ID and Science - Part II

Date: Mon Jan 03 2000 - 11:21:45 EST

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    Teleology Important to Science

    Design critics often claim that the concept of design has
    never been useful in science. They are plain wrong.
    A nice example that demonstrates this comes from
    William Harvey, who employed teleological reasoning
    to uncover the circulation of blood. According to B&T:

    "The way in which this respect for Aristotle was realized
    in Harvey's works seems to have been in the search for
    discernible purpose in the workings of living organisms-
    indeed, the expectation of purposeful acitvity‰¥Ï..he tried
    to conceive of how a purposeful designer would have
    constructed a system of motion."

    In a conversation with Robert Boyle, Harvey explained
    how he hit upon such an idea as the circulation of blood.
    He noted the positioning and shape of the valves in the veins
    and was

    "invited to imagine, that so Provident a cause as Nature had
    not so placed many values without Design; and no Design
    seem'd more possible than that, since the Blood could not
    well, because of the interposing valves, be sent, by the
    veins to the limbs; it should be sent through the Arteries
    and return through the veins."

    The success of Harvey (and science) owed much to design

    Boyle himself is often considered the father of modern
    chemistry and was also a huge proponent of Design.
    According to B&T:

    "It was Robert Boyle who became the most eloquent
    expositor and spirited supporter of the 'new' design
    argument. Boyle laid emphasis upon specific examples
    and coincidences of Nature, claiming them as 'curious
    and excellent tokens and effects of divine artifice."

    And, more importantly:

    "Another original aspect of Boyle's approach to final causes
    was his claim that the discovery of features pointing to design
    in Nature is promoted principally by experimental science and
    provides a strong motivation for these empirical investigations."

    Teleology played a crucial role in providing the motivation
    for doing science. Recall that the Epicureans disdained mundane
    science and contrast this attitude with that of Boyle.

    In fact, let's go back to consider something from another
    teleologist, the Roman philosopher Boethius (470-525).
    Boethius championed the teleologists Socrates and Aristotle
    at the expense of the Stoics and Epicureans. In my opinion,
    he would succinctly capture the essence of the 2500 year old

    "Thinkest thou that this world is governed by haphazard and
    chance? Or rather doest thou believe that it is ruled by reason?"

    In my opinion, teleology is its strongest in this form. Namely,
    is the core of reality based on reason? Modern science
    is premised on the faith that reality is rational and coherent
    and it owes this faith to the teleologists and not the materialists.

    In fact, even Kant would recognize the importance of the
    Design argument. B&T write:

    "He admits great respect for the argument because of its
    stimulus to scientific enquiry: he realizes that many biological
    investigations have been motivated by the expectation of
    purpose in organic structures."

    Kant writes of Design:

    "It enlivens the study of nature‰¥ÏIt suggests ends and purposes,
    where our observation would not have detected them by itself,
    and extends our knowledge of nature by means of the guiding
    concept of special unity, the principle of which is outside

    Let me now quote a long portion from B&T that helps set the
    context of the current debate:

    "Kant's notion of teleology had an enormouse influence on
    the work of German biologists in the first half of the nineteenth
    century. Like Kant, for the most part these biologists did not
    regard teleology and mechanism as polar opposites, but rather
    as explanatory modes complementary to each other. Mechanism
    was expected to provide a completely accurate picture of life
    at the chemical level, without the need to invoke 'vital forces.'
    Indeed, Kant and many of the German biologists were strongly
    committed to the idea that all objects in Nature, be they organic
    or inorganic, are completely controlled by mechanical physical
    laws. These scientists had no objection to the idea that living
    beings are brought into existence by the mechanical action
    of physical laws. What they objected to was the possibility of
    constructing a scientific theory, based on mechanism alone,
    which described that coming into being, and that could completely
    describe the organization of life‰¥Ï.In Kant's view, a mechanical
    explanation‰¥Ïcould be given only when there is a clear separation
    between cause and effect. In living beings, causes and effects are
    inextricably mixed‰¥Ïultimate biological explanations require a
    special non-mechanical notion of causality - telelogy - in which
    each part is simultaneously cause and effect. Parts related to the
    whole in this way transcend mechanical causality."

