Singer and teleology

Dembski argues, without supporting evidence, that when the natural processes of chance and regularity have been eliminated, that which remains should be called ‘Intelligent Design’. This definition presumes that ‘Intelligent Design’ is not reducible to natural processes, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Intelligent Design is about the supernatural.

In the early 20th century, Edgar Singer presented his thesis on mechanism and teleology. Krikorian read the following paper during the 1955 memorial meeting for Edgar A. Singer, Jr., at the University of Pennsylvania.

Since living beings are defined in terms of teleology, the laws that apply to them can be called teleological laws. These laws, as earlier noted, are statements of averages. It is because the laws are of this character that we may describe the behavior of living beings in terms of chance, spontaneity, and variability, and in some cases even of freedom.

Since behavioral sciences captures the behavior of intelligent, living beings in teleological laws which are expressed as a ‘law of averages’ or in other words, expected behavior, combined with chance, variability and spontaneity. Or to use Dembski’s terminology: reducible to regularity and chance. In fact, advertising, Amazon’s suggestions, all are based on predictable characteristics of intelligent life. In other words, the claim that intelligent design cannot be reduced to regularity and chance seems to go against common sense knowledge.

Mind functions through the medium of body and never ceases to be part of it. There is no evidence of a non-physical reality, such as psyche, spirit, or soul, apart from body or as an addition to it. What is empirically given is only body and its behavior. Singer was the first American philosopher who in his brilliant paper “Mind as an Observable Object,” read before the American Philosophical Association in 1910, argued for a behavioristic theory of mind. This paper came two years earlier than John Watson’s more extreme mechanistic paper on ‘ ‘Behaviorism. ‘ ‘ In a series of subsequent articles Singer formulated one of the most adequate statements of the behavioristic standpoint.

Singer’s central contention is the pragmatic claim that a thing is what it does and that what it does is verifiable. In terms of this principle mind is behavior. Mind is not “something inferred from behavior, it is behavior.” Or more definitely, our belief in mind “is an expectation of probable behavior based on an observation of actual behavior, a belief to be confirmed or refuted by more observation as any other belief in a fact is t o be tried out.”

And now as to the bearing of mechanism and teleology on Nature. Nature for Singer is mechanical at every point. More precisely, Nature is that image of mechanism which science approaches as the error of observation approaches zero. Within this universal mechanism certain groups of points, such as living and mental beings, form teleological systems. These purposive systems have their career without violating the laws of the medium within which they have their being. Life and mind are not alien to Nature, they have their origin, growth, and final decay within her. This much is an empirical fact. But might we claim an over-all purpose for Nature?

Y. H. Krikorian Singer on Mechanism and TeleologyThe Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 54, No. 19. (Sep. 12, 1957), pp. 569-576.

Read at the memorial meeting for Edgar A. Singer, Jr., held at the University of Pennsylvania on December 5, 1955.

There seems to be little reason for Intelligent Design activists to appeal to teleology as evidence for ID. As long as regularity and chance processes can at least in principle explain teleology in nature, and since the outcome of natural selection and variation IS function and since function is specification, it should be clear that ID’s argument that only intelligent designers can generate CSI is a flawed premise.

On Uncommon Descent, Dembski can be observed struggling with these concepts

Dembski wrote:

“Useful” is an inherently teleological notion.

And usefulness or function is actual a notion that follows naturally from the processes of variation and selection. Or in other words, teleology in nature is not really the issue but rather the nature of the teleology. Since ID relies exclusively on eliminative procedures, any ID relevant design inference is blocked by the unknown probability of regularity and chance explaining a particular function in biology. Which of course does not mean that evolutionary science automatically wins, it merely means that ID cannot even compete with our ignorance. I intend to discuss ‘useful variations’ in a later posting. Indeed since the processes of variation are mostly internal and thus under genetic control, variation itself can be under selection. I intend to show that not only neutrality itself can be under selective constraints but also that the genome can ‘learn’ from its past experiences to bias the variation to ones that are more likely to be succesful. While ID has done little to explore these concepts in any meaningful scientific manner, science is moving forward on unraveling yet another area of our ignorance and showing how evolution itself can evolve under the same processes that guide evolution.