Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Tue Sep 29 2009 - 03:55:48 EDT

Hi Mike and Others, Just a short post on the list with respect to your definition of 'teleology'. You wrote: "recognizing teleology is akin to recognizing another mind." Can we then ask: do scientists recognize minds? And if so, which scientists do this and which ones don't? I can hear Moorad breathing heavily already because 'science' for him is *only* about physical things and 'minds' may or may not be strictly physical. A philosopher of mind, on the other hand, attempts to negotiate a coherent relationship between mind and physical matter that offers a different or collaborative perspective with natural-physical scientists (incl. but not excl. to physicists). In other words, Moorad's physics-oriented view of 'science' priviledges some 'scientists' at the cost of other 'scholarly respect.' Of course, he doesn't see it this way, but the top-down and bottom-up respect/coherence/unity of knowledge issue exists nonetheless. What both Bill and Schwarzwald say is interesting and challenges the idea of a 'fixed' definition of 'teleology.' Do you define it explicitly in "TDM," Mike? The idea of 'teleological evolution' is a curious one. As Bill says, "What is lacking, as I see it, is a clear explication of what it is they are calling teleological." TEs, for example, seem to have no problem with taking an a-teleological notion, that is, biological evolution is a-teleological according to *most* (but not all) biologists, in combination with the teleological notion of divine guidance or divine action in the world. Some of them (though George, to clarify again, doesn't take the label TE, but doesn't reject it if someone calls him a TE either) claim the teleology is 'invisible' or 'kenotic,' which is of course highly distasteful to IDists or to those like Mike Gene who look at/for things like 'discontinuity' as examples where 'teleology' is (visibly?) present in biological subjects/objects. The point that Schwarzwald makes here seems entirely relevant, i.e. that "too many want to smuggle it [teleology] in either as a default position or as the only valid scientific conclusion," while neglecting to properly situate the boundaries of 'science' in relation to other legitimate/significant branches of knowledge such as philosophy and theology. What this means, in my view, is that TEs conveniently jump from science to theology and back again when they say that 'evolution is guided', without adequately discussing 'how science/scientists can or cannot include teleological ideas and concepts.' Mike seems (the question is whether or not and how he represents 'science' in his views) to be saying "science can," while TEs are saying "science cannot - teleology is invisible to science (due to a philosophy of science called MN)!" It all seems so mysterious, doesn't it, though the balance is proclaimed by supposedly-almost rational people? (This is a self-poke as well, e.g. the ideas of Friedrich von Hayek that unveiled the myths of 'full information' and 'fully rational decisions' made in Economics.)  Indeed, this topic seems to be a 'whirlpool' of sorts (Charybdis) that no one, least of all me, seems to clearly understand or to be able to express in a way that 'could' generate a kind of 'consensus,' whether called a scientific, philosophical or theological consensus. It is enough to admit that anyone who 'categorically dismisses teleology from scientific knowledge' had better be able to come up with supporting philosophical and/or theological justifications for their position (unlike Dawkins and co.), otherwise the label of 'scientism' should be really and freely applied to their point of view. Interesting thread folks, Thanks! Gregory   ________________________________ From: Nucacids <> To: Gregory Arago <>; Bill Powers <> Cc:;; Sent: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 1:52:09 AM Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis  Hi Bill,   I just saw Gregory nudging me to reply, so I thought I would oblige.   You write:   “My initial problem is with the use of the word telological. It seems that for some, at least, telology is in the eye of the beholder.  To be able to discover certain laws or propensities that engender or favor certain biologies is not teleology.  Because life may have evolved in atmospheres and resulted in many life forms flying is not telology, not at least as I define it.”   To a large extent it is in the eye of the beholder.  Since no one (in science or out of science) seems to possess a methodology to objectively detect teleology, how could it be otherwise?  After all, recognizing teleology is akin to recognizing another mind.    But as I see it, this is not the huge problem that many would think it to be.  For one thing, it’s a problem that cuts both ways.  For example, scientists originally used the concept of preadaptation, a concept many recognize(d) to have teleological connotations.  