I would be interested to hear your diatribe on teleology, if you still have the urge to produce one.
Did I still have the urge? I wasn’t sure. I eventually responded:
Yes, I feel that whatever dire accusations are fired by either side in this contentious topic, Darwin is invariably innocent.
As for my threatened diatribe, it may take a while. This goes into strange territory. I feel a blog post coming.
Most of the territory in question is extremely well-trodden, by much more distinguished minds than mine. Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread. For a change, I must study and think before I speak. First, to the dictionary!
Teleology: The doctrine or study of ends or final causes, esp. as related to the evidences of design or purpose in nature; also transf. such design as exhibited in natural objects or phenomena.*
This careful definition provides no hint of the raging conflict unleashed by the publication of Darwin’s systematic observations and explanatory theories. They were seen as an unprovoked attack on the Christian cosmogony. Darwin in later life was agnostic, but had no wish to upset the Church, of which he remained an active member. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Charles_Darwin for more. But the Church rallied its defence forces, and felt itself forced to counter-attack. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reaction_to_Darwin%27s_theory.
Here’s another definition, which does give a clue to the source of the controversy, and a possible solution too:
1881 G. J. Romanes in Nature 27 Oct. “Teleology in this larger sense, or the doctrine that behind all the facts open to scientific enquiry . . . there is ‘Mind and Will’ as the ultimate cause of all things . . . does not fall within the scope of scientific method.”†
* OED (Oxford English Dictionary): definition.
† OED: illustrative quotation.
In his definition, George Romanes declares that scientific method does not take into account the possibility that Mind and Will may be the ultimate cause of all things. By following the link, we find that Romanes, like Darwin, started off as a Christian but like Darwin became an agnostic. It seems to me this was by choice and not necessity.
I’m steadfast on a single crucial point in this argument. Millions of things may fall outside the scope of scientific method, but that does not make them false, for scientific method is a doctrine like any other. It’s a doctrine limiting the ways in which Truth can be apprehended. It’s the way they do things in that highly-cultivated garden called Science. Fair enough, but it’s not the case that beyond the walls of that garden is a desert where no Truth grows. Scientists have not established supremacy over you and me, so that they can tell us whether our thoughts and feelings have truth-value or not; or that we are too ignorant to criticise their ideas or actions. I don’t challenge their claims as a profession (1) to have helped improve material conditions for the human species (2) to have exposed many superstitions as baseless and baneful. But scientific method is a discipline which applies only to scientists in the performance of their professional duties. A judge at a dinner-party won’t object to gossip for its being hearsay: won’t arrive at the table in his wig and gown. Being a judge is merely his job. Scientists could have the same attitude.
I accept Darwin’s theory and subsequent elaborations, so far as they go, but when I wonder why the giraffe has a long neck, I have no hesitation in concluding that its ancestors wanted to browse the higher branches of trees. Wanting is not enough, of course. As an old English proverb says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”—meaning everyone knows that wishing by itself is not enough. Nevertheless, as another proverb reassures us, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Man yearns to fly? He invents the aircraft; by trial and error, as it happens, just as in Evolution.
But the moment you say “trial and error” you invoke teleology. Unless you have a purpose you cannot make an error. Any outcome will do. As another proverb says, “If you don’t care where you are, you ain’t lost”. Yet the article on trial and error linked above contains this:
Biological evolution is also a form of trial and error. Random mutations and sexual genetic variations can be viewed as trials and poor reproductive fitness, or lack of improved fitness, as the error. Thus after a long time ‘knowledge’ of well-adapted genomes accumulates simply by virtue of them being able to reproduce.
So this is what we have learned to expect: that evolution works by randomness, which incidentally and without any hint of purpose leads to the survival of the fittest, and by some
Of one thing we can be quite certain: that the human animal is driven by specific purposes, which predominate over innate instinct. Every purpose, we may say, is shaped by desire, driven by a combination of emotion and imagination, with intellect serving both, and helping create coherent action out of the clash of impulses that we feel. This is true as I write this article, try to make it lucid, bring it to a desired and already-imagined conclusion.
I see no reason to deny this motive force, desire, to the giraffe; or for that matter, to the slug. In a Wikipedia article on “Four Causes”, we find this:
Final cause, or telos, is defined as the purpose, end, aim, or goal of something. Aristotle, who defined the term, explicitly argued that a telos can be present without any form of deliberation, consciousness or intelligence in general.
For example, the telos of a seed is to become an adult plant.
I’m not a philosopher any more than I’m a scientist. But I think that everything in Nature is motivated by desire. For I am a representative part of nature: I experience myself directly, from the inside. This is my scientific method. And when my body ceases to have any desire to perform actions in this life, then it disintegrates into its component materials, which are still not dead because the desire remains in each molecule and atom to re-form and combine; to contribute to new life. For life is desire. Everything is alive, everything desires.