Re: study teleology?

Dan Berger (
Tue, 4 Aug 1998 13:22:55 -0400

Paul Arveson asked,
> As a non-biologist, I would like a clarification of language
> here. It seems
> to me that if someone is a thoroughgoing Darwinist, he will avoid all
> language that is teleological. Isn't the concept of function
> teleological,
> just as the notion of 'design' is? In the context above, to
> 'study function'
> seems to mean, 'find the purpose for which this molecule is
> used.' But
> if biology as a whole is really devoid of purpose, then how can its
> components be said to have a purpose?
> I have noticed many such instances in the use of the
> words 'function'
> and 'design' in articles in Science and Nature recently. Are the
> biologists simply being sloppy, or is it the case that we are
> linguistically unable to describe biological phenomena in any
> other terms?

Since no one has written a public answer, I'll try (even though I'm not a
biologist, either). 'Function' is a pretty easy word; it does not
necessarily have teleological implications; it simply describes what
something does. And it's not that materialist Darwinists are totally
anti-teleological; they simply assert that blind evolutionary chance,
coupled with natural selection, is a sufficient design principle for
everything. Thus they can talk about a structure being 'designed' without
meaning what, say, M. Behe or P. Johnson mean when they use the word.

Darwinist 'teleology' is that selection pressures are strong enough to
eliminate poor 'design' leaving only the 'well-designed' features (along
with certain sloppy leftovers, like the human appendix). And certainly the
engineering metaphor is useful...

Dan Berger