Gould came along to do some metaphysical house-cleaning and replaced the term with exaptation.  If a non-teleologist prefers to think of a preadaptation as an exaptation, then as you mentioned, it’s in the eye of the beholder.  According to the individual beholder, either all preadaptations are really exaptations or some preadaptations truly are preadaptations (or nudges).   My approach is to recognize that any “teleology detection” will necessarily have a subjective element to it.  While this may mean such detection cannot ever rise to the level of science, it does not mean an investigation built around teleological assumptions is doomed and useless.    BTW, I should mention that my original posting did not make any claim of detecting teleology.  What I wrote was this: “And in one sense, this is understandable, as symbiogenesis, neutral theory, lateral gene transfer, and deep homology all open the door, even if slightly, to a teleological interpretation of evolution.”   As I see it, the many advances in molecular and evolutionary biology that have occurred over the last several decades have made it easier, not harder, for the beholder to envision a teleological process.  Easier, not harder.  So what you then do is take that mental image, use it to formulate testable hypotheses, and explore the living world.    Mike ----- Original Message ----- >From: Gregory Arago >To: Bill Powers >Cc: ; ; ; >Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 3:19 PM >Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis > > >Hi Bill, > >yes, i can understand somewhat where you're coming from in suggesting the word 'teleological' is problematic. i note however, that the 'magic word' you are referring to in your most recent post to the list is this: scientism. and according to most views of scientism, teleological explanations are considered anathema to 'good science.' > >now it would be unfair for me to pronounce that 'teleology' is entirely unproblematic in up to one-half of the academic world, i.e. the human-social sciences, where terms such as agency, will, plan, goal, direction, purpose, etc. are commonplace *and* at the same time to suggest that it is only in natural-physical sciences where 'telelogy' is banned *by methodological fiat*. since Mike Gene is doing just that, i.e. applying 'telic' language in biology (but like i suggested, he doesn't appear to be a mainstream biologist in a position to influence academic or practising biologists with his ideas, though i could be wrong about this - i had hoped he would address your thoughtful post since it was his thread and the topic is closer to one that he engages in regularly) and since there are other natural-physical scientists who *do* use telelogical ideas, it seems there is room for debate. this is what it seems you are encouraging. > >"It seems that teleology is simply being used as a term in contrast to random.  It is intended to reflect a more lawlike evolution, one where reasons can be given for why certain biological traits are extant." - Bill > >i can't speak for others, but i don't use it simply in contrast to 'random.' you may be right about the 'lawlike evolution,' which seems to be what TEs are getting at by suggesting that evolution *is* guided, just that the guidance is hidden or 'kenotic' and that science cannot touch it, hear it, taste it, smell it or feel it...for ever and ever, amen. but TEs are *far* from having convinced evolutionary biologists of their mixed assertion, and they don't seem to be making any headway. someone like Margulis is a far more likely candidate to achieve this than are TEs, and 1) they probably don't care either way, 2) her 'teleology' is of course nothing like what is mean by 'final cause' in terms of St. T Aquainas. Mike Gene is probably in the best position i can imagine to do something with 'telic' thinking 'in biology', but i have read *no reviews* of his book by biologists about whether they have any time for his thoughts. perhaps indeed he is
 being stung by carrying the label 'IDist' or 'design theorist' even though he is also a front-loaded-TEist/ECist, with which few biologists would take issue. > >i read something today nevertheless that made me smile on this very topic: >“The cosmos is permeated with meaning, and meaning has no meaning outside teleology, or final causes. In other words, the meaning is the cause.” > >it may be that what i've said above on this, and this quote (which also refers to Aristotle's 'formal cause' as well as 'final cause'), don't help much, Bill, sorry to say. one of the questions people return to again and again is 'what is science and what isn't science' and then play a demarcation game, and it all goes round and round. Can going round and round be considered 'teleological action'? perhaps in some cases it can. > >is 'biology' as 'united' a field as some make it appear to be...united under Darwinian ideas or logic? i've been told by at least one biologist personally in recent days, hearing the same thing from others speaking publically that it isn't. the idea of an 'all-powerful Darwin' or even 'Darwinism' is more a mirage than a reality in biology itself, despite the fact that all of those involved, as well as myself, were part of a Darwin celebration. maybe it was just an excuse to get together and to 'go beyond' Darwin, which in many ways already has been done. > >let me refer you to an article Levit et al. Journal of Bioeconomics 2008, Vol. 10, No. 1. (12 April 2008), pp. 71-96, titled "Alternative Evolutionary Theories: A Historical Survey," which deals with 'non-Darwinian' (and also with more or less legitimate anti-Darwinian) approaches *in biology.