From The New Atlantis
Biologists, that is, will acknowledge that, at molecular and higher levels, they see almost nothing but an effective employment of a thousand interwoven means to achieve a thousand interwoven ends — all in an almost incomprehensibly organized, coordinated, and integrated fashion expressing the striving of the organism as a whole. The organism, they will say, as it develops from embryo to adult — as it socializes, eats, plays, fights, heals its wounds, communicates, and reproduces — is the most concertedly purposeful entity we could possibly imagine. It does not merely exist in accord with the laws of physics and chemistry; rather, it is telling the meaningful story of its own life.
And then they will take it all back.
In other words, the routine language of biological description, highlighted in the earlier parts of this series, is fully accepted, only to be effectively disowned. The explanation for this remarkable intellectual flexibility lies in a widespread view that runs as follows. Evolution produces organisms that we cannot help describing as purposeful and meaningful agents. That is because natural selection tends to select organisms that are fit — well-adapted to their environments and “designed” for surviving and reproducing. When organisms have features that are adapted for something, we naturally see these features as meaningful and purposeful. And an organism compounded of such features seems to be an agent with a goal of some sort; if nothing else, it seems to act intentionally in order to survive and reproduce.
As for the organism: are its apparently meaningful strivings meaningful or not? If they are not — if, for example, the appearance of purpose is an “illusion,” as Dawkins puts it — then what is the difference between merely illusory purpose and the real thing? Perhaps he will say that there is only illusion. But then, if there is nothing for the illusion to be a convincing illusion of, it hardly makes sense to say it is an illusion at all, as opposed to being just what it seems to be. On the other hand, if Dawkins admits that meaning and purpose actually exist as realities and are therefore available to be mimicked in an illusory way, what grounds does he have for claiming meaninglessness and purposelessness as fundamental to the world’s character?
Readers, am I right in thinking at five years ago, a story like this would have been greeted by howls of media outrage? Where’s the outrage? Where are Darwin’s airheads?
Follow UD News at Twitter!
By the way, the drinks are on Sri Ha-Limmud. Still, don’t drink and drive.
See also: PZ Myers not short of an opinion. But just couldn’t seem to make the time to listen.