The Neo-Darwinist Myth of Darwin as an Anti-Teleologist

The Myth of Darwin as an Anti-Teleologist


Asa Gray noted “…Darwin’s great service to Natural Science in bringing back to it Teleology: so that instead of Morphology versus Teleology, we shall have Morphology wedded to Teleol- ogy” (Gray 1963).

Darwin quickly responded: “What you say about Teleology pleases me especially and I do not think anyone else has ever noticed the point.” (letter to Asa Gray, Charles Darwin)


The problem with materialism, including neo-Darwinist materialism, aside from its being an undemonstrated assumption carried into science from theology, is that like the theistic creationism it decries, it fails to understand the actual problem and merely explains it away.


A good example are the various ideas of the ‘unit’ of evolution, these range from Dawkins’ ‘selfish gene’ to theories that go beyond the organism to include the various microbes that are necessary to an organism in a symbiotic fashion, to the species as the basic unit. The problem is not simply that none of the arguments put forward are decisive, but that the question itself is nonsensical. When nature is viewed historically, it appears evolutionary. Evolution therefore is a description of the apparent behaviour of nature as historical. There is no ‘unit’ of evolution, in fact there is no theory of evolution whatsoever, there are only theories of the history of nature. Thie ‘unit’ of the history of nature can only be nature itself viewed as a whole. This can easily be demonstrated by the obvious fact that individuals do not evolve, although there is diversity within species, whether those individuals have necessary microbes included. Nor does a species evolve, for the simple reason that if any substantial change results, not in an evolved species, but a new species.  Nor is there any means by which we can draw a line between what is part of a given organism, species, or genus and what is not, and therefore becomes an environment precisely by the coming into being of an organism, species or genus.


Darwin was attempting to answer one of the two basic questions the evidential history of nature raises, and his answer is not fundamentally any different from that of Empedocles, that survivability of a given variation depends on its relation to its environment. The other basic question is why does nature, viewed historically, appear as evolutionary in the first place. Positing some sort of ‘drive’ is merely begging the question, because ‘drive’ is merely another unexplained word for the missing answer. ‘Evolutionary’ doesn’t mean random change, but precisely means that nature as historical appears to have an inbuilt tendency, albeit at times interrupted by various catastrophic events, to become more diverse and more complex. It is the reason for this ‘more’ that neither materialism nor theism even attempt to understand, and instead merely explain it away.


Darwin was not a materialist by his own statements, despite the largely mythical claims of neo-Darwinists, but a teleologist in Aristotle’s sense, modified by the speculative philosophy of his time, particularly that of Hegel. Origin, in both Hegel and Aristotle, is not prior temporally, the misapprehension both theists and materialsts are under, but temporally a posteriori. The fundamental cause remains the telos or goal, which to Aristotle and Hegel, as with most reasonable men, is temporally after the development of a given being., but for a teleologist metaphysically prior. This wasn’t a difficulty for Aristotle, because the temporal cause and then effect sequence wasn’t yet accepted as obvious. It wasn’t a difficulty for Hegel, because it creates paradoxes as Kant had clearly shown that cannot be solved without abandoning the assumption that the temporal sequence of cause and effect is the only type of causality. How the origin accomplishes what it does evidently accomplish is not answered by Darwin, although he mentions it in his major work as an unanswered problem.


The laws governing inheritance are quite unknown; no one can say why the same peculiarity in different individuals of the same species, and in individuals of different species, is sometimes inherited and sometimes not so; why the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather or grandmother or other much more remote ancestor; why a peculiarity is often transmitted from one sex to both sexes or to one sex alone, more commonly but not exclusively to the like sex.


Darwin, Charles (2012-05-16). On the origin of species (p. 13).  . Kindle Edition. 


Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, etc., as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings , by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself. Darwin, Charles (2012-05-16). On the origin of species (p. 3). . Kindle Edition. (Italics mine)




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