The Effects of Aristotelian Teleological Thought on Darwin's Mechanistic Views of Evolution

The Effects of Aristotelian Teleological Thought on Darwin's Mechanistic Views of Evolution

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The Effects of Aristotelian Teleological Thought on Darwin's Mechanistic Views of Evolution

     The need to understand organisms has been a much sought goal of
science since its birth as biology. History shows Aristotle and Charles Darwin
as two of the most powerful biologists of all time. Aristotle's teleological
method was supported widely for over 2,000 years. One scientist remarks that
the Aristotelian teleology "has been the ghost, the unexplained mystery which
has haunted biology through its whole history" (Ayala, 10). If Aristotle's
approach has frightened biology, then Darwin, who actually nicknamed himself
the "Devils Chaplain," and his idea of natural selection has virtually dissected
Aristotle's ghost. While Aristotle explained biology through a plan and a
purpose, Darwin debated that randomness and chaos are responsible for the
organic world as we know it. Guiseppe Montalenti, an Italian geneticist and
philosopher of biology, wrote that Darwin's ideas were a rebellion against
thought in the Aristotelian-scholastic way (Ayala, 4). In order to
understand how Darwinism can be considered a revolt against Aristotle, we must
first inspect Aristotle's ideas and thoughts about biology.
Aristotle used teleology to explain the harmony and final results of the
earth. Teleology is the study of the purpose of nature. Aristotle believed
that scientists should follow the plan adopted by mathematicians in their
demonstrations of astronomy, and after weighing the phenomena presented by
animals, and their several parts, follow consequently to understand the causes
and the end results. Using this method, Aristotle constructed causes for body
parts and processes of the human body, such as sundry types of teeth.
Aristotle elucidated on this topic: "When we have ascertained the thing's
existence we inquire as to its nature…when we know the fact we ask the reason"
(Evans, 82).
     Despite Aristotle's frequent teleological explanations, he did warn
against teleology leading to misinterpretations of facts. In a short writing on
the reproduction of bees in Generation of Animals, Aristotle was troubled that
there were insufficient observations on the subject, and warns that his theory
is dependent on facts supporting the theory. One twentieth century biologist...


... middle of paper ...


... to describe evolution
teleologically. This proof, of course, is not possible, as evolution through
natural selection cannot be described as goal-oriented since it happens due to
previous events or transformations, not in anticipation of coming events. If we
were goal-oriented, natural selection would not be supple enough to be useful in
rapidly changing environments (Mayr, 43).

References

Aristotle. The Works of Aristotle, Encyclopedia Britannica. New York, 1952

Ayala, F.J. and Tobzharsky, T. Studies in the Philosophy of Biology.
University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1974.

Burrow, John. Editor introduction to Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species
Penguin books. England, 1968.

Evans, G. The Physical Philosophy of Aristotle. University of New Mexico
Press. Albuquerque, 1964.

Kirk, G., Raven, J. and Schofield, M. The Presocratic Philosophers. Cambridge
University Press. Cambridge. 1983.

Mayr, Ernst. Toward a New Philosophy of Biology. Harvard University Press.
1988.

Moore, Ruth. Evolution. Time-life books. Alexandria, Virginia. 1980.

Simpson, George The Meaning of Evolution. Yale University Press. New Haven
and London. 1949.

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