Home » Natural selection, News, Philosophy » Geneticist and science philosopher Gerard M. Verschuuren asks, “Can Darwinism survive without teleology?

Geneticist and science philosopher Gerard M. Verschuuren asks, “Can Darwinism survive without teleology?

We dunno. Right now, it survives by craziness like at Ball State U where profs can teach a course that slams design in nature but not one that provides evidence for it. Anyway, Verschuuren notes,

Somehow our universe has been designed in such a way that specific designs do work, whether it is for better or for worse. It is only due to this metaphysical notion of design and teleology that we can talk about biological designs; all biological designs are “design-based” designs. It is one of the most perplexing things about our universe that it allows for any kind of design to work the way it works.

Did Darwin ignore this part of the story? Or did he really discard teleology? Some keep stressing that he replaced teleology with the causality of natural selection. One of them was George Bernard Shaw who once said that Charles Darwin threw Paley’s “watch” into the ocean. Well, Shaw was wrong. If Darwin did throw something away, it was Paley’s “watchmaker,” but certainly not his famous “watch.” Darwin never threw away the design concept—it was actually essential to his theory.

The artifact analogy of design is as basic to Darwinism as it is to Paley’s natural theology. Since the heart is designed like a pump, it is a successful design “for” circulating blood. After Darwin, the heart still existed “for” circulation; the cause of its existence may have been different, but its teleology was not. However, Darwin ignored, or at least bypassed, the following question: How come that certain biological designs “work,” and are “successful” and “effective” in reaching their “goal”? What is it that makes them “goal-directed”? What carries them through the filter of natural selection?

It’s here that teleology keeps coming back. There is teleology in the biological world because the animate world is design-like—as much so as there is teleology in the technical world of designers because that world is design-like as well. Natural selection may explain that a fine working design has a better chance of being reproduced, but ultimately it cannot explain why such a design is working so well.

And that’s where teleology is needed—even in Darwinism. In that sense, Darwin did not change teleology from an “a priori drive” into an “a posteriori result.” Teleology is not a biological outcome a posteriori but a metaphysical given a priori. Natural selection does not create teleology, but its working is based on teleology.

Either natural selection can create or it cannot. Actually, it cannot. It can only filter. In which case, Darwin’s theory, as he envisioned it, is false; the universe could not throw up that many almost-working designs accidentally.

This guy seems to want to kind of dance around the point. We’ll see what happens. Interesting stuff. Note one really good thing: He admits that designs work for better or for worse. Some of us get tired of hearing from Christian Darwinists that there cannot be design in the universe because  that would mean that God allows evil, or something. Like that was news or something.

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7 Responses to Geneticist and science philosopher Gerard M. Verschuuren asks, “Can Darwinism survive without teleology?

  1. 1

    I bring to your attention “Darwin Was a Teleologist” (PDF), which might only be interesting to historians of biology — perhaps not. Monod’s distinction between “teleology” and “teleonomy” is also worth revisiting these days. Likewise the exciting work by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and others.

    However, the really interesting question is whether the reality of teleological processes is best explained by postulating an intelligent designer as the ultimate source of those processes. In antiquity, Plato and Epictetus thought so; Aristotle did not. I think we certainly have a more refined way of posing the question than they did in antiquity but I’m at best merely hopeful that we’re in a position to answer it.

  2. Darwin’s theory, as he envisioned it, is false; the universe could not throw up that many almost-working designs accidentally.

    I theme touched upon more than once in What Darwin Got Wrong. Too large a search space, too little time. Natural selection fails to explain how just those designs that would turn out to be optimal managed to appear in the first place.

  3. Semi related: Impressive animation with design oozing out all over it:

    Introduction to Cells – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFuEo2ccTPA

    A few related notes:

    “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved. It might be thought, therefore, that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already very well understood.”
    Francis Crick – What Mad Pursuit (1988)

