Nature's Holism (condensed - 7)
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"Verily some people pondered about the Almighty and Glorious Allah. Then the Holy Muslim Prophet of Islam said, "Ponder over the CREATION of Allah, and do not ponder over Allah, because you cannot catch His Power."  With an understanding of evolution, molecular biology and genetics, it is only in this century that we are beginning to fully understand God's creation.

Before we can discuss Immanuel Kant within the context of this book, diverging a bit is necessary to explain the idea of Gaia and teleology.


When I embarked upon this exercise, little did I know of or expect the pitfalls I would encounter and the traps and controversies laid, waiting for those who choose this route of investigation. These can be pedantic at the one extreme and presumptuous at the other. Often, there is criticism of phraseology and semantics, so an author's ridicule can result from a bad choice of words. Begon et al. (1986) for example insists, in a serious university text, that we cannot say that an animal is adapted to its environment, but by a new word, "abapted" by the environment. This is to avoid any sense of design implied in the language. Goldsmith (1992) on the other hand says that Gaia, an intelligent mother earth, is purposive and that living systems are intelligent! To followers of this theory, the earth, Gaia is a living intelligent creature that decides. Disproving this state of affairs turns solving a simple problem into a complex undertaking. The philosopher, Immanuel Kant comments on the invention of new words: "to invent new words where the language has no lack of expression for given notions is a childish effort to distinguish oneself from the crowd, if not by new and true thoughts, yet by new patches on the old garment."

Thomas Hobbes, General J.C. Smuts, Immanuel Kant and of course, Charles Darwin, provides important conceptual foundations to this book. Another primary reference is the Holy Quraan, the revelation from God to the Holy Prophet, Muhammad. These sources provide strength to the final idea and represent the main areas of conflict in this book, namely theology (religion), ethics (morals), evolution, teleology and holism.

The average, person is biased in his or her thinking. To use a currently popular word, western society possesses a common paradigm and in the arrogance of certainty, people act like some scientists interpreting data: "Inevitably they are interpreted in terms of a scientist's particular paradigm" (Goldsmith, 1992). People see life through a "cultural filter". To challenge this paradigm, the above sources provide a freshness and newness to thought that inspires the consciousness and enlivens the understanding. Together, they prepare one for the holistic idea in that they provide a specific perspective useful to the development of the holistic idea. Briefly, Hobbes provides clarity in reasoning and a moral philosophy, an essential tool for a book of this type. Smuts outlines a feasible scientific holism, upon which we can build a credible holistic concept. The Holy Quraan provides divine absolute constraints to the possible and a divine moral code. Kant provides an extensive insight into the ramifications of teleology. Charles Darwin provides a practical and valid evolutionary explanation free of the strange abstractions and esoteric mathematics attempted today.

The logic developed to support the Gaian theory is not used in this book as too many words imply a conscious will, whether intended or not. If intended, it is still too anthropomorphic. If not intended, it is misleading. There is no external 'something' controlling global ecology (Lewin, 1993), so Gaia is not an idea that forms a part of holism. Goldsmith (1992) states, "A life process also evolves for a purpose, that of fulfilling a specific function within the hierarchy of the biosphere, to contribute to the maintenance of its critical order and hence its stability." This is the fine line across which the adherents of Gaia cross. To remain within the bounds, of science one simply says "evolves a purpose" instead of "evolves FOR a purpose." A creature has evolved over aeons of time, so, if we study an ant today, we can identify the purpose of various anatomical features. Gaian adherents will say that the same evolved "for the purpose", implying a conscious will to nature, as if the process' end is controlled and intended and the purpose is an inner part of the creature. Professor Cooper recognised this failing and said that terms like "purpose" and "value" do not form part of ecology any more than they do evolutionary theory. To claim that the Gaia Earth led to the creation of ants for some teleological outcome and "SO AS TO" contribute some critical service is very different to saying that the evolution of an ant has led to features in the ant for which we can identify a purpose. Ants fulfil a role in nature. They evolved within the context of and subject to selective forces specific to their niche, but not 'so as to' fill that niche. Widgets

Even Jim Lovelock, the "inventor of the Gaia hypothesis" (Lewin, 1993) was defensive of the terminology employed, admitting that it was poetic and that: "God damn it, when you get a good idea in science, it's pure intuition and that is often extremely difficult to describe. If I'd known then what I know now, I wouldn't have written it like that" (Lewin, 1993). He further claims, "Neither Lynn Margulis (his co-inventor) nor I have ever proposed a teleological hypothesis. It's true that some of the things I've written have been imprecise, and this was eagerly interpreted as meaning purposefulness in Gaia." He says that, "I needed to be able to demonstrate to others what I knew intuitively about Gaia - that homeostasis emerged as a property of the system." Jim Lovelock further recognised, "There's a huge amount of literature that is supposed to be about Gaia, that New Age stuff. It's 100 percent rubbish."



"At exactly what point does function make its appearance?" (Dennett, 1995).

This chapter may be heavy going. Writing it was difficult. You may skip it if you can simply accept that the holism I propose does not imply a teleology with final causes of the Gaian type proposed by Goldsmith. In this chapter I attempt to present Immanuel Kant in a modern context. We need to take heed of his caution: "It is, indeed, the common fate of human reason in speculation, to finish the imposing edifice of thought as rapidly as possible, and then for the first time to begin to examine whether the FOUNDATION is a solid one or no."

