Naturalizing Teleology and Intentionality? (Must Nature Be “Disenchanted”?)

Over the past year or so, two very interesting books in the philosophy of nature have attracted attention outside of the ultra-rarefied world of academic discourse: Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions and Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.  Both of these works have been extensively discussed in popular magazines, radio shows, blogs, and esp. at Uncommon Descent.  Here, I want to briefly describe what I see going on here and open up the topic for critical discussion.

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James Barham on Mary Jane West-Eberhard and teleology

UD has featured a post by James Barham on the work of Mary Jane  West-Eberhard.  I shall be questioning Barham’s conclusions.

Unlike the subject of my previous column in this series, James A. Shapiro, she does not present her ideas as revolutionary or as a mortal threat to the Darwinian worldview.

In my opinion (as a non-biologist), she is entirely correct about that.

And yet, I shall argue that West-Eberhard—who is a researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, as well as a professor of biology at the University of Costa Rica—has made a foudational contribution to a new and revolutionary approach to evolutionary theorizing that bids fair (whatever her expressed intentions) to turn mainstream Darwinism on its head.

Perhaps it challenges the strawman version of Darwinism that creationists and ID proponents love to criticize.  But I don’t see it as any challenge at all to Darwinism. Continue reading