Stephen J. Iacoboni writes:
In an earlier post, I introduced and defined what I called the “science of purpose.” Let us take a closer look at what that entails.
The first thing to notice is that there really cannot be a science of organisms, i.e., biology, without understanding purpose. That this fact has been so neglected is, of course, a consequence of neo-Darwinism, which purports to show that purpose and design in life are only apparent, not real. Organisms that survive simply appear to be purpose-driven because those that are not driven by purpose suffer extinction as imposed by natural selection. Of course, this statement offers no explanation of how purpose-driven life arises.
Vast and Ubiquitous Purpose
Before saying why that’s the case, let us indulge in the great delight of observing the vast and ubiquitous display of purpose in the natural world that surrounds us. In biology we are dedicated to studying the behavior and physiology of all living things. Extraordinary examples of animal behavior include the 70-mile trek by some emperor penguins to feed their young, the 1,000-mile journey that sockeye salmon may navigate to return to the small stream of their birth in order to spawn and die, and the 3,000-mile annual migration of certain caribou in North America.
Yet as a physician I am equally if not more astounded by the dazzling display of goal-attainment that takes place in every human body in every second of life. Your heart has been pumping since a time about eight months before you were born. Your kidneys filter metabolic waste and retain life-sustaining fluid and electrolytes without fail and without interruption. The hemoglobin in your red blood cells procures, transports, and delivers life-giving oxygen to every corner of your body, every second of every day. And this can only happen because your lungs expand and contract, again without fail, ceaselessly, even while you sleep. Your body cannot survive outside of a very narrow range of temperatures and fluid and electrolyte concentrations. These are assiduously and jealously monitored, adjusted, and normalized. Without this oversight, your life would come to a rapid end.
Purpose is the sine qua non of life. It permeates every organism, in every ecosystem.
How Can Anyone Deny This?
The short answer is that biology grew up out of the physical sciences. Even Isaac Newton himself was at pains to eliminate purpose, i.e., teleology, from his science. But Newton’s motivation was entirely different from that of modern scientific atheists. Newton believed firmly in the reality of teleology and purpose, but he also believed that it was outside of the ability of the human mind to reduce God’s purposeful wisdom to scientific terms. Some 250 years after Newton, and following the success of the Industrial Revolution, 19th-century scientists began to see themselves as understanding the world without God’s help. Then along came Darwin. As we all know, he said that creatures survived and speciated based on the random and blind — that is, purposeless — actions of a thoroughly uncaring natural world. He made it all seem so simple: survival of the fittest was all there is to it.
Today, modern science embraces Darwin, in part because biologists want to be physicists, and also because it allows them to continue to leave God out. So the myth of Darwinism, in its new guise of neo-Darwinism, endures.
You cannot see what you are not looking for. You cannot find Br’er Rabbit until you look into the briar patch. Realizing that, we recognize that the entire edifice of Darwin’s theory is based on a single, demonstrable falsehood. Darwin looked at the natural world and observed organisms of every kind striving to survive, competing for food, shelter, and mating privilege. This was the struggle for existence at the core of his theory.
The Desire to Struggle
The struggle, however, depends on something else that Darwin didn’t see, something more fundamental. Antecedent to it is the desire to struggle, that is, to act in keeping with the organism’s purpose, to live. Only with this desire does the living thing then go out and fight for its life. The point may seem subtle but it really is not. If as we are told, life is ultimately purposeless and organisms have no innate purpose… then why struggle?
Simply put: Teleology, the purpose-driven innate property of life itself, precedes natural selection as the primary source of agency that explains evolution. Darwinism utterly misses this elementary fact.Evolution News
Is it reasonable to say that an organism’s struggle to survive is an example of purposeful behavior? Can anyone identify a similar phenomenon outside of the realm of living things? Can the forces of nature produce a struggle to survive?
16 Replies to “At Evolution News: A Closer Look at the Science of Purpose”
As to: “Is it reasonable to say that an organism’s struggle to survive is an example of purposeful behavior?”
Well, even wikipedia itself, no friend of Intelligent Design, honestly admitted that, “The presence of real or apparent teleology in explanations of natural selection is a controversial aspect of the philosophy of biology, not least for its echoes of natural theology.”
Moreover, and under the auspice of ‘struggle to survive’, it is also reasonable to say that “Reproduction, growth, feeding, healing, courtship, parental care for the young — these and many other activities of organisms are goal-directed”
Moreover, as several people have pointed out, biologists can’t even do their research into biology without ‘illegitimately’ using words that directly imply teleology,
In the following article, Stephen Talbott points out that it is impossible to describe the complexities of biological life without illegitimately using language that avoids all implication of agency, cognition, and purposiveness (i.e. teleology). He even challenges readers to “take up a challenge: pose a single topic for biological research, doing so in language that avoids all implication of agency, cognition, and purposiveness 1.”
