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Teleology

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Thinking hard
or hardly thinking?

Philosophy
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and the brain fart
Come to think of it

Teleology in the strict sense is a branch of philosophy that studies final purposes or Aristotelian "final causes"[1][2] of the world and evidence of this purpose in the world's design.

It is most often invoked today to refer to a style of thinking that sees natural forces as being directed toward some sort of end goal or purpose. Teleological assumptions provide the logical basis for creationism, as evidenced in the argument from design. Teleological approaches usually lead to pseudo-scholarly works of determinism, e.g., historical determinism, biological determinism, etc.

Teleology and evolution[edit]

Teleological thinking is deeply ingrained in culture, so even people who believe evolution is how we got here can slip into it. Beware any of the following in an evolutionary discussion, particularly if you hear them coming out of your own mouth:[3][4]

  • "Highly evolved" - evolution does not have directional heights or an aim in mind.
  • "More complex" - the genomes reached their present informational content about 600 million years ago. All changes since then have substituted new complexity for old.[5] There is no progress or direction.
  • "Purpose" - this word may mean something if you're very careful indeed - a functional explanation rather than a historical one (e.g. "the heart's purpose is pumping blood") - but can fail to communicate to your audience that it got this way by shit just happening.
  • "The next stage of human evolution" - problems here are the words "the" and "next". Whatever happens to humanity will be shit just happening.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Woodfield, Andrew (2010). "1: What is teleology?". Teleology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780521143752. https://books.google.com/books?id=F1mC816ke4kC. Retrieved 2017-07-15. "In the Oxford English Dictionary 'teleology' is defined as 'the doctrine or study of ends or final causes'. This definition contains a technical term, 'final causes', not much used nowadays. A more familiar word would be 'purposes'. Questions about teleology are, broadly, to do with whether a thing has a purpose or is acting for the sake of a purpose, and, if so, what that purpose is." 
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Final cause.
  3. Teleology, Talk Origins
  4. Teleological Notions in Biology, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. The functional complexity sustainable by selection pressure. See George C. Williams'Wikipedia's W.svg excellent book Adaptation and Natural SelectionWikipedia's W.svg, which explains this at some length.
  6. Pace Genesis 3:5: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." And Genesis 11:6: "And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."