Do Heat Seeking Missiles Have Teleology?

That does make sense, and it is very close to my own understanding of what teleology is. Thank you for the extended explanation.

I would also be interested in how you view possible misapplications of teleology. For example, one could say that the purpose of weather patterns is to push sail boats across the ocean.

Is teleology a mix of objective and subjective principles?

Yes, because everybody today uses Aristotelian vocabulary! Efficiency has a modern definition to it. Let’s speak in 21st Century English.

I wouldn’t say all efficient causes rule out final causes, but some do. If an entity’s behavior can be entirely explained by the past, then there is no need to add on final causality. This would be the case with a guided missile. Hence, a guided missile only has extrinsic teleology.

A intrinsically teleological entity’s behavior can only be fully understood by reference to the future.

In the intrinsic sense, yes. ID people may not agree, but it is necessitated by ID theory. Mathematically, there is no way to get CSI without intrinsic teleology.

Thanks, T.a. Glad my second attempt was more successful.

Regarding the misuse of teleology, I think it has been common, especially when religious apologetic motives come into play. Michael Behe, in discussing design in nature (in ID writers, teleological thinking is expressed in terms of arguments for design), makes a distinction between better and weaker design arguments in writers like Paley. Behe thinks that the core idea in Paley is sound because it is based on something “objective” (to use your term; not sure if Behe uses the word), i.e., the clearly functional relationship between well-matched parts in an organism, but he thinks that Paley, and many others, often employ arguments which are which are more “subjective” (again to use your term), e.g., the “providential” way that God made the nose, to enable it serve as a resting-place for eyeglasses. Apologetic literature is often rife with examples of “design” of the latter type. Behe does not regard the latter sort of arguments for design as scientific, but he thinks the “complex arrangement of parts for demonstrable function” argument is scientific. (And of course, Darwin himself as a young man accepted Paley’s core argument as adequate, until he came up with variation plus natural selection as a designer-substitute, which in his view had superior explanatory power.)

I’m not here trying to sell Behe to you, but merely to point out that even among ID folks not any old claim that nature displays teleology is accepted. They are looking not for fortunate coincidences such as the use of the nose to support eyeglasses, but deep structures of complexity and subtlety which give the impression of being impossible or at least very difficult to produce by stochastic processes. So in that sense, while ID can be said to be in the long tradition of design arguments, teleological thinking, and in some cases natural theology, being an ID proponent doesn’t commit one to accepting any old sloppy argument for design, and is compatible with rejecting the bulk of the arguments for design offered by religious apologists.

Of course, if one is writing as a theologian, one is free to argue that God created weather patterns knowing how useful they would be to push boats across the ocean, and that may even be theologically correct, if one accepts an omnipotent and omniscient and providential God, but that sort of theological reasoning isn’t what Behe employs in his books, and isn’t what ID folks are talking about when they discuss methods of design detection, draw design inferences, and so on. But naturally, religious folks who latch onto ID for their own reasons (e.g., the Dover school board trustees) aren’t going to make the sort of clear distinctions I’m trying to make here, or that the ID leaders make when they are in operating their non-apologetic, theoretically most careful mode.


I agree with you about life – its teleology is intrinsic. I am glad that you are willing to allow the word “teleological” regarding the missile; from your way of wording things at the beginning, you could easily have been understood as denying any kind of teleology to the missile’s motion at all. I’m not sure that T. aquaticus would disagree with you about the missile, now that you have clarified this.

I will neither affirm nor deny this, as I have not studied information theory enough to have a well-formed notion. However, note that the emphasis on “CSI”, while now common enough among ID folks, wasn’t intrinsic to the earliest formulations of ID. I won’t swear to it, but I think Dembski may have been the one to introduce the term into ID theory. I don’t recall Behe using the term in Darwin’s Black Box, and it isn’t found in Denton’s Nature’s Destiny (which argues that design runs all the way from the cosmic down to the biological level). I don’t mean that the term should be unwelcome within ID theory, but only that ID arguments have been made without reference to it, and that it isn’t clear that ID in the generic sense is committed to arguments based on CSI.

I agree. CSI is important, though, because it proves intelligent design cannot be produced through randomness + determinism. Some third kind of thing is necessary to create CSI. That’s the core argument of the ID movement, and it’s nice to have a precise mathematical proof of the claim to show it is non-controversial.

Except it is controversial because that proof is in error and misapplied.

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Also, mathematical proofs can only establish mathematical truths. It is not possible to mathematically prove anything about the physical world, only about models of the world.


If you can show a fundamental proof by Leonid Levin is in error, you can certainly get that published!

How is it misapplied? Algorithmic mutual information deals with finite symbol strings, which is exactly what DNA is. In general, all finite, discrete realms can be represented by finite symbol strings. Since to the best of our knowledge the physical world is finite and discrete, then AMI applies to the physical world.

Correct, and this proof shows the randomness + determinism = mutual information model of the world is false.
That is all ID claims.

This would seem to be more about effecient causes than teology, if I am understanding the concepts you discussed before. If the ID argument boils down to a lack of natural causes due to the improbability of these systems occuring spontaneously as part of an evolved pathway then it seems they are arguing about cause.

Even in biomedical research it isn’t uncommon to frame arguments in terms of teleology, especially when describing the actions of the immune system or other physiological processes. Humans seemed biased towards anthropomorphizing the processes that go on around and in them. Sometimes this bias helps us wrap our heads around certain concepts, and at other times it may hamper our understanding of the underlying mechanisms. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Not so fast there, buckaroo.

I say that the energy is mass times 1/2 the speed of light.


Have I just disproven Einstein’s work by writing that equation?

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No! What is your point?

Writing an equation does not disprove anything.

For consideration:

In this case, they replaced part of a protein with an arbitrary sequence, and the immediate change they saw was a decrease in infectivity compared to the wild type strain. However, after several rounds of selection the random sequence added to the protein acquired function and resulted in a virus with 37-fold higher infectivity than the wild type virus.

If your math says that this is impossible, then it is your math that is wrong.

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I don’t think this is necessarily true.Some mathematical proofs are deductive in nature… and intrinsically true… for example proofs in geometry, trigonometry etc.
In cases where there are assumptions involved, the proof can be wrong if the assumptions are wrong.
Perhaps @nwrickert can confirm.

You don’t seem to be disagreeing with what I said. Proofs in geometry, trigonometry, etc prove mathematical statements in those fields. They don’t prove things about the physical world.


I’m going to wait until someone provides a summary so I have some idea of what you are claiming here.

@EricMH this is transparently false. This is not all ID claims. They claim much more. Why say silly things?

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Oh, what the heck, I’ll go ahead and ask. Take two correlated random variables, say amount of cloud cover and daytime temperature. Are you saying that this proof shows that the existence of mutual information between those two variables is impossible under a model of randomness + determinism?

ETA: Oh, algorithmic mutual information. That would have been helpful to know. Well, the claim looks absurd on the face of it, but I’d best leave it to others to sort out.