Criticism Of Teleology And Mechanical Causes
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Teleology is defined as "The doctrine of final causes, or the theory of tendency to an end," also, as "A term used in philosophy to denote any theory which explains the world as in some way controlled by intelligent purpose."
The New International Encyclopaedia states:
"Teleology is an interpretation of a particular kind ; it argues that the facts which science describes can be adequately accounted for, causally, only by the assumption of an intelligent purpose of which human purpose furnishes the only analogy which we can understand. This does not mean that the purpose of the universe must be like human purpose, but that a purpose resembling human purpose is all that can make it intelligible to us."
Professor Haeckel presents both sides of the argument of design in his chapter on "The Unity of Nature" in The Riddle of the Universe, though without any attempt to reconcile or unify them. From page 261:
"The anthropomorphic notion of a deliberate architect and ruler of the world has gone forever from this field; the `eternal, iron laws of nature' have taken his place. But the idea of design has a very great significance and application in the organic world. We do undeniably perceive a purpose in the structure and in the life of an organism. The plant and the animal seem to be controlled by a definite design in the combination of their several parts, just as clearly as we see in the machines which man invents and constructs; as long as life continues, the functions of the several organs are directed to definite ends, just as in the operation of the various parts of a machine."
On page 271, in writing of the history of the family of vertebrates, he says :
"Of the three groups the fishes rank lowest in organization, the reptiles come next, and the mammals take the highest place. We find, on nearer examination of the history of the three classes, that their various orders and families also advanced progressively during the three epochs toward a higher state of perfection. May we consider this progressive development as the outcome of a conscious design or a moral order of the universe? Certainly not. The theory of selection teaches us that this organic progress, like the earlier organic differentiation, is an inevitable consequence of the struggle for existence. Thousands of beautiful and remarkable species of animals and plants have perished during these forty-eight million years, to give place to stronger competitors, and the victors in this struggle for life were not always the noblest or most perfect forms in a moral sense."
With all due respect to Professor Haeckel, it seems that he "undeniably perceives a purpose" in the realms where he is most familiar, namely, in the facts of botany and zoology, but that he has not compassed enough of "the science of sciences," or philosophy, to perceive the actual purpose conserved through the sustenance of life by life, and that the earth is still amply supplied and populated. with greater opportunities for self-realization than ever before.
Not with the intention of being severe but simply to place before the reader a comprehensive view of the argument for design as it appears to leading thinkers, it seems best to quote from page 9 of Life and Matter by Sir Oliver Lodge:
"In order to estimate the value of Professor Haeckel's scheme of the universe, it is not necessary to appeal to philosophers : it is sufficient to meet him on scientific ground, and to show that in his effort to simplify and unify he has underestimated some classes of fact and has stretched scientific theory into regions of guesswork and hypothesis, where it loses touch with real science altogether. The facts which he chooses gratuitously to deny, and the facts which he chooses vigorously to emphasize, are arbitrarily selected by him according as they will or will not fit into his philosophic scheme. The scheme itself is no new one, and almost certainly contains elements of truth. Some day far hence, when it is possible properly to formulate it, a system of Monism may be devised which shall contain the whole truth. At present, the scheme formulated by Professor Haeckel must to philosophers appear rudimentary and antiquated, while to men of science it appears gratuitous, hypothetical, in some places erroneous, and altogether unconvincing."
Professor Haeckel has stated that the eternal, iron laws of nature have taken the place of the anthropomorphic notion of a deliberate architect and ruler of the world. It is conceded that the modern concepts of laws have modified the ancient concept of Jehovah. But the following objection to his sweeping and partial statement is still made by the majority of thinkers and its potency is not diminished by deeper study and reflection. It is this fact, namely : The generalizations which we call "laws" do not explain the intelligence, executive power, enforcement and results of the continual and unchanging operation of the laws.
The statutes of legislatures, kings, czars, rulers, do not possess any power of enforcing themselves and compelling obedience. In order that they may be of some effect, armies, police, courts, schools and a general willingness of people, are all elements of importance before human "laws" are of any potency.
