Darwinism Can Survive Without Teleology

| 12-23-AD2013 | [14]

Bob Drury - Design

Gerard M. Verschuuren has asked, “Can Darwinism survive without teleology?” He answered, no. However, this answer continues the confusion which prompted the question. That very question has persisted since the time of Darwin. It has been continually argued that Darwin’s theory of evolution by stages, each comprised of random mutation and natural selection, is not merely scientific, but inherently philosophical. Historically Darwin’s theory has been viewed as two intertwined strands, one scientific and the other, not only philosophical, but specifically teleological.

Science is the determination of mathematical relationships among the measureable properties of material things. As scientific, Darwinian evolution cannot be teleological, because purpose is not measureable as such. Natural selection and survival of the fittest, which imply teleology, must be viewed as poor jargon, if Darwinian evolution is to be scientific.

From the perspective of Aristotelian philosophy, there are four causes of material things. Only three of these are bases for measurement. Aristotle’s fourth cause is purpose, i.e. the final or teleological cause. The first three are the material, formal and efficient causes. The material cause is the principle of individuation, which renders material things countable in their individuality. Formal causality includes not simply the substantial form, but all of those subordinate and incidental forms of material things which are measurable. In Aristotle’s lexicon, these incidental forms are the ‘accidents’ of a substance. The third cause is the efficient cause which includes all types of motion such as that of chemical reactions and not simply local motion. These too are measurable and within the scope of science. Science as a discipline, because it is based fundamentally on measurement, does not depend intrinsically upon philosophy. If Darwin’s theory were strictly scientific, it would not include teleology.

Another source of the same confusion arises from use of the word “design.” It can refer simply to pattern or to purpose, or to both. In English, the word “design” tends to conflate Aristotle’s formal cause, particularly the measurable patterns, which are the properties of things, with Aristotle’s final cause or the purpose of things, which cannot be measured. With respect to this dual verbal meaning of the word “design” Richard Dawkins has proposed a solution.

Dawkins has suggested that design be restricted to human artifacts and not be used in the context of science. Although this solution is prompted by his philosophy, it has merit in itself. Purpose is not within the scope of science. In contrast to mathematical pattern, which is measurable, purpose is extra-scientific. Not using the word “design” in the context of science avoids the implication that purpose is within the scope of scientific investigation.

For Dawkins, the forms or patterns of material things are not the incidental forms of substances in the Aristotelian sense. Rather they are forms only by analogy to the forms of human artifacts. The same is true of the apparent functionality of material things, including biological functionality. Within material reality, only human artifacts possess intelligent form and intelligent functionality or purpose. Measurable biological patterns lack intelligibility in themselves. Similarly, biological functionality is not truly functionality, but merely resembles the functionality of human engineering.

More importantly, Richard Dawkins has reframed the relationship of Darwinian evolution and philosophy. He has established the fact that the essential relationship within Darwinian evolution is not that of a strand of science intertwined with philosophy, but a strand of mathematics intertwined with philosophy. He has clearly separated the two strands of mathematics and philosophy, elucidating each. The summary of his work is in The God Delusion.

In separating these two strands of Darwinian evolution, Richard Dawkins has made two major contributions to modern thought. First is the abstraction of Darwinian evolution from its biological context. He has identified Darwinian evolution as essentially mathematical and thereby devoid of teleology. Second, in his epistemology, Dawkins has identified human knowledge of material reality as the inference of mathematical probability. This is the foundation of modern relativism.

With respect to the mathematics, Dawkins has identified each stage of Darwinian evolution as an application of a mathematical protocol consisting of random numbers generation and the processing of the output by a determinate number filter.

In his illustration of the multiple-dial lock (minute 4:25), Dawkins explains in detail the mathematical algorithm of Darwinian evolution, identifying it as completely independent of biological evolution. It is the inference of mathematical probability from material reality which is the nexus between Darwinian evolution in its mathematical intelligibility, on the one hand, and biological evolution with its irrationality, originating in randomness, on the other.

It is by the inference of probability, i.e. the inference of random mutation, which places mathematical Darwinian evolution within the context of biological science. In contrast, in Aristotelian philosophy, material changes cannot be random because the inference of random mutation would place them outside of the scope of rationality and therefore, outside the scope of science.

Dawkins’ elucidation of these two strands of Darwinian evolution, namely the scientifically mathematical and the epistemologically philosophical, represent major contributions to the modern understanding of science and philosophy. The importance of these contributions can be seen in their contrast to the Aristotelian perspective.