Likewise, Denis Noble also notes that “it is virtually impossible to speak of living beings for any length of time without using teleological and normative language”.
This working biologist agrees with both Talbott and Noble’s assessment and states, “in our work, we biologists use words that imply intentionality, functionality, strategy, and design in biology–we simply cannot avoid them.”
And as the following study found, “teleological concepts cannot be abstracted away from biological explanations without loss of meaning and explanatory power, life is inherently teleological.”
Moreover, not only can teleological concepts not be “abstracted away from biological explanations without loss of meaning and explanatory power”, purposeless Darwinian language can be readily jettisoned from research papers without negatively impacting the papers.
As the late Philip Sell noted, “I found that Darwin’s theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.
In the peer-reviewed literature, the word “evolution” often occurs as a sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I substituted for “evolution” some other word – “Buddhism,” “Aztec cosmology,” or even “creationism.” I found that the substitution never touched the paper’s core.”
In fact, removing ‘purposeless’ Darwinian language from research papers actually makes the science of the research papers “healthier and more useful”.
Thus, the fact that Darwinists themselves are vitally dependent on words that directly imply teleology, i.e. goal directed purpose, (and the fact that the ‘narrative gloss’ of Darwinian explanations can be readily jettisoned from scientific papers without loss of explanatory power), falsifies Darwinian evolution in the most fundamental way possible. Or at least it falsifies Darwinian evolution in the most fundamental way possible if Darwinists want to maintain that their words have any meaning in the first place.
As to the question of: “Can anyone identify a similar phenomenon (of teleology) outside of the realm of living things?”
Dr. Michael Egnor has pointed out that, “The behavior of a single electron orbiting a proton is teleological, because the motion of the electron hews to specific ends (according to quantum mechanics). A pencil falling to the floor behaves teleologically (it does not fall up, or burst into flame, etc.). Purposeful arrangement of parts is teleology on an even more sophisticated scale, but teleology exists in even the most basic processes in nature. Physics is no less teleological than biology.”
And as Dr. Egnor pointed out elsewhere, “No explanation of nature — not in biology or physics or in any natural science — makes sense without recourse to final causes. Final cause – teleology — is the cause of causes.”
So yes, I would definitely say that teleology exists “outside of the realm of living things”.
As Dr. Egnor stated elsewhere, “Purpose cannot arise from nothing. Man can have no purpose unless the universe has purpose.”
So thus Darwin’s theory, and indeed the whole of Atheistic Naturalism is undermined by the existence of purpose, i.e. teleology, in living organisms, as well as in nature as a whole, as well as in the purpose in man’s own thoughts.
Of further note, just as Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ is undermined by the teleologically based, ‘struggle to survive’ itself, so to is Darwin’s “chance” undermined by the necessary presupposition, and/or existence, of ‘design’.
In fact, as Wolfgang Pauli himself pointed out, the Darwinists’s attempt to define chance outside the “concept of purposesiveness” makes them “very irrational” since they ‘use the word ‘chance’, not any longer combined with estimations of a mathematically defined probability”, but instead use the word chance in a way that is “more or less synonymous with the old word ‘miracle.’”
So thus both of Charles Darwin’s pillars, i.e. natural selection and chance, are both undercut by the fact that purpose, (and/or teleology), i.e. design, is antecedent to the existence of natural selection and is also antecedent to the existence of chance itself.
In short, (in order to even define natural selection and chance), Darwin’s theory is forced to presuppose the existence of teleology, purpose, and/or design. And this is, obviously, before it can even begin to try to make an argument against teleology, purpose, and/or design with Darwin’s postulates of natural selection and chance..
As Cornelius van Til noted, just as a little child must sit in a father’s lap in order to be able to slap the father in the face, so to is the atheist forced to sit in God’s ‘intelligible’ universe, (that has been redeemed by Christ), in order to be able slap God in the face.
From the OP:
The claim that Darwinism eliminated teleology from biology — or at least attempted to — is widespread amongst historians and philosophers of biology. Yet I think it is not entirely correct — it puts the emphasis in the wrong place and leads to a misunderstanding not only of what Darwin himself did, but also a misunderstanding of what’s happening in contemporary theoretical biology.
The 19th century saw a major resurgence of teleological thinking in the biological sciences. This was largely due to the impact of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790). In that book, Kant distinguished between the teleology of organisms and the teleology of artifacts. Artifacts have an external teleology, because they are designed by an intelligence to serve some function — the source of their purpose lies outside of them. Organisms have internal teleology, because their purposefulness comes from within their own activity as self-maintaining unified wholes. This conception of organisms as having internal teleology inspired whole generations of German philosophers and biologists. One of them was Alexander von Humboldt, who was a major influence on Charles Darwin. A close reading of Origin of Species shows his Humboldtian philosophy of nature with this use of “organization”. For Darwin, evolution by natural selection is a consequence of the internal teleology of organisms. (Cf chapter 14 of Robert Richards’s The Romantic Conception of Life. Richards has a co-authored book with Michael Ruse, Debating Darwin, that I also recommend.)
