The Philosophy Page


Naturalism and Nonteleological Science:
 A Way to Resolve the Demarcation Problem
 Between Science and Nonscience

Keith Abney

Philosophy Department
6080 Haley Center
Auburn University
Auburn, AL 36849

From PSCF 49 (September 1997): 162.

Demarcating science from nonscience became a hot topic in the wake of Judge Overton's opinion in McLean v. Arkansas (1982). The ensuing discussion by philosophers of science Larry Laudan and Michael Ruse provides an instructive example of how not to solve the problems of demarcating science from nonscience. Overton follows Ruse in viewing demarcation through Popperian falsificationism, which would unfortunately render much of what we call "science" nonscientific. Laudan's response is to jettison the possibility of demarcation and simply accept Young Earth Creationism as a science, albeit a bad one. One result is how the case reveals a chasm between those who automatically debunk the potential legitimacy of supernatural causation and those who do not - even among naturalists!

As a result, I use the Overton decision as a springboard for the advocacy of a terminological change in the debate over naturalism and demarcation, one which renders the nature of the disputes more perspicuous. I suggest that we divide the sciences by their causal-explanatory structure, and, in particular, by their ability to abstract from the causal power of agency (whether human or divine) in their proper explanations. The sciences are thus demarcated into the teleological and the  nonteleological, rather than the more usual division between "social" and natural. Once this is understood, it is clear that the nonteleological sciences forego, in principle, any possibility of supernatural causation in their proper explanations, and hence leave no room for most interesting varieties of theism. If we take these sciences and their methods as constitutive of "naturalism," then it can be sharply demarcated from theism. However, if teleological sciences are taken seriously (e.g., biology!), then science and nonscience must be demarcated carefully, by appealing to the values inherent in good scientific explanations, rather than their rejection of teleology.

The project of naturalizing epistemology can simply be defined as the attempt to make all knowledge scientific. For this attempt to succeed, it would seem that we need to know what counts as "scientific" and what does not. Hence, the so-called "demarcation problem" between science and nonscience looms large for naturalists. Notably, Karl Popper termed demarcation the "crucial problem of epistemology," and believed that his falsificationist methodology of "conjectures and refutations" did in fact solve the problem. But the last 15 years have seen a steady attack on the adequacy of Popper's falsificationist methodology for the project of demarcation. Philosophers such as Larry Laudan proclaim the demise of demarcationism, finding no principled way to tell science and nonscience apart.

But scientists want to distinguish the claims of science about the causes, for example, of volcanic eruptions from the popular Hawaiian lore, which claims that volcanoes erupt when the gods are angry, or of falling objects from the Bushmen's belief that Coke bottles fall from the sky because of the temporary insanity of the gods. If falsification fails to adequately demarcate science from nonscience, can anything else do the job? To examine this question, I begin with the court case of McLean v. Arkansas, in which a falsificationist approach was used to attempt to demonstrate that Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is not a science.1 I will then show that we can make sense of a proper means of demarcating science from nonscience only after we have made sense of a demarcation criterion within science.

Demarcation in Biology: The Story of McLean v. Arkansas

In this 1981 trial, Judge Overton overturned an Arkansas state law mandating the teaching of "Creation-Science" (YEC) largely by demarcating science from nonscience. For legal reasons (concerning the three-pronged test for an unconstitutional establishment of religion), Overton believed that it was necessary to prove that YEC was a nonscience in order to render its teaching unconstitutional. For my purposes, the crucial aspects of his ruling are the demarcation criteria he took from the philosopher Michael Ruse. Overton lists these five essential characteristics of science:

1. It is guided by natural law.

2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law.

3. It is testable against the empirical world.

4. Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., not necessarily the final word.

5. It is falsifiable.2

Overton later added other ways of understanding science, such as the sociological tautology "science is what scientists do." But he leans on the above criteria of demarcation in coming to his decision.

Ruse then engaged in a published debate (with Laudan) over the demarcation criteria that informed this opinion.3 Ruse claims that YEC is unfalsifiable, dogmatic or unrevisable, and untestable. At crucial points (e.g., the act of creation itself), it explicitly disavows that natural law can explain the event or is at work at all. Thus, Ruse claims that creationism fails to meet any of the five criteria deemed essential to science, and accordingly cannot be science. Indeed, if satisfying these criteria are truly necessary conditions for science, failing even one would be enough to render a subject nonscientific.

