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The Effects Of Aristotelian Teleological Thought On Darwin's Mechanistic Views Of Evolution

2159 words - 9 pages

The Effects of Aristotelian Teleological Thought on Darwin's Mechanistic Views of Evolution

     The need to understand organisms has been a much sought goal of
science since its birth as biology. History shows Aristotle and Charles Darwin
as two of the most powerful biologists of all time. Aristotle's teleological
method was supported widely for over 2,000 years. One scientist remarks that
the Aristotelian teleology "has been the ghost, the unexplained mystery which
has haunted biology through its whole history" (Ayala, 10). If Aristotle's
approach has frightened biology, then Darwin, who actually nicknamed himself
the "Devils Chaplain," and his idea of natural selection has virtually dissected
Aristotle's ghost. While Aristotle explained biology through a plan and a
purpose, Darwin debated that randomness and chaos are responsible for the
organic world as we know it. Guiseppe Montalenti, an Italian geneticist and
philosopher of biology, wrote that Darwin's ideas were a rebellion against
thought in the Aristotelian-scholastic way (Ayala, 4). In order to
understand how Darwinism can be considered a revolt against Aristotle, we must
first inspect Aristotle's ideas and thoughts about biology.
Aristotle used teleology to explain the harmony and final results of the
earth. Teleology is the study of the purpose of nature. Aristotle believed
that scientists should follow the plan adopted by mathematicians in their
demonstrations of astronomy, and after weighing the phenomena presented by
animals, and their several parts, follow consequently to understand the causes
and the end results. Using this method, Aristotle constructed causes for body
parts and processes of the human body, such as sundry types of teeth.
Aristotle elucidated on this topic: "When we have ascertained the thing's
existence we inquire as to its nature…when we know the fact we ask the reason"
(Evans, 82).
     Despite Aristotle's frequent teleological explanations, he did warn
against teleology leading to misinterpretations of facts. In a short writing on
the reproduction of bees in Generation of Animals, Aristotle was troubled that
there were insufficient observations on the subject, and warns that his theory
is dependent on facts supporting the theory. One twentieth century biologist
believes that Aristotle did not often enough follow his own advice. Ayala
printed that Aristotle's "error was not that he used teleological explanations
in biology, but that he extended the concept of teleology to the non-living
     Some biologists say Aristotle used teleology so often because order and
purpose, both in the universe and life, were immensely important to him.
Aristotle thought it was both ridiculous and impossible that chance, which is
not linked with order, could be used to explain occurrences in biology. In one
of his...

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