Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Science historian Michael Flannery on what “teleology” means


Michael Flannery Teleology? It’s the sort of term that the Professor of Settled Science sneers into a conversation when you mention that the groundbreaking papers you read recently do not confirm textbook Darwinism.

“Ah,” he snuffles, “You would introduce teleology into nature… that’s Pumfkin revisited … his 1805 paper, wasn’t it … where he argued for the enoism of keno-ism and … ”

At least, you will finally understand one thing—the Occupy movement. Except you don’t get why the Occupyists wanted to trash public parks instead of picket faculty lounges.

Okay. Quit wasting your time asking the prof how he accounts for the 600 million-year-old comb jellies. He doesn’t account for them. He doesn’t have to. He is highly placed enough to sneer in journals against those who can afford to know what he can’t. Keep quiet and press on.

Anyway, here’s Michael Flannery, author of an illuminating biography of Darwin’s forgotten co-theorist Alfred Russel Wallace:

Teleology is indeed essentially intelligent design.

Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of evolution by means of natural selection, was a strong ID proponent. While Behe, Dembski, and Meyer have greatly enhanced our understanding of ID with modern probability theory, molecular biology, and current techniques in information theory and the philosophy of science, Wallace’s argument for design in nature as detailed in his book World of Life uses the same inference to the best explanation through abductive reasoning that current ID theorists do today. If you want to know the argument for teleology in nature, Wallace provides a historical foundation that is in many ways seminal in modern ID theory today.

Of course teleology and evolution go back to Greco-Roman times. Henry Fairfield Osborn in his interesting book, From the Greeks to Darwin (1929), believes the first true ID theorist was Anaxagoras (500-428 BC). So to understand the design argument I think a reach back into history provides a much needed framework for our understanding today.

ID is not some fly-by-night idea concocted on a whim at Parajo Dunes in 1993.When those catalytic forces met they were standing upon a long tradition of important figures in science and philosophy. Yet there are those who would like to suppress this history. Now there’s a deeper reason for this than simple disagreement. If that were the case the facts could be plainly argued. But those who would deny this teleology in nature must defend methodological naturalism at all costs, even to the point of suppressing and rewriting history. This is classic Orwellian dystopia. In order to make the world “safe” for their scientism, it is obligatory that history be rewritten.

That’s why this is not just a struggle over science, it’s a struggle over culture and history itself.

Why do the strident defenders of scientism oppose the historical facts of ID? George Orwell explains: “When Oldspeak [English, before it was superseded by fully politically correct Newspeak in 1984] had been once and for all superseded, the last link with the past would have been severed. History had already been rewritten, but fragments of the literature of the past survived here and there, imperfectly censored, and so long as one retained one’s knowledge of Oldspeak it was possible to read them.”

For proponents of materialism, reductionism, and scientism this is intolerable. Notice how many ID opponents redefine terms (e.g., evolution = Darwinism = science) and redraft a scientistic-friendly history in which historical figures who championed earlier versions of design in nature either cease to exist, appear only in some anemic and suitably sanitized form, or are simply dismissed as fools.


Follow UD News at Twitter!


Leave a Reply