A law of nature is "the constant mode of action of a force." But this definition does not explain the existence or the nature of the force.
"The eternal, iron laws of nature" demonstrate the existence of Universal Intelligence, and the results of the action of the laws indicate the moral nature of the Universal Intelligence.
"The theory of selection" is sufficient to convince some people that there is no conscious design or moral order in the universe; but it is not sufficient authority for others.
The chief criticism made of some Teleologists and most Theologians is concerning their attempts to preserve the ancient concepts of Jehovah rather than to make a patient search for the characteristics of the Creative Intelligence as manifested in the past and present facts, or in the natural unfoldment of the possibilities and potentialities of motion, life, intelligence and effort.
Of "God" as a Being external to the universe, conceived of as a Person with infinite powers and wisdom, this book does not contain any attempts at definition, apprehension or cognition. With "God" as the Creative Intelligence, the Causal Power, the Manifesting Agent, this book is directly concerned, through examination of secondary (not final) causes as revealed in laws, motion, life, intelligence, effort, etc.
I cannot conceive of eternal, self-acting, self-adjusting laws without a Law-Maker. However, at the same time, I can form no sufficient concept of an adequate Law-Maker and Executant, so while recognizing Infinity, I do not pretend to comprehend it. My business is with human life in its most important relations, namely, those within our capacities of understanding and cooperation.
It is difficult to estimate which is the most blinding in its effects upon an Individual Intelligence,—theories or theologies. The only way to escape their undue influence and to become rational again is the positive method, that of patiently seeking more thorough acquaintance with the actual facts around us and in us.
As an illustration of the necessity for a rational method, this statement is taken from The Nature Library:
"The scientific mind that is unwilling to dismiss any detail of Nature's work as merely haphazard, is greatly exercised over the reason for the crests on birds."
It is hard to imagine any mechanical cause for these crests, and it is just as difficult to prove that they demonstrate any "adaptation to environment," or that they result from "natural selection." But certainly there are in nature many similar manifestations of beauty as well as efficiency, and these would seem to demonstrate the existence of some Intelligent Cause with an appreciation of beauty. Otherwise, there is no explanation but that of "chance" which modern science forbids.
It is stated that Wilson made a special study of the nests of the great-crested flycatcher and never found a single one without cast snake-skins in it even in districts where snakes were so rare that they were supposed not to exist at all, and he concluded that this lining was chosen to terrorize all intruders. John Burroughs says : "In the absence of a snake-skin I have found an onion skin and shad scales in the nest."
Here is evidence of design, pure, concrete and universal. Now, if we admit design on the part of birds because we trace some universal purpose in the lining of their nests, is it not consistent to admit the existence of design to secure beauty on the part of the unseen powers when such results are visible as crests on the birds themselves? It would even seem wiser to go further back in our search for an intelligent and efficient cause than to a debatable principle, "adaptation to environment."
Man's intelligence is inadequate to comprehend what he sees within and without. It therefore seems entirely reasonable to consider that a higher Intelligence and a greater Power than his own must be the Great Cause and the Operating Power. It is impossible to comprehend a Creator ; that is true, but it is a far greater strain on all our faculties to conceive that there is no sufficient Cause for the creation which now exists and for the process which is developing through millions of years. The search for causes in the sun, in protoplasm, in bugs and worms and amoeba seems completely to ignore the doctrine of the sufficient reason.
Further discussion of this great crisis of thought is not due here, but it is proper to emphasize the meaning contained in the logical necessity for a "sufficient cause." The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite ; but the finite can perceive that it is in the presence of the Infinite. To recognize and assent to the facts seems to be higher wisdom than to demand a cause which can be dissected, weighed and measured by man. Such a cause would not be adequate. Much study of phenomena has enthralled the attention of some biologists to the exclusion of the principle of reason and the powers of analogy.
To speak of the function of the thumb, or the large cerebral development of man, as "happy accidents" does violence, not only to our intelligence which declares that there must be adequate and sufficient causes in intelligence as well as in power, but also to the foundation principles of modern science.