* C'mon you Darwin-loving Christians (Michael Roberts and 15% of England rumbles), don't deny such non-Darwinian approaches are out there! > >Cheers, Gregory > > > ________________________________ From: Bill Powers <> >To: Gregory Arago <> >Cc: dfsiemensjr <>;; >Sent: Saturday, September 26, 2009 5:26:54 PM >Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis > >Gregory: > >I'm listening with much interest to some of these "non-Darwinian" senses >of evolution, and following some of the articles referred to. > >My initial problem is with the use of the word telological. > >It seems that for some, at least, telology is in the eye of the >beholder.  To be able to discover certain laws or propensities that >engender or favor certain biologies is not teleology.  Because life may >have evolved in atmospheres and resulted in many life forms flying is >not telology, not at least as I define it. > >It is true that flying requires as a necessary condition that air exist, >but why is it teleological that flying species arise? > >It seems that teleology is simply being used as a term in contrast to >random.  It is intended to reflect a more lawlike evolution, one where >reasons can be given for why certain biological traits are extant. > >Even if it were the case that certain biological forms follwed in the >same manner as salt forms salt crystals that would not be teleological, >for then we can say that all mechanistic science is teleological, terms >that generally accepted as standing in opposition to each other. > >Nor is it whether there are integrated or holistic effects that make an >event or system teleological.  Feedback mechanisms can be mechanistic, >producing integrated effects on an entire mechanistic system.  But we >don't refer to such a system as telelogical. > >So, then, that's my question: How are we defining the term telelogical, >or is it merely meant to stand as a term in contrast to random? > >Thanks, > >bill > >On Sat, 26 >Sep 2009, Gregory Arago wrote: > >> Hi Dave, > >I don't think Mike would argue against the point you make, i.e. that "evolutionary studies are doing quite well." He is rather making a point about 'teleological evolutionary studies' which can hardly be said to be 'embraced by most mainstream biologists.' Do you see a difference here or am I harping a foul tune? > >At the Darwin Conference I recently attended, I was surprised to hear several papers by active biologists (not just by yahoos) promoting a non-Darwinian form of 'evolutionary studies.' It seems to me that 'Darwinian' or even 'neo-Darwinian' evolutionary studies are predminantly 'non-teleological.' Would you agree? > >I quite like Schwarzwald's question: "If a certain view of evolution was being safeguarded...?" If this is the case, then what would it be a good thing for the biologists at ASA to do about it? > >Mike Gene is promoting,  if I properly understand him, a teleological form of biological evolution (or at least I think he is a biologist speaking a language that biologists should recognize), which is consistent with something like what L. Margulis is offering with her 'post-Darwinian' approach. Mike involves the term 'design,' however, which makes some people uncomfortable. > >I don't know if Mike calls himself 'post-Darwinian' too, but there is a precedent among biologists for taking such a label and making an attempt to understand the natural world with non-Darwinian, i.e. teleological language, even in biology. > >Gregory > > > > >________________________________ >From: dfsiemensjr <> >To: >Cc: >Sent: Saturday, September 26, 2009 7:54:43 AM >Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis > > >I don't get Woese's claim. The last biology class I took was over fifty years ago, but I have since gone through at least the abstracts of almost all of the articles in /Science/. I see a broad movement relative to evolution. The modern synthesis in its basic form combined natural selection with Mendelian genetics. But genetics is much more complicated than the simple pattern found in the nineteenth century. I learned that at least some of the 25,000 human genes, a smaller number that expected, produce more than one protein, and that control of the genes is not yet well understood. Still, the same gene provides the developmental pattern