    Life, Purpose, Mind: Where the Machine Metaphor Fails – Ann Gauger – June 2011
    Excerpt: I’m a working biologist, on bacterial regulation (transcription and translation and protein stability) through signalling molecules, ,,, I can confirm the following points as realities: we lack adequate conceptual categories for what we are seeing in the biological world; with many additional genomes sequenced annually, we have much more data than we know what to do with (and making sense of it has become the current challenge); cells are staggeringly chock full of sophisticated technologies, which are exquisitely integrated; life is not dominated by a single technology, but rather a composite of many; and yet life is more than the sum of its parts; in our work, we biologists use words that imply intentionality, functionality, strategy, and design in biology–we simply cannot avoid them.
    Furthermore, I suggest that to maintain that all of biology is solely a product of selection and genetic decay and time requires a metaphysical conviction that isn’t troubled by the evidence. Alternatively, it could be the view of someone who is unfamiliar with the evidence, for one reason or another. But for those who will consider the evidence that is so obvious throughout biology, I suggest it’s high time we moved on. – Matthew
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....nt-8858161

    Though life reeks of design, here is an interesting example of Darwinists trying to suppress design terminology from even being used

    Darwinian Philosophy: “Darwinian Natural Selection is the Only Process that could Produce the Appearance of Purpose” – Casey Luskin – August, 2012
    Excerpt: In any case, this tarring and feathering of Fodor is just the latest frustrated attempt by hardline Darwinians to discourage people from using design terminology. It’s a hopeless effort, because try as they might to impose speech codes on each another, they can’t change the fact that nature is infused with purpose, which readily lends itself to, as Rosenberg calls it “teleosemantics.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....63311.html

    But alas for neo-Darwinists, no matter how much materialists/atheists try to tell Intelligent Design advocates and even a fellow materialist/atheist, such as Jerry Fodor, to ‘shut up’, seeing design in nature is built into us, and try as they might they can never really scratch Fodor’s ‘primal teleological itch’ that has him asking such searching, and probing, questions in the first place.

    Design Thinking Is Hardwired in the Human Brain. How Come? – October 17, 2012
    Excerpt: “Even Professional Scientists Are Compelled to See Purpose in Nature, Psychologists Find.” The article describes a test by Boston University’s psychology department, in which researchers found that “despite years of scientific training, even professional chemists, geologists, and physicists from major universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Yale cannot escape a deep-seated belief that natural phenomena exist for a purpose” ,,,
    Most interesting, though, are the questions begged by this research. One is whether it is even possible to purge teleology from explanation.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....65381.html

    Being ‘hardwired’ for teleology blends into ‘the argument from desire’ fairly seamlessly

    The Itch Atheists Can’t Scratch – August 2012
    Excerpt: Isn’t it odd that we have such a great longing for things that don’t exist? Nowhere else in our human experience has an “itch” so primal, so central to our humanity, developed without any correspondence to a real “scratch.” We’re hungry? We have food. We’re thirsty? We have water. We’re lonely? We have friends and family. But we need meaning, order, and wonder…and we have drugs to distract us from that need? It seems a bit wasteful of evolution to work so hard developing a complex need to match a phantom solution that never existed.
    http://str.typepad.com/weblog/.....ratch.html

    “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” -
    C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, 136-137)

    Verse and Music:

    Romans 1:19-20
    since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    Brooke Fraser- “C S Lewis Song” – music
    http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=DL6LPLNX

  4. Verschuuren argues that teleology is pervasive in the biological world. I would like to argue that holism is the elephant in the room.

    Even though naturalism has the reductionist ambition to explain organisms by its parts it incoherently appeals to organisms as a whole. Of course there can be no such thing as an organism as a whole in naturalistic explanations. Rosenberg said it quite simply:” There are just fermions and bosons and combinations of them.”

    If an organism is reducible to fermions and bosons what does it even mean when we call a certain trait ‘functional’? Functional for what? Functional for fermions and bosons? No, functional for survival, as Darwinians tell us. Survival of what? The organism as a whole.… what else can they say?

    Organism as a whole? What happened to the fermions and bosons – who are not interested in survival nor functionality?

    So what do ‘functionality’ and ‘survival’ even mean without the notion of an organism as a whole?

    Darwinism is utterly incoherent with regard to the ambition of methodological naturalism – to explain away the organism as a whole by reducing it to what really exists: fermions and bosons.

  5. Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University – audio interview – atheist’s ‘crazy talk’ masks a rebellious heart
    http://issuesetc.org/2013/09/1.....nes-91113/

  6. I am an evolutionary theorist and a “card-carrying” teleologist. I’m also an atheist. I work in an area known as biosemiotics. It is the emergence of signs, i.e. the association of things with functional processes, that results in purpose and design. The Biologist’s Mistress: Rethinking Self-Organization in Art, Literature, and Nature. –VN Alexander

  7. Every BM is welcome!

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