There was an interesting debate among friends regarding the recent BioEssays editorial lamenting purpose-based language in science (teleology): “…It is that innocent little word ‘to’ that transforms the meaning, giving enzyme Y the essence of ‘will’ – ‘to’ being short for ‘in order to’, or ‘with the purpose of’. Purpose can only be exercised by a supernatural entity in this situation.”
A sampling of comments:
“Michael Ruse [Darwinian philosopher] has long said that teleological language in biology is like a government minister having a mistress: he can’t be seen with her at official occasions, but he can’t live without her either.”An offer of politically correct terms:
Evolution old-speak (taboo words)…
Structure X is perfectly adapted to perform function Y
Structure X is designed to perform
Structure X very efficiently performs Y
Structure X performs
One person wrote to offer the following new-speak explanation of structure and function: “”The sum total of all the random forces present in the environment at any given time conspired to allow the survival of certain individuals possessing certain temporally limited advantages which eventuated in the wing”
(Note: For a Newspeak dictionary and usage notes, go here.)
All this overlooks a fundamental fact: When efforts are made to reorganize language from top down, to solve a problem perceived by Top People, the language simply reemerges in another form.
This has been demonstrated among groups of children whose teachers, anxious to prevent prejudice, changed the terminology that implied poor performance to allegedly neutral language that was supposedly hard to interpret. All that happened was that the new, supposedly neutral, terminology became terms of prejudice. It took the children next to no time to figure out what the new terms referenced.
Not much good ever comes from a war on observed fact.