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Part I

Part II

Part III

PartIV

Part V


     

Part I: The Preparation of the Earth Before Man

Chapter Four

Foresight and the Concept of Teleology

     ALFRED KUHN pointed out that modern objections to the inclusion of the concept of purpose to account for any phenomenon in Nature are traceable to Emmanuel Kant's "Critique of Teleological Judgment." (17) Kant held that such a concept really explains nothing, because it makes the "end," or objective, the cause. The end becomes the beginning. The argument is circular and therefore without force.
     However, not all agree. Indeed, in recent years the older teleological view is regaining favour, especially among those whose main concern is with the origin and the nature of life, where behaviour at a molecular and cellular level, as well as at the whole animal level, is increasingly difficult to explain in purely mechanistic terms. Thus Peter T. Mora of the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland during the discussion which followed a paper entitled "The Folly of Probability,"
(18) which he presented at a conference on the general subject of the origin of prebiological systems argued that the present insistence among biochemists that the concept of purpose must be rigidly excluded from all research into the origin and nature of life is proving just as defeating and unhealthy as the medieval insistence was that no other concept was acceptable. It is interesting to note that Dr. Mora's paper, according to the chairman (J.D. Bernal of England), raised "the most fundamental questions of the theory of the origin of life that have been raised at this conference, or as far as I know elsewhere." Mora's conclusion is that "a certain type of teleological approach must be pertinent to the study of living systems," and therefore we ought to "dare to ask whether there is

17. Kuhn, Alfred, Lectures on Developmental Physiology, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1971, p.4.
18. Mora, Peter T., in The Origin of Prebiological Systems, edited by Sidney W. Fox, Academic Press New York, 1965, pp.57, 52.

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something special in the living which cannot be treated by physics as we know it. . . ." (19)
     This is in marked contrast to the views of an older generation. Leo Berg in his Homogenesis observed:
(20) "The history of science has taught us that vitalism, as a hypothesis, is valueless, it has in nowise aided us in making any progress in the interpretation of facts." Later he said: (21)

     We are enabled to work fruitfully in the field of natural science only by the aid of forces recognized in physics, and every naturalist should endeavor to interpret nature by mechanistic means. . . .

     This could be true if the only object of research is the collection of measurable data for the purposes of prediction, if the only tools of research are those that measure and weigh, and the only way of obtaining a hearing among one's peers is to adopt an entirely mechanistic approach or else find oneself without a voice and a hearing.
     It is true that the teleological explanation may be a lazy man's way out of an intractable problem. But it may also be the worshipful man's insight. The difficulty is to find the balance. But one does not find the balance by simply denying the alternative route to understanding. Sir Alister Hardy said in his book The Living Stream, that while we may regard the fabric of an organism as a mechanical configuration, "I would not for the world be thought to believe that this is the only story which life and her children have to tell. One does not come by studying living things for a lifetime to suppose that physics and chemistry can account for them all."
(22) And Susanne Langer, with her characteristic eloquence and insight, pointed out: (23)

     Since the assumption of a Divine Creator, who might exercise the required foresight and ingenuity, is proscribed in the scientific sphere, the analogy of the industrial plant can be carried out only with a replacement in the managerial and planning departments; and this is commonly made surreptitiously by a literary trick of using what purports to be a mere figure of speech the introduction of "Nature" or "Evolution" as the agent who supplies the blueprints and materials and guides the attainment of her (instead of His) purposes. This ready evasion of a difficulty, which really shows up the weakness of the machine model, has become the stock in trade

19. Ibid., p.51.
20. Berg, Leo, Nomogenesis: or Evolution Determined by Law, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reprint, 1969 p.6.
21. Ibid.
22. Hardy, Sir Alister, The Living Stream, Collins, London, 1965, p.182.
23. Langer, Susanne, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, Johns Hopkins Press, 1967, vol.I, p.360.

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not only of science writers, but of excellent, authoritative scientists writing on problems of adaptation, organic integration and evolutionary tendencies.

     Langer gives one example: A. von Szent-Gyorgyi in his book Oxydation and Fermentation wrote: "Nature discovered oxydation by molecular oxygen. . . ." And again, "We usually find that the way Nature reaches its purpose is the only possible way, and yet, in spite of its simplicity, the most admirably ingenious way." (24) Surely these things could only be said of a personal agent, and who else could this possibly be but God Himself? Langer says, "The factory manager is left nameless."
    Andre Schlemmer pointed out long ago that life behaves so unlike a machine in so many ways, that the mechanistic approach simply has to be abandoned again and again. Thus the body has very un-machine-like powers to heal itself, to repair and renew its parts, to make compensatory adjustments in order to insure the same work output. And "the most materialistic biologist cannot refrain from falling into teleological language as soon as he turns to explain the process."
(25) He is simply forced to personify the agent who oversees it.
     Max Kleiber, an internationally renowned physiologist, brought up in the school of Claude Bernard, objected strongly to any such course of action by a scientist. Science must rid itself of any appeal to a "personal" agency in the works. Thus he said:
(26)

     In an attempt to clear science of theology, the postulate that man is a machine is a rather tricky analogy, because an essential characteristic of a machine is that it is planned for a purpose, which implies a designer. . . . The study of man as a machine leads to teleology, and that leads naturally to the question of the mind of the designer of man. This mind must work in a way similar to that of the human mind, if we are to understand its planning; we understand the planning of the machine because the designing engineer thinks as we think. So we are back to theology.

