Monday, December 19, 2016

Purpose versus scientific worldview

Robert Wright writes in the NY Times philosophy column:
You could call these the “Three Great Myths About Evolution and Purpose.”

Myth number one: To say that there’s in some sense a “higher purpose” means there are “spooky forces” at work.

When I ask scientifically minded people if they think life on earth may have some larger purpose, they typically say no. If I ask them to explain their view, it often turns out that they think that answering yes would mean departing from a scientific worldview — embracing the possibility of supernatural beings or, at the very least, of immaterial factors that lie beyond scientific measurement. ...

Myth number two: To say that evolution has a purpose is to say that it is driven by something other than natural selection.

The correction of this misconception is in some ways just a corollary of the correction of the first misconception, but it’s worth spelling out: Evolution can have a purpose even if it is a wholly mechanical, material process — that is, even if its sole engine is natural selection. After all, clocks have purposes — to keep time, a purpose imparted by clockmakers — and they’re wholly mechanical. Of course, to suggest that evolution involves the unfolding of some purpose is to suggest that evolution has in some sense been heading somewhere — namely, toward the realization of its purpose. Which leads to:

Myth number three: Evolution couldn’t have a purpose, because it doesn’t have a direction.

The idea that evolution is fundamentally directionless is widespread, in part because one great popularizer of evolution, Stephen Jay Gould, worked hard to leave that impression.
This is heresy to modern evolutionists and philosophers of science.

Aristotle and Darwin talked about purposes as central to scientific study, but modern scientific dogma is that nothing has a purpose. Furthermore, any talk of purpose is just a sneaky way to infect Science with God, and thus must be resisted as unconstitutional and contrary to the Scientific Revolution.

Here are Aristotles four causes:
Aristotle held that there were four kinds of answers to "why" questions (in Physics II, 3, and Metaphysics V, 2):[2][4][5]

Matter: a change or movement's material "cause", is the aspect of the change or movement which is determined by the material that composes the moving or changing things. For a table, that might be wood; for a statue, that might be bronze or marble.

Form: a change or movement's formal "cause", is a change or movement caused by the arrangement, shape or appearance of the thing changing or moving. Aristotle says for example that the ratio 2:1, and number in general, is the cause of the octave.

Agent: a change or movement's efficient or moving "cause", consists of things apart from the thing being changed or moved, which interact so as to be an agency of the change or movement. For example, the efficient cause of a table is a carpenter, or a person working as one, and according to Aristotle the efficient cause of a boy is a father.

End or purpose: a change or movement's final "cause", is that for the sake of which a thing is what it is. For a seed, it might be an adult plant. For a sailboat, it might be sailing. For a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom. ...

Explanations in terms of final causes remain common in evolutionary biology.[23][24] It has been claimed that teleology is indispensable to biology since the concept of adaptation is inherently teleological.[24] In an appreciation of Charles Darwin published in Nature in 1874, Asa Gray noted "Darwin's great service to Natural Science" lies in bringing back Teleology "so that, instead of Morphology versus Teleology, we shall have Morphology wedded to Teleology".
Sure, I don't mind saying that the purpose of a clock is to keep time, or that sailing is the purpose of a sailboat.

Maybe that is just unimportant semantics. But what about ppl who act with purpose? That view seem essential to understanding humans, but there are many big-shot professors who claim that this is wrong, and that we are all mindless automatons.

Update: Massimo Pigliucci offers his own rebuttal, and adds:
Regardless, I think Wright makes a very good point when he writes: “When an argument for higher purpose is put this way — that is, when it doesn’t involve the phrase ‘higher purpose’ and, further, is cast more as a technological scenario than a metaphysical one — it is considered intellectually respectable. … Yet the simulation hypothesis is a God hypothesis … Theology has entered ‘secular’ discourse under another name.”


  1. As with most 'we are automatons' advocates, they themselves are mysteriously excluded from this category. Want proof? Just ask one of them to commit suicide. Since they are mindless automatons, from their own perspective it shouldn't really matter since being 'alive' or 'dead' makes no difference (and their awareness is just an illusion anyway), just different combinations of atoms. I'm willing to bet money they would cite some other reason they should continue 'living' their mindless lives. It would also be interesting to note, if those who subscribe to 'mindless automaton' positions feel strongly about the value of life other than human life, such as rain forests and animal life. If human life is mindless and pointless, so is the virtue of conserving life of any kind, as it literally makes no difference, it's just different patterns of atoms without purpose.
    Sigh. This is really just gussied up nihilism with a PhD attached, which I will admit, is mindless.

  2. I will write later.

    Here is an interesting thing.

    Or two, if you are interested: