Re: teleology in terminology

Keith B Miller (
Mon, 10 Aug 1998 10:19:52 -0600

Paul wrote:

>So I ask a philosophical question: is it possible to describe nature
>without teleological implications, in a way that is as intelligible as
>the descriptions in ordinary language? Has anyone done this in an
>extensive article or book?
>I am reminded of Francis Schaeffer here; he often accused materialists
>of slipping in personal and theistic terms that were not consistent
>with their stated world view. This is cheating. Is it possible to
>describe life materialistically, without cheating?

I really don't know why you assume neo-Darwinism is inconsistent with
teleological descriptions of organic function. Of course biological
structures have functional purposes. This would be true whether or not a
divine governing hand was involved. Natural selection selects for
functionality of the phenotype. An individual that functions better
*within a given environmental context* will have better survivability. (By
this I am not saying that non-functional or deleterious traits cannot be
fixed in a population.) Much of paleontology is focussed on reconstructing
function from preserved skeletal morphologies. The functionality of
organisms is always relative to a particular environment. In fact, the
reconstruction of function can sometimes be used as an aid in
reconstructing the environments in which fossil organisms lived.


Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506