We have a theory (the standard model) that explains a great deal of the physical phenomena that we perceive. Let us grant Physicists their dream, and say we have a theory that explains all physical phenomena. Surely this theory then allows evolution (which is non-teleological), but the choice of theory has to be put in 'by hand', is that not then in itself a teleological act?

2 Answers 2


the choice of theory has to be put in 'by hand', is that not then in itself a teleological act?

You're confusing the map with the territory. The choice of a theory is a motivated choice, which implies a telos--but that does not mean that the objects or processes governed by that theory are likewise teleological. The way apples fall from trees was not effected by Newton's theory of gravity.

  • If you read the question carefully, I'm explicitly denying that the 'processes governed by that theory are likewise teleological'. Perhaps I didn't make that clear enough in the question. What you've written just confirms what I've asked in the question: that the 'choice of theory' is an act of telos. Jun 13, 2012 at 9:51
  • I'm slightly confused as to whether to accept this as a valid answer, as it misunderstands the question whilst affirming my understanding of it. On the whole, I've decided to go along with it, as these comments clarify my intent. Jun 13, 2012 at 10:19
  • Ah, I think I see what you were getting at; sorry for misunderstanding. If we accept that humans have free will, that means that there are some things in the universe that are teleological; we now have a non-teleological process which governs "natural phenomena", and a different explanatory paradigm which governs acts of will. Of course, the challenge then becomes to divide the universe along these lines-- do chimpanzees have free will? Fish? Bees? etc. Jun 13, 2012 at 10:26
  • @Dorfman: Ted Hughes, English Poet wrote a poem - Pike, the commentary happily stated that the poet had perfectly described the reality of the pike which puzzled me considering how different man is to pike. Later, I understood this as alluding to the predatory instinct, or the masculine principle; and alluding perhaps to a kinship based on this principle Jun 16, 2012 at 2:38
  • @Dorfman: Its an interesting subtlety that a non-teleological force can 'invent' forms that have teleology; but when we think of the choice of theory as teleological, doesn't this make evolution, though internally seen as non-teleological, externally as teleological? (The reason why I asked this question is I'm puzzled as to why the Creationists keep trying to make out telos in the world when it seems so obvious that there is telos outside of the world. They're looking in the wrong place. Is this what is meant by the first mover)? Jun 16, 2012 at 2:58

Evolution may be seen as being non-teleological, but as a theory it has to account for something that is teleological, namely the ability of biological organisms to manifest intentions. At the quantum level there is no intentionality. The physical laws imply no intentionality and nor do they need any of that to explain the phenomena they are set of explain.

However, by going up to higher levels of organisation of matter, new phenomena emerge. At one point we observe intentional behavior that is intrinsically teleological. Maybe not always uniformly conscious (humans vs. crabs), but nevertheless intentional, thus with a specific purpose.

A cat walking to an eye of water to drink has a purpose for that action. It is not at all clear just yet if this entire process can be reductively explained by means of physical non-teleological processes. It's still very much a mystery, and still very much open for accepting dualism.

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    To expand on where dualism still has traction: Sir Roger Penrose (physicist) and Stuart Hameroff (neurologist) are substance dualists; they think that there is something mysterious going on in quantum, that Everett is wrong and that the "collapse of the wave-function" is physically real, and that this is where consciousness lives and how it exerts causal effect upon your lips when you say aloud "I think therefore I am."
    – shieldfoss
    Jul 17, 2013 at 7:01

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