I concluded my last post on this topic by asking: “Sure, the ‘reigning naturalistic consensus’ needs Darwinism – but does Darwinism need the ‘reigning naturalistic consensus?’ – and answering: “I don’t think so.”
Let’s try & unpack that, now.
If you’re an evangelical atheist, determined to defend at any cost the elimination of purpose, meaning &c as fundamental features of the world and to explain them away in terms of the motion of physical particles in accordance with ultimately purposeless, meaningless natural forces, than Darwinism comes as a God-send – because it seems, at least at first glance, to explain away what is, seemingly, the most purpose-, & meaning–ridden phenomenon of all – i.e., life itself, in purely mechanistic terms. Even human beings, with their beliefs, desires, fears and all the rest of it are really just complicated machines.
But is there any particular reason why Darwinists need to insist on the ultimate lack of final causation in their account of the evolution of life? Would it cost them anything important to embrace final causation as part of their explanatory toolkit?
Well, what, exactly, does the notion of final causation entail, anyway?
According to Edward Feser, this is what it entails: “for the Aristotelian, final causation or teleology…is evident wherever some natural object or process has a tendency to produce some particular effect or range of effects. A match, for example, reliably generates heat and flame when struck. and never (say) frost and cold, or the smell of lilacs, or thunder. It inherently “points to” or is “directed towards” this range of effects specifically, and in that way manifests just the sort of end- or goal-directedness characteristic of final causality, even though the match does not (unlike a heart or a carburetor) function as an organic part of a larger system. The same directedness towards a specific effect or range of effects is evident in all causes operative in the natural world. When Aristotelians say that final causality pervades the natural order, then, they are not making the implausible claim that everything has a function of the sort biological organs have, including piles of dirt, iron filings and balls of lint. Rather, they are saying that goal-directedness exists wherever regular cause and effect patterns do.” (Aquinas, pp. 17-18).
So for a modern Darwinian to admit final causation into his explanatory toolkit, all he has to do is agree that particular genes in particular circumstances have a tendency to produce some particular effect or range of effects and not others – that they are directed towards those effects as towards a goal, and that this goal is really real, and not some sort of illusion or delusion that needs to be explained away. In return for this admission, he earns the right to talk all he wants to about the struggle for survival, the functions of organs, the selfishness of genes, & so on & so forth, without apology.
So what’s not to like? For the life of me, I can’t see any good reason for the Darwinian not to agree to this bargain.