Teleology and Darwinism

Darwin freely used teleology as a metaphor for natural selection, that natural selection works as if an intelligent breeder was consciously pursuing a goal, as if aiming at horses, to take advantage of the grasslands, or as if aiming at men, to create a creature capable of planning and cooperating to defeat any creature less capable of planning and cooperation.

And by an interesting coincidence, whosoever hates the metaphor, hates natural selection.

As Bruce Charlton tells us

most modern intellectuals – and especially the public intellectuals who write in the highbrow media and publish big-selling nonfiction books; and including most scientists and indeed biologists and psychologists – do not believe that natural selection explains ‘higher’ human faculties such as intelligence, language, consciousness and morality.

These people believe in human evolution, in the sense that they believe humans descended from primates etc – yet they do not believe that this evolution was caused by natural selection – yet they do not have any other explanation.

In short, evolutionists but not Darwinists.

In essence, they believe that the higher human faculties just happened. They are simply brute facts.

I first was sure about this in listening to an interview with Noam Chomsky, in which the interviewer pushed him hard to explain how it was that humans developed language.

Chomsky was uncomfortable and rather irritated, and eventually came up with a scenario where something like a cosmic ray caused a mutation and human language ability was accomplished at a stroke.

(No wonder Chomsky was uncomfortable, since this is a ridiculous assertion; yet here it was, emanating from the most highly-cited human scientist/ social scientist of the modern era.)

But similar end points can be reached among most intellectuals who write about intelligence, language, consciousness and morality.

They are sure of only two things about higher human faculties:

  1. These phenomena cannot be explained by supernatural agency (because they know that the supernatural does not exist)
  2. These phenomena cannot – or at any rate should not – be explained by natural selection.

This is the way of thinking about evolution that comes from Aristotle and which has dominated theoretical biology with people such as Goethe, D’Arcy Thompson, Gregory Bateson, Waddington, Kauffman and the modern chaos complexity theorists – and Sheldrake.

Such thinkers are generally evasive or vague about where these forms come from, or how we know about them – necessarily vague since they exclude any divine role or revelation.

Charlton is of course arguing for a divinely ordained human nature, but is himself rather vague as to how that divinely ordained human nature differs from human nature as ordained by political correctness

The Old Testament is pretty clear that God ordained human nature, and what that nature is, and, that nature is rather similar to what a Darwinist would expect natural selection to produce of risen killer apes. Modern Christians, including Bruce, find this rather distasteful and are apt to interpret it away as much any modern leftist, because it implies a God who is patriarchal, racist, vengeful, genocidal, and disturbingly old fashioned, much like those made in his image.

If you care going to believe in a creator God, you had better believe in one that chose to create the world the way it actually is, and that is the creator God we find in the Bible, one that, as a result of original sin, made men as they actually are.

The modern Christian right, as much as the modern Christian left, seeks to make a peace with progressivism. Unlike the modern Christian left, they want a peace that does not involve the erasure of every last trace of Christianity and its total replacement with progressivism. But it does not matter what they want, for that is not what they are going to get.

If someone takes his bible seriously, and does not take the need for peace with progressivism seriously (for there is no peace to be had) he is going to believe rather similar things about human nature as a Darwinist believes.

Somehow we [supposedly] know about them and somehow we can recognize them.

These attributes of humans, these phenomena which are what make humans distinctive, did not evolve but are [supposedly] part of reality.

In particular, morality – by which they mean modern leftist morality as it has emerged in the West in the past three hundred years – is built into reality.

But the same applies to language, consciousness, and intelligence – these are seen as qualitative and ‘given’.

I am pretty sure that most people do not realize, have not noticed, how vague and strange are these bottom-line beliefs of [supposedly] hard-nosed, mainstream intellectuals.

On the whole these beliefs are never stated. On the whole these dominant thinkers are able to evade examination of their own bottom-line convictions by means of articulate and aggressive attacks on those with whom they disagree.

That is to say with Christians (the religious Right) and with sociobiologists/ evolutionary psychologists (the secular Right).

