Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis

From: Nucacids <>
Date: Tue Sep 29 2009 - 22:49:24 EDT

Hi Bill,

"What would TE look like when we see it?"

The first thing to note is that in order to "see it," we need to think
holistically; we need to see the Big Picture. After all, if you think about
it, a reductionist attempt to see teleology is, well, kind of silly.
Teleology entails connecting the dots, not some hyper-focus on any
particular dot.

So here's a brief outline of the big picture.

Begin with the working assumption that the original cells were designed.
There are multiple, rational reasons for beginning here (explained in TDM).
Basically, I'll just say that it is reasonable to presume that life is
carbon-based nanotechnology (given all we have discovered about cell and
molecular biology over the last 30 years) and it is further reasonable to
attribute the origin of such sophisticated nanotech to mind (another
assumption, mind you).

Second, if we make this assumption, we are faced with the fact that these
designed life forms will necessarily experience random variations in an
environment where natural selection will take place. In other words,
designed life forms will necessarily evolve. Design, then evolution.

Third, we can reasonably assume two more things: a) if life was designed,
then it entailed a built in objective, since all designed things are
designed to carry out an objective (designed for a reason); b) the designer
who intended life to carry out a design objective would be fully aware that
designed life forms will necessarily evolve.

At this point, the designer could enlist evolution to carry out an
objective. The challenge comes in uncovering ways in which a supposedly
open-ended process such as evolution can be channeled to reach objectives.
This may not be as impossible as many assume, as explained here:

I have outlined the general strategy here (which was also shared on this

This then gets into the whole logic of front-loading.

"Anyway, that's my suggestion. Yes, it's another challenge to Mike. But,
if I understand Mike's view, he will not be able to offer any clear cut
examples, since he still believes that it is largely in the mind of the

No, that does not mean I cannot offer clear-cut examples. It simply means
that there is more than one way to view the same data. Again, I must stress
the central, core metaphor behind my whole approach:

I am able to view evolution as a process that is non-teleological (the
conventional mindset) and, increasingly, as a process that is teleological
(nudged, front-loaded, guided). Since the vast majority opt for the
conventional perspective, and I have always been someone who traveled the
road less traveled in all areas of life, I follow the Rabbit. Some recent
specific examples of proposed nudges are here:

And there are many more: (although this
badly needs to be updated).

And more to come (a wild story emerges from the SRP I'm currently blogging
about - hold on to your seat, Dorothy).

Sorry for all the links, but the day job gives me little time and energy to
re-type some of this stuff, which is, of course, a hobby.

Hope this helped.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Powers" <>
To: "Gregory Arago" <>
Cc: "Nucacids" <>; <>;
Sent: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 10:04 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis

Gregory & Mike:

I would suggest a denotative attempt at defining teleolgical evolution

What that would entail is Mike and others to offer possible examples of
What would TE look like when we see it?
I believe, from my little reading, that this can be done.
Indeed, some already think they have examples.
I am not looking for extant examples, but possible ones.

After we have some of them on the table, we can perhaps be able to infer
some notion of a connotative definition, or a conceptual one.

Anyway, that's my suggestion. Yes, it's another challenge to Mike. But,
if I understand Mike's view, he will not be able to offer any clear cut
examples, since he still believes that it is largely in the mind of the
beholder. Nonetheless, he and others who are more knowledgeable on the
subject, can offer us examples that others have given.



On Tue, 29 Sep 2009, Gregory Arago wrote:

> Hi Mike and Others,

Just a short post on the list with respect to your definition of

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,"

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

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!



From: Nucacids <>
To: Gregory Arago <>; Bill Powers <>
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:
‚?oMy 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‚?Ts 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‚?Ts 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 ‚?oteleology 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: ‚?oAnd 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.¬
----- 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:
>‚?oThe 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
>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?
>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
>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.
>From: dfsiemensjr <>
>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 <>
>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 ‚?otruths 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‚?Ts 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, ‚?onatural 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 ‚?otruths too fragile
>>>to bear translation‚? is scientific anathema. (The quote here is Alfred
>>>North Whitehead‚?Ts, and it continues thus: ‚?oA 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‚?Ts 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.
>Best Weight Loss Program - Click Here!
>¬ ¬ ¬ __________________________________________________________________
>Looking for the perfect gift? Give the gift of Flickr!
All new Yahoo! Mail - Get a sneak peak at messages with a handy reading

>No virus found in this incoming message.
>Checked by AVG -
>Version: 8.5.409 / Virus Database: 270.13.113/2399 - Release Date: 09/27/09

Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your
favourite sites. Download it now


No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG -
Version: 8.5.409 / Virus Database: 270.13.115/2403 - Release Date: 09/29/09

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Sep 29 22:50:18 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Sep 29 2009 - 22:50:18 EDT