The Gaia Hypothesis of Goldsmith describes nature as teleological. Comparing Goldsmith's (1992) outline of the principles of Gaian ecology  with the teleology of Kant illustrates how the holistic principles of perpetuity and compatibility have a different source, or at least draw different deductions to Gaian teleology and are closely aligned to Kantist teleology.

In his book, "The Way", Goldsmith states, in the chapter, "Ecology is Teleological", that the "teleological explanation of the life processes centres on its GOAL" - Aristotle's 'final cause'. A dictionary definition of teleology is:

[1] The explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes;

[2] the doctrine of design and purpose in the material world.

To say that the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun creates the tides in the ocean is not teleological, but to say that the purpose of the moon is to create the ocean tides is a teleological statement.

Kant (1724-1804) deals in some detail with the teleological idea in his "Critique of Teleological Judgement" (Adler, et al, 1952). His work reflects some strong currents of thought that flowed through society in his time, well before Darwin's Origin of Species. In beautiful but often abstract and complex writing, he ponders some problems of teleology still encountered and debated today. He claims that we are correct in applying a teleological conception to nature, but only to "bring it under principles of observation and research by analogy to the causality that looks to ends, while not pretending to explain it by this means." I gave an example of the moon above. Nature is not acting with a specific goal or purpose in sight. In studying say the circulatory system of the body, we may reflect that the heart serves a purpose - to pump the blood. What Kant means by teleology in nature will become clearer as we go on.

Teleological reasoning means that we can conceive of forms such as organs as determined by "ends" or goals. There are two types of ends:

[1] An elephant is an "art-product", an animal adapted to a specific niche in the African ecosystem. It is an effect of evolution within this system and an end.

[2] Another form of end is that which serves as a means that other causes use in pursuit of ends. Grass is an end that a grazer uses for food.

This principle of teleology reduces the phenomena of nature to rules to aid our understanding where mechanical causality or blind mechanism is not a sufficient explanation. We can say that the eye has evolved for sight. As an organ of the body it serves a specific function. If we try to study the mechanisms involved in the eye, we have to adopt a teleological approach and look at the eye as a part of a whole - the body. The eye serves a purpose in relation to the whole body. It functions within the context of the whole. Today an engineering term, reverse engineering is used to describe the process or technique of studying biological form with the assumption that there is a good rationale for the features observed (Dennett, 1995). A failing of this adaptationist explanation of all features is that there can be many explanations or "Just So Stories", but only one true fit to the facts (Dennett, 1995). Two engineers looking at a component in a machine may give different explanations as to the purpose served by the component. Their perceptions and reverse engineering have arrived at different conclusions. Both may be reasonable explanations, but only one is correct.

Teleological reasoning allows us to form a conception of an object as if teleology were to be found in nature instead of in our mind. Kant says that it is only by ANALOGY that we can relate the MENTAL CONCEPTION to the nature under study. When we reason that the eye has evolved for the purpose of allowing us to see, this does not imply that this purpose was inherent within the eye or that the creature had eyes as a goal. Opposing this, Goldsmith insists that "one ruse is to deny the purposiveness of life processes altogether and to argue that nature only appears purposeful." Stating this simply, we may find a purpose for features such as feathers, the hollow bones and wing structure of birds, serving to improve flight, but this does not imply that the creature pursues such an evolutionary purpose. Knowing that birds fly, we can study its structure in terms of flight. Feathers serve a purpose in flight, but the bird did not purposefully develop feathers to fly better. Feathers evolved through the slow incremental changes due to the survival advantage conferred by the physical trait. Other individuals would quickly eliminate an animal with malformed feathers through competition, starvation or predation. Kantist teleological reasoning (and later Smuts) that people use to explain wholes, such as organisms found in nature, is very different from the teleology of Gaian adherents who claim that Gaian processes are purposive and have a goal.

Goldsmith using the example of a fish, insists that the evolution of gills and fins is purposeful, enabling fish to breathe and move about in their aquatic environment. The confusion and controversy here centres around evolution. Features have evolved over billions of years through their contribution to survival. They are parts of a whole. Today we can look at an animal in its environment and say that we can understand the purpose of gills. Gills are a product of evolution. Goldsmith is saying that the purpose of the process is gills as if the result is somehow targeted.

A point that Kant raises very early in his discussion is that, in the consideration of nature, we do NOT take (her) to be an INTELLIGENT BEING. On the other hand, Goldsmith claims Gaia is alive  and that living systems are intelligent. Goldsmith needs to impart such qualities upon his Gaian nature if conscious purpose and goals are going to be an inherent part of Gaian nature. For Gaian adherents, the earth is an intelligent being acting purposely and wilfully. Kant's teleology does NOT credit nature with causes acting DESIGNEDLY, but is a more evolutionary and holistic idea. The order, structure and form that emerge from evolution results from a process or mechanism - it is the product evolving through natural selection.

Kant goes on to develop his teleological idea by an example of geometric figures,  such as a circle or triangle, whose finality is "manifestly objective and intellectual, not simply subjective and aesthetic." A triangle is always a triangle with its relational laws understood through reason. Geometry proceeds from principles derived from the order and regularity of the forms under study (this objective finality "belonging to the nature of the things"). Kant says this application of geometry is an intellectual finality that is simply formal, not real. In other words, it is a finality that does NOT imply an underlying END, and therefore, does not stand in need of teleology. There is no teleology in geometry - they are intellectual ideas.

In a clear distinction of ideas, he also introduces the possibility of subjective, "AESTHETIC FINALITY" and the appreciation of beauty that is also not teleological. We may seek ends such as beauty, but they are ends of our own imagination. Subtle beauty may be the ultimate expression of human perfection, character and spontaneity, yet this is subjective perception and definitely has no teleology involved.

