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Junior Vitor Vieira Vasconcelos
1 – PhD. Geologist. Federal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP), Brazil. Foundation Technological Center of Minas Gerais (CETEC-MG), Minas Gerais State, Brazil. 2 – Legislative Consultant of Environment and Sustainable Management at the Legislative Power of Minas Gerais State, Brazil. PhD. student in Geology. Master of Arts in Geography. Specialist in Soil and Environment. Bachelor in Philosophy. Environmental Technician. Computer Science Technician.
Paper originally published in Portuguese, at: MARTINS JUNIOR, P.P.; VASCONCELOS, Vitor Vieira. Teleologia e Aleatoriedade no Estudo das Ciências da Natureza: sistemas, ontologia e evolução. Interthesis, v. 8, n. 2, p. 316-334, jul/dec. 2011. Available at: http://www.periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/interthesis/article/view/1807-1384.2011v8n2p316/20579 Translation by Harriet Reis, in november, 2012
TELEOLOGY AND RANDOMNESS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF NATURAL SCIENCE RESEARCH: SYSTEMS, ONTOLOGY AND EVOLUTION A TELEOLOGIA E A ALEATORIEDADE NO ESTUDO DAS CIÊNCIAS DA NATUREZA: SISTEMAS, ONTOLOGIA E EVOLUÇÃO TELEOLOGÍA Y ALEATORIEDAD EN LA INVESTIGACIÓN DE LAS CIENCIAS DE LA NATURALEZA: SISTEMAS, ONTOLOGÍA Y EVOLUCIÓN Summary: This is an investigation about the subject of Teleology, which has been dealt with all along the history of the human thought with special emphasis on the interval related to the development of scientific theories referring to the study of Nature. The presentation of the subject starts with the conceptual definitions of Teleology. Following, this subject is revisited all along the concept’s historical application in the development of science. In this respect, the first approach is about teleology in Biology and life sciences with emphasis on the repercussion over the vitalist conception and natural selection. Hence, the discussion revolves around the dialectic conceptions of teleological systems and random systems. Finally, this paper finishes with a thought about how these themes may be pertinent within the environmental studies whereupon physical, biological and human systems are in co-operation, with the various applications of nuances and uses of the teleological concept. Keywords: Teleology. Biology. Science. Epistemology. Environment Resumo: Propõe-se uma investigação sobre a temática da Teleologia, como tratada no decorrer da história do pensamento humano, e com especial enfoque no intercurso relacionado ao desenvolvimento das teorias científicas referentes ao estudo da Natureza. A apresentação do tema começa com definições conceituais sobre teleologia. Em seguida é revisitado o caminho histórico trilhado pelo conceito de teleologia no desenvolvimento científico. Em um primeiro tópico, será tratada a questão da teleologia nas ciências biológicas e da vida, com ênfase na repercussão das teorias vitalistas e seleção natural. Em seguida, é contraposta a concepção dialética de sistemas teleológicos e sistemas aleatórios. Finda-se o artigo com uma reflexão sobre como os temas tratados são pertinentes dentro do área de estudos das ciências ambientais, onde são conjugados sistemas físicos, biológicos e humanos, com as diversas nuances e utilizações de conceitos teleológicos. Palavras-chave: Teleologia. Biologia. Ciência. Epistemologia. Meio Ambiente Resumen: Propone-se una investigación sobre la temática de la teleología en el curso de la historia del pensamiento humano, con especial atención a las relaciones con el desarrollo de las teorías científicas sobre el estudio de la naturaleza. La presentación del tema comienza con las definiciones conceptuales de la teleología. A continuación, se retoma el camino histórico recorrido por el concepto de teleología en el desarrollo científico. En un primer tema se aborda los asuntos sobre la teleología en las ciencias biológicas y de la vida, especialmente en el impacto de las teorías vitalistas y la selección
natural. Luego, se contrasta la dialéctica de los sistemas teleológicos y de los sistemas de aleatoriedad. El artículo finaliza con una reflexión sobre cómo las cuestiones planteadas son pertinentes en el área de estudios de ciencias ambientales, donde se unen sistemas físicos, biológicos y humanos, con los diversos matices y usos de los conceptos teleológicos. Palabras claves: Teleología. Biología. Ciencia. Epistemología. Ambiente. 