The banishment of purpose from the universe as a whole also provides for the banishment of purposes that are supposed to make sense of human and other biological activities. When physics disposed of purposes, it did so for biology as well. It is the causal completeness of physics that purges purpose from all living things and their lives. (The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 46)
Of course, it is controversial that even chemistry is fully reducible to physics. For Rosenberg to simply declare that biology (and, elsewhere in the book, everything else that exists) is so reducible is more than a bit presumptuous.
I think it would strike most of us as inherently wrong to say that bodily organs have no purpose, but that is the materialist’s position. The heart isn’t actually for pumping blood, on this view, that is simply what it does. Appeals to evolution claim that this is purely a matter of what helped past organisms survive, and that any concept of the heart actually having a purpose is sheer illusion.
But I find myself increasingly skeptical of theories which wave off large swaths of fundamental experience as illusion. It seems more than a bit like sophistry to simply throw out anything that one’s personal philosophy can’t explain. There are more things in heaven and earth, after all, than are dreamt of in materialist philosophy.
Or, to paraphrase a more contemporary thinker: to deny the reality of what one cannot explain is the crudest form of cognitive dissonance.
And, indeed, purpose can’t be explained by pure materialism, even biologists consistently make reference to the purpose of organs in professional journals. It is understood, apparently, that this is simply shorthand. We’re promised that philosophers of biology will come along later to rephrase all of these comments in terms that don’t mention purpose.
But many are starting to feel that the materialists have made this promise so many times that they’re starting to forget that they’re even making it anymore. The issue of purpose, which was supposed to have been long-since handled, still hasn’t gone away even among scientists. It’s rather like a weird case of a boy crying “No wolf”, where materialists can be consistently heard shouting the non-existence of something rather obvious. How long are we supposed to go on believing them?
To be absolutely clear, none of this is an argument against evolution as science. This doesn’t comment at all on the theory itself. It is, rather, an argument against the philosophical add-on that organs don’t serve an objective purpose. That is, it is an argument for teleology.
So, admitting to teleology wouldn’t discredit evolution, but it does deal a major blow to materialism. I think this is significant, because it can’t be a discovery of science that keeps people from accepting this view (Rosenberg’s overtures notwithstanding). In fact, the way we do science is more in line with a belief in teleology than a rejection of it. It seems more likely, therefore, that it is a commitment to materialism that is the trouble.
That being the case, the materialist owes us a reason to think that the heart merely pumps blood, without having the purpose of pumping blood.