Re[2]: study teleology? function<=>teleology

Gladwin Joseph (
Mon, 10 Aug 1998 10:15:06 -0700

Dear folks,

As a Biologist (a tree physiologist to be specific) I find that
functional `descriptions' of biological systems are pregnant with
purpose not necessarily theistic purpose. Theistic purpose is
revealed through faith which at its essence is an unknowable
mystery and does not belong to the domain of biological
systems. AS a Christian i marvel at God's wisdom and
knowledge revealed in the intricate interactions of structure
and function in this majestic Creation. But this is only through the
work of the Holy Spirit not through the excercise of any of my
biological systems alone.

In my limited understanding of Teleology, I cannot develop a
hypothesis without assuming that the system functions with purpose.
In other words every time i ask the question why? for ex. why do
gymnosperms have tracheids and not vessels? I inevitably assume a
function/purpose/reason and that directs my questions. I fail to
understand a nonteleological approach in functional biology or for
that matter even in evolutionary biology/anthropology. Ex. What is
the purpose for an ancient bone with a `chiselled' hole in it at one

Please help me out here.



Faculty Research Associate
Dept of FOrest Science
Or 97331

_______________________ Reply Separator _______________________

Subject: Re: study teleology?
Author: "Dan Berger" <> at Internet_Gateway
Date: 8/4/98 1:22 PM

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