1. Introduction – The Teleology Notion Teleology is derived from two Greek words: telos (end, goal, purpose) and logos (reason, explanation). Teleology, therefore, is a reason or explanation for something in function of its end, purpose or goal (VILLA, 2000, p. 723). In synthesis, the concept or ideas of teleology can be defined as a “Doctrine that considers the world as a system of relationships between means and ends” (FERREIRA, 1986, p. 1658). Before starting the historical considerations, it is worthy to observe that the teleology concept can be applied as much in the field of rational cognitive processes as in natural processes and these two situations do not necessarily converge for a clear understanding of the issues. On the other hand, the thought, that is necessarily finalistic, can serve to understand aspects of the real world that are not finalistic. Ernst Mayr pointed out that the concept of teleology, in the history of philosophy and the sciences, is used in various contexts, referring to several structurally different phenomena (MAYR, 2005, p. 65-82). The history of the use of the teleological concept is fundamental for a better understanding of the significance attributed to this concept, and this article aims to demonstrate this. Within the processes and phenomena to which the concept of teleology is traditionally applied, Mayr points out the following: A) Teleomatism: relates to the perception that certain characteristics of a phenomenon, system, or process under study presents a tendency to develop towards a final state. That is, when given a pre-determined initial state, it would seem valid to infer that it would necessarily follow its determined path until the end. B) Selective characteristics: occur in situations in which various objects (such as complex systems) are randomly produced, having different characteristics and organizations among themselves, and that due to ambient constraints, only a limited number of them manage to survive after a time. In this case, it is common to respond, when asked why some characteristics of the object exist, that it has or had a function that
guaranteed its survival, even though after deeper analysis, it is necessary to recognize that this characteristic was generated randomly, or to say the least, that is was not the object’s premeditated desire. C) Teleonomy: occurs when an object or system is directed towards a goal to be achieved. To achieve this goal (considered final cause), the object adapts itself by generating characteristics and restrictions whereby it calculates the best manner in which to attain its objective. Teleonomy can be understood with an analogy to the programming concept, by which the system’s spatial organization becomes apt to search for certain goals in a more or less efficient manner, and in doing so, regulates the processes and actions of the system. Mayr, within this same analogy, also proposes a differentiation between closed programming (in which the goals and manners to achieve them are previously defined at the beginning of the process) and open programming (where the program or even the goals can be altered along the history of the system, depending on its interaction with the surroundings) (MAYR, 2005, p. 69-75; BERTEN, 2004, p. 91-98). D) Purposeful behavior: the understanding of this type of phenomenon requires the presupposed existence of an individual who can think. This individual sets up his own goals to be fulfilled and intentionally acts in a manner to achieve these goals. The main characteristic of purposeful behavior is the recognition that there is a complex analytical system that is aware of these goals (or part of them) and tries to satisfy them through thinking activities (MAYR, 2005, p. 75; ATLAN, 2001). E) Cosmic teleology: refers to the attribution of a purpose or goal incarnated transcendentally in the entirety of what is being studied (nature, universe, cosmos, etc.) or even placed and directed by something or someone above this totality. Mayr strongly criticized the use of this supposed transcendent teleology connected with scientific theories (MAYR, 2005, p. 38-39). Historically, the systems and models used for final explanations were paradigmatically counterposed to the model used for strictly causal explanations (also called the causal efficient model - “with its respective ontology, successes and intertwining relationships, completely indifferent to the proposals or outcome of that which happens” (VILLA, 2000, p. 724)). It is enough to specify that the final model is not incompatible with the causal interactions. Actually, a final model could easily include a causal model, once the presupposed ontology and methodology of the causal model – that the causal
interactions are the only things that there are to know – are disregarded. However, metaphysical requirements and the final ontological model are criticized by defenders of the explicative causal models as being unfounded delusions, methodologically incorrect and obstacles to investigating the world (VILLA, 2000, p. 724-725). 2. Development 2.1 Teleology in the History of Natural Science For this topic, Biology was chosen as the focus, since it is the science of nature in which the debate about teleological application most applies for its explanations and scientific presuppositions. Initially, it is worth mentioning that Biology can be traditionally divided into two different fields: functional and historical (MAYR, 2005, p. 39). Functional Biology can be defined as that which “deals with the physiology of all of the activities of living organisms – above all, with all cellular processes, including those involving genome” (MAYR, 2005, p. 39-40); it investigates organisms as they appear to scientists and usually results are anchored to functional causal explanations coming from physical chemistry. Historical Biology deals with the evolution of living organisms along Earth ages and tries to discover what makes organisms transform during a time span; its principal method