Teleology in any part of biology (such as an organism, or species) implies purposiveness of the whole of reality: more on the metaphysics of biology
Bruce G Charlton
If it is accepted that biology requires teleology, or purposiveness of evolutionary change; and that therefore ‘evolution’ is in its essence a developmental process (that is, an unfolding of changes towards a goal, analogous to the process by which a fertilised cell becomes a mature adult organism); then the ultimate implication is that all of the living world of biology is also purposive.
And, since the less-or-more-conscious living entities of biology cannot be qualitatively separated from other entities without apparently arbitrary assumptions, but rather life and consciousness are quantitative.
It follows that there is no wholly non-living world and no wholly un-conscious world. Instead the metaphysical assumption about the world must be that everything is living and everything is conscious – but with widely varying types and degrees of life and consciousness.
So a grain of sand or a drop of water are regarded as alive and conscious in some way and to some degree; but in a different way and to a lesser extent than a plant or animal.
In other words, the whole of reality makes-up a web of inter-related entities.
The individual organism contains other sub-entities (for instance, and most obviously, mitochondria and chloroplasts – which have their own genes and considerable autonomy); the individual is not wholly separable from their family or group, the family merges into the species, one species into other interacting species; and the biological world with the chemical and physical worlds. Albeit that the interconnections are extremely various in nature and strength.
In such an interconnected causal web, there can be no isolated teleology; but the purposiveness of entities such as organelles, cells, multi-cellular organisms, sexes, species and ecologies must also be coordinated and unified. The teleology of any one entity or level of organisation implies the teleology of everything.
Because if one entity is regarded as unfolding in a developmental fashion towards a goal, then this implies a complementary development in the environment:
But one complementarity implies another; because the first complementarity in turn implies further complementarities; organism and environmental complementarity implying multiple changes (e.g. if an animal is purposively evolving in a long-term fashion, then the environment must accomodate this if it is not to be placed at short-term reproductive disadvantage) - since complementarity is multi-faceted with 'environment' being a complex multiplicity (e.g. an animal's environment includes members of its own species, other animals, pathogens and parasites, plants both great and small, plus the inorganic world including perhaps water, winds, and light).
So the existence of any purposiveness, anywhere in the system, entails purposiveness in order to accommodate it; with mutual adjustments branching-out into in a causal network of coordinated teleological change.
If, therefore, we regard purposiveness as an essential aspect of biology (as seems necessary in order plausibly and straightforwardly account for the major aspects of biology), it seems that have ended-up with a purposiveness that applies to everything.
If we regard development (as in the development of the individual organism through its life span) as the ‘master metaphor’ of evolutionary change and biology itself; then we are apparently compelled to regard the changes of the totality of all things as likewise an unfolding process towards a goal.
(Note: From this conclusion, it can be understood why teleology has been so stoutly and uncompromisingly resisted by the mainstream dominant conceptualisation of biology as utterly non-purposive, undirected, algorithmic in operation - the view deriving from Richard Dawkins's Selfish Genes and perhaps most uncompromisingly articulated in Daniel C Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea - which has prevailed increasingly since the late 1940s and especially for the past four decades. This is the metaphysical assumption - which denies it is a metaphysical assumption! - that all biological evolution, all heritable longitudinal change both quantitative and qualitative - is caused by the undirected selection of undirected variations. From the atheist assumptions of this meta-biology, it is clear that any teleology, allowed anywhere in the system under consideration, will lead to the necessity for a teleology of the whole; which entails at least Deism - i.e. the reality of a creator deity.)