J. Scott Turner’s recent Purpose and Desire:What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It makes the case that life is not comprehensible without the concept of purpose and that Darwinism’s failure to explain is an “impending crisis.”
The answer is natural selection. So here we have the reason why final-cause talk is permissible and necessary. Thanks to the processes of evolution, organisms appear design-like, even though they are ultimately the result of random variations plus natural selection. In order to make sense of this fact, we often think and talk in terms of ends or purposes, although these ends or purposes don’t actually exist in the real world. So in a sense, Kant was right: teleological thinking is heuristic, something imposed on the world by us. It is no less useful or legitimate for all of that. Physics doesn’t have need of final-cause talk because, not having been produced by natural selection, the objects of physics do not appear designed in the same way.
Ruse: “The answer is natural selection.” Of course, because Darwinism has become a fundamentalism and fundamentalisms always have one answer and always the same one: Natural selection explains why a live cat tries to stay that way while a boulder degenerates, absent any purpose, into sand.
Of course, we know life doesn’t work that way. Natural selection only streamlines the cat to do what it is trying to do, whether the selection works well or not.
One outcome of that type of thinking is that if one doubts Ruse’s one single answer, one must dispense with the whole Darwinian system.
While this takes God or occult forces out of the scientific picture, don’t think that going this direction means that all is secular or meaningless — Kant and Darwin today, Richard Dawkins tomorrow. Far from it! The believer can continue to see nature as God’s creation and natural processes as God working His purposes out. It is just that God does it through evolution, rather than by intervening miracle. Moreover, something that remains important for both the believer and the non-believer is whether final-cause thinking (understood heuristically) applies not only to the natural world but also to the human context. Can we treat human reasons as final causes?
A friend wonders if Dr. Ruse looking for a Templeton grant…
Obviously, if the Darwinian view is correct, human consciousness, free will, and moral choice are illusions so the answer is no, tediously elaborated and elegantly phrased. Dr. Ruse continues,
I have my opinions on this but now is not the time for them. Suffice it to say that, thanks to Darwinian biology, we have a good solution to a major problem in the history of philosophy, but like all good solutions it opens up new questions and challenges. More.
It is actually on the ropes. Just look at the number of Third Way of Evolution enterprises that are poised to replace it.
See also: J. Scott Turner on why we do not have a coherent theory of evolution…
Post-modern science: The illusion of consciousness sees through itself