Causality vs. Teleology

I was reading an interesting series by Richard Beck, and thought it had ideas of interest here. In the second installment, he discusses Darwin, and how his ideas widened the gap in looking at things from a causal point of view rather than a teleological position.
I struck me that that issue is the primary difference in the EC vs. ID debate, and perhaps explains some of the fervor that ID organizations have, as well as the way ID is grasped by many in the church. It is the fear of nihilism, the loss of meaning, that they feel evolution will cost them. As Beck writes, " In short, the causal gaze gives us great technological power but its price tag is nihilism. We have material mastery but spiritual incompetence."
What do you think? Is the fear of loss of meaning a major factor in the opposition of EC?
This thought also clarifies in my mind why ID is essentially a religious movement, not a scientific, and why. It is an attempt to preserve teleology.


I can definitely understand the ID position, even if I disagree with it. I lean heavily towards the causal position myself, but I am also aware that teleology is still possible. From what I have read from Christians on this site there is still plenty of room for undetectable teleology within biology. God and mystery are strongly interwoven in all three Abrahamic faiths, at least from what I can see. Another way to put it is that biology may have no intrinsic purpose, but religious belief and faith can supply an extrinsic purpose. While genomes may not give us a purpose, many people do find purpose in the Bible.

Agree 100%.


As the atheist and Noble Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg summed up, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

that’s a very interesting point to ponder. Thanks. The other arguments in this Forum–that knowing how something works (such as how a baby forms in the womb, or how weather works) doesn’t affect our faith in God–are also strong. Also, it’s interesting that reasons for faith in God vary–not just teleology, but reference point for morality, afterllife, and ultimate justice come to mind. Scruton says that faith fills in what we don’t know; though I think that’s limited, too.

It seems that teleology as the only reason for God (or god) belief would be a bit of a strawman, but applicable in some cases to certain of us, depending on where we find the most value or need.

We humans are very interesting creatures!


First of all this is a false dichotomy which comes from equating causality with time-ordered causality. Let’s remind people of one of the earliest discussions of causality from the 4th century BC by Aristotle which identifies 4 types of causality.

material - this is the causality which comes from the component parts – the so called reductionist view of things.
formal - this is causality which comes from being a part of a whole and can be associated with the phenomenon of emergent properties, showing that not everything comes from component parts.
efficient - this is the time-ordered causality describing how preceding events bring about what follows. This was modified by relativity to become what we now call local causality. But from quantum physics we now know that restricting causality in this way simply cannot be presumed (the reason for all events cannot be traced to prior causes or hidden variables).
final - this is teleology. And to be sure it is the one which science focuses upon least. But it is quite wrong to think this has no place in the scientific worldview. We see it most often with living organisms because they are often goal oriented - teleology is not just about God.

In this case we see the flaw in the OP of picking out two of these and associating them with EC and creationism. Evolution is just as teleological, and the God of theology is also an efficient cause for all things. To be sure the material and efficient causes are the simplest and easiest to see, but I have never seen oversimplifying reality into headline captions to be a good thing.

As the atheist and Noble Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg summed up, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”

This seems to me is a logical consequence of confusing science with life itself. Life requires subjective participation and cannot be confined to the objective observation of science. If there is connection to teleology it is in the subjective participation aspect of life which requires us to ask ourselves what we want to be the case instead of simply observing how things are. It is in the nature of living things to alter our environment to our own liking.


As long as he includes himself and all others in the spiritually incompetent. As long as he isn’t making a claim to (spiritual) competence or knowing somebody who has it. Whatever it is. Christian nihilism is the answer. Yearning despite logic.


Having read him, he says nowt but the glaringly obvious, but with a whiff of baseless superiority.

…is an oxymoron. Christianity is about family joy and being rescued from death by your adoptive Brother.

That’s great for you. How’s it working out for everyone else? Christianity is oxymoronic in the main.


Later: Christianity is love as exemplified from the cross. As in every reference to it in us by John. Which I lack toward you Brother.

Yeah, if you’re not a Christian. It is perfectly rational, though, if you are one.

(It’s 2 a.m. here, so I’m out for a while.)

Within Biblicist parameters I used to make it work too. Other realities are available.


See edit above.

Like Trump’s alternative facts. :grin:

No, sensed, rationally apprehended reality is scientifically and parsimoniously distinct.

Darwin pointed out that “design” could be produced through dumb and random processes. Genetic variation coupled with natural selection (“survival of the fittest”) could mold phenotypes over time, fitting them to ecosystems and thereby creating the illusion of "design." Quote taken from Essay above by Richard Beck

Please people, let us get the science right. Natural Selection is NOT a dumb and random process. It is a selective process. Selection by definition is not dumb and random, it is purposeful. Humans evolved because they are intelligent.

Dinosaurs went extinct because the environment changed, not because of any genetic change. Evolution does not fit lions into an ecosystem creating an illusion of design. Ecology creates an ecosystem that fits lion and other species, flora and fauna into it. That is purpose and meaning. That is also meaningful causation, not teleology. Aristotle is not Christianity. .

That is a lot of doubletalk. There is only one reality, and it includes the reality of God, or it doesn’t.

There is no trace of Him apart from Jesus as attested by the Church. That is part of the monad.

Then you are two-faced?

Multifaceted. In answer to your non sequitur.

@jpm, Phil the biggest enemy of both science and faith is ideology. Sadly, often both science and faith often fail to recognize4 ideology for what it is.

This e3say by Richard Best is basically a lie, because it is based on atheistic ideology masquerading as “science.” First of all Darwin’s problem was not to disprove teleology, but to disprove the model of the watch and the watch maker This was not hard because it is clear that God did not make all the creatures on earth over a few days. This does not mean that God could not have created by another means over a period of time and space.

.Second, it is believed that something that is caused is the result of random chance.

Third, it is believed by some that if God did not create fauna and flora de nova then God did not create them.

Fourth, God does not need teleology to create or cause the the universe i8n the Beginning. That was the idea of Aristotle, not Moses. Philosophy was wrong about the Beginning and the4 Bible was right. That is why teleology is false, but Creation is right and the universe has meaning and purpose.

Proving teleology wrong does not make meaninglessness right. If God does not exist, then the universe is meaningless. Non-believers like to say the the universe is meaningless because they think that God does not exist, but that does not follow. Life has meaning, even if it is only to survive, to exist, so this makes a lie of their claim that it has no meaning.

Inasmuch as EC upholds the false ideology of Dawkins that says that life has no meaning or purpose, it denies the Gospel of Jesus Christ and keeps the door open for ID. The false ideologies of YEC and IC feed on ideology of Dawkins and BioLogos if it follows in his footsteps.

We can recognize that theology is not always right in some of the4 details about what we believe. We need to take ano5ther look at some of the science and philosophy that support the way we understand evolution, because the Logos is Real . .

How is survival a meaning?

Survival gives direction and meaning to life, even though it is on a superficial level.

So the question is, is that all there is to life? if you are satisfied with nothing , then that is what you will get. You reap what you sow!

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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