Another form of understanding that he distinguishes is RELATIVE FINALITY, which is again different from the intrinsic finality of a natural object (belonging to the thing itself) and NOT TELEOLOGICAL in any form. By relative finality he means that clearly particular things of nature (living or nonliving) are utilised by other forms of life, which are then ends, and may in turn serve for other life forms. As such, we may recognise that "there is no healthier soil for pine trees than a sandy soil"; the sand being a relative end and the means thereto the physical process that caused this sand deposit to accumulate. Goldsmith, claiming that nature is purposeful, would say that the primordial deposit of sand tracts was an end that nature had in view for the benefit of the possible pine forests that might grow on them. To say so says Kant, would be a "hazardous and arbitrary assertion." It is exactly the view that many Creationists who do not support evolution hold. (This question reveals the absence of the conception of evolution).

Similarly there has to be grass on the earth to support cattle, sheep, horses and the like. Today, we admire these innovations of nature, as in the relationship between the bee and the flower, and we recognise the dependence of the one upon the other, so this distinction, termed a relative finality, for the many relations of nature to an end, is valid. However, not having an understanding of the evolution of species or natural selection, Kant notes that the utilisation of grass or the "adaptability" (his term) of grass to sustain animals is contingent and a mere raw material. The absence of the modern idea of evolution, where organisms adapt to their environment, required or influenced Kant's introduction of the idea of a "relative end". He recognised that pine forests can be assumed to be a natural end, while what man adapts to his own arbitrary whims by using his reason is not a relative end. Without the understanding that the pine trees evolve and are adapted to their specific niche, Kant has to introduce the idea of a relative end and that the "sand must be admitted to be an end also."

In this system of relative ends, the 'effect' or physical item, such as a horse can be considered as an end. It in turn serves as a means that other causes, such as a human, can use in pursuit of an end, or adapt to the purpose he has in view, such as travel. Kant terms this form of finality a utility if it concerns human beings and adaptability where it concerns other creatures. Without a conception of evolution he does not attempt to explain how this adaptation of animals to their environment arose; nor does he recognise the degree of interdependence that has evolved and is epitomized by the relationship of the bee and the flower. The holistic explanation describes this process within the context of evolution and natural selection and so holism progresses a step further than the teleology of Kant. In the description of Holism by Smuts are similarities to the teleology of Kant, and evidence that Smuts developed his idea from the "Critique of teleological judgement" by Kant. Darwin's evolution and natural selection also forms an integral part of the idea developed by J.C. Smuts.

Kant then introduces his form of teleology by saying that a "thing exists as a PHYSICAL END if it is both cause and effect of ITSELF" and is an idea made up of "component factors." This he explains, is to be found in a tree that perpetuates - "the tree which it produces is of the same genus. Hence, in its genus, it produces itself. In the genus, now as effect, now as cause, continually generated from itself and likewise generating itself, it preserves itself generically." It sounds like a definition for the term perpetuity and implies inheritance! The physical end is the perpetuating tree or other living organism!

Describing his teleological idea, he continues by observing that the tree PRODUCES itself even as an individual. In growth, it assimilates matter (nutrients, carbon dioxide etc.) and "bestows upon it a specifically distinctive quality which the MECHANISM of nature OUTSIDE it CANNOT supply, and develops itself by means of a material which, in its composite character, is its own product." Kant explains that the "constituents (raw materials) that it derives from nature outside, . . . must be regarded as only an educt." Approaching a holistic concept, he notes that a part of a TREE also generates itself so that "THE PRESERVATION OF ONE PART IS RECIPROCALLY DEPENDENT ON THE PRESERVATION OF THE OTHER PARTS." A tree needs its roots and leaves. In this fashion a product of nature must, from its character, "stand to itself reciprocally in the relation of cause and effect" - it perpetuates - "it is a nexus (connection, link) constituting a series, namely of causes and effects, that is invariably progressive" (dynamic). A tree is the "effect" of its parents and the "cause" of its progeny and is thereby termed a PHYSICAL END of nature.

Next, Kant introduces requirements and conditions for a thing to be considered a physical end in a teleological sense. His description is very close to a holistic conception. "The first requisite . . . IS THAT ITS PARTS, BOTH AS TO THEIR EXISTENCE AND FORM, ARE ONLY POSSIBLE BY THEIR RELATION TO THE WHOLE." A heart forms a part of a whole - the organism or physical end, and in this context teleology is recognised. The  heart clearly serves a PURPOSE in relation to the whole and a doctor can describe the purpose of the heart in this context. We cannot understand the mechanism of the pumping of blood except in the purpose the heart serves for the body. The explanation is not of a "blind" mechanism but requires a teleological context. Dennett (1995) clearly draws the difference between blind mechanism and the teleological context in a different way. He explains that "The solar system exhibits stupendous Order, but does not (apparently) have a purpose - it isn't for anything. An eye, in contrast, is for seeing."

A physical end is independent of the causality of external rational agents (in its interpretation). As a product of nature the relation of the physical end originates "intrinsically and in its inner possibility" so that a second requisite is that "THE PARTS OF THE THING COMBINE OF THEMSELVES INTO THE UNITY OF THE WHOLE BY BEING RECIPROCALLY CAUSE AND EFFECT OF THEIR FORM." "IN SUCH A NATURAL PRODUCT AS THIS EVERY PART IS THOUGHT AS OWING ITS PRESENCE TO THE AGENCY OF ALL THE REMAINING PARTS, AND ALSO AS EXISTING FOR THE SAKE OF THE OTHERS AND OF THE WHOLE, THAT IS AS AN INSTRUMENT , OR ORGAN."