So where comes this idea that Darwinism eliminated teleology? There are at least two distinct sources for this idea.
The rise of the mechanistic worldview in the 17th century entailed that organisms were no longer teleologically organized. But only a few radical thinkers denied teleology entirely. Most of them reached back to the Stoic idea of providence: there is a teleological organization of the entire universe, even if organisms themselves are just complicated machines. The rise of the mechanistic world-view and the displacement of teleology from organisms to the universe — from biological teleology to cosmic teleology — went hand-in-hand. (This also affected the early modern conception of God.)
Darwin’s major insight can therefore be put as follows: if biological teleology is real, then there is no need for cosmic teleology.
So what happened to Darwin’s project of putting the biological teleology of Aristotle and Kant on the gold standard of empirical natural history? Where did this idea arise that Darwinism is anti-teleological? This leads us to the second major influence on how we understand Darwinism: cybernetics.
The project of cybernetics, beginning in the 1940s, was to understand the mechanistic basis of teleology. (The Macy Conferences in Cybernetics were at first called the Macy Conferences in Teleological Mechanisms and Circular Causality.) The basic idea was that feedback loops could explain in mechanistic terms everything that seemed to be teleological (cf. “Behavior, Purpose, and Teleology” by Rosenblueth, Wiener, and Bigelow, 1943).
Cybernetics had a huge, disparate cultural impact — it is in many ways the defining science of the 20th century.
With regard to biology, cybernetics influenced how Ernst Mayr thought about teleology. It was cybernetics that led Mayr to distinguish between teleology and “teleonomy”. (Mayr did not coin the word “teleonomy” but he popularized it.) In Mayr’s view, the root of biological teleology lies in “the genetic program” — and he was quite clear about looking to cybernetics and computer theory in his idea of using the program metaphor to understand genetics. The ‘programmer’ of the genetic program is, of course, natural selection.
In other words, it is the Modern Synthesis, and not Darwin’s original work, that aspired to eliminate teleology from biology.
In the past twenty years, several theoretical biologists and philosophers of biology have argued that we need to vindicate teleology in biology in order for Darwin’s own project to succeed at all. This would include Brian Goodwin, Francisco Varela, Denis Walsh, Maël Montévil, Alvaro Moreno, Matteo Mossio, Leonardo Bich, and Terrence Deacon.
Somehow, a combination of proteins assembled that led to a survival characteristic of every living entity.
Is there any species, single celled or multicellular that does not have it? Should be testable.
Aside: have there been any knock out experiments to determine what is necessary for life? One of the claims of the pro natural Evolution crowd is that all living organisms while obviously different on most proteins contain the same subset of proteins. It should be there.
‘Cybernetics’ is most definitely NOT compatible with the reductive materialism that Darwinian evolution is based upon. Just ask Norbert Weiner who coined the term,
“The ‘programmer’ of the genetic program is, of course, natural selection.”
This statement is beyond ludicrous.
As I pointed out yesterday,,,,
,,,, “it does not take much in the way of every-day common sense to know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the “Death as the Creator”, (eliminating the ‘unfit’ via Natural Selection), of Darwinian evolution can’t possibly be true. For example, imagine trying to write code for a computer program by throwing away all computers that had a programming glitch/error in them, and only keeping those computers that had a minor improvement in programming. Clearly, it is beyond ludicrous to believe that such a grossly inefficient process of trying to write programming language for a computer could ever generate the multiple overlapping layers of coding that is now found in DNA.
And lest I be accused of ‘confirmation bias’ and/or ‘jumping to conclusions’, when we drill down into the technical details we find that, “Our analysis confirms mathematically what would seem intuitively obvious – multiple overlapping codes within the genome must radically change our expectations regarding the rate of beneficial mutations. As the number of overlapping codes increases, the rate of potential beneficial mutation decreases exponentially, quickly approaching zero.”
i.e. Darwinists simply have ‘less than zero’ empirical evidence that ‘natural selection can function as a “programmer substitute”, much less function as a ‘designer substitute’.
Shoot, Darwinian evolution, (via rigorous analysis by Robert Marks and company), does not even qualify as a ‘hard science’,,
And as usual, even though it has been pointed out many times, you all refuse to acknowledge there is a difference between “purpose” and “function”. You choose “purpose” because it implies conscious intent in the mind of an intelligent agent and, let’s be clear, that agent is not some amorphous designer but your God.
