What view of nature arises from teleological orientation to God?

A: Teleology exists, but I don’t see why one needs God to account for it.

B: Say more.

A: Teleology is an inherent order in things. This seems to be of two sorts (a.) nature acts in typical, more or less predictable ways, like when fire heat, heavy objects fall, or a heart beats; chickens peck at the ground, etc. and (b.) when objects that each have their typical ways of acting work form a harmony or appear to be provided for, like when the sun shining and the leaf performing photosynthesis work together, or the way a bird, who is particularly good at pecking at the ground, also finds worms to eat there. Now, if you saw all the various natures typical or predicable actions as given, you’d naturally be led to posit a God who provided for the various needs. The fact that trees wanted sunlight wouldn’t explain how there was a sun there to shine on them, and a bird pecking at the ground wouldn’t explain the fact that there were worms there to find. Some additional principle needs to be invoked beyond each nature acting in its typical way, namely, someone that arranged it to all be in harmony. This providing just is providence, and so the hand of God is obvious in the interactions of am ecosystem, an agrarian economy, or in the levels of existence.

But this idea of providence rests on a mistake. Natures are not given, and so there is no need to posit a being that provides for their given needs. There is only adaptation to environment, with the result that what happens to adapt well, happens to survive. God didn’t put worms in the ground to provide for chickens, the worms were just there, and the beings that adapted to use them as a food source happen to be with us.

B: But, by your own account, this isn’t the only sort of teleology.

A: Right, but there’s no idea of providence in the fact that fire heats or that gasses seek equilibrium.

B: So the point is that, when we shifted to a Darwinian account of natures, we lost the ability to see the arrangement of nature as providential.

A: Right. What is left of God then?

B: You’ve heard the arguments that the very predictability of nature also requires God?

A: Do they go like this: if nature is predictable, then some future state is causal. But a future states can only be causal to an intelligent being. Therefore, some intelligent being must be posited to explain nature as predicable.

B: That’s basically right.

A: But what view of nature does this give us? Are we supposed to think that fire of itself could just as easily heat as cool, and we need to posit a God to make sure that one result follows and not the other?

B: Chesterton suggests this in the Ethics of Elfland, so why not?

A: But there doesn’t seem to be anything about fire that suggests it could just as easily cool, or heaviness could just as easily rise up. Why posit a God that can account for the fact that something doesn’t happen when we don’t even think it could happen? It doesn’t seem like much of a God whose only work is to keep anvils from floating off randomly into the air. If it comes to that, I don’t see why anyone would be convinced that he is necessary.

B: So we can’t understand God as continually routing fire down the “heating” track or heavy objects down the “falling” track as opposed to the “floating off” one.

A: But what does this leave us with?

B: There is still the fact that future states are causal, even though they don’t exist. This requires giving them an intentional existence.

A: Right, but what view of nature does this give us? I’m ready to admit that a U shaped bud is somehow causal of this tulip bulb here. So are you saying that the tulip bud is, right now, a divine idea that structures this bulb in my hand?

B: Yes and no. On the one hand, ideas are never a part of structures, since they don’t come to be. When I paint a picture, it’s not my idea that comes to exist, not withstanding whatever loose locutions we use to speak this way. It’s the paint that comes to have a new shape, not the idea as an extrinsic paradigm or form.

A: But then God seems to be superfluous. We all see the need to posit an artistic idea over and above the paint; but why posit a divine idea over and above the tulip bulb?

B: Because any cause that doesn’t exist in reality, but nevertheless structures and guides development is a paradigm or extrinsic form.

A: This is what we call the “laws” of an activity? Or the “formula”?

B: I think so. Though there is an important difference: laws or formulas are simply timeless, precinding from past, present or future. But in the vision of God as the ground of the paradigm, we don’t prescind from time but explicitly consider the way in which states that are merely possible in reality, and so without causal efficacy in themselves, structure existent ones.

A: But these later states structure the natural thing intrinsically, right? The later state makes, say, the DNA molecule execute a blueprint or something like that. It’s not like the way an artistic idea never makes the paint form itself.

B: Right.

A: But then aren’t we at the same impasse? We’re saying that a nature is intrinsically capable of achieving a result, and that something outside of it as necessary to make this happen.

B: Right, but for the reasons we gave: not-yet-existent states are causal in natural things, namely, by making the nature intrinsically capable of achieving a result.

A: So on this view, what is nature?

B: We’ll we can walk though what we’ve ruled out (a) it’s not a provident order, at least not when viewed with this account of teleology; (b.) it’s not an order that is intrinsically indeterminate to various opposites, and so needs to be channeled down one of them. The first does not involve the sort of teleology that anyone believes in any more; the second is the teleology of mere art.

A: What does that leave us with?

B: Nature on this account depends on God to exist so far as it depends for its action on causes that do not exist actually. Whatever is predictable and structural is causal, but it is necessary that such things do not exist in natural actuality. We can only understand this by giving them an intentional existence that is also causal.

A: So God does not make a physical contribution on this account, but an intentional contribution?

B: Yes, physically speaking nature is always sufficient, but it depends on something that does not exist physically.

A: I wonder if the living has something that does this too.

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