Laudan's rebuttal observes that the last three criteria are too weak to demarcate science from nonscience, and the first two claims are too strong. If in fact these criteria serve as necessary conditions for science, then many (if not all) historically exemplary cases of science would fail to count as scientific. Newton, for example, postulated the existence of gravity well before he (or anyone else) had a satisfactory explanation of it4 Likewise, plate tectonics is a contemporary scientific theory whose causal mechanisms are not yet understood well enough to fashion predictive laws. The same goes for meteorology; and chaos theory suggests that in some disciplines, such law-like generalizations may be impossible. Most importantly for this case, important parts of evolutionary theory (such as the thesis of common ancestry or of natural selection) would fail these tests, apparently rendering evolutionary theory a nonscience.

Further, Laudan claims that YEC could easily be rendered falsifiable, testable, and even tentative. He suggests that adopting the following claim would do so: "I will abandon my views if we find a living specimen of a species intermediate between man and apes." Laudan believes that such a statement is sufficient to render creationism tentative or revisable, testable, and falsifiable and is exceedingly likely never to be falsified.5

For Ruse, an inquiry that explains by natural laws 
"or hopes to" is scientific, and whenever that inquiry (or any other) 
lapses from its commitment to law-like explanation, 
it becomes nonscience, and (hence?) "religious."

Ruse's rejoinder to Laudan first points out that the legal case against the Arkansas statute could not merely assert that creationism is weak science, because the teaching of bad science is not barred by the U.S. Constitution, and so the statute would not have been overturned. Instead, the court had to find that it was not science at all, and thus(?!) was religion. For plate tectonics, Ruse simply claims that geologists do not invoke "miracles" when they lack knowledge of the requisite laws of continental drift. To illustrate how his criteria supposedly work, Ruse suggests that transubstantiation fails all five criteria, whereas Mendelian genetics passes all five. Implicit in Ruse's claim appears to be something like the following: "mature" sciences are those with well-defined natural laws explaining the behavior of the objects in their domain, whereas "immature" sciences are those which have to issue a promissory note when asked for such laws governing the behavior of their domain. All science then either has natural laws that exhaustively describe the behavior of all objects in its domain, or is actively seeking such laws where it does not yet have them. And for Ruse, "natural" laws appear to be nonteleological", they cannot appeal to the purposes of an agent, lest creation be thought of as the law-like work of an Agent. So for Ruse, an inquiry that explains by natural laws,   or hopes to is scientific, and whenever that inquiry (or any other) lapses from its commitment to law-like explanation, it becomes nonscience, and (hence?) "religious."

Ensuing criticism finds that Ruse's criteria must be repudiated, for Laudan's reasons and more. First, the idea that nomological explanation is intrinsic to science (Criteria 1 and 2) has been abjured by several other notable philosophers of science. Nancy Cartwright articulates the view that laws are illicit idealizations and that scientific explanation is causal but not law-like.6 Also, Bas van Fraassen in Laws and Symmetry has a chapter entitled "What if there are no laws? A manifesto" in which he argues that there is no reason to think that natural laws actually exist; science proceeds just fine if laws only exist in the mathematical models of nature that science constructs, and not in nature itself.7

Further, Laudan's criticism of falsifiability as a criterion is itself flawed, but not in a way that saves Ruse's construal. It so happens that the statement Laudan commends to the YEC as testable, revisable, and falsifiable ("I will abandon my views if we find a living specimen of a species intermediate between man and apes") is prima facie false in its very construction by the standards of contemporary cladistic taxonomy. Taxonomic methodology combines the thesis of common ancestry with the measurement of relative genetic chromosome sharing to determine the approximate date at which species diverged. Such methods are now thought to imply that humans should be considered a member of the "apes," because humans and chimpanzees are more closely related than chimpanzees and orangutans. In order to have a falsifiable, but not a falsified, statement, the creationist would need to say something more like: "I will abandon my views if we find a living specimen of a species intermediate between man and chimpanzees." Laudan's own advice to the creationist, if taken literally, would not save YEC from falsification!

