[Taxacom] teleology example

John Grehan calabar.john at gmail.com
Mon Mar 11 05:30:22 CDT 2013

Curtis raises some good points here (and in previous postings). Perhaps it
does not matter whether the 'sloppiness' is in the thinking or the writing
(although as a purely personal opinion I tend to think that the two go
together - that trying to make a distinction is artificial. Certainly when
my writing has been sloppy I recognize that it is a reflection of my
thinking, not independent of it).

The real nature of the problem may be that there is this a pervasive and
explicit language of teleology in evolutionary biology that is perfectly at
home with theologically based approaches such as intelligent design and
creationism. It is surprising to me that these latter perspectives have not
focused on this concordance (at least as far as I know, not having followed
their arguments over time). The problem with teleology is not that it is
used, but that it is not science in the sense that it is not open to
empirical analysis in ways in terms of what is generally understood to be
science by those who practice it.

The Winters example is just an example that exemplifies the whole as there
are innumerable examples throughout evolutionary biology. It is
so pervasive that there would be no point in mentioning any one more than
another on the list. But in this case the teleological statement was so
explicit and direct that it was worthy of notice.

Ironically, most cases of teleology are easy to avoid in science. So the
question comes down to why it is not avoided. My personal view is that for
many biologists, evolution has become a substitute for
traditional religious belief - which would explain a lot of the hostility
that arises in evolutionary biology when certain fundamental 'truths' are
challenged, and the sometimes deified or saintified  state given to Darwin.

John Grehan

On Mon, Mar 11, 2013 at 12:14 AM, Curtis Clark <lists at curtisclark.org>wrote:

> On 2013-03-10 2:26 PM, Michael Heads wrote:
> > It's been suggested that the argument about teleology is only about
> words -
> > it's just 'sloppy writing' etc. - but it's really about fundamental,
> > underlying concepts.
> I was going to write that this is only generally true, and that you
> can't surmise that any given scientist is a teleologer only by a single
> data point. But then I realized that you are a panbiogeographer, and
> that you are interested in the patterns more than the individuals. If we
> have a pattern of people using teleological language, that tells us
> something, even if any given individual may not think teleologically
> despite sloppy use of language. And so that individual's mental
> processes are unimportant (just as where an *individual* lives is
> perhaps not important in panbiogeography), the overall pattern being the
> thing of interest.
> But then I got to thinking, what if *every individual* that used
> teleological language was in fact just a sloppy writer, and not a sloppy
> thinker. Would the pattern be as important? At what point does pattern
> analysis become garbage in, garbage out?
> --
> Curtis Clark        http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark
> Biological Sciences                   +1 909 869 4140
> Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona CA 91768
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