From Dawkins’ perspective material reality is inherently random and thereby irrational in itself. All of the algebraic equations expressing the scientific relationships among material measurements are seen as inferences of greater or lesser mathematical probability. The source of intelligibility is the individual human mind. The inference of mathematical probability is the interface between the human mind and irrational materiality.

From the Aristotelian perspective, material reality is intelligible in itself through its possession of form. This includes the measurable forms, which are inherently related mathematically. These Cartesian mathematical relationships are discovered through experimental measurement. In contrast, mathematical probability focuses exclusively on the individuality of the elements of logical sets. This mathematics excludes from consideration any measurable properties associated with the nominal IDs of the logical elements, whose nominally measureable properties would be the subject of science. Mathematical probability is not inherent in material reality. It is analogically applicable to material reality by equating mathematical randomness with the deliberate human ignorance of the underlying causality at the level at which randomness is posited.

It is only in logic that the individuality of a material thing can be divorced from its measureable properties. Such is the logic of mathematical probability in which individuality, and not measurable characteristics, is relevant. A set of three elements of this ilk and two elements of that ilk identifies the same relationships of mathematical probability as a set of three mice and two molecules.

In identifying human knowledge of material reality as the inference of probability, Dawkins has solidified the philosophical foundation of modern relativism. The sole source of intelligibility is the individual human mind. In Dawkins’ philosophy there is no formal or final causality in material things. The source of formal causality is the human logic of mathematics. Final causality, i.e. design, is restricted to human engineering.

Thus, Darwinian evolution is not teleological as the word “selection” in natural selection implies. Natural selection is simply a numbers filter to which the pool of randomly generated integers is subjected, whether these random integers are viewed overtly as integers or as the variants of genomes. We can thank Richard Dawkins for eliminating teleology from Darwinian evolution by identifying the ‘natural selection’ of a multiple-dial lock as simply a numbers filter. There is nothing teleological in the specific number passing the filter since this varies from lock to lock. Also, there could be a lock for every specific integer in the span of integers defined by the random numbers generator. The same applies to the specific genome passing an ecological numbers filter since this varies from ecological niche to ecological niche. Thus, there is nothing in the observable aspects of the Darwinian algorithm which is characteristic of teleology. This is to be expected since purpose as such is not measurable and is not within the scope of mathematics.

There is no purpose within Darwin’s algorithm of the evolution of integers as elucidated by Dawkins. The mathematical strand is the Darwinian algorithm of evolution. The philosophical strand is not teleological. It is epistemological. It is the interface between human intelligibility and material irrationality, namely the inference of probability. Darwinism can survive without teleology.

© 2013 Bob Drury.  All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Bob Drury is retired. He has been fascinated with the reasonableness of the Faith since his junior year in high school in the mid-20th century for which the religion text was entitled, "Faith and Reason". That fascination has continued throughout his education in philosophy, math and science. In his essays he hopes to share that fascination with others. Read more at his website, They Have No Wine.
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  • John Darrouzet

    You conclude: “Darwinism can survive without teleology.” Maybe. But we cannot. We need and want teleology.

    Moreover, teleology can survive without Darwinism.

    Do you agree?

    • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

      I agree. It is important to see the distinctions among Aristotle’s four causes, but we (including me) must be careful not to be obsessed with the distinctions. One
      could argue that the biggest modern human problem is the failure to see purpose as inherent in material reality. This is partly due to the fact that teleology is not within the scope of science. The point of the essay is to thank Dawkins for delineating Darwinian evolution as a mathematical protocol centered on the mathematics of probability. Dawkins cobbles the mathematics to science and biology through his philosophical view that the human knowledge of reality is the inference of probability. However, the mathematics of probability is concerned only with the individuality of material things disregarding their other measurable properties. Thus, the mathematics of probability can be only analogically applied to material things, because it is only in logic that the measurable properties of a thing can be separated from its individuality.

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  • Brian Kelly

    Can’t understand a sentence of this article and I have studied Thomistic philosophy.

    • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

      Sorry to have been so obscure. My theme was that purpose is not within the scope of experimental science. Consequently, Darwin’s theory of evolution as scientific cannot be teleological. We can agree with Dawkins that design, in the sense of purpose, is not scientific. We can also agree with Dawkins that Darwin’s theory is essentially a mathematical protocol as he has ably demonstrated in his illustration of the multiple-dial lock. Mathematics is obviously not teleological. Where we part ways with Dawkins is when he claims
      that material reality is not purposeful. He states this emphatically in his limiting design, in the sense of purpose, to human artifacts. However, we would have to concede that material reality is not purposeful, if as Dawkins indicates, we can infer mathematical probability from material reality.

