Biology Darwinism Intelligent Design

Templeton flirts with finding purpose in biology — but fully natural purpose!

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Is that possible? University of Minnesota philosopher Alan Love thinks so. You be the judge:

Biologists often use language that imputes agency or goals to living systems and have done this since the time of Aristotle. However, in the last two hundred years, many have argued that this is at best “as- if” or heuristic talk, and at worst an error. As a result, the phrase “science of purpose” sounds odd to many biologists, who would rather say that purposiveness is just apparent and can be fully accounted for by processes like natural selection.

To give a simple example, we might say that teeth are “for” chewing. This seems straightforward enough, but the concern is that in an evolutionary process, there is no anticipation of the need to chew. So how do you get a trait with a purpose without that kind of foresight? A lot of biologists feel that the language of purpose steers us away from understanding evolutionary processes and is therefore illicit, but that other ways of talking — for example, in terms of “function” — are okay.

Over the past several decades, though, philosophers of biology have shown that, in fact, the language of function is deeply entangled with issues related to purpose, albeit not necessarily in an inappropriate way. Instead of an inherent taint to using the language of purpose, there are interesting, unresolved issues about how function, purpose, and allied concepts are related. What’s been missing is a systematic interdisciplinary conversation that includes biologists interested in phenomena like agency, directionality, and goal-directedness, and the conceptual frameworks that have been bubbling up in philosophy.

Alan Love, “Is One of Biology’s Perennial Themes Ready For a Fresh Look?” at John Templeton Foundation (October 6, 2021)

Is this a roundabout way of saying that Darwinism does not make philosophical sense?

A friend mentioned that this is a new hotness in philosophy: neo-Aristotelianism — that is, Aristotelianism without Aristotle. We’ve also been told that the last meeting of the Linnean Society was abuzz with it as well.

Here it is: Remember that Linnean Society Conference, Teleonomy vs. Teleology? (June 29, 2021)

One Reply to “Templeton flirts with finding purpose in biology — but fully natural purpose!

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Good article about an ambitious project. Multidisciplinary ‘centres’ tend to converge toward orthodoxy, and I hope they can avoid the magnetic pull.

    Before digital fully monopolized cybernetics, the analog AI researchers were quite open about biological purpose.

    This ‘simulated animal’ project in 1968-69 was openly and clearly based on purpose, and it was typical of the work at that time:

    http://www.americanradiohistor.....969-03.pdf

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