Teleological and Functional Explanations in Biology

Dr. Jeffrey Schloss

The Abrahamic monotheisms have traditionally believed that the natural world is a good creation through which God progressively attains His purposes, and that living creatures are endowed by their Creator with capacities to attain ends suitable for flourishing and for fulfilling their natures. However, the latter half of the 20th Century witnessed a tidal change in Western thought on this issue. Philosophers, scientists, and even theologians rejected these understandings, arguing instead that nature is devoid of teleology and final causation. Recently, however, surprising new biological discoveries have renewed interest in questions of purpose and progress in nature. This project, run by Dr. Jeffrey Schloss, will map out a series of wide-ranging research questions about directionality, progress, and purpose. The project will explore how these ideas have informed our notions of health and disease, flourishing and degradation, nurture and violence, sound and unsound development, human nature and its distortion, morality and natural law theory, and ecological and biological ethics. It will also investigate how emerging evidence of purpose in nature interacts with theological understandings of providence, divine purpose, and the ultimate ends of human life.