for investigation is the use of “historical narrations” (MAYR, 2005, p. 40-49), by which hypothetical scenarios are created and supported with scarce paleontological finds. It is a science that is closer to History than the Exact Sciences. In both biological fields, teleology is present as will be seen below. Mainly referring to the field of Functional Biology, the clear dissimilarity between living organisms and inanimate objects brought about a curiosity as to what makes living creatures so different. This difference markedly includes the observation of a clear teleology that applies to living organisms, as demonstrated by Kant in his Critique of Judgment (PASCAL, 2001). A first attempt to explain this was in Vitalism, which initially raised the hypothesis of a vital fluid that was an exotic substance present only in living creatures. However, this first approach was rapidly abandoned, since it could not satisfactorily separate this fluid from the other chemical components in the organisms. Besides this, the acceptance of the vital fluid theory led to two consequences: first, “living
creatures could not have originated from inanimate substances” (HULL, 1975, p. 176), which created the problem of explaining how living beings came to be on the planet Earth; and second, “life cannot be created by man in a laboratory” (HULL, 1975, p. 176). The experiences of Urey and Miller (1976), even in contrast with Vitalism, also cannot serve as proof that there is a pre-condition for the creation of life in the laboratory. The findings of these experiences demonstrate the following premises: (1) all biochemical reactions, in particular those that produce amino-acids and complex proteins can only occur in a reductive atmosphere; (2) all oxidizing atmospheres provoke the immediate destruction of the molecules, if they should appear; and (3) as a corollary of these observations, it can be deduced that the Earth’s atmosphere in the Eon Arqueano Era (3.600 million years MA to 2.500 MA – Unesco/IUGS, 2000) must have been reductive; there is a general consensus in geological studies that it was like this. Due to chemical requisites, Urey and Miller used the proposition of Oparin (1924/1989) that the atmosphere would be a reducer with the following composition – CH 4, H2O, NxO, H2, NH3, CO2 (4). Based on this proposition by Oparin, an experience was set up in which these substances were placed in water and exposed to electric charges in analogy with that which could happen in the atmosphere. The result was the appearance of some less complex substances but of the organic type (5). These new substances were induced and put in evidence by the intervention of the researchers when they removed minute quantities of the final substances from the reaction scene. This created a clear means to overcome natural reversibility of the reaction so that: A + B ↔ C + D, which is a condition for the non-perpetuation of the C and D phases, which are highly unstable (6). The presence of man in this instance created a teleological inductor as an intervener, since the pre-supposed randomness of the experiment was inhibited, whereby the initial conditions of the first chemical steps in relation to the biochemical precursors of life were disturbed. However, even though the experience of Urey and Miller was successful because it was the first synthesis of various typically organic substances, it was an alas; an affirmation of the random direction of a possible synthesis event that the experiment proposed to prove. This model still presents many problems in regards to the half-life of the substances, such as how they arrived from the atmosphere to the oceans and got dissolved in the water. The random notion is, for sure, weak under these circumstances
due to the fact that even though chemical reactions are random, the circumstances that sustain the process may not be random. This fact creates a possible hypothesis that this comes about through a series of fruitful favorable events, demonstrated by the simple fact that we are alive here on Earth. How did this happen? Could it be the case in which efficient causes were not only necessary, but also generated by biochemical and cellular bases for life to exist? Vis a viz, the Panspermia Theory (HOYLE; WICKRAMASINGHE, 1992) counteracts the mechanical ideas of autochthonous life’s origin with some unexpected evidence, i.e. amino-acids being found in meteorites (KVENVOLDEN; LAWLESS; PONNAMPERUMA, 1971). The main critics of the vitalist movement tend to explain the existence of life’s organisms by mechanical and reduction approaches, e.g. Claude Bernard, who defended the idea that it is totally possible to explain organic phenomena through the future development of physical chemistry (NASCIMENTO JUNIOR, 2001, p. 273; HULL, 1975, p. 173). If the physical project of Bernard were successful, it would be enough to site an efficient case that explains the organic world, and the apparently teleological phenomena would be nothing less than a result of the consequences of the initial event. One of the worries of the critics of Vitalism, as well as the critics of any other biological theory that admits teleology is a fundamental possibility, is that space cannot be opened to