Goldsmith uses teleology, applicable only to the parts of a perpetuating organism, for support for his teleological Gaia. He turns the recognition of a purpose - a mental construction or conception - into an intrinsic purpose of nature. When a physiologist is studying the body's process and controlling mechanism he is studying a physical end of nature, which is a whole, a unity of parts. He must by necessity find the purpose of various processes, but we cannot say that the purpose inheres the animal so that the animal has a goal.

In order not to be merely an instrument of art, such as is modern technology, Kant introduces another requisite for the idea of teleology - REPRODUCTION or perpetuation, as occurs in nature: "only under these conditions and upon these terms can such a product be an ORGANIZED and SELF-ORGANISED BEING, and, as such, be called a physical end." Thus, whereas in a watch the PRODUCING CAUSE is contained outside the material and the watch lacks any self-organising ability to perpetuate or repair or maintain itself, a living creature is self-organised. "An organised being is, therefore NOT a mere MACHINE. For a machine has solely motive power, whereas an organised being possesses inherent formative power . . . a self-propagating formative power, which CANNOT be explained by the capacity of movement alone, that is to say, by MECHANISM." The watch is mere mechanism, while the bird is teleological.

Kant recognises the heritable character and variation present in nature and its potential ecological consequence: "Nature organises itself, and does so in each species of its organised products - following a SINGLE PATTERN (inheritance), certainly as to general features, but nevertheless ADMITTING DEVIATIONS (genetic variation) calculated to secure self-preservation (perpetuity) under particular circumstances (ecological adaptation)."   As such, for Kant, "organisms are . . . the only beings in nature, considered in their separate existence and apart from any relation to other things, cannot be thought possible except as ENDS OF NATURE."

Organisms provide science with the BASIS FOR A TELEOLOGY. This applies to biological systems only and cannot be found in physics. "This principle, the statement of which serves to define what is meant by ORGANISMS, is as follows: an organised natural product is one in which every part is reciprocally both end and means. In such a product nothing is in vain, without an end, or to be ascribed to a blind mechanism of nature."

It is in the organism that we can identify a purpose: "It is common knowledge that scientists who dissect plants and animals, seeking to investigate their structure and to see into the reasons why and the end for which they are provided with such and such parts, why the parts have such and such position and interconnection, and why the internal form is precisely what it is, adopt the above maxim as absolutely necessary. So they say nothing in such forms of life is in vain, and they put the maxim on the same footing of validity as the fundamental principle of all natural science, that is, nothing happens by chance. THEY ARE, IN FACT, QUITE UNABLE TO FREE THEMSELVES FROM THIS TELEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE AS FROM THAT OF GENERAL PHYSICAL SCIENCE" - " . . . mere mechanism no longer proves adequate in this domain."  . . ."It is no doubt the case that in an animal body, for example, many parts might be explained as accretions on simple mechanical laws (as skin, bone, hair). Yet the CAUSE that accumulates the appropriate material, modifies and fashions it, and deposits it in its proper place, must always be estimated teleologically." Darwin identified this "cause" as natural selection.

This teleological reasoning is admitted to by evolutionists: "The role of the evolutionary biologist is then to construct a plausible argument about how each part functions as an adaptive device" (Lewontin, 1978). An anatomist aims to explain an animal's features by how well suited they are to the function they perform.


We can extend the Kantist teleological analogy to long established ecological systems that have an array of interdependent or long-associated species. A careful distinction has to be made from the relative finality of the type "cow eats grass." An ecosystem is a physical end and the component species are parts of this unity so that:


This applies to the same extent in ecosystems as to the appendages of a body. Some organisms are more essential parts of an ecosystem than others. An ecosystem can lose some species and still be a functional unit. If it loses its "keystone species", those that dominate the system and affect the survival and abundance of the other species, the whole structure of the system will change. In an experiment in Brazil, scientists ran the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems Project (MCS) to find the smallest size a rain forest can be and still sustain its inhabitants. It later became part of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project. As rain forest was cleared, square patches of forest from one hectare to one thousand hectares in size were left intact. On smaller "islands", species diversity decreased rapidly. Daytime winds penetrated deeply into the forest, drying out the forest and killing deep-forest trees and shrubs for distances inward of 100 metres or more (Wilson, 1992). Stripped of the plant species adapted to live on the forest edges and withstand the impact of winds, the forest dehydrated! Deep forest plants were not adapted to this exposure.


An animal occupies a niche that by definition defines an animal's existence, form and functions in relation to the whole system. The giraffe of the African savannah would not stand a chance of survival in the Arctic tundra environment. In the same MCS project in [1] above, plots of less than 10 hectares in size, could not support army-ant colonies. These colonies require a forest area of more than 10 hectares to maintain their worker force. Larger animals such as peccaries, pumas, jaguars and pacas left the smaller plots. Departure of the peccaries ended the characteristic wallows that they created, in which temporary forest pools could form. Three species of Phyllomedusa frogs, which depended upon these pools to breed and for their young to survive, then became extinct! Shade loving butterflies of the deep forest also succumbed to the drying winds (Wilson, 1992).