How does all this bear on the possibility of demarcation? Ruse's criteria are clearly inadequate - Darwinian natural selection and other sciences fail some of these five criteria, even on a relatively undemanding construal. But that is a reason to reject these particular demarcation tests, not a reason to give up on demarcating science from nonscience entirely. To think there are no other alternatives is to commit a logical fallacy.

Ruse's real problem seems to be with the idea that evolutionary biology can countenance the workings of an Agent God  as part of its proper explanations. The insistence on natural law may simply serve as a disguised form of rejecting all teleological explanations in science. This accords with one construal of methodological naturalism, one which holds that science does not allow final causes or agency as proper causal explanans in science. Accordingly, we thus need to move on to a consideration of the relationship of teleology in science, and particularly the role of teleology in evolutionary biology.

Teleology in Science: The Case of Biology

To evaluate a better means of demarcation, we first need to understand the role of teleology in science. A popular view (at least among natural scientists) of the ongoing "mechanization of the world- picture" takes science to have foresworn teleological causation entirely. Therefore, its attempts to explain phenomena in terms of the purposes of an agent are unscientific. Daniel Dennett represents a contemporary figure, who assiduously pursues this antiteleological project. In his famous division into physical, design, and intentional stances of explanation, the last two stances have heuristic value (as "shortcuts"), but are in principle reducible to the physical stance.8 The Churchlandian vision of the future, "neurophilosophy," in which we properly eschew beliefs, desires, and other related teleological notions, also serves as a reaffirmation of this project.9

Certainly, some sciences do appear to eschew teleology in their proper explanations - astronomy differs from astrology in this way, and geology nowadays rejects the ire of a goddess inhabiting a volcano as part of any proper explanation of an eruption. But there are reasons to believe that teleology is not eliminable from all of the endeavors which fall under the rubric of "science" and so the first task will be to establish a demarcation principle within science. That is, we first need to demarcate the sciences that can eschew teleology in their proper explanations from those which find it necessary to invoke final causes. I will call this the distinction between the "teleological" and the "nonteleological" sciences. Now, which one is biology?

It is a vexed question in contemporary scholarship, for the apparent persistence of teleology in biology is noteworthy. As Stanford historian of biology Timothy Lenoir notes:

Teleological thinking has been steadfastly resisted by modern biology. And yet, in nearly every area of research biologists are hard pressed to find language that does not impute purposiveness to living forms.10

But some of them try. One guiding assumption in contemporary neo-Darwinism, represented by Dawkins,11 Papineau,12 and Dennett,13 is that the causal explanations of natural selection and adaptation are always retrospective. Fitness and functionality in biology thus become mere consequences of the vagaries of the course of natural selection, - the only goal is to avoid extinction. The idea of evolving "to" something is rendered illegitimate - evolutionary appearances of "design" were undirected and purposeless, a view Dawkins memorably captured in the title of his book, The Blind Watchmaker. But this view runs the danger of collapsing fitness into a tautology - whatever is fittest is simply whatever survives. To introduce other criteria is to import a degree of positive teleological ordering and purpose into the course of evolution. Likewise, adaptationism becomes problematic - perhaps all adaptations are simply "just-so" stories, a view Gould calls Panglossian - so that we live in the best adapted of all possible worlds. If not, how else can this merely negative teleology explain the course of evolution, without any independent criterion of fitness? Dennett asks the crucial question about teleology for our purposes: "Does the macromolecule really want to replicate itself?"14

We first need to demarcate the sciences that can eschew teleology 
in their proper explanations from those which
 find it necessary to invoke final causes.

In short, the "modern synthesis" in evolutionary biology has problems with teleology. In the preface to his influential anthology on evolutionary biology, Sober writes of teleology:

Functional claims of this sort have quite disappeared from physics. Whereas Aristotle thought the planets, no less than living things, have goals, this teleological conception of the world is now the relic of a bygone age. Planets move as they do because of the laws of motion; they do not act as they do for the good of anything.

Darwin is rightly famous for having introduced an important materialist element into the science of life. Organisms are goal-directed systems because they have evolved. Their behaviors are suited to the tasks of survival and reproduction because natural selection has allowed some traits, but not others, to be passed from ancestors to descendants.15

Sober thus sees Darwin as "naturalizing" teleology by explaining it entirely in terms of natural selection. But how did any matter come to have the goals of survival and reproduction necessary to this naturalization of teleology? Can it really explain the complexity of life?