religious or spiritualistic theories that are not anchored to scientific bases and that deviate from rigorous logic rules (MAYR, 2005; NASCIMENTO JUNIOR, 2001, p. 273-274). The Vitalism Theory was discredited in that it presumes that a vital fluid exists. However, this criticism led to the considerable reformation of this theory, becoming more consistent, and as such, changed its denomination, now being called the Organism Theory. The Organism Theory argues that life originated not from a vital fluid, but from a vital force. In cases in which this force was considered as a variant of forces and energies of the physical theory, it was discredited just as much as the vital fluid theory. Even so, the variant that considered vital force as an “emerging characteristic or property” of a given organization of certain material systems has gained significant force within the thoughts of biologists until today. Notwithstanding, it is still a polemical issue when one considers that it implies that distinct ontological levels need to be created for the appearance of the life phenomenon (with distinct teleological characteristics of the mere physical phenomena) and afterwards, maybe, also for their subjectivity (making conscientious teleology possible)
(HULL, 1975, p. 177-178). Obviously, all care should be taken before accepting or rejecting some idea when practicing reductions, whereby there is the danger of attributing levels of more complex orders as simple manifestations of the sum of less complex orders. In the field of Historical Biology, the principal issue of this study is to investigate if there exists, or not, some teleological command of nature for each species of living creatures in its temporal evolution. Among the first thinkers, there was a significant influence by the Hegel thesis because of its approach on historical and finalistic development (NASCIMENTO JUNIOR, 2001, p. 273). A classic example of teleology applied to a biological evolution theory is the Lamarck thesis where he proposes that nature, a set of all living creatures, evolved through increasing degrees of complexity and perfection along millions of years, arriving at its actual apex, which is the human being (FERREIRA, 2003; p. 86; SÁNCHEZ, 2006, p. 14). The explanation of Lamarck is clearly teleological, but the question remains: does this direction continue for human beings? Or better formulated at which point does the transaction from inanimate objects (logic of being) to the logic of what should be (teleo-logic) occur? This is what Charles Darwin sought to solve when he proposed his famous theory about the mechanics of natural selection. According to this theory, the genealogy of living creatures is affected by random mutations along the generations, and along their history; the most adapted to the environment will propagate (FERREIRA, 2003, p. 86). In this manner, the objectives of living creatures, such as self-preservation and reproduction, together with the efficacy and final desires of these, can be explained and could have emerged in living creatures in a random manner and therefore influenced the perpetuation of these species and this is ever more present in living creatures. Sanches (2006), recollecting the text of Darwin, exposes:
The exclusive work of natural selection taking into consideration the conservation and accumulations of variations that can be useful under the organic and inorganic conditions that each living being is submitted to in its lifetime. The final results is that every creature tends to perfect itself more and more in relation to the conditions to which it is submitted (or has been submitted to) (SÁNCHEZ, 2006 p. 9)
This is the manner in which Darwin talks of nature’s unconscious teleology (NASCIMENTO JUNIOR, 2001, p. 273), unending in relation to all that is natural (SANCHEZ, 2006, p. 14), and that marks the passage of teleology (in a narrow sense) for
a type of teleonomy that would study the end of living creatures from their natural evolutionary history; that is, encapsulated in an objective world without a final teleology in the background (MORA, 2001, p. 2831). After evolutionary synthesis in the 1940’s, the teleonomy scenario of Evolutionary Biology is completed, if considering that the end of living creatures is determined by species programming, in part forecasted by the genetic code transmitted through generations and in part due to the continuous interaction effect of the individual with its surroundings (this last is very noticeable in animals having a more developed brain and nervous system) (MAYR, 2005, p. 72-73). From the moment in which it was proposed by Darwin, the idea of natural evolution was a great shock for the most diverse theories that defended the traditional universal teleology and incarnate nature. An example, cited by Mayr, was the natural theory of the XVIII century:
The fact that all organisms appear to be perfectly adapted to one another and to their surroundings was attributed by natural theologians to be the perfect design of God. Darwin, however, demonstrated that it could also be explained, or maybe even better explained by natural selection. This was the decisive refutation of the cosmic teleological principle (MAYR, 2005, p. 48).
