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Biologists can’t stop using purpose-driven language because life really is designed

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That’s the thesis of an ID-relevant articles in latest issue of Communications of the Blyth Institute. Note: “Teleological” = “purpose-driven”

From Annie L. Crawford:

Metaphor and Meaning in the Teleological Language of Biology

Abstract: In the early twentieth century, neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory replaced traditional teleological causality as the accepted explanatory basis for biology. Yet, despite this rejection of teleology, biologists continue to resort to the language of purpose and design in order to define function, explain physiological processes, and describe behavior. The legitimacy of such teleological language is currently debated among biologists and philosophers of science. Many biologists and educators argue that teleological language can function as a type of convenient short-hand for describing function while some argue that such language contradicts the fundamentally ateleological nature of evolutionary theory. Others, such as Ernst Mayr, have attempted to redefine teleology in such a way as to evade any metaphysical implications. However, most discussions regarding the legitimacy of teleological language in biology fail to consider the nature of language itself. Since conceptual language is intrinsically metaphorical, teleological language can be dismissed as decorative if and only if it can be replaced with alternative metaphors without loss of essential meaning. I conclude that, since teleological concepts cannot be abstracted away from biological explanations without loss of meaning and explanatory power, life is inherently teleological. It is the teleological character of life which makes it a unique phenomenon requiring a unique discipline of study distinct from physics or chemistry.

From Vol 2 No 2 (2020): Issue 2:2 (open access)

Other articles in the Contents (on which Jonathan Bartlett may post):

5 Replies to “Biologists can’t stop using purpose-driven language because life really is designed

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    I don’t know why design is still considered “metaphysical”. There’s nothing “metaphysical” about a hypothesis consistenly forced by massive observation.

    Many of the qualities attributed to gods are properly metaphysical because they’re not based on observation. “God is good and all-powerful” is violently false and contradicted by all physical observations, so it can only be “true” in a metaphysical way, which means a nonsensical way.

  2. 2
    johnnyb says:

    The paper takes you on quite a tour of the attempts to avoid teleological language in the history of biology. As the author points out, you can only say that “it’s only a helpful metaphor” *if* you are able to actually substitute non-teleologically language and have the phenomenon completely described. As the author shows, this has never been the case for biology.

    For instance, when talking to students about chemistry, I talk about what the chemicals “want” to do (i.e., chemicals “want” to have 8 electrons in their outer shell). However, that *is* just a metaphor, because the point of the “want” language is to establish a connection in the student’s mind, and it actually doesn’t add anything to the explanation. However, in the terms of organisms, as Scott Turner points out, purpose and desire *are* the things that are fundamental. It’s not just a metaphor, it is what is actually happening.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    As to:

    However, most discussions regarding the legitimacy of teleological language in biology fail to consider the nature of language itself. Since conceptual language is intrinsically metaphorical, teleological language can be dismissed as decorative if and only if it can be replaced with alternative metaphors without loss of essential meaning. I conclude that, since teleological concepts cannot be abstracted away from biological explanations without loss of meaning and explanatory power, life is inherently teleological.

    And yet evolutionary language can readily be substituted without ‘loss of essential meaning’,,,

    Why Do We Invoke Darwin? – Philip Skell – 2005
    Excerpt: I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, 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. This did not surprise me. From my conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology.,,,
    Darwinian evolution – whatever its other virtues – does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology.” ?
    – Philip S. Skell – (the late) Emeritus Evan Pugh Professor at Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. – Why Do We Invoke Darwin? – 2005?http://www.discovery.org/a/2816?

    Rewriting Biology Without Spin By Ann Gauger – Jan. 12, 2014
    Excerpt: It’s a funny thing—scientific papers often have evolutionary language layered on top of the data like icing on a cake. In most papers, the icing (evolutionary language) sits atop and separate from the cake (the actual experimental data). Even in papers where the evolutionary language is mixed in with the data like chocolate and vanilla in a marble cake, I can still tell one from the other.
    I have noticed that this dichotomy creates a kind of double vision. I know what the data underlying evolutionary arguments are. By setting aside the premise that evolution is true, I can read what’s on the page and at the same time see how that paper would read if neutral, fact-based language were substituted for evolutionary language.
    Let me give you an example.,,,
    http://www.biologicinstitute.o.....thout-spin

    In fact removing the narrative gloss of evolutionary language from research papers actually makes the science in the papers “healthier and more useful.”

