology educators. This article is a position paper advocating the removal of the taboo regarding anthropomorphism and teleology in biology education. This position is defended by several arguments: (a) Regardless of science educators' position in this issue, children will continue to encounter endless teleological/anthropomorphic formulations in popular science movies and books. (b) A review of philosophers' and biologists' ideas shows that there is definitely no consensus on a universal rejection of teleological formulations and explanations. (c) The results of an empirical cognitive study show that, for high school students, the acceptance of anthropomorphic or teleological formulations does not necessarily imply anthropomorphic or teleological reasoning. (d) Results from an empirical field study designed to assess the influence of a textbook with numerous teleological/ anthropomorphic formulations on biology students indicate that the use of such a book is not followed by an increase in students' application of teleological/anthropomorphic formulations or explanations. Students' reflections upon their own learning processes testify that teleological/anthropomorphic formulations have heuristic value. Practical implications for biology education are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)679-697
Number of pages19
JournalScience Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1998


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