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In spite of the role played by stochastic events in the phylogenetic history of birds, it would be mistaken to say that wings are not teleological features. As pointed out earlier, there are differences between the teleology of an organism's adaptations and the nonteleological potential uses of natural inanimate objects. A mountain may have features appropriate for skiing, but those features did not come about so as to provide skiing slopes. On the other hand, the wings of birds came about precisely because they serve for flying. The explanatory reason for the existence of wings and their configuration is the end they serve—flying—which in turn contributes to the reproductive success of birds. If wings did not serve an adaptive function they would have never come about, and would gradually disappear over the generations.

The indeterminate character of the outcome of natural selection over time is due to a variety of nondeterministic factors. The outcome of natural selection depends, first, on what alternative genetic variants happen to be available at any one time. This in turn depends on the stochastic processes of mutation and recombination, and also on the past history of any given population. (What new genes may arise by mutation and what new genetic constitutions may arise by recombination depend on what genes happen to be present—which depends on previous history.) The outcome of natural selection depends also on the conditions of the physical and biotic environment. Which alternatives among available genetic variants may be favored by selection depends on the particular set of environmental conditions to which a population is exposed.

It is important, for historical reasons, to reiterate that the process of evolution by natural selection is not teleological in the purposeful sense. The natural theologians of the nineteenth century erroneously claimed that the directive organization of living beings evinces the existence of a Designer. The adaptations of organisms can be explained as the result of natural processes without recourse to consciously intended end-products. There is purposeful activity in the world, at least in man; but the existence and particular structures of organisms, including humans, need not be explained as the result of purposeful behavior.

Some scientists and philosophers who held that evolution is a natural process erred, nevertheless, in seeing evolution as a determinate, or bounded, process. Lamarck (1809) thought that evolutionary change necessarily proceeded along determined paths from simpler to more complex organisms. Similarly, the evolutionary philosophies of Bergson (1907), Teilhard de Chardin (1959), and the theories of nomogenesis (Berg 1926), aristogenesis (Osborn 1934), orthogenesis, and the like are erroneous because they all claim that evolutionary change necessarily proceeds along determined paths.

These theories mistakenly take embryological development as the model of evolutionary change, regarding the teleology of evolution as determinate. Although there are teleologically determinate processes in the living world, like embryological development and physiological homeostasis, the evolutionary origin of living beings is teleological only in the indeterminate sense. Natural selection does not in any way direct evolution toward any particular kind of organism or toward any particular properties.

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