The necessity of assuming the existence of intelligent Forces as efficient, adequate causes is clearly proven by the very axioms of current physical science. For example, take the clean-cut expressions of Lester F. Ward in the second chapter of his Outlines of Sociology:
"This is not a chance world, but a world of law. Both science and philosophy teach that every fact and every phenomenon is indissolubly linked to every other and that change is the result of some antecedent change and the occasion of some subsequent change. All nature is a domain of rigid law."
Very good; it is agreed. However, the critical reader would not expect to find in the very same chapter this absolute contradiction :
"The plan of structure of organic forms depends entirely upon the initiative which first launched each type upon its career. This initiative is wholly fortuitous. The vertebrate type of animals, for example, must be looked upon as due to some primordial accident, as it were, i. e., some coincidence of causes, external and internal, at the appropriate time and place, that happened to determine that type of structure which proved better adapted to sustain the highest organization thus far attained in the animal kingdom."
The author acknowledges his appreciation of Dr. Ward and estimates his written works as among the greatest ever produced. However, in this instance, the very clearness of the principles enunciated by him destroys all possibility of accepting the explanation of an "accident" as having originated vertebrates, or that of a coincidence of causes as having "happened."
That class of minds which we are compelled to call materialistic is the class which sees only mechanical processes and physical forms, especially within the range of their professional investigations or educational pursuits. Naturalists and biologists are frequently limited by the range of their professional studies and discern no other world clearly. Very probably this would not seem at all true to those who know them personally in their home and social life. But it is intended to indicate the impression made by their publications.
As an example, if we were wholly persuaded that man is a higher animal chiefly occupied with the demands of nutrition and reproduction, we would not try to exchange mental conceptions, moral aspirations and esthetic appreciations. But, each of us knows some charming personalities whose lives and conversation transcend the physical and whom we respect and admire for their intelligence and moral worth. We are conscious of the intelligent souls rather than the physical forms and organic functions.
Now, Evolutionary Science must account for the Soul, and by the Soul is meant the real individual, the essential entity whatever it may be. Science must account for the criticism of Teleology 97 pleasure of intellectual conversation and the rapture of pure and rational love relations. Science must account for intelligent men and women seeking to complete their lives and to realize all their inherent possibilities.
By some, the sun may be "regarded as the origin of the energy derivable from plants and animals" as stated by Tyndall in his essay on Vitality. But the sun does not account for "friendship." The Theory of Descent does not account for "patriotism." The Atlantic cable is composed of physical matter; the electric current is a physical force. But, when a Mother's Love reaches across the Atlantic with a message, there is manifested an entity which transcends the physical.
In short, mechanical causes cannot produce or explain intelligent, harmonious friendship, rational love relations, or any other psychical experience. Tyndall amply covered this fundamental impossibility when lie stated :
"You cannot satisfy the human understanding in its demand for logical continuity between molecular processes and the phenomena of consciousness. This is a rock on which materialism must inevitably split whenever it pre-tends to be a complete philosophy of the human mind."
—The Belfast Address.
The simple fact is that all nature presents evidences which reveal efforts of intelligent Life Elements to secure expression and embodiment. Some efforts seem more intelligent than others and some are more successful.
The Universal Intelligence operates through Life Elements which collect materials and integrate them into organisms. The intelligence resides in the Life Elements and not in the Material Elements which are subordinate and subject to control. The universal Life Elements furnish the specific nature of the seed, though no human intelligence can perceive the difference between the germ of a cedar, a lobster, an elephant or a man.
Successive forms of organic structure with continual higher uses and greater capabilities of development through their own cooperative efforts, is nature's method of re-fining matter and cultivating the Life Elements. There is another actual accomplishment which seems to accompany each step of the onward march, namely, that of manifesting more of the nature of the Creative Power and Intelligence.
Of course, there is no method of demonstrating this as a purpose except by argument and analogy. But the actual fact which cannot be disputed is that the process is in full operation here, now, everywhere, and forever, so far as we know. The personality of the Designer, if there be such, is not a phenomenon for scientific observation, except as we may judge of its nature by the nature of the manifestations as they appear in the ever-present process. The process is more than sufficient to occupy all our capacities and powers.