Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis

From: wjp <>
Date: Wed Sep 30 2009 - 09:39:41 EDT

OK. We're going to go back to Aristotle who first introduced this notion
of a final cause and try to understand his defense of a final cause.

Consider a living being. Suppose we try to explain that living being
only on the basis of say chemical laws and properties. In doing so,
we are told, we can understand the processes of embryo development, bone
growth, heart action, etc.

All of these follow some kind of regularity, one might even say
necessary lawfulness.

What we have to explain, however, is not merely the lawful chemical actions
in a cell, but also the complex integration of the entire organism,
and this we cannot do. For we must be able to relate the necessary lower
level laws to a contingent whole.

At this point someone will say that this integrated whole is an accident,
which, of course, by the very definition of accident is a tautology.
It must be an accident (taken classically) if the organization of the whole
is not an essential or necessary character of the lower level laws.

We are suppose to be satisfied with the idea that it is an accident.
To which Aristotle would reply that were it an accident how do we
explain the regularity of organism, if not organisms? Contingent accidents do
not form regularities.

We might answer that the contingent accident is remembered or frozen in the
genetic structure of the organism.
Aristotle would say that the regularity is explained by a final cause:
that for which the sake of which the lower level material is organized.
They have the particular form they have because it is "good" for the

So we have to be able to explain why and how the good arises for the whole
through mechanisms that have no such good or order in them. We have to explain how
from the necessary a contingent good arises.

Aristotle's final cause is not intentional, as some have suggested.
Teleology, then, need not be intentional.
In some sense it is a little like ID. For Aristotle claims that he
needs this "force," this final cause to explain the contingent regularity of the
world. But this leaves open the question of what is the source of this
final cause: a World Soul, even if unintentional?


On Tue, 29 Sep 2009 20:38:00 -0700 (PDT), Gregory Arago <> wrote:
> Hi Mike,
> Thanks for this. Just another question, if you don't mind.
> You wrote:
> "The first group looks at the world and sees some kind of purpose behind
> it. They are called the teleologists. The second group looks at the same
> world but sees no purpose behind it. We will call this group the
> non-teleologists."
> Isn't your definition of 'teleological' here basically the same as
> 'theological'? In other words, 'world with purpose' = theological, and
> 'world without purpose' = non-theological?
> If not, then how do you distinguish the two? Can a teleologist be a
> non-theist? (I believe this is a point that Bill was making; i.e. that
> some people use the idea of 'teleology' in biology in a way that is
> independent from their higher views of the world, life, etc.)
> Gregory
> p.s. i would be glad to see your definition of 'mechanical' - if you
> prefer to send it privately, that's fine too...
> ________________________________
> From: Nucacids <>
> To: Gregory Arago <>; Bill Powers <>
> Cc:;
> Sent: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 6:59:08 AM
> Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis
> Hi Gregory,
> "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?"
> Not being a philosopher, the only thing I try to explicitly define is
> 'machine.'  For teleology, the closest I come is trying to set some
> historical context:
> "Imagine walking into a room where there are two groups of scholars having
> a rather heated debate. One group argues that living things are the
> products of Mind. These scholars discuss things like the human eye,
> arguing the optimal arrangement of parts seen in these structures point to
> a designer as their cause. This group also highlights the harmony and
> beauty that is all around us, insisting that a form of wisdom lies behind
> the natural world. The second group of scholars claims the harmony and
> optimal arrangements found in nature could well have arisen by chance.
> According to this group, natural forces working over huge spans of time
> stabilized these arrangements and ordered configurations, removing the
> need to invoke any type of designer.
> Striving to maintain objectivity as you follow these two groups of
> scholars, you might notice they are looking at the same world, yet
> perceiving a “big picture” that is very different. The first group
> looks at the world and sees some kind of purpose behind it. They are
> called the teleologists. The second group looks at the same world but sees
> no purpose behind it. We will call this group the non-teleologists.
> You might be thinking that I have been talking about a group of
> creationists and evolutionary scientists arguing in the auditorium of a
> local college. You would be wrong. These two groups of scholars once
> argued in the halls of Ancient Greece. The teleologists were represented
> by men such as Socrates, Plato, Diogenes, and Aristotle. The
> non-teleologists were represented by such men as Democritus, Leucippus of
> Elea, and Epicurus of Samos. These great and scholarly thinkers debated
> their opposing views over a period of about two hundred years. Their works
> would later influence European scientists and philosophers, including
> Robert Boyle, William Paley, and David Hume."
> Anyway, it's more like an intitial, illustrative sketch than any "final
> word" explicit definition. 
> Mike
> ----- Original Message -----
>>From: Gregory Arago
>>To: Nucacids ; Bill Powers
>>Cc: ;
>>Sent: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 3:55 AM
>>Subject: Re: [asa] The Charybdis of the Modern Synthesis
>>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!
> ________________________________
> 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:
>>“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. 
>>----- Original Message --

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Received on Wed Sep 30 09:40:33 2009

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