By what criteria? Either you are making a moral distinction between things based on their tendency to help or hinder reproduction, or you are just stating a tautology - reproduction is good because it is good.
Once you introduce “design”, or some end purpose to biological processes, you abandon the scientific outlook.
People’s opinions about what is good and bad differ.
But you seem to assert that “Tending to increase the possibility of reproduction is good” is no mere opinion, but true analytically. On what basis?
No, I am asserting that to say that “evolution” designed the eye is as spurious as saying that God did. Any biologist who is scientific will not need to resort to some kind of teleological or intentional idea to explain the evolution of the eye.
On the basis that that’s how biologists use the term.
Then you’re into that tautology thing. Why is reproduction good? Because biologists say it is good to reproduce. Why is it good to reproduce? Because biologists say so. And so on forever.
A scientific explanation, if you can arrive at one, for the goodness of reproduction must not depend on subjective valuations of biologists.
Tell me - what is this “biological” sense of good, beyond some normative sense supposedly shared by biologists?
Look, rsonin, you’re coming to this discussion assuming that any talk about design, function or teleology has to be directed by an intelligence. Biologists discuss the functions of behaviors or organs all the time. Part of what it is to do biology is to investigate function.
Function is essentially a normative concept, in that any object or behavior with a function must be able to malfunction.
What they mean by “function” is completely darwinian. Roughly speaking, it’s what the organ or behavior did that caused it to be reproduced. This means that biologists have a concept of design, function and teleology that is non-intelligently directed. Indeed, one of Darwin’s greatest gifts was to realize that we could have design without intelligence.
Intelligence does not enter into it at all. You may be able to have design without intelligence, but you cannot have design without intention, and that is inherently teleological.
From your Wikipedia example: “To say ‘a tree grows flowers to attract pollinators’ would be incorrect if the ‘to’ implies purpose.” What I am saying is that the ‘to’ always implies purpose, and to express a function in this way is not scientific. I do not believe that people who put things that way actually think in purely non-teleological terms. It would be just as easy to say that “flowers on a tree attract pollinators”, and leave it at that. You may as well say that “trees grow flowers because they want to attract pollinators” is correct, so long as “because they want to” doesn’t imply purpose.
Now, you can claim that the “to” does not imply any purpose, and that saying that “a tree grows flowers to attract pollinators” does not imply any teleology. But I disagree. I think that the language used is a representation of the thinking used, and that the thinking used is filled with little purposes.
In any case, if you want to say that “a tree grows flowers to attract pollinators”, so be it. But to say that “a tree that grows flowers to attract pollinators is good” is an entirely different thing.
I’d still like to hear a “biological” definition of good, if there is one.
I think we’re going around in circles here, rsonin. By “intelligence” I don’t mean “smarts”. I mean a mind, or intention as you put it. You can clearly have design without intention. Darwin showed how. Teleological notions of function are part of biology. They are totally naturalized.
And so we spiral downward in a futile maelstrom of contrasting definitions. Doug is correct in pointing out that words have different meanings in different contexts. Natural selection theory places reproductive success and the increase in frequency of specific genes/gene combinations as the measure of the adaptive value of a phenotypic trait. It is routine to consider traits that increase reproductive success as “benficial,” “successful,” “winning strategies,” etc. These words clearly have a special meaning in this context that is different from their meaning in ordinary speech. There is nothing tautological about this. If you define “gaining weight” as “increasing in mass,” and then you say that someone who’s mass has increased has “gained weight,” you are not being tautological, you are using the descriptive term as it has been defined. Ultimately all words have to be defined by other words to some extent. I think it is fairly straightforward to say that something is “good” by the standards of natural selection theory without expecting people to think you mean morally good.
Similarly, I think it is fair to say something is “designed” for a purpose when what you mean is it has a structure that suits that function. Within biology, no one confuses this with the concept of a purposeful or intelligent designer, and I think there is minimal risk of confusion when using the word outside the field as long as what is meant is clearly explained. If you prefer not to use such terminology, because you feel they cannot be freed of their teleological baggage, fair enough. But I respectfully disagree and consider that overkill.
Anyway, seems like we’re nitpicking at minutiae here while the mystics, Satanists, creationists, et al take over the board. B etter we spent our energy on them!
You can redefine “design” to mean “seven buckets of fish”. Just remember that an intelligent design goon can say, with perfect sincerity, that ‘a tree grows flowers to attract pollinators’, and leave out the caveat, and sound just as credible as you do. Or, more accurately, you can say ‘a tree grows flowers to attract pollinators’, and be misunderstood, because of that small word ‘to’, leaving the impression that trees have made a good biological choice in growing flowers.
That is how you leave people thinking teleologically, and specialist vocabularies be damned on that account, in whatever field. I prefer that such terminology not be used by anyone, precisely because it permits poor thinking, and has a tendency to spread into other areas as norms masquerading as objective, scientific statements of fact. It is how Darwinism becomes perverted into social Darwinism.
If the function of the function in this functionalism is to provide an intention for a design you are using the same form of reasoning as ID does - the functionalism becomes just a camouflaged version of ID, with an even weirder teleology arising in the function itself. It makes teleological thinking more persistent than it already is.
Jeeez this took me by surprise… I couldn’t figure it out until I spotted the dates talk about reincarnation….. However I have already started to download the original podcast and having done so I will listen to it
Okay. I got a little excited because I thought I’d missed a recent episode with Carol Tavris. I bought “Mistakes Were Made” after listening to her interview. It’s one of my FAVORITE books. Among other things, it got me interested in wrongful convictions.
I liked her interview very much, especially her common ground with Joe Nickell about his rejection of the debunking mentality and the pursuit of science and evidence alone as the path to truth. Her discussion of human beings ability to hold conflicting views in their heads is a very interesting one that didn’t get explored much. This guy D.J. continued to disappoint me with his interview style and his inability to adopt any kind of independent or balances viewpoint as an interviewer.