From chapter "Complexity and Its Opposite"
Teleology is one of those philosophical buzzwords that mechanistic scientists often throw out to try to nerd-bully into silence those with whom they disagree. It’s analogous to a Christian telling you that you’ve just said something blasphemous: in each case, the real message is that you’re expressing an opinion that violates dogma.
In the case of plant communication, and of this modest attempt to help people remember that this world really does have a voice, or rather uncounted millions of voices, there’s a sense in which the scientist’s use of the word is an attempted slur, a sense in which it’s an attempt to limit discourse, a sense in which it’s unintentionally ironic, and a sense in which it’s indicative of a destructive mindset.
It’s obvious that teleology was thrown out as a slur, and not to promote discourse, because it’s irrelevant to the specific discussion of whether plants do or don’t communicate. One dictionary defines teleology as “the explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.”Another states, “A teleological school of thought is one that holds all things to be designed for or directed toward a final result, that there is an inherent purpose or final cause for all that exists. It is traditionally contrasted with metaphysical naturalism [sic], which views nature as lacking design or purpose. In the first case form is defined by function, in the second function is defined by form. Teleology would say that a person has eyes because [s]he has the need of eyesight (form follows function), while naturalism [sic] would argue that a person has sight simply because [s]he has eyes, or that function follows form (eyesight follows from having eyes).”Some definitions suggest that a teleological perspective implies the existence of a God or gods, or some sort of design to nature. Most definitions contrast human actions, which may under this rubric have purpose, from nonhuman actions, which under this rubric may not. Here’s a not atypical example: “Within material reality, only human artifacts possess intelligent form and intelligent functionality or purpose. Measurable biological patterns lack intelligibility in themselves. Similarly, biological functionality is not truly functionality, but merely resembles the functionality of human engineering.”
Really? That’s a lot of narcissistic assumptions and self-glorifying tautologies packed into less than forty words.
The point here is that in a discussion centered on whether or not plants communicate, it’s not really important whether plants needed to communicate, and then evolved ways of doing so (form followed function); or whether plants gave off scents, and the plants who perceived these scents had a greater chance of survival (function followed form). In both explanations the plants communicate. Any discussions of final causes or intelligent designers are just as irrelevant to the question of whether plants communicate as they are to whether humans communicate. We don’t need final causes. We don’t need a designer. To teleologize or not to teleologize, that is not the question.