To address the problem of the origin of complexity is really to re-ask Dennett's question, "Does the macromolecule really want to replicate itself?" Stuart Kauffman uses new aspects of chaos theory to answer "Yes - accidentally." He believes in "order for free," that at a certain level of complexity, self-organization spontaneously takes place, much like a phase transition or symmetry breaking. Macromolecules randomly accreted for billions of years until they reached a certain level of order by accident. At that point, the principle of self-organization took over. They began to take steps to retain and perpetuate that self-organization - that is, they began to try to survive and replicate. Thus, evolution by natural selection began, and so, Kauffman believes, will occur anywhere a certain threshold of complexity has been reached, no matter how it happened.16

Thus, teleology is naturalized by spontaneously coming into existence at a threshold level of complexity. If this supposition is right, then the debate should be about the initial origin of complexity, and its likelihood - the type of work Kauffman does.17

Biology and Teleology: Tentative Conclusion

So most contemporary, evolutionary biology attempts to "naturalize" away any teleology in biology, indicating that only negative teleology through natural selection exists. Problems for that account persist, however; Ruse's criteria fail in particular on the construal that only natural laws explain, and those laws must be nonteleological. But support for a Rusean position comes even from theists such as John Polkinghorne, who claims that science only answers "how" questions, never "why" questions - the latter being the province of theology.

Suppose, however, that the continuing need for functional explanation allows us to admit biology as a teleological science. Certainly humans, as biological objects, evince a positive teleology - we are agents, if anything is. What then for the demarcation of science from nonscience? The YEC claims biology is a teleological science, in which God, as understood through a pseudoliteral rendering of Genesis, is a divine Agent who created everything in six days some mere thousands of years ago. But the putative existence of positive teleology in evolutionary biology, and its explanation of ourselves as agents, may not need to invoke a divine Agent. Hence, the acceptance of teleology in biological science does not entail the scientific acceptability of any theistic perspective, much less YEC.

We need a diagnosis of the mistakes of both Ruse and YEC. Their falsely shared assumption appears to center on the equation of nonteleological explanations with scientific and atheistic ones, and likewise of teleological explanations with nonscientific and theistic claims. I hold instead that some teleological explanations are indeed scientific, so that we must demarcate science from nonscience in some other way. Hence, we need to develop other criteria for demarcation. In particular, I advocate the method of examining the character of the inquiry we term "scientific" to determine what counts as a science or not. I hope to show that certain virtues discovered in the course of history are necessary for an inquiry to be called science; but once discovered, they remain constitutive of the character of ideal scientific inquiry.18

Conclusion: How to Demarcate Science from Nonscience

A promising place to look for the enduring values of science is Kitcher, who agrees with Laudan's criticisms of Ruse's oversimplistic criteria, but does not thereby give up on demarcation. Kitcher claims that "successful science" has certain virtues which are missing in pseudoscience or nonscience.19 In particular, a successful science has three apparently necessary virtues: (1) Independent testability, "achieved when it is possible to test auxiliary hypotheses independent of the particular cases for which they are introduced"; (2) Unification,"the result of applying a small family of problem-solving strategies to a broad class of cases"; and (3) Fecundity,"which grows out of incompleteness when a theory opens up new and profitable lines of investigation."20 In fact, these virtues are not strictly logically necessary, but rather serve as benchmarks of how good a science is. A doctrine which fails to capture any of these, however, fails to be a science at all.21