Organisms perpetuate and interact and in this process evolve into an association of dependence and interdependence that gives rise to the unity of the whole. Again using the rain forest MCS project, the new conditions increased the amount of forest "edge" and species specialised to live around the forest edges flourished. Normally such "wounds" would be like small scabs that easily heal through the effect of these plants, but deforestation devastated most of the forest creatures. Five species of ant bird followed the extinction of the army ants. Fruit eating saki monkeys could not find enough food to sustain viable populations in plots smaller than 10 hectares. With the decline in mammal and bird populations, the dung and carrion dependent scarab beetles declined in numbers. With them declined mites that prey upon fly maggots, increasing the possibility of disease transmission by flies to mammals and birds. The changes with the destruction of the whole are intricate and complex and reflect that the whole provided a stability that had evolved over millions of years. Many different creatures had evolved and adapted to the stable conditions found within the whole. When the forest was reduced in size, conditions that had persisted for millions of years and that usually changed slowly changed abruptly, resulting in mass extinctions.


The term, "existing for the sake of" is dangerously close to Goldsmith's style of describing Gaia. Its analogy in the human body is the heart, which exists for the sake of the body. In nature creatures perform a function that, through natural selection, forms an integral part of the whole community. This arises through what Darwin recognised as a tendency for differentiation. This is compatibility. Putman (1994) acknowledges that stable populations contribute to the stability of communities.. He recognises ecosystems as complex wholes.

An ecosystem is a natural product in which, often, every component or part, through dependence, owes its presence to the stability of the system conferred by the agency of all the remaining parts. Organisms serve as an instrument of the system through a reciprocal conferring of stability evolved through the process of adaptation via natural selection. Edward O. Wilson (1992) vividly describes the balance found in a rain forest:

"On a larger scale, the storms drive change in the whole structure of the forest. The natural dynamism raises the diversity of life by means of local destruction and regeneration.

Somewhere a large horizontal tree limb is weak and vulnerable, covered by a dense garden of orchids, bromeliads, and other kinds of plants that grow on trees. The rain fills the cavities enclosed by the axil sheaths of the epiphytes and soaks the humus and clotted dust around their roots. After years of growth the weight has become nearly insupportable. A gust of wind whips through or lightning strikes the tree trunk, and the limb breaks and plummets down, clearing a path to the ground. Elsewhere the crown of a giant tree emergent above the rest catches the wind and the tree sways above the rain soaked soil. The shallow roots cannot hold, and the entire tree keels over. Its trunk and canopy arc downward like a blunt axe, shearing through smaller trees and burying understory bushes and herbs. Thick lianas coiled through the limbs are pulled along. Those that stretch to other trees act as hawsers to drag down still more vegetation. The massive root system heaves up to create an instant mound of bare soil. At yet another site, close to a river's edge, the rising water cuts an overhanging bank to the critical level of gravity, and a 20-metre front collapses. Behind it a small section of forest floor slides down, toppling trees and burying low vegetation.

Such events of minor violence open gaps in the forest. The sky clears again and sunlight floods the ground. The surface temperature rises and the humidity falls. The soil and ground litter dries out and warms up still more, creating a new environment for animals, fungi, and micro-organisms of a different kind from those in the dark forest interior. In the following months pioneer plant species take seed. They are very different from the young shade-loving saplings and understory shrubs of the prevailing old-stand forest. Fast-growing, small in nature, and short-lived, they form a single canopy that matures far below the upper crowns of the older trees all around. Their tissue is soft and vulnerable to herbivores. The palmate-leaved trees of the genus Cecropia, one of the gap-filling specialists of Central and South America, harbour vicious ants in hollow internodes of the trunk. These insects, bearing the appropriate scientific name Azteca, live in symbiosis with their hosts, protecting them from all predators except sloths and a few other herbivores specialised to feed on Cecropia. The symbionts live among new assemblages of species not found in the mature forest."

"All around the second-growth vegetation, the fallen trees and branches rot and crumble, offering hiding places and food to a vast array of creatures and life forms such as fungi, ants, beetles, lice, ear wigs, spiders, springtails, scorpions. Full transformation to the mature forest takes about 100 years."  

Ecosystems, or what Kant calls "aggregate nature as a system ", satisfy the requirements of a physical end to which we can apply Kantist teleology to better understand the interdependence that is evident. Such interdependence is a subjective human conception or maxim - a general truth drawn from science and experience - and not a goal seeking purpose of nature. This maxim, through which the whole mechanism of nature has to be subordinated on principles of reason, states: "everything in the world is good for something or other; nothing in it is in vain; we are entitled, nay incited, by the example that nature affords us in its organic products, to expect nothing from it and its laws but what is final when things are viewed as a whole." This is not the Gaian teleology of final causes, but the Kantist teleology of physical ends, the ends of nature. "It is only in so far as matter is organised that it necessarily involves the conception of it as a physical end, because here it possesses a form that is at once SPECIFIC and a product of nature."

This organisation of ecosystems becomes levels of organisation in the hierarchy of nature. There is a distinction between life and matter. We know that atoms bond into molecules, which are assembled into nuclei, mitochondria or other organelles. Organelles form a part of cells, that associate as tissues and organs. Organs form parts of organisms that in turn form part of ecosystems (Wilson, 1992). Atoms, as we know, do not change their nature in any evolutionary sense in the formation of molecules. Sub-atomic structure does not conform to the whole. From the molecule upwards, evolution is possible, conforming that level to the whole. Molecular structure can evolve to more effectively function in the cell wall for example. A cell may evolve to function as part of a specialised tissue and so on upward. All changes are essentially molecular (Behe, 1998). Atoms provide constraints to what molecular forms are possible, but form the substrate of the teleological process and are not subject to Kantist teleology. It is only in the creativity of life, where evolution is possible, that Kantist teleology takes place. The lifeless atomic and subatomic realm of the physicist is not a part of Kantist teleology. Different processes seem to lead to the formation of life systems and atomic structure. Ecological systems form through the long evolution of the associated species.

