The development of an organism such as a plant or a human being has always been a source of fascination. How can a small seed give rise to a giant tree? How can an egg cell combined with a sperm cell develop via the embryo into the complex structures of the human body? In a recent book ”Life Unfolding. How the human body creates itself”, Jamie A. Davies, professor at the University of Edinburgh, describes the current scientific understanding of this miraculous process.
One possible solution to the fundamental problem of an organism’s development is the teleological one. Teleology is the idea that a purpose is the driver of a process. This idea is associated with Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, who, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) ”is properly recognized as the originator of the scientific study of life.” Aristotle’s argument was that the development of an organism is fundamentally teleological; the goal of the process is to produce a functional adult organism. The final cause, as he called it, is the driving force of the process. The SEP describes his view thus:
[…] parts and the processes that produce them [organisms] do not necessitate the outcome; on the contrary, the outcome necessitates that the developmental processes bring about the parts that are necessary for the organism to live its life, and do so in a temporally and spatially coordinated manner.