Invoking the Rule

In the previous entry, we saw that evolutionary biologist, Douglas J. Futuyma teaches that the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology or evolution. Some might be tempted to dismiss this statement as the opinion of Futuyma, but that will not work. As I noted then, Futuyma is a mainstream scientist who has written a mainstream science text used in mainstream colleges and universities all over the world being promoted by a mainstream science organization.  And I can tell you that the vast, vast majority of people using and learning from this text book will be college students who are majoring in biology.  In other words, those who are being trained to become scientists.

Futuyma is not offering his own idiosyncratic views.  He speaks for Science. It is not his rule. He speaks for Science.

That is why biologist Jerry Coyne, from the University of Chicago, recently and independently spells out the same rule:

Either way, such a view completely violates the scientific presumption (and evidence) that evolution is a purely materialistic and unguided process — a process without a goal or, indeed, any determined outcome.


But any injection of teleology into evolutionary biology violates precisely the great advance of Darwin’s theory: to explain the appearance of design by a purely materialistic process — no deity required.


If we’re to defend evolutionary biology, we must defend it as a science: a nonteleological theory in which the panoply of life results from the action of natural selection and genetic drift acting on random mutations.

That is why in 1995, Nobel laureate Christian De Duve’s adhered to the same rule in his approach to origins:

I have tried to conform to the overriding rule that life be treated as a natural process, its origin, evolution, and manifestations, up to and including the human species, as governed by the same laws of nonliving processes.  I exclude three “isms”; vitalism, which views living beings as made of matter animated by some vital spirit; finalism, or teleology, which assumes goal-directed causes in biological processes; and creationism, which invokes a literal acceptance of the biblical account.”[Vital Dust, p. xiv]

That is why forty years ago, another leading scientist outlined the same rule.

The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective. In other words, the systematic denial that “true” knowledge can be got at by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes – that is to say, of “purpose.”…… It required the unbending stricture implicit in the postulate of objectivity – ironclad, pure, forever undemonstrable. For it is obviously impossible to imagine an experiment which could prove the nonexistence anywhere in nature of a purpose, of a pursued end.

But the postulate of objectivity is consubstantial with science; it has guided the whole of its prodigious development for three centuries. There is no way to be rid of it, even tentatively or in a limited area, without departing from the domain of science.

That’s why the rule was invoked in a book review of in mainstream science journal ninety years ago.

But the adoption of Mr. Quevli’s would interfere with the business of men of science. It would be a hindrance to research. They will, therefore, continue to deal with cells without ascribing any intelligence to them. For the purpose of research, science must be mechanistic. But at the same time, it is well to remember that the mechanistic view sees only one side of evolution. From a philosophical point of view, it is quote possible that the whole universe might be interpreted in terms of intelligence just as well as in terms of chemistry and physics.

That why Eugene Koonin felt the strong urge to defend his controversial paper by pleading with his peer reviewers he was not, NOT, NOT proposing teleology.

The concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology.

6 responses to “Invoking the Rule

  1. In other words, the lack of teleology in science is not because it’s been sought and found lacking, but because no such search is allowed in “actual” science.

    Which, as Wellington pointed out (and let me say how happy I am that someone other than me is hammering on that point) means that therefore biology, or science in general, is not non-teleological or anti-teleological. It is, if that’s the rule (and if the desire to be honest is also present), silent on teleology’s presence or lack.

  2. Pingback: Why the Rule? «

  3. You left out something-

    the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology or evolution-

    because our atheism forbids such a thing.

    There, that is better…

  4. Joe,

    It doesn’t matter how you criticize or frame it. To defeat my argument, you must show that the rule does not exist.

  5. Mike,

    The rule only exists to those who cannot allow the design inference no matter what.

    IOW it is contrived to prevent the design inference.

    Limitations like that are not welcome in science.

    Science is only interested in reality- regardless of what that reality is.

  6. In any case, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, debate about methodological rules of science often forms part of the practice of science, especially during times when established paradigms are being challenged. Those who reject the “teach the controversy” model on the grounds that ID violates the current rules of scientific practice only beg the question. The present regime of methodological rules cannot prevent the controversy for the simple reason that those rules may themselves be one of the subjects of scientific controversy.

    page xxv of Darwinism, Design and Public Education

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