    No Harm, No Foul — What If Darwinism Were Excised from Biology? – December 4, 2019
    If Darwinism is as essential to biology as Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne argues, then removing evolutionary words and concepts, (“Darwin-ectomy”), should make research incomprehensible. If, on the other hand, Darwinism is more of a “narrative gloss” applied to the conclusions after the scientific work is done, as the late Philip Skell observed, then biology would survive the operation just fine. It might even be healthier, slimmed down after disposing of unnecessary philosophical baggage.,,,
    So, here are three papers in America’s premier science journal that appear at first glance to need Darwinism, use Darwinism, support Darwinism, and thereby impart useful scientific knowledge. After subjecting them to Darwin-ectomies, though, the science not only survived, but proved healthier and more useful.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2019/12/no-harm-no-foul-what-if-darwinism-were-excised-from-biology/

    A couple of more quotes along this line:

    “In fact, over the last 100 years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself. Molecular biology, biochemistry, and physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.”?
    – Marc Kirschner, founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, Boston Globe, Oct. 23, 2005??

    “While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky’s dictum that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superflous one.”?
    -Adam S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, Introduction to “Evolutionary Processes” – (2000).?

    Anti-Science Irony
    Excerpt: In response to a letter from Asa Gray, professor of biology at Harvard University, Darwin declared: “I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science.”
    When questioned further by Gray, Darwin confirmed Gray’s suspicions: “What you hint at generally is very, very true: that my work is grievously hypothetical, and large parts are by no means worthy of being called induction.” Darwin had turned against the use of scientific principles in developing his theory of evolution.
    http://www.darwinthenandnow.co.....nce-irony/

    Even Jerry Coyne himself honestly admitted that, ““Truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits.”

    “Truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say. Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably. But hasn’t evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding? Not very much. Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of ‘like begets like’. Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties. Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all.”
    (Jerry Coyne, “Selling Darwin: Does it matter whether evolution has any commercial applications?,” reviewing The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life by David P. Mindell, in Nature, 442:983-984 (August 31, 2006).)

    For the Christian it should not be all that surprising to see that the very words that Darwinists themselves use, when they are doing their research, betray them. After all, in the Christian view of things, our words are held to have far more importance than Darwinists would presuppose our words to have.

    Matthew 12:37
    “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

  4. 4
    Battman says:

    Draw an insignificantly small speck on a piece of paper. Label it Carl (or Darwin if you prefer). Now draw a circle around the speck. Label it Biology. Now draw a larger circle around Biology and label it Chemistry. Finally, draw an even larger circle around Chemistry and label it Physics. Everything contained within the largest circle we may call the Cosmos.

    Reason tells us that either the Cosmos or its Creator has always existed. Science tells us that it isn’t the Cosmos (or the Creation if you prefer).

    Everything in the Cosmos points back to its Creator. Even the origin of species and the origin of life point back in time to the origin of chemistry and physics: Everything points back to the origin of time, space, matter, energy, the laws of nature and finely-tuned initial conditions of the Cosmos in the finite past.

    In short, all of science allows us to think God’s thoughts after Him. Not to find teleology in biology, a subset of a subset of a subset of all of Creation would be willful blindness brought on by pride, prejudice and peer-pressure.

    Been there, done that.

  5. 5
    Truthfreedom says:

    @Battman

    Reason tells us that either the Cosmos or its Creator has always existed. Science tells us that it isn’t the Cosmos (or the Creation if you prefer).

    But atheism/ materialism is not based on reason. It is based on emotions.

    Not to find teleology in biology, a subset of a subset of a subset of all of Creation would be willful blindness brought on by pride, prejudice and peer-pressure.

    Pride above anything else. As I mentioned, emotions trump rationality. And atheists are a group of emotionally driven H. sapiens.

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