Seversky, where you been buddy??? I was worried that you were sick or something.
But anyways, as to you accusing me of confusing things, I merely note that, for all intents and ‘purposes’ this is an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black”. ,,, Which is par for the course for you. 🙂
I don’t think that Darwinian evolution is based upon reductive materialism. Regardless, Wiener pretty clear thinks that cybernetics expands the scope of “materialism” to include information, not that it rejects materialism. I think this quote makes the point more clearly:
There’s a separate question to whether cybernetics actually succeeded in naturalizing teleology. (I think it failed, but it failed in interesting and instructive ways.)
Fair enough, though I was describing Mayr’s own views, not endorsing them.
Not that it matters, but my own views on these issues are basically those of Steven Talbott: teleology is real, evolution presupposes it and can’t explain it, we need a different approach to explaining teleology, but evolutionary theory itself is basically fine.
I agree that there’s a need to distinguish between functions and purposes, but disagree that purpose entails conscious intent. (It may have that association for some people, but associations are not entailments.)
On my view, functions are assigned to sub-organismal systems and their components: the circulatory system has the function of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide, the digestive system has the function of extracting nutrients from food, the nervous system has the function of guiding and controlling behavior. (Of course a system can have more than one function!)
What makes something a function depends on how it contributes to the goals of the organism. Organisms have goals based on their needs: what an organism needs to do in order to live then determines the goals that it has, and it will very often act purposively in order to meet those goals and satisfy those needs.
So while I agree that we need to distinguish between functions and goals or purposes, I don’t think we can dispense with the latter and still explain biological phenomena.
“I don’t think that Darwinian evolution is based upon reductive materialism.”
Well you, and Weiner, are out of line with current mainstream evolutionary thought which STILL holds that information and consciousness are both ’emergent’ from a materialistic basis. And in that vein Weiner’s criticism against materialism still finds purchase. If ever mainstream Darwinism graduates to Weiner’s more nuanced views of materialism’, that would be an interesting debate to have. But for now, it is merely a hypothetical as we are still debating people who hold to ‘quant’ 17th century considerations about materialism. I’m glad that you, at least, have enough common sense to know that Darwinian theory, as it is currently formulated, is bankrupt.
Perhaps it would be much more fitting for you to take your case of ‘nuanced materialism’ over to Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers’s blogs, etc…, since they are the ones still arguing for ‘old school’ Darwinian materialism?
Of note to Weiner jumping to conclusions of Bergson’s considerations, “Bergson’s considerations” have been more than validated by advances in quantum mechanics
Put a sock in it! Fair warning: I now own a multiple sock launcher. And I’m not afraid to use it.
Aside from highly qualified people supporting the idea, I think the average person knows that bees do not go to bee school to learn how to build a beehive. Spiders do not go to spider school to learn how to spin their webs. Cats and dogs can do neither. The message is clear. These creatures were designed. They were given infused knowledge. And every one born after has the same knowledge.
So, “evolution” cannot explain behaviors.
To support my claim that current mainstream Darwinian theory is STILL wedded to ‘old school’ materialism, I quote Jim Al-Khalili, who is an atheist,
And in the following 2015 paper entitled, “Quantum criticality in a wide range of important biomolecules” it was found that “Most of the molecules taking part actively in biochemical processes are tuned exactly to the transition point and are critical conductors,” and the researchers further commented that “finding even one (biomolecule) that is in the quantum critical state by accident is mind-bogglingly small and, to all intents and purposes, impossible.,, of the order of 10^-50 of possible small biomolecules and even less for proteins,”,,,
To drive this point home, this follow up 2018 article stated that “There is no obvious evolutionary reason why a protein should evolve toward a quantum-critical state, and there is no chance at all that the state could occur randomly.,,,”
Of supplemental note
“ Not that it matters, but my own views on these issues are basically those of Steven Talbott: teleology is real, evolution presupposes it and can’t explain it, we need a different approach to explaining teleology, but evolutionary theory itself is basically fine.”
Surely a statement which falls into the “there are no contradictions in Darwinian evolution, properly read, it predicts and accounts for everything; it just needs clarification on discrete issues,” argument.
Though “basically” fine at the end has the appearance of an escape hatch.
I don’t think there are contradictions within evolutionary theory. But I certainly don’t think it predicts or explains everything!
And yes, you’re right to notice the “escape hatch” there. I placed it there because there are, among philosophers of biology, some interesting controversies and debates about how exactly to understand evolutionary theory.
I don’t comprehend all the details — I’m a dilettante, not an expert! — but the debates involve some pretty fine-grained distinctions and abstract reasoning.
And while I know which views I think are right, I also recognize that lots of very good philosophers and theoretical biologists disagree with me.