    • Jeff_McLeod

      Read Etienne Gilson, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again for an extended treatment. Bob is a smart guy and is compressing a lot of heavy stuff into a few paragraphs.

      Nothing he said contradicts St. Thomas. Think of it as an enticement to read more. Go get Etienne Gilson’s book.

  • Greg

    Maybe there is a false assumption that undermines the argument. Science as referred to in the essay is naturalistic science, a limited and arbitrary kind of science that has little use except to justify the (false) tenets of naturalism.

    Real science would be more inclusive and study all that is. When one takes that approach, the arguments and circularity of Dawkins fall away in a puddle of irrelevancy. They really do not matter as they are undermined by false premises.

    It is sometimes difficult to resist entering into the dialogue with modern science (aka scientism) but it is worth resisting as the price of admission is leaving truth and logic behind.

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  • Micha Elyi

    Natural selection and survival of the fittest, which imply teleology…
    –Bob Drury

    I disagree. Evolution implies teleology, natural selection doesn’t. Neither does survival of the fittest. That phrase, as evolutionists use it, is tautological. Of course a bloodline is perpetuated into subsequent generations by members of the population who have offspring who survive to themselves breed. As kids of the 1990s would say, “duh”.

    • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

      I completely agree that ‘survival of the fittest’ is tautological. Also, I think it is humanly impossible to avoid poor jargon. My point is that teleology is not within the scope of science and obviously not within the scope of mathematics (And a thank you to Dawkins for establishing that Darwinism is essentially a mathematical protocol). We’ll have to disagree on the connotation of the words, selection, fitness and evolution. In my vocabulary natural selection, not only as selection but as non-random, has the connotation of purpose, in contrast to random mutation. Fitness to me means suited to a purpose. Evolution simply means change, which falls within the scope of science.

    • Aliquantillus

      What do you mean by saying that teleology is not within the scope of mathematics? For mathematical entities to make sense they must serve a purpose. Purpose is teleological.

    • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

      We agree that purpose, teleology and final causality are
      synonymous. Although the distinctions among the material, formal, efficient and final causes of a material thing such as a rabbit are valid and logically separable, they are not separable in the rabbit. Mathematics in its essence is formal and as such must be self-consistent, i.e. make sense. Also, in ‘doing’ mathematics, one must have the purpose of making sense by achieving the self-consistency of form. I agree that we can’t separate the purpose of making sense from the doing of mathematics. However, I would continue to contend that the essence of mathematics is form in contrast to purpose and as such that teleology is not within the scope of mathematics.

  • Brian Kelly

    I am sorry Mr. Drury. I thought I dad replied to your reply to my somewhat caustic comment. What I thought I had sent was a “Thank You” for the informative explanation. I see now exactly your point. Having studied philosophy (as year the Angelicum) appreciate your wisdom. Please forgive me for my first comment. I am a bit dull.

  • Adam__Hill

    Dawkins’ so-called “solution” is simply another aspect of atheist propaganda. By mandating the removal of the word design from biology he is imposing a mental straightjacket which will prevent free thought in this area, and plays into the hands of the hard-line Darwinists.
    I cannot agree that design can just be removed from the discussion.
    If you examine the whole of physical reality, from the quarks and electrons up to communities of human beings, then fix your gaze firmly on the properties of sub-atomic particles, you can see that the base constants of the Universe have been set extremely carefully to within minute tolerances so that material reality can exist at all. Please read Lee Smolin’s ‘the trouble with physics’, pp 161-165 for a good discussion of this. He comes up with 3 possibilities:
    1. Vast collection of universes with random laws.
    2. Intelligent designer
    3. So far unknown mechanism that explains biofriendliness of the Universe
    On page 167 he state “I know of no successful predictions that have been made by reasoning from a multiverse with a random distribution of laws.”
    Of course being a materialist scientist he plumps for 3, but 2 is a glaringly obvious possibility. Why is this plainly obvious possibility not being examined by the scientists to see whether it leads to testable hypotheses? I see them proposing hypotheses in every other direction, but in this, they refuse to advance. Why? All we hear is effectively propaganda that design cannot exist, or further arguments that within this or that limited framework, things are have no purpose.
    I’m sorry, but this is not scientific. It is simply a retreat to intellectual prestidigitation, propaganda, and a truly mendacious attempt to evade any structured investigation of option 2.