Strong and weak teleology in the life sciences post-darwin

Academic Article


  • It is often assumed that direction and purpose in nature—teleology—is a dead relic of the past, a result of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871). But teleology has had a long and complex relationship with science. This paper will trace its general history with an emphasis upon the life sciences, especially biology. Particularly important is the fact that all teleology is not equal; strong (transcendent) teleology (designated Ts) should be distinguished from weak (purely descriptive and utilitarian) teleology (designated Tw). A working definition of teleology in its most meaningful aspects is then given. The challenges that Darwinism faced in dealing with purpose in nature are discussed, as is their proposed solution in the evolutionary synthesis, and the persistence of Ts following that synthesis is outlined and critiqued. Evidence of Ts persistence in the life sciences is presented with several relevant examples, and strong teleology is further differentiated by specific (Ts+) and nonspecific (Ts−) varieties. This essay concludes that Ts remains an ongoing and integral part of the life sciences and will likely remain so, even though it may be true but not verifiable empirically.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Flannery MA
  • Start Page

  • 1
  • End Page

  • 22
  • Volume

  • 11
  • Issue

  • 6