Finally, going back to the discussion on Functional Historical Biology, it is essential to note that Darwin based his theory on living organisms and not on all the existing physical objects in existence, and in doing so considered only a specific part of nature with its ontology and teleology (more precisely as noted, teleonomy) of living creatures, in consonance with this aspect of Vitalism. After analyzing the texts of Darwin, Collingwood observed that the proposed evolutionary theory, in principal,
implies a philosophical conception of vital force, that is at the same time ingrained and transcendent in relation to each of the living organisms; ingrained because its existence is personalized in these organisms, and transcendent because it seeks not only to perpetuate its own specific type and always trying to find, by itself, a more adequate model of the same type. Under the philosophical plan, the conception of vital process as different from mechanical or chemical transformations revolutionizes the concept of nature (COLLINGWOOD, 1986 apud NASCIMENTO JUNIOR, 2001, p. 273)”.
As much in evolutionist as in Vitalist-Organic Biology, there is a tendency to completely negate cosmic teleology, although the teleology implicit for living creatures is recognized, nested in a physical organization but implying nothing more than an
ontological step within the conceptions and explanations of the phenomena investigated. For as much as it is polemic, the biological investigation relies as much on the strictly casual mode of explanations as on the teleological explanations, without necessarily contradicting one another, in search of creating a larger base of information and possible clues to clarify organic phenomena (HULL, 1975, p. 171-172). Notwithstanding, it is necessary to make an observation about the ontological matter, after the appearance of modern science. While Ontology for Philosophy is traditionally established in Metaphysics, in the epistemological field of science, Ontology dissolves in “specialist ontologies”, even though this concept is not acceptable for many scientists. It is difficult to negate that the science of Taxonomy is not an ontological science strictu sensu. It acquired notable ontological boundaries in its subject of Evolutionary Paleontology with its ample phylogenetic trees (cladograms described in tree format in Phylogenetic Systematics). Hull recognizes that:
It is certainly true that nothing is more obvious in Nature than the existence of its complexity and levels of its organization. [...] But the ontological levels: individuals, parts, all, etc. can hardly be considered to be “data” about experience (Hull, 1975, p. 180).
As can be seen, the theme of abstractions, approached by Marx and Weber in human sciences, is still a polemic issue within the Philosophy of Biology. Many scientists cannot agree about the organism thinking procedure, since it is difficult to encounter criteria on which to base the how, when and how many ontological levels should be introduced. 2.2. Propositon for the “Teleology x Randomness” Problem For sure the problems of randomness and teleology belong to the same structure of theoretical thinking, as well as common intuitive thinking in everyday human life. Both are teleological, each in its own manner, and because of this have consequences over the thinking and world vision of the human beings. In every natural system, events, facts, and processes occur that sometimes fit into the teleological mode, other times in the random mode, as can be observed in the perspective descriptions found in scientific literature. And this is inevitable due to the coexistence of organic systems with inorganic systems; the first was easily approached from
a teleological perspective and those following were rarely teleological and tended to be more or less teleomatic or random. However, the randomness notion can also make use of randomness levels; that is, it can be at one level for short intervals, stochastic for medium and long terms and almost deterministic during long intervals of time. An event of this type could be connected to the chaos-deterministic processes. The notion of teleology, itself, needs to be reviewed because it can generate systems or conditions randomly or within the state of chaos. Notwithstanding, the teleological and teleonomical orders are postulated from the surroundings in which, for all aspects, the fact occurred randomly. From the perspective of species evolution, the reproduction of living creatures can be considered to be ruled by teleological systems that generate other teleological systems and that species evolutions stems from random, stochastic and/or catastrophic events (especially by catastrophic selection, LEWIS, 1962). However, this process permits selection and induces mutation and adaptations that create new teleological systems. This teleology is profoundly interlinked, given that the processes between organisms and their surroundings are interactive. The issue of the adaptive value of plant organs is seriously discussed by WILLIS (1940) and is contrary to the adaptability idea of Darwin (1839). WILLIS really recognizes some aspects of the roots, trunks and leaves that are clearly functionalistic and finalistic, while other taxonomic aspects evidence non-adaptable evolution, derived from clearly random processes that generate mutations of the genome. This latter he could prove, for example, with the Podostomaceae. The work of Willis is perhaps a precursor to the movement denominated as cladist, in the 1980’s (CRACRAFT; ELDREDGE, 1979), but which actually began in 1956 in Germany, with the works of Hennig (1966) about Systematic Phylogenetics. Under this focus, the evolvable lineages became much better designed for phylogenetic trees, not by the neo-Darwinian method of the nexus ancestordescendent, but by the rate in which they shared the greatest number of mutual characteristics. By this method, the issue of adaptation is surpassed by greater aspects, such as the genomic, physiological and anatomical proximities. This applies as much for Paleontology as for Neontology, in that they use the same hypothesis that infers fossil function limitations in relationship with their living varieties.
