Darwinism & Final Causation II

Previously, I suggested that the gist of the late Lawrence Auster’s critique of Darwinism was that it assumed the truth of “the reigning naturalistic consensus in modern science and philosophy…according to which…ends, goals, purposes, meaning – in short, final causes – are not fundamental features of reality, but mere illusions, in need of explanation in mechanistic terms of some sort or other.” Yet at the same time, Darwinists “constantly help themselves to teleological language – i.e., the language of final causation.”

Edward Feser puts the point like this in his anti-atheist polemic, The Last Superstition:

“The point of Darwinism is to complete the mechanistic revolution that began with Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, et al., by eliminating teleology or final causality from biology. Yet contemporary Darwinian biologists, no less than their Aristotelian predecessors, constantly help themselves to teleological language in describing and explaining the phenomena with which they have to deal, and no one denies that it would be impossible for them to carry on their researches without it.” (p. 248)

Unfortunately, when it comes to evangelical atheists like Richard Dawkins & Daniel Dennett, I fear that this might be an all-too-accurate summary of the “point” of Darwinism, so far as they are concerned. They really do seem to be motivated – driven, even – largely by raging anti-religious sentiment. And although the notion of final causation is of secular origin (Aristotle was not a Christian!) its emphatic adoption by the medieval church has, perhaps, irredeemably tainted it in the eyes of all true non-believers.

Feser quotes a couple of relevant passages from a recent book by one of our foremost contemporary philosophers:

“I want atheism to be true…It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want the universe to be like that…”

“Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.”

(Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, p. 131)

So far, I’m entirely on board with these critics of Darwinism. For one thing, the very ideas of “point,” “motive,” “want,” “belief,” “hope” &c seem to me to be irreducibly teleological – and I simply can’t make any sense of what’s going on with the likes of Dawkins & Dennett without using words like those. (Oh, and add “sense” to the list, while you’re at it.)

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

But here’s where I jump ship. In once sentence:

Sure, the “reigning naturalistic consensus” needs Darwinism – but does Darwinism need the “reigning naturalistic consensus?”

I don’t think so.

to be continued…

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5 thoughts on “Darwinism & Final Causation II

    • “Darwinism without naturalism…”

      So far so good. That is, indeed, where I’m headed.

      “from an atheist…”

      where did you get that idea?

      Was Aristotle an “atheist?” Was Spinoza?

  1. Mistaken assumption from previous post. I was just skimming and not really reading/think. Happens to the best.
    Anyway, either way I’m looking forward to your essay, it’s a very interesting subject that needs to be explored more by philosophers and not just biologists.
    I think your basically right, I don’t see a necessary naturalistic causation to Darwinism, but I’m curious the see where this can go in the design/non-design. Have you given much thought to the idea of the universe>environment being designed for the possibility of evolution>life, and life itself then being both spontaneous and un-designed but still the product of some cosmic tinkering.
    Pax J

    • Thanks – I’m thinking a lot about it. FWIW, I think that the aspects of Darwinism that particularly interest me – i.e., the variation between population groups in intelligence, character &c – survive any challenge, here.

  2. Pingback: Darwiniana » Darwinism & Final Causation

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