Friday, May 24, 2013

Thomas Nagel and Natural Teleology

Michael Chorost has written a reappraisal of the furious debate over Thomas Nagel's claims about natural teleology. Chorost purports to offer scientific evidence in support of Nagel's view (which he criticizes Nagel for failing to offer in his own defense):
But highly regarded scientists have made similar arguments. "Life is almost bound to arise, in a molecular form not very different from its form on Earth," wrote Christian de Duve, a Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine, in 1995. Robert Hazen, a mineralogist and biogeologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, struck a similar note in 2007: "With autotrophy, biochemistry is wired into the universe. The self-made cell emerges from geochemistry as inevitably as basalt or granite." Harold J. Morowitz, a biophysicist at George Mason University, argued that evolution has an arrow built into it: "We start with observations, and if the evolving cosmos has an observed direction, rejecting that view is clearly nonempirical. There need not necessarily be a knowable end point, but there may be an arrow."
Chorost seems to conflate the claim that the development of life and complexity is causally determined with the claim that the development of life and complexity is naturally teleological; unfortunately, even if there is evidence for the former, this does not itself constitute evidence for the latter.
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