Kitcher believes that these tests can cumulatively create a usable criterion of demarcation. He then argues that contemporary, evolutionary theory does pass most of these tests, whereas YEC does not. For example, biological fitness is explained in terms of survival to reproduction  - under normal circumstances, so that a positive teleology is built into evolutionary theory. As a result, Kitcher believes that biologists can "make independently testable claims about what gives the organisms in question whatever fitness they have."22 So the independent testability of evolutionary theory is established, and fecundity is clear in the sense that modern genetics, molecular biology, and manifold other fruitful avenues of investigation have sprung from the fruits of Darwinism.23 Further, testability and falsifiability are not quite the same thing; we need a complete world picture to gain authentic falsifiability, whereas we need only partial falsifiability to test we need only to specify a way in which the world "is not," a mode of existence which, if found out to be the case, would constitute a test failure. Evolutionary theory can and does pass such a test, whereas YEC cannot (if God tricks us) or does not - as the fossils and geological strata attest. Kitcher's criteria thus avoid the pitfalls of Ruse's naive falsificationism. Therefore, we need not think that all three (or more) criteria are necessary to be achieved in full for ascribing the status of "science" to a form of inquiry - rather, they cumulatively establish the character of the practice of science, without perhaps thinking of any of them as either necessary or sufficient conditions for science. We thus understand a proper demarcation between science and nonscience in terms of the character of scientific inquiry and any practice that substantially violates that character (i.e., fails to progress over time in most or all of the values of science) can be judged as nonscience.

I conclude this examination of two demarcation principles - one within science, one between science and nonscience - by drawing some larger morals. First, arguing that teleology has its place in science does not somehow validate YEC. In fact, the evidence for teleology in biological explanation, and in particular the best explanation of human agency, actually speaks unequivocally against the truth of Bible-inspired fundamentalist creationism. Whatever the former status of YEC, Kitcher's criteria tell us, indubitably, that it is unscientific today. The "today" reminds us that our knowledge grows and progresses over time, and what was once a possible science may no longer be; for what we believe possible is always a function of what we already take for granted. Hence, we must acknowledge the historical boundedness of the scientific enterprise, and see science as irreducibly diachronic in its demarcation procedures. The strict creationists of pseudo-literalism24 in Genesis propound a doctrine that we now know to be false, whether or not those in former times could know it so. Just as phlogiston theories were once science, but are no moreĀ - they are "merely" part of the history of science - so with YEC. Hence, anyone wishing to teach it now must have a religious purpose, and Judge Overton rightly saw it as such, even if his arguments were flawed.

On the other hand, if someone wishes to introduce ideas of teleology into biology and question the "naturalistic" reduction or elimination of Aristotle's final cause, then a great deal of empirical evidence is with them - not least ourselves as biological objects, the result of evolution. The burden of proof is clearly upon those who wish to say that all agency can be eliminated from evolutionary biology, not least because one product of evolution - daily demonstrates such teleological power. That admission does not magically entail the truth of any robust version of theism, however.

Kitcher claims that "successful science" has three apparently necessary virtues 
that can cumulatively create a usable criterion of demarcation.

The historical nature of demarcation apparently requires that we give up attempts to completely characterize knowledge in synchronic fashion. But this ineluctable historicity should not blind us to the need for intersubjective causal and metaphysical constructs to anchor the objective success of science. We have seen that some possible causal talk is unscientific - it cannot pass the tests of fecundity and unification with what else we know. On such criteria, as Kitcher points out, YEC is not a science now, whatever its status in the distant past, for it now clearly violates many criteria which constitute good science.

What does this mean for the relationship of science to the rest of our knowledge - and for scientism? If an inquiry which intentionally violates the criteria becomes nonscience, does it thereby become nescience? That is the question of scientism. An adequate answer begins with the recognition that naturalism in philosophy normally claims methodological and axiological continuity with the sciences. If so, then naturalism and teleology must be compatible, for to have an axiology entails that one has goals or purposes. So any quick denial of teleology by philosophical naturalism seems far-fetched.25

As a result, I believe that the distinction between the teleological and nonteleological sciences remains a more profitable one than the usual methods of dividing the cognitive territories of the various sciences. The result is that any plausible naturalism which seeks to scientize philosophy must admit the legitimacy of teleology. But even if a methodological naturalism which eschews all teleology is implausible, the more difficult problem of assessing explicitly teleological versions of naturalism (scientism) remains. The naturalist's move at this point is to consider this a scientific question, and I favor that move in this context - but which science?

It is philosophy of science which determines the propriety of demarcation in science, and hence for the naturalist, philosophy of science will be a meta-science. Of course, philosophy of science also must be a teleological science, if it is a science at all. Philosophy of science is replete with talk of the aims or goals of science, as a human activity with human agents pursuing cognitive, epistemic, pragmatic, and other goals, both individual and collective. That foe of demarcation, Larry Laudan, explicitly divides inquiry along three axes - theoretical, methodological, and axiological. The last builds in goals or purposes - and so considerations of teleology - into a proper understanding of philosophy of science. Laudan's proclamation that science cannot be demarcated from other forms of inquiry, along with his naturalism, then entails that any rational inquiry would have goals as well. Rationality is thoroughly imbued with teleology, in his account.