     He then observed that as an evasion of this rationale, some atheistic teleologists deified nature itself! But he asked, "Can a biologist learn to understand what the inventor of a fish or a man had in mind when he designed these creatures?" (27) How blind can one be, indeed!
     Subsequently, he noted that there is a frank return to teleology by such outstanding workers as H. Krebs,
(28) and more recently A. V.

24. Von Szent-Gyorgyi, A.: quoted by Susanne Langer in a footnote, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, Johns Hopkins Press, 1967, vol.I p.360.
25. Schlemmer, Andre, The Crisis in the World of Thought, InterVarsity Press, London, 1940, p.30.
26. Kleiber, Max, "An Old Professor of Animal Husbandry Ruminates," Annual Review Physiology, vol.29, 1967, p.11.
27. Ibid., p.14.
28. Krebs, H., "An expansion into the borderline of biochemistry and philosophy," Bulletin Johns Hopkins Hospital, vol.95, 1954, p.19-51.

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Hill, (29) both Nobel Laureates. The latter referred to "innumerable examples in both animal and plant life of what can only be described as evidences of superb engineering which, of course, invites acknowledgment of a superb 'Engineer'." Kleiber would have none of this. He said, "Instead of accepting an analogy between a creator of organisms and a designer of machines and hunting for divine blueprints, the Darwinistically oriented physiologist is stimulated to search for causes, and even if he does not completely succeed he usually finds a lot of what is interesting on his way." (30) This seems to me a rather unsatisfactory motivation for the dedication of one's life to research. And if Krebs and Hill, and a growing number of other workers in the life sciences, are any indication, it is a futile approach as well.
     But Kleiber was, it seems to me, fighting a losing battle, especially when dealing with the extraordinary abilities of the animal body to prepare itself for a role that is yet future. The embryologist sees this particularly -- though he may be reluctant to say much about it because of the pressure of scientific opinion to the contrary. Sir Charles Sherrington expresses his wonder at it all, but is clearly not willing to acknowledge the existence of a divine Designer behind it. But his style of writing contrasts notably with that of, for example, G. G. Simpson writing on the same subject. Simpson exemplifies a peculiar blindness in a remarkable way. Thus in a paper entitled "The Problem of Plan and Purpose in Nature" (emphasis mine), he wrote:
(31)

     An eye, an ear, or a hand is also a complex mechanism serving a particular function. It, too, looks as if it had been made for a purpose. This appearance of purposefulness is pervading in nature, in the general structure of animals and plants, in the mechanisms of their various organs, and in the give and take of their relationships with each other.

It is indeed.
     Darwin said he never contemplated the design of the eye without a tremor. And Sir Charles Bell in 1832 wrote his Bridgewater Treatise, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design, almost as an act of worship. Such was the spirit of the time which moved some men to praise and others to tremble. Other later men of equal stature with Bell, like Sir Charles Sherrington, acknowledged their unstinting admiration of the eye as an

29. Hill, A. V., "Why Biophysics?" Science, vol.124, 1956, p.1233.
30 Kleiber, Max, "An Old Professor of Animal Husbandry Ruminates," Annual Review Physiology, vol.29, 1967, p.14.
31. Simpson, G.G., ''The Problem of Plan and Purpose in Nature" Scientific Monthly, June, l947, p.481.

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optical instrument and yet could no longer see it as evidence of design by the Creator.
     One may compare Simpson's treatment of the eye in his Meaning of Evolution (pp.169175) and be impressed with his knowledge of the data on eyes in general. But one also senses the coldness, and one might almost say the disinterest of the writer, in the basic questions that such an organ raises.
(32) If one reads, by contrast, Sherrington's treatment of the same subject in his Man on His Nature (pp.105l09), one begins to capture something of wonder in the author's mind. (33) How sad, then, to find that he too was blind to the possibility that the designer was a Person, personally approachable and personally rejoicing in His own creations.
     One writer of comparatively recent times, whose work is always a delight to read perhaps because of his willingness to admit the fact of purpose was F. Wood Jones of England. In his Trends of Life, he stated the present position very clearly when he said:
(34)

     Against the tyranny of modern orthodox views on teleology there is no reason whatever why we should not rebel, for orthodoxy in this case, is not supported by scientific facts, but rests for the most part on prejudices inherited from the "intransigent materialism of the nineteenth century."

     It is true. Prejudice, not scientific objectivity, has been the real reason for the rigid exclusion of the concept of design and purpose in accounting for natural phenomena. It certainly did not prevent Joseph Priestley in his research in chemistry, nor Sir Charles Bell in his research in physiology. Nor did Newton's faith prevent him from formulating his Principia, acknowledged to be one of the most extraordinary creations by the human mind in mathematics. There is really no sound reason to exclude the possibility of a Personal Creator superintending His own created order, though it may humble man a little by making him dependent upon revelation wherever his own limited means of exploration of the natural world prove inadequate.

32. Simpson, G. G., Meaning of Evolution, Yale University Press, 1952, pp.169-175.
33. Sherrington, Sir Charles, Man on his Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1963, pp.105ff.
34. Jones, F. Wood, Trends of Life, Arnold, London, 1953, p.58.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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