Is Evolutionary Biology Infected With Invalid Teleological Reasoning?
Is Evolutionary Biology Infected With Invalid Teleological Reasoning?This is an essay-review by David J. Depew. Here’s the abstract:
In Not By Design: Retiring Darwin’s Watchmaker (2009), John Reiss claims that thinking of organisms as analogous to artifacts, and so thinking of natural selection as naturalized design, is not the only point at which invalid and unsound teleological reasoning has affected evolutionary biology. Teleological errors persist whenever evolutionary biologists turn the observation that an organism would not exist unless it possessed a certain trait into the claim that the trait in question came into existence because it had this salutary effect. Since he thinks fitness itself is often measured in ways that commit this fallacy, Reiss infers that the only good measure of fitness is the continued existence of populations or species, a principle he traces back to the anti-evolutionary 18th century comparative anatomist George Cuvier. In this essay, I explicate Reiss’s reasons for coming to this conclusion and offer challenges on several points. Among these is Reiss’s perhaps too hasty dismissal of the consequence etiological or selected-effects account of adaptedness. I conclude by suggesting that Reiss’s work exemplifies one way in which evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-devo) is currently affecting the consensus form of genetic Darwinism that has prevailed for many decades under the name of the Modern Synthesis.
William L. Benzon, Ph. D.
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