View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

Stoeger, Willam R., S.J. “The Immanent Directionality of the Evolutionary Process, and its Relationship to Teleology."

Is there an immanent directionality in nature? If so, can science discover it or must we turn to philosophy and theology to recognize it and its significance? According to William Stoeger, some scientists and philosophers conclude from the variety and interrelatedness of nature that there must be a universal plan to it all. Many even assume there must be overarching holistic laws of nature which constrain the universe to behave in ways which clearly manifest purposes or ends. Many other scientists and philosophers, however, report they have found no evidence of an immanent directionality in nature. Often it is even presupposed that there is no overall directionality - much less teleology - in evolution, that complete randomness and uncertainty prevail, presided over only by the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.

Stoeger’s aim is to show first that there is a directionality, perhaps even a teleology, immanent in nature that can be discovered through the natural sciences as they study the emergence of physical and biological structure, complexity, life, and mind. He intentionally stresses this point since so many scientists deny it. Stoeger, however, believes that the discoveries of the natural sciences can be harmonized with an adequate understanding of God’s creative action in the world without postulating holistic laws or teleological mechanisms beyond those described by the sciences. The evidence at the scientific level also seems to rule out the necessity, and even the possibility, for divine intervention to complement the principles and processes accessible to science. Finally theology can refer to divine action and teleology, but the results of science should place constraints on the way it describes them. Moreover the laws of nature, as they function within creation, are one of the key ways in which God acts in the universe.

First, Stoeger describes the epistemological and metaphysical assumptions which underlie his approach. He then turns to a lengthy discussion of the scientific account of directionality drawing on such areas as cosmology, astronomy, chemistry, geophysics, biology, self- organization, and Boolean networks. The global cosmic directionality is given by the expanding, cooling universe. More specific sequential focusing of directionality occurs as galaxies and stars form, and they in turn provide stellar and planetary environments in which chemical and biological complexifications may arise. Stoeger goes into considerable scientific detail to show that a definite directionality is established, maintained, and narrowed in the process. Randomness does play an essential role, as do catastrophes - enabling the emergence of variety and diversity - but always within the larger framework of order and regularity.

Thus, the directionality inherent in the evolutionary process is seen in terms of its hierarchically nested character and the way this reflects the structure of the universe as a whole. This means that, for a particular configuration at a given moment, only a certain range of configurations at successive moments are possible. This hierarchical nestedness means further that these directed configurations occur on all levels - with very general types of directionality being characteristic of more global levels (those of the observable universe, or of our own galaxy) and more focused specific directionalities arising on more local levels (those of a given planet, a given organism, or community of organisms).

But in what sense does this directionality constitute a teleology? Stoeger argues that a system can be teleological without necessarily involving a blueprint for a final product. It need only move towards realizing possibilities in an ordered way, partly under the evolving conditions of its ecological environment. The realization of any given possibility typically presupposes the prior realization of other possibilities. The directionalities in nature are flexible and pliable, not fixed. Nor do they indicate consciously directed intention, at least from the point of view of the natural sciences - nor do they rule it out, and this is partly due to their own limitations. Stoeger considers a similar question regarding philosophy before turning to theology. Here he claims that the Christian tradition inevitably involves conscious divine purpose in creation, including the overall process of evolution. He concludes with some thoughts on the difference between “end- resulting,” “end-directed,” and “goal-seeking” forms of teleology.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: CTNS/Vatican Observatory

Topic Sets Available

AAAS Report on Stem-Cells

AstroTheology: Religious Reflections on Extraterrestrial Life Forms

Agency: Human, Robotic and Divine
Becoming Human: Brain, Mind, Emergence
Big Bang Cosmology and Theology (GHC)
Cosmic Questions Interviews

Cosmos and Creator
Creativity, Spirituality and Computing Technologies
CTNS Content Home
Darwin: A Friend to Religion?
Demystifying Information Technology
Divine Action (GHC)
Dreams and Dreaming: Neuroscientific and Religious Visions'
E. Coli at the No Free Lunchroom
Engaging Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence: An Adventure in Astro-Ethics
Evangelical Atheism: a response to Richard Dawkins
Ecology and Christian Theology
Evolution: What Should We Teach Our Children in Our Schools?
Evolution and Providence
Evolution and Creation Survey
Evolution and Theology (GHC)
Evolution, Creation, and Semiotics

The Expelled Controversy
Faith and Reason: An Introduction
Faith in the Future: Religion, Aging, and Healthcare in the 21st Century

Francisco Ayala on Evolution

From Christian Passions to Scientific Emotions
Genetic Engineering and Food

Genetics and Ethics
Genetic Technologies - the Radical Revision of Human Existence and the Natural World

Genomics, Nanotechnology and Robotics
Getting Mind out of Meat
God and Creation: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on Big Bang Cosmology
God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion
God the Spirit - and Natural Science
Historical Examples of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)
History of Creationism
Intelligent Design Coming Clean

Issues for the Millennium: Cloning and Genetic Technologies
Jean Vanier of L'Arche
Nano-Technology and Nano-ethics
Natural Science and Christian Theology - A Select Bibliography
Neuroscience and the Soul
Outlines of the Science and Religion Debate (GHC)

Perspectives on Evolution

Physics and Theology
Quantum Mechanics and Theology (GHC)
Questions that Shape Our Future
Reductionism (GHC)
Reintroducing Teleology Into Science
Science and Suffering

Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action (CTNS/Vatican Series)

Space Exploration and Positive Stewardship

Stem-Cell Debate: Ethical Questions
Stem-Cell Ethics: A Theological Brief

Stem-Cell Questions
Theistic Evolution: A Christian Alternative to Atheism, Creationism, and Intelligent Design...
Theology and Science: Current Issues and Future Directions
Unscientific America: How science illiteracy threatens our future
Will ET End Religion?

Current Stats: topics: >2600, links: >300,000, video: 200 hours.