Table of Contents
Part I: The Preparation of the Earth
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.
1 of 5
18. Mora, Peter T., in The Origin of Prebiological Systems,
edited by Sidney W. Fox, Academic Press New York, 1965, pp.57,
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
"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:
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
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.
22. Hardy, Sir Alister, The Living Stream, Collins, London,
23. Langer, Susanne, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, Johns
Hopkins Press, 1967, vol.I, p.360.
not only of science writers, but of excellent,
authoritative scientists writing on problems of adaptation, organic
integration and evolutionary tendencies.
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,
27. Ibid., p.14.
28. Krebs, H., "An expansion into the borderline of biochemistry
and philosophy," Bulletin Johns Hopkins Hospital, vol.95,
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
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.
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.169�175)
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.105�l09), 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
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.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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33. Sherrington, Sir Charles, Man on his Nature, Cambridge
University Press, 1963, pp.105ff.
34. Jones, F. Wood, Trends of Life, Arnold, London, 1953,