But it is a remarkable fact of modern intellectual life that public discourse is dominated by a perspective that is defined almost entirely negatively – on the basis of convictions that are mostly unstated, and which when stated are absurd to the point of being self-refuting.

Yet when any person tries to explain human distinctiveness on the basis of stated and explicit convictions – either religious assumptions, or else on the axiomatic assumption that all such phenomena must be explicable by natural selection and the only question is a matter of specific detail – then that person is unrestrainedly attacked, vilified and mocked on the evil ridiculousness of their beliefs …

For example Chagnon

So they reach this weird, unstated but undeniable position of arguing from the brute facticity of leftist morality – without any possibility of explaining how this can be known to be true, or why it should be true, or how it is true – or even why such brute facts have any influence on human choices (given that other brute facts, such as sexual differences, are denied to have any implications whatsoever for human choice) …

This progressive doctrine is of course, the ancient Judeo Christian doctrine of a human nature divinely ordained by a creator God, only with the God removed, and with the actual empirical observation of human nature denied.  A creator God explains and justifies the observed creation.  Progressivism has deleted both ends of this doctrine, the God and the observation, while retaining the doctrine, and denouncing whosoever deviates from this completely incoherent doctrine.

Observe the denunciation of Chagnon, wherein Chagnon supposedly caused bad things to happen to the primitive natural native rainforest dwellers merely by thinking bad thoughts.  He was denounced not merely for heresy, for believing that men evolved, that human nature evolved, by natural selection, but for what not so very long ago, the progenitors of today’s progressivism called witchcraft.


14 Responses to “Teleology and Darwinism”

  1. jim says:

    Of course.

    Chimps and men hunt, and make war: Cooperative killing.

    Men are more highly adapted to cooperation than chimps, for example strikingly white eyeballs that accurately reveal the direction where one is looking. The most plausible explanation of our superior intelligence is an evolutionary history of war, genocide, and extermination.

  2. AnnoDomini says:

    Why is language such a big deal?

    I mean, it’s hardly exclusive to human beings.

  3. […] Teleology and Darwinism « Jim’s Blog […]

  4. […] Teleology and Darwinism « Jim’s Blog […]

  5. RS says:

    I hesitate to believe your opening claim. My sense was that Chompy was rather widely smirked upon for that particular position. I could be wrong but I don’t think it is held by Pinker, Nicolas Wade, Tooby/Cosmo, etc — or even by most others less associated with ‘genetic determinism’. In brief I don’t think it is mainstream in bio.

    I don’t know what is held by cultural anthropologists in general, but in general their work does not fully qualify as an intellectual endeavor.

    • jim says:

      Tooby and Cosmides speak delicately on natural selection, just as Cavalli-Sforza et al speak delicately on the existence of human races.

      See Pinker on Human evolution He absolutely does not mention or imply natural selection.

      See also Pinker on the Evolution of Language. Again, not a mention of natural selection, not to mention PC triumphing totally over reality.

      Cosmides delicately asks “has natural selection shaped how humans reason?”, which implies that it is controversial. She does not openly and in plain words inquire has natural selection shaped less polite and more disturbing characteristics.

  6. guest says:

    But the same applies to language, consciousness, and intelligence – these are seen as qualitative and ‘given’.

    I am pretty sure that most people do not realize, have not noticed, how vague and strange are these bottom-line beliefs of [supposedly] hard-nosed, mainstream intellectuals.

    On the whole these beliefs are never stated.

    I’m not a Leftist, mind you;

    But how can something exist which imposes itself upon an otherwise causal chain of events, and that thing be the result of determinism?

    Free will isn’t free will if everything we think, say, or do is the necessary effect of millions of years old causes.

    Free will proves god(s).

    • jim says:

      For us to detect cause and effect, our actions must have an element of randomness and caprice, which can be generated by simple and materialistic means, the equivalent of casting dice.

    • Thales says:

      First, make sure you aren’t thinking Free Will in the 19th Century sense of Determinism, before it was understood that the universe is stochastic. To wit:

      Free Will is compatible with Functionalism due to (inherently physical) limitations of epistemology. Or, more generally, Godel blew Determinism out of the water by showing what happens to any system once the feedback loop of self-reference is introduced.

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