But I demur with at least one premise here - that science cannot be demarcated from other forms of inquiry. Laudan's pragmatic axiology claims that science has no privileged aims, not even truth - and hence threatens to slip into relativism, for when any inquiry's legitimacy is relativized to the goals of that particular inquiry, cognitive relativism lurks nearby. While science does include teleology, that does not mean it includes any sort of inquiry with any possible set of purposes, willy-nilly. Instead, we need to find some fixed goals of science to determine the character of science, and how its character differs from the character of other forms of inquiry. In short, an accurate axiology of science will help us determine how to demarcate it from other practices of human inquiry. Kitcher's three apparently necessary criteria give us a start on that task, and much work on scientific axiology continues today. It is that work which will lead us to the truth about the proper aims of science, and how then to demarcate the enterprise we call science from other, less-reputable ways of understanding the world in which we live.


1In the April 1997 issue of Acts & Facts from the ICR, Henry Morris prefers the terms "literal creationism" or "biblical creationism" to "young earth creationism." Since the point of such theories is to maintain that from a literal reading of Genesis the earth is merely a few thousand years old, I will maintain the more common usage of YEC.

2McLean v. Arkansas, opinion by Judge Overton, section IV(C), reprinted in Michael Ruse, ed., But Is It Science? (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1988), 318.

3Larry Laudan, "Science at the Bar - Causes for Concern," in Michael Ruse, ed. But Is It Science? (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1988).

4Ibid. Laudan reminds us that science often purports to explain the existence of a phenomenon before a fully law-like account is available. Newton's gravity had this problem, as was pointed out, to little avail, by George Berkeley; only with the advent of general relativity is gravitation "explained," and even that is subject to change, e.g., if Penrose's "tensor" theory or superstring theory was to be accepted.

5Philip Quinn, "The Philosopher of Science as Expert Witness," in Science and Reality, eds. Cushing, Gutting, and Delaney (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 378. In a further criticism of these three criteria as demarcating science from nonscience, Quinn notes that tentativeness is a psychological, rather than epistemic, condition on a state of belief - the ferocity (or lack thereof) with which a proposition is maintained is usually assumed to have nothing at all to do with its truth-status. Hence, only falsifiability and testability are potentially legitimate criteria - and YEC can meet them.

6In Nancy Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983) and Nancy Cartwright, Nature's Capacities and Their Measurement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

7Bas van Frassen, Laws and Symmetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989). Although neither van Fraassen nor Cartwright's denial of the need for laws has yet earned a universal consensus, they are both extremely influential figures in the field. Also, the very idea that there exists some atemporal set of essential characteristics of science has come under increasing attack; if true, this would invalidate Ruse's entire procedure of attack upon creationism, which depends upon identifying criteria that are necessary (if not sufficient) for identifying a subject as a science.

8Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995) is (among other things) a book-length attempt to defend the reduction of all apparent teleology into the negative purposes of natural selection.

9Paul Churchland, The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995).

10Timothy Lenoir, The Strategy of Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), preface, ix.

11Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1986). Dawkins attempts to naturalize teleology by explicitly rejecting the argument of the impossibility of speciation through gradual change. He does so by distinguishing between single-step selection and "cumulative selection." Dawkins sees selection over many generations as rendering probable what we would otherwise naively regard as improbable, because death makes evolutionary change nonrandom - it pushes such change in the direction of overall enhanced fitness. It was Darwin's genius, on this view, to provide the mechanism of selection as a naturalistic means for generating the complexity of living things. Fitness is naturalized, yet evolution is given a telos - that is, a nonrandom direction. That telos, however, is nothing more than avoiding death and reproducing. Dawkins thus ascribes what I term a "negative teleology" to cumulative natural selection - fitness consists in avoiding death, at least long enough to reproduce. That is the sole positive purpose of the otherwise random and blind process; no further purpose can be gleaned.