The close association and interaction of perpetuating species, subject to natural selection, as exists in ecosystems, provides the conditions that make Kantist teleology possible. Long association allows the operation of the mechanism through which this form of teleology evolves. Organisms, including humanity can then be studied or evaluated in their relation to the whole system of which they are a part. At the ecosystem level of organisation, with interdependence and coadaptation found between associated organisms, the mode of perpetuation of the ecosystem is to be found in the parts, the individual organisms. The bee and the flower epitomise coadaptive interdependence, while the camouflage of a prey species illustrates an adaptation that is not necessarily coadaptive.

An example of adaptation is found in the peppered moth (Biston betularia ) in England. In the early 1800's, this moth was white with black speckling. Moths settled on pale lichen covered tree trunks where their coloration served as camouflage against bird predators. Evolution within their habitat had selected for this coloration as a selective advantage - an adaptation. Industrialisation spread soot and dirt across the countryside, reducing pale lichens growing on tree trunks, leaving the bark a uniform black. Bird predators in these polluted woods easily saw and ate the pale moths. This led to the adaptation and continued survival of this moth through the mutation to a melanistic black form (called carbonaria). Pale moths were easy prey in the polluted woods, while carbonaria was well camouflaged and flourished. In the clean western and northern Great Britain, the pale form is better camouflaged on the pale lichen covered tree trunks and so persists (Smith, 1990). Coevolution differs from the above in that two associated species evolve in response to one another. Widgets

An ecosystem does not die but its dynamic form tracks the slow evolution of component organisms. In turn, its stability and predictability allow the evolution and adaptation of its component and associated species. We can identify certain functional roles that organisms have in the ecosystem. Just as an organism needs a specific period for its expression - at a minimum, the time needed to attain maturity and reproduce, so an ecosystem needs time for it to evolve into a coherent system. Time is required for the association of organisms to evolve some semblance of interdependence or coadaptation.

Today, this rate is increased by the evolutionary history of living (extant) organisms. On some new terrain, some new form of soil bacteria, so necessary to nutrient cycling for plants, does not need billions of years to evolve. Wind and rain carry such bacteria to the new site. Basic building blocks of an ecosystem arrive by dispersal from established areas and not by evolution. A volcanic eruption created the island of Anak Krakatau in 1930 in the Sundra Strait between Sumatra and Java. On the sterile land, scientists collected 72 species of spiders, springtails, crickets, earwigs, barklice, hemipterous bugs, moths, flies, beetles and wasps, all brought to the island through aerial dispersal (Wilson, 1992). Those creatures that survive and reproduce pass the first phase of natural selection. Selective forces acting on the genetic variation of each generation adapt the creatures to the new habitat. Initially the harsh physical environment defines which organisms form part of a new ecosystem. The principle of ecological succession applies in that the presence of some species allows the colonisation and arrival of others.

High species diversity is enabled by the environmental stability of the tropics (Putman, 1994). More harsh environments will eliminate all but the hardiest creatures. While the system attains a stable association of species, natural selection influences the development of interdependence and coadaptation between some of these organisms. Interdependence generally increases the survival potential of the associated organisms and the stability of the system. Associations of interdependent living organisms function at a lower, more efficient energetic level than newly formed associations. This influences the functioning of the system as a whole so that it becomes more able to compete against invaders that are less efficient.

To penetrate a system of interdependent organisms one has to either live by the system's rules or destroy the whole system. Humanity has generally chosen the latter route. Where two or more organisms have formed an association, it is more difficult for a new arrival to displace the occupant of a specific niche. This is because it is not merely the resources available that define the niche, but also the associated species that are a part of the system.

Directional evolution takes the form of the selection of more efficient interactions. Associations evolve so that the animal is better suited to utilise the resources of its niche. This results in the paradox that competition leads, through natural selection, to compatibility.

The evolutionary process takes a very long time. Fossil records show that five major extinctions and at least seven less severe extinctions occurred on a global scale (Gore, 1989). It took tens of millions of years for full restoration of the original diversity (Donovan, 1989). Recovery from mass extinction of species at the end of the Ordovician Period (440 million years ago) required 25 million years, the Devonian (365 mya.) extinctions took 30 million years, the twin extinction events of the Permian (245 Mya.) and Triassic (210 Mya.) took 100 million years and the Cretaceous (65 Mya.) took 20 million years! (Wilson, 1992). When we consider that the human race is no more than 200,000 years old, then we may realise enormity of the destruction that we are imparting upon nature right now. In the " Book of Time" described earlier, each page represents 10 million years, so recovery from the Triassic extinction event took ten pages of time! Compared to Humanity's one line of evolutionary history, this is an immense period! Widgets

An alternate explanation to Kantist teleology, promoted by modern evolutionists, is that the evolutionary process may appear teleological in the sense of aspiring to a final cause, but a biological structure is the result of past success through the survival of the organism's ancestors. The term used here is teleonomy, where a teleonomic function refers to past effects instead of present or future purpose (Campbell, 1984). Evolution occurs through the natural selection of genetic changes based on the benefit, in terms of fitness and survival of those changes (Campbell, 1984). This evolutionary change can be expressed in three ways:


[1] Physical change - the development of an adaptive phenotype (a phenotype is a physical characteristic). This may be a gross effect, such as the evolution of longer limbs, or subtle, such as a physiological change that improves kidney function. (One may add the category of physiological changes, but as these are molecular changes, they fall within the category of a physical change.)

