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.
Stoegers 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 Gods
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.
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