12David Papineau, "Biology, philosophical problems of," entry in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Honderich (New York: Oxford UP, 1995), elaborates: "Most contemporary philosophers of biology now hold that functional explanations in biology are now disguised causal explanations, which explain biological traits not by looking forward to future beneficial results, but by looking backwards to the past evolutionary histories in which such results led to the natural selection of the traits in question" (p. 94).

13Daniel Dennett, Kinds of Minds (New York: Basic Books, 1996), 27-28. Perhaps Dennett better explains what is at stake: he reiterates his longstanding threefold division between the physical, design, and intentional stances of explanation. The crucial difference between the latter two and the physical stance can be summed up in one word: teleology. The latter two stances, and particularly the intentional stance, take the attempt to look forward to some particular goal (and the attempt to realize it) as the proper method of explanation. Dennett writes: "The intentional stance is the strategy of interpreting the behavior of an treating it ... it were a rational agent who governed its `choice' of `action' by a `consideration' of its `beliefs' and desires" (p. 27). Dennett italicizes the "as if" to demonstrate his intentional stance antirealism. He is at pains to show that as a heuristic, the intentional stance can provide explanatory shortcuts for phenomena ranging from the behavior of alarm clocks to chess playing programs to...Life (and not just the game!). But is it merely a heuristic?

14Ibid., 27.

15Elliot Sober, ed., Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, 2d ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), preface.

16Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

17There are critics. For example, Michael Behe ("Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference," paper presented to the C. S. Lewis Society, 1994) disagrees about the antecedent likelihood of complexity of the proper type spontaneously arising. He argues that irreducible complexity exists in the biological realm and can only be explained by intelligent design.

18Theologically speaking, this position is related to views I have on progressive revelation, developed in my Experimental Philosophy of Science, unpublished.

19Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), 45.

20Ibid., 48.

21Ibid. Kitcher in effect applies an erotetic test, listing a series of significant questions for the methodology and axiology of a science:

Do the doctrine's problem-solving strategies encounter recurrent difficulties in a significant range of cases? Are the problem-solving strategies an opportunistic collection of unmotivated and unrelated methods? Does the doctrine have too cozy a relationship with auxiliary hypotheses, applying its strategies with claims that can be tested only in their applications? Does the doctrine refuse to follow up on unresolved problems, dismissing them as "exceptional cases?" Does the doctrine restrict the domain of its methods, forswearing excursions into new areas of investigation where embarrassing questions might arise? If all, or many, of these tests are positive, then the doctrine is not a poor scientific theory. It is not a scientific theory at all (pp. 48-49).

22Ibid., 59.

23Here the tautology objection is taken on by explaining fitness in terms of the expected reproductive success of an organism, as opposed to its actual reproductive success; that "expected" success is explicable only by reference to its genetic makeup, not its phenotype. Hence, a teleological element is inescapably built into a proper understanding of fitness - it must understand fitness in terms of the proper function of a particular genotype, or its fitness for a particular ecological niche, for survival to reproduction under normal circumstances. This "forward-looking" definition of fitness erases the problem of tautology, at the cost of having a robust teleology in biology.

24Pseudoliteralism, because scholars have reason to doubt that a literal rendering of the original Hebrew of Genesis 1 indicates a strictly ex nihilo creation (more probably, Yahweh is seen as inducing structure upon a previously formless "stuff"), and even more importantly, the literary genre of Genesis 1, a type of poetic parallelism, indicates a "literal" reading of a 6-day creation would be as mistaken as believing a myocardial infarction had taken place when a poet says "my heart is broken."

25This is especially true (as I hope I have shown) if evolutionary biology is a crucial science for naturalism (as Philip Kitcher, "The Naturalists Return," Philosophical Review, 101 [1992]: 53-114; Philip Kitcher, The Advancement of Science [New York: Oxford University Press, 1993]; and Alex Rosenberg, "A Field Guide to Recent Species of Naturalism," British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 [1996]: 1-29 maintain). In any case, certain other disciplines crucial to naturalistic projects, such as history (Kitcher, "The Naturalists Return"; Larry Laudan, Science and Relativism [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990]; et al.) and psychology (Kitcher, "The Naturalists Return") do ineluctably involve teleology, unless a Churchlandian "neurophilosophy" eventually replaces all teleological talk as fundamentally mistaken.