It is clear that the ”teleological x randomness” problem needs to be reviewed within contemporary thinking of the Auto-organization Theory and/or the Auto-poiesis (PRIGOGINE et al, 1989). In addition, this should be done following considerations that raise old refrains, together with modern considerations, that more closely do justice to the facts discussed nowadays by the scientific community. 3. Conclusions – Teleology and the Environmental Sciences Ecology and the other Environmental Sciences are related to the multi-disciplinary study of the interaction of human beings with their physical and biotic surroundings. These sciences share the common goal of studying how to maintain the survival processes of living creatures. Within these studies, it is common for a scientist to apply various teleological concepts. By referring to the various significant hues of these concepts covered in this article, it is believable that the significance of teleology in environmental studies is not always clearly defined. The reflections in this text aim to demonstrate that in principle, such hues are difficult to characterize, but that they are necessary for proficient scientific development, and need to be introduced with great care and rigor, mainly in researches of the environmental spectrum. Furthermore, consideration should be given to the point that, mixed with the studied teleological processes, underlies the roles, objectives and personal values of the scientist, who usually also desires the preservation of living creatures, or at least the preservation and improvement of the quality of human life. Note that in environmental studies, it is common to deal with conscientious and proposed teleology (as in humans and superior mammals) alongside with referential aspects, apparently more circumscriptive teleonomics, such as bacterial and microscopic organisms. However, all of the involved living processes within the structure of the evolvable theory are under the strong influence of a selective and unending process, in the Darwinian approach. There are no clear boundary lines between which phenomena should be studied or what their teleological significance is. The question is: ‘At what stage of living creature evolution did the conscience appear?’ ‘And at what stage does it pass from being a simple chemically organic reaction to become an end process, set by the living character
itself?’ ‘Can the end goals of human beings be compared to those of bacteria without remitting to gross comparisons and divisions?’ Added to these are the studies about physical systems (geological, marine, atmospheric, etc.) in their geological processes, considering their structural, dynamic or energetic stability. In these cases, teleology is only an evolvable and operational tendency, but maintains regularity in different time scales, even not having a specific reason to exist. However, these chaotic-deterministic phenomena affect biotic teleonomies and teleologies. Thus what seems to be a simple teleology or teleomatism, acquires much more complex context when studying these stabilities in ecosystems, in the biosphere and even the entire planet Earth. Could it be that a system (physical, biological or mixed) could “desire” its own stability, and in doing so, create a new level of ontology? The internal teleology of each living creature then passes to the new level of teleology encompassing communities, systems and other sets of entities. Propositions for theories with a strong tendency towards total or cosmic teleology are becoming more common. As an example, there is the Gaia Hypothesis (of an “intelligent” planet with teleological behavior). There are also various spiritualisticecological streams of thought that try to conciliate conservative teleology with wider finalistic aspects. Referring to these latter tendencies, regardless of their efficiency or intellectual fertileness, their arguments should not stem from confusing and little defined conceptions of teleology because this could lead to faulty reasoning and in doing so, generate incredibility within the traditional academic community. Referências Bibliográficas ATLAN, Henry. As Finalidades Inconscientes. In: THOMPSON, William Irwin (org.) Gaia: uma teoria do conhecimento. Tradução Sílvio Cerqueira Leite. São Paulo: Ed. Gaia, 2001.
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