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The Compatiblity of Teological and Causal Explanations

Teleological explanations are fully compatible with (efficient) causal explanations.See my "Teleological Explanations in Evolutionary Biology," Philosophy of Science 37 (1970), pp. 1-15; and "The Distinctness of Biology," in Friedel Weinert (ed.), Laws of Nature. Essays... It is possible, at least in principle, to give a causal account of the various physical and chemical processes in the development of an egg into a chicken, or of the physicochemical, neural, and muscular interactions involved in the functioning of the eye. (I use the "in principle" clause to imply that any component of the process can be elucidated as a causal process if it is investigated in sufficient detail and in depth; but not all steps in almost any developmental process have been so investigated, with the possible exception of the flatworm Caenorhabditis elegans. The development of Drosophila fruitflies has also become known in much detail, even if not yet completely.) It is also possible in principle to describe the causal processes by which one genetic variant becomes eventually established in a population by natural selection. But these causal explanations do not make it unnecessary to provide teleological explanations where appropriate. Both teleological and causal explanations are called for in such cases.

Paley's claim that the design of living beings evinces the existence of a Designer was shown to be erroneous by Darwin's discovery of the process of natural selection, just as the pre-Copernican explanation for the motions of celestial bodies (and the argument for the existence of God based on the unmoved mover) was shown to be erroneous by the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. There is no more reason to consider anti-Christian Darwin's theory of evolution and explanation of design than to consider anti-Christian Newton's laws of motion. Divine action in the Universe must be sought in ways other than those that postulate it as the means to account for gaps in the scientific account of the workings of the Universe.

The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions have jointly brought all natural objects and processes as subjects of scientific investigation. Is there any important missing link in the scientific account of natural phenomena? I believe there is, namely, the origin of the universe. The creation or origin of the universe involves a transition from nothing into being. But a transition can only be scientifically investigated if we have some knowledge about the states or entities on both sides of the boundary. Nothingness, however, is not a subject for scientific investigation or understanding. Therefore, as far as science is concerned, the origin of the universe will remain forever a mystery.

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Go to Evolution Topic Index

The Compatiblity of Teological and Causal Explanations

Evolution: Topic Index
The Darwinian Revolution
Darwin's Discovery: Design without Designer
Natural Selection as a Directive Process
Natural Selection as a Creative Process
Natural Selection as an Opportunistic Process
Chance and Necessity
Teleology and Teleological Explanations
Coda: Science as a Way of Knowing


Dr. Francisco Ayala
Dr. Francisco Ayala


See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
The Argument From Design
The Anthropic Principle
Charles Darwin
Sir Isaac Newton
DNA Double-Helix