[2] Behavioural - beneficial adaptations of the behavioural repertoire. A behavioural change may often precede a physical change.

[3] Genetic - the enhanced ability to evolve in response to selective pressures. This process occurs on the genotype and is a little studied mechanism.

"Evolutionary processes . . . shape and mould existing structures and behaviour. Although they can undergo profound and sudden evolutionary changes, new structures and behaviours do not appear without evolutionary antecedents" (Gibson, 1993). The nucleus of the cell, or the germ cells, which unite in conception, contain the information of the race or species, as a register of the past, and so make the past an operative factor in the present. (They also contain the mechanism of variation) (Smuts, 1926). Teleonomy, like Kant's 'relative ends' assumes that organisms are adapted to their environment.

Kantist teleology introduces the principle of final causes to physical science, but it does not interfere with the mechanistic principle of physical causality. It in no way implies and is "altogether silent on the point of whether anything estimated according to it is, or is not, an end of nature by DESIGN." Teleonomy is not in conflict with Kantist teleology, but rather, Kantist teleology subsumes teleonomy. The former is merely another idea of the human mind necessary to understand perpetuating organisms. Teleonomy, is another maxim to be added to the maxims of Kantist teleology - one that arises out of the knowledge of evolution, natural selection and the principles of genetics.


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Hua Hu Ching: "The tiny particles which form the vast universe are not tiny at all. Neither is the vast universe vast. These are notions of the mind, which is like a knife, always chipping away at the Tao, trying to render it graspable and manageable."(Walker, 1992). Widgets

This whole book in no way rejects God as the author of Creation, for we are looking at the material mechanisms that form His creation. This materialistic approach allows for spiritual powers but does not investigate them. Will is with God who created all life. This does not contradict evolution or the denial of a Gaian purpose, for the Creator is independent of the created. If God created Man, does this mean that the purpose of evolution was the creation of Man? How does one reconcile Creation by God and evolution through natural selection? How does one counter the Christian Priest's or Muslim Mufti's (theologian) accusation of blasphemy when propounding evolution and the scientist's scorn when including a belief in Creation by God and the idea of evolution within the same belief system? To clarify this aspect of understanding it is necessary to delve into the clear concepts to be found in the Holy Quraan and the insights provided by Kant.

"O man! What has seduced you from your Lord, Most Beneficent? He who created you, fashioned you in due proportion, and gave you a just bias. In whatever form He wills, does He put you together!" (QsLXXXIIv6-8). "It is He who created all things and ordered them in due proportions" (created all things with a JUST MEASURE) (QsXXVv2), "who has created and further, given order and proportion, who has ordained laws and granted guidance" (QsLXXXVIIv2-3). "He has created the heavens and the earth for just ends" (QsXVIv3). The fact of God, the Creator having made creation for JUST ENDS means that scientists will find natural laws and an order and the emergence of qualities that can be related back to nature. No physicist can deny this, for have they not constructed the periodic table of atoms on such an order and consistency in the atomic realm! Each atom is the consequence of the earlier evolution of matter that took place during the formation of the cosmos and represents an 'end'.

A philosopher can reason his way out of belief in a Creator or One as the cause of all things, calling it a theory (Hubbard, 1962) or hypothesis (Dennett, 1995). Dennett (1995) describes beautifully the sentiment of awe that allows the perception of a Creator in the creation: "we still have the stupendous fact that the laws do permit this wonderful unfolding to happen, and that has been quite enough to inspire many people to surmise that the Intelligence of the Creator is the Wisdom of the Lawgiver, instead if the Ingenuity of the Engineer". . . "if in imagination we change any of these values by just the tiniest amount, we thereby posit a universe in which none of this could have happened, and indeed in which apparently nothing lifelike could ever have emerged: no planets, no atmospheres, no solids at all . . . " He then goes on to denounce this belief and introduce a theory of his own. He tries to establish that the "existence of a universe obeying a set of laws even as elegant as the Life Law (or the laws of our own physics) does not logically require an intelligent Lawgiver." He suggests a "Darwinian alternative" saying that "there has been an evolution of worlds (in the sense of whole universes), and the world we find ourselves in is simply one among countless others that have existed through eternity." But a man can imagine and believe anything as the asylums attest.

As Kant and later Smuts noted, natural science is empirical, while the conception of God involves what he calls the supersensible - that which is beyond the senses. We cannot really make inferences about God from the facts of nature. Nature is about form, while God is formless. There is thus a boundary or limitation separating the two concepts - the consideration of an end of nature in a teleological and empirical sense and the contemplation of God and the subsequent theological consideration. In the former context, we need to restrict ourselves to a consideration of the ends of nature only and find out how these final products are produced by a mechanism and according to known empirical laws (Cameron, 1995).

You need to view the above quotations from the Holy Quraan in a holistic context. God is the author of the whole and is not subject to the focal point type perception that we have. We need to invent tools to analyse, however imperfectly, our world. He knows everything perfectly and time and space do not limit Him. Our understanding is limited to the perspective that our senses allow us to perceive. For God, there is no limit to his perception and awareness: "With Him are the keys of the Unseen, the treasures that none knoweth but He. He knoweth whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but with his knowledge: there is not a grain in the darkness of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry, but is in a Record clear" (QsVI,59). God's knowledge is holistic knowledge of the absolute type that perhaps only the few saints and Prophets have an inkling of.

