In the ‘Moderation’ thread, William J Murray tried to make a case for ideological bias among evolutionary scientists by referencing a 2006 Gil Dodgen post, in which numerous authors emphasise the lack of teleology within the evolutionary process. I thought this might merit its own OP.
I disagree that authors are showing a metaphysical bias by arguing against teleology. I wrote
Evolutionary processes, conventionally defined (ie, variations and their changes in frequency due to differential survival and reproduction), do not have goals. If there IS an entity with goals that is also directing, that’s as may be, but the processes of evolution carry on regardless when it isn’t. It is important to erase the notion of teleology from a student’s mind in respect of evolutionary mechanisms of adaptation, and most of those quotes appear to have that aim. Organisms don’t, on the best evidence available, direct their own evolution.
To which WJM made the somewhat surprising rejoinder: “how do you know this”? Of course the simple answer is that I qualified my statement ‘on the best evidence available’ – I didn’t claim to know it. But there is a broader question. Is there any sense in which evolutionary processes could, even in principle, be teleological? I’d say not. You have a disparate collection of competing entities. Regardless whether there is a supervening entity doing some directing, the process of differential survival/reproduction/migration cannot itself have goals.
An example of evolution in action: the Chemostat.
The operator of a chemostat has a goal – often, to create a pure cell line. The process by which this is achieved is by simultaneous addition and removal of medium, which causes purification by random sampling, which is evolution (a form of genetic drift). How can that process have a goal? There is no collusion between the cells in the original medium to vote one to be the sole ancestor of all survivors. How do I know this? That would be a pretty daft question. I think it would be incumbent on the proponent to rule it in, rather than for me to rule it out.