    B&T continue:

    "The limitation of explanation in terms of mechanical causality
    can perhaps be best understood by comparing a living being to
    a computer. As Michael Polanyi has pointed out the internal workings
    of the computer can of course be completely understood in terms of
    physical laws. What cannot be so explained is the computer's
    program. To explain the program requires reference to the purpose
    of the program, that is, to teleology.
    Even the evolution of a deterministic Universe cannot be completely
    understood in terms of the differential equations which govern evolution.
    The boundary conditions of the differential equations must also be
    specified. These boundary conditions are not determined by the laws
    of physics which are differential equations."

    B&T then write something that I think nicely summarizes the
    where the modern ID movement stands:

    "The universal boundary conditions are as fundamental as the physical
    laws themselves; they must be included in any explanation *on par* with
    the physical laws."(emphasis added)

    So What Went Wrong?

    If teleological thinking has played such a crucial role in
    the formation of modern science, why has it officially
    been banished? B&T nicely answer this also:

    "In spite of such scientific feats, by the latter part of the
    nineteenth century the telomechanists had been eclipsed
    by the reductionists. The great weakness of the telomechanists
    was their tendency to think of teleology not only as a plan
    of organization but also as an actual life force, a tendency
    which Kant warned against. This led them to believe it was
    impossible for organisms to change their fundamental plan
    of organization, that is, to evolve, under the action of
    inorganic forces. As a consequence, they later opposed
    Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, and
    as the evidence for such evolution became overwhelming,
    they ceased to exert an influence on the development
    of biology."

    Of course, B&T seem to be confusing evolution with
    Darwin's mechanism, as it is simply not true that there
    is overwhelming evidence that everything has evolved
    via variation and natural selection. But I think they are
    correct in noting that teleology tied itself with vitalism
    and this spelled its demise.

    Can It Be Fixed?

    The reason I think teleology may eventually re-assert
    its position in science is that vitalism is simply not
    entailed by teleology no more than pantheism is
    entailed by monotheism. The modern ID movement
    is not simply a religious reaction against Darwinism.
    Nor is it simply replaying old failed versions of

    The modern ID movement is heeding Kant's warning
    and does think of teleology as a plan of organization
    and not a vital life force. The software is just as
    important as the hardware and the boundary conditions
    are just as important as the differential equations.
    These are valid insights and are being carried forward
    by those in the ID movement. For example, Bill
    Dembski does not seek out a vital force, he seeks
    out empirical detectors of a mind's ability to
    implement a plan.

    I think ID will indeed develop into a very serious
    research approach to the extent that it does not
    tie itself to religious apologetics or become hyper-skeptical
    of anything that supports evolution. It will succeed
    when two things happen:

    1. It becomes clear to many that biology has long
    been drawing from teleology to succeed. Although it
    officially denies teleology, biology works only because
    it *relies* on teleology. The illusion is that biology's
    success has been guided by the assumptions of materialism
    and Darwinian evolution. Yet materialism cannot justify
    the constant reference to intelligent design concepts and
    language so ubiquitous in biology and Darwinian evolution
    is more like icing on a cake than any kind of core ingredient
    to biology's success.

    2. It will take only a slight nudge to shift the implicit teleology
    of biology out into the open. That is, ID researchers can
    easily do all that science has done and perhaps more by
    simply viewing a protein as a sensor rather than being
    like a sensor (for example). Science is built upon the faith that
    reality is rational and ID can take this faith into the realm of
    biology, where thus far, the discovery of the irrational
    has become the stop point at the hands of the irrational
    blind watchmaker.

    ID will not win many converts among those practicing
    science or philosophy today. That's not typically how
    things happen. But when new generations of students
    begin to appreciate what it means to speak of
    the quality control and/or proof reading mechanisms of
    the cell (for example), and the manner in which ID
    is flippantly and arrogantly dismissed by the establishment,
    things will change. Materialists have only one hope: to
    quickly find a way to teach and study life without
    ID concepts and language. Since this hope is likely
    in vain, ID will probably return as a serious player.
    Biologists can say that life is not designed, but as
    biologists, they treat life *as if* it were designed. And
    sooner or later, people pay more heed to what you
    do that what you say.


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