Philosophy of Evolution: Purpose

Participants in the Dialogue


One group of adversaries to the proposal that Evolutionism needs a concept of purpose are Darwin,4 Haeckel, Huxley, and the Materialists, who hold that corporal agents do not act according to a goal.5 The Neo-Darwinism of Weismann is opposed to the concept of purpose. This Neo-Darwinism, or the Synthetic Theory, explains the theory of evolution by natural selection and by chance.6 In 1970, Jacques Monod (1910-1976) wrote that life evolved by chance when the first DNA was formed. Errors in the DNA were propagated by natural selection even up to the intelligence, conscience and will of man. Monod says, "The ancient covenant is broken; man finally knows he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe, from which he emerged by chance. His duty, as his destiny, is not written in any place."7

Another group of adversaries are the Positivists, holding experience is the only font of knowledge, and who concede that corporal agents act toward a goal but that goal is unknown, except to God.8 Descartes (1596-1650) is the main promoter, and maintains that it would be arrogant to investigate these proximate goals in science.9 It seems that Roger Bacon, Robinet, Buffon tend toward this opinion, and among the moderns Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, the Empiricists, and Kant.10

On the other hand, those who affirm the thesis that Evolutionism needs some concept of purpose, affirm corporal bodies do act toward proximate goals which are their own operations and effects, not as moving themselves to the goal, but as actuated to the goal by an intelligent being. The remote foundation in terms of development was laid by Anaximander, Anaximines, Empedocles, and the Atomists.11 More specific philosophers favoring finality were Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Seneca, Newton, and Couvier. This position affirming finality is common among the Neo-Scholastics. Aristotle, Aquinas and Locke represent the world of living organisms as a graduated scale of finality ascending from less perfect to more perfect. While Aquinas sees this graduated scale as involving essential differences, Locke sees almost perfect continuity involving only differences in degree.12 In the nineteenth century, Wundt (1832-1920) and Paulsen (1846-1908) acceded to Finalism. Then there followed a vitalistic reaction to Mechanicism.13 In this reaction, a return to Finalism was noted in Hans Driesch (1867-1941) in biology, W. Dilthey (1832-1912) in history, R. Eucken (1846-1926) in cultural affiairs, and in psychology many such as Stern and Mueller-Freienfels. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) sees the universe and evolution as directed to the goal of the Omega Point.14 Pope John Paul II notes that Evolutionism may be envisioned as a kind of programmed creation, in which God has written into creation the laws for its evolution; and further, the Christian idea of Providence is precisely the divine and transcendent wisdom of the Creator that makes the world a cosmos rather than a chaos.15

Adversaries who reject the proposal make it clear that the thesis proposed is a serious subject for discussion. The thesis proposed and defended as true presents an objective problem worthy of dialogue.

Adversaries who seriously contradict the proposal in this chapter deserve respect. These adversaries have reasons for their position. In every false position there is some truth. In dialogue, every attempt should be made to clarify that truth. In this case, the Neo-Darwinian adversaries endorse natural selection by chance, so that nature does not tend to a goal.16 In reply, we may distinguish the influence of "chance," and perhaps admit, not the total, but the partial operation of chance. In another case, Positivist adversaries admit only the material experience and deny finality can be known. In reply, we may be able to distinguish "material" experience, and show that it is material causality the yields individuation, such as species Accordingly, even if our proposal and its proofs demonstrate the adversaries wrong, their reasoning can be understood and respected.


Author:  John Edward Mulvihill, S.T.D., D.Min., Ph.D.
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