A good example of the frailty of science is the single axiom, mutations, upon which the whole of evolution hinges. Charlotte Avers, the author of the book "Process and patterns in Evolution", notes that "A world without mutation is a non evolving world." Mutations lead to the presence of new genetic information that can then be tested through natural selection for its fitness value. However when asking where all mutations come from we run into a problem and a weapon for the natural theologian. Widgets

 Experimental research has established that mutations are rare, random, recurrent and reversible. Most scientists grasp onto this random nature of mutations and insist evolution is a blind, non teleological process. However these four principles were established and are verified repeatedly in studies where mutations are induced through physical and chemical agents called mutagenic agents. These agents are mostly artificial and increase the mutation rates above the natural rate. In nature, where many of these mutagens are not found in an organism's habitat, spontaneous mutations occur. Avers notes that "Spontaneous mutations have no known cause, by definition . . ." He goes on to say that "It is well known that radiation and some chemicals in the environment are responsible for a substantial fraction of spontaneous mutations." What will interest the natural theologian is what causes the rest of these spontaneous mutations. Science is unable to disprove or prove that all mutations are random and that there is not some causative agent directing evolution through critical mutations.

If God created the universe with "order and proportion", it is merely necessary to discover these laws and that is what empirical scientists set out to do! As a reflection of this perception about the physical creation, Einstein said, "In every important advance the physicist finds that the fundamental laws are simplified more and more as experimental research advances. He is astonished to notice how sublime order emerges from what appeared to be chaos. And this cannot be traced back to the workings of his own mind but is due to a quality that is inherent in the world of perception." Leibniz well expressed this quality by calling it a "pre-established harmony" (Appleyard, 1992).

Humanity can recognise laws defining or governing processes. Our focal perception allows us to recognise a regularity and propose a law. In accord with this reductionist perception, science is a reductionist science, finding laws at the level of investigation. Perhaps a person looks at the atomic level using the most recent tools of physics, or at the level of animal and plant distributions using the recently established tools of analytical biogeography. In contrast, God's point of reference is not subject to time - there is no evolution for Him as there is no focal point. When He says "Be!", it is. He is not subject to any conditions! To get an inkling of this we may imagine life on earth where time is a dimension like space and we can look into the distance of time and see a long continuum that is our species. From this perspective there is no change, but a holism with time as another dimension. His awareness is independent of the "here and now" of time. Our science cannot even dare attain this level of holistic awareness. All talk of teleology is due to our subjection to time.

From the holistic context, the physical forces that caused atomic structures, have led through time to a sequence of events that led to the emergence of life and then the evolution of life. If the temperature falls below the freeze point of water, it becomes ice, a physical fact and consequence of the chemical or atomic nature of water. The whole creation process is made up of a multitude of similar physical events as inevitable as ice formation and according to physical laws.

In physics, according to Kant, the internal relation of some things requires that the only form of explanation be on natural laws conceived upon the teleology of natural ends. In such a context then, Kant says that in physics, one may speak teleologically of "the wisdom, the economy, the forethought, the beneficence of nature. In so doing we do not convert nature into an intelligent being, for that would be absurd; neither do we dare to think of placing another being, one that is intelligent, above nature as its architect, for that would be extravagant." Similarly, "no one would ascribe design, in the proper sense of the term, to a lifeless material" and yet we "speak of nature as if its finality were a thing of design." It is this misuse of the English language that has led to the whole controversy of Gaia as a living, purposive and intelligent system. It is a pity to see this confusion reinforced by Gaian adherents. There has to be a clear separation of empirical natural science based on the senses from conceptions of God as a Creator and other theological issues. The two are independent fields of study with separate philosophical structures.

Interactive religious philosophies such as Taoism and Sufi mysticism aspire to perceive and be subsumed by the One, but again this is not science. While the mystic in the forest is absorbed in the whole, the scientist will be trying to cure the sand worm and fungus causing the maddening itch in his foot, studying the life cycle of the mosquito sucking his blood (giving him malaria), investigating whether his spicy diet has caused the diabetic comas that he endures and trying to conserve the biotic diversity of the forest so he can better understand and study it. Then, the mystic flies away as a bat and both the scientist and mystic are confused. Widgets Widgets

Kant observed that "from the facts of nature no inference of God is justified." Smuts puts this in a better context quite beautifully, "The belief in the Divine Being rests, and necessarily must rest, on quite different grounds, as a God whose concept is deduced from natural process is not a being whom the soul can worship"; (Cameron, 1994). This book is based upon the empirical. In it, we may brush with the religious or divine, but need not apply theological principles to the empirical. We may find mutual support between the two, but must consciously keep the conceptual structures separate. No matter how far back one observes, or to how minute a size one reduces the physicist's nature, there is always the "formless uncreated before" that no human mind can comprehend. Noting this constraint, due to the nature of our humanity, we can reject the comments of philosophers  such as Dennett who observe: "The existence of a universe obeying a set of laws as elegant as . . . the laws of our own physics does not logically require an intelligent Lawgiver." Based on humility, founded upon the logic and reason of our limits as humans, it is  a necessity that we believe in a Creator. Such a belief is the highest intellectual challenge and in no way a "childish vision . . . well on the road to extinction" (Dennett, 1995).

Nature, then, we study, estimate and define according to mechanical laws. We should understand nature on two kinds of principles - mechanical and teleological. When studying the holistic accord and unity of ecosystems, we need teleological laws.

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Back to Gems Index & Introduction page  ; Continue with condensed version

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