for the compound eye in Drosophila, the mammalian eye, and the different cephalopod eye. Seems to me this fits an evolutionary pattern. The latest issue of /Science/ that has come to hand has an article on rodent coloration, It involves three genes interacting complexly, along with a number of mutations, with a >> resulting differential survival in various milieus. Given the complexity of genomes, it looks to me as though we are doing fairly well in deciphering evolutionary patterns. Add in the discovery of a large number of fossils that show the developmental pattern, at least of the bones, and it seems to me that evolutionary studies are doing quite well. I'm sure that any practicing biologist can add many items to my short list. >Dave (ASA) > >On Fri, 25 Sep 2009 22:40:51 -0400 Schwarzwald <> writes: >Heya Mike, >> >>What I find interesting here is that, in essence, Carl Woese is claiming that one of the major impediments to science has been - believe it or not - evolutionary biologists themselves. "Instead, the focus was not the study of the evolutionary process so much as the care and tending of the modern synthesis. Safeguarding an old concept, protecting “truths too fragile to bear translation” is scientific anathema."? If Woese is right, than this is one more example of science being impeded not by creationists or otherwise, but the scientific establishment itself. >> >>Of course, nothing Woese is saying here is challenging evolution in the broad sense. Then again, I think an interesting question to ask would be "If a certain view of evolution was being safeguarded and treated as beyond questioning, why was this the case?" >> >> >>On Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 9:01 PM, Nucacids <> wrote: >> >> Carl Woese has co-authored another thought-provoking article entitled, How the Microbial World Saved Evolution from the Scylla of Molecular Biology and the Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis.  He makes many startling claims, including: >>> >>>"As for evolution, it had been developed from a phenomenological description centering around what was generally termed natural selection into the modern evolutionary synthesis through its union with Mendelian genetics. The modern evolutionary synthesis should have been the 20th century’s evolutionary bastion, the forefront of research into the evolutionary process. No such luck! >>>The basic understanding of evolution, considered as a process, did not advance at all under its tutelage. The presumed fundamental explanation of the evolutionary process, “natural selection,” went unchanged and unchallenged from one end of the 20th century to the other. Was this because there was nothing more to understand about the nature of the evolutionary process? Hardly! Instead, the focus was not the study of the evolutionary process so much as the care and tending of the modern synthesis. Safeguarding an old concept, protecting “truths too fragile to bear translation” is scientific anathema. (The quote here is Alfred North Whitehead’s, and it continues thus: “A science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost” [32].) What makes the treatment of evolution by biologists of the last century insufferable scientifically is not the modern synthesis per se. Rather, it is the fact that molecular biology accepted the synthesis as a >> complete theory unquestioningly—thereby giving the impression that evolution was essentially a solved scientific problem with its roots lying only within the molecular paradigm. >>>There you have it. An entire century spent studying biology without seriously addressing evolution, without assigning importance to the study of the evolutionary process. Our understanding of biology, of biological organization, far from being near complete (as molecularists would have us believe), seems still in its infancy." >>>Woese is not making any anti-evolutionary claim here.  He is simply pointing out something I have long been saying – that the Modern Synthesis has not delivered a full understanding of evolutionary processes and that our understanding of evolution is still rather primitive ( ). What’s more, those who have embraced the Modern Synthesis as delivering a nearly complete understanding of evolutionary processes have a history is getting it wrong: they resisted symbiogenesis, neutral theory, lateral gene transfer, and deep homology.  And in one sense, this is understandable, as symbiogenesis, neutral theory, lateral gene transfer, and deep homology all open the door, even if slightly, to a teleological interpretation of evolution. >>>  >>>Mike >> >> > >____________________________________________________________ >Best Weight Loss Program - Click Here! > > > >      __________________________________________________________________ >Looking for the perfect gift? 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Received on Tue Sep 29 03:56:24 2009

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