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.