The Relationship of Bacon, Teleology, and Analogy to the Doctrine of Methodological Naturalism

  • James C LeMaster


Francis Bacon divided natural science into physics and metaphysics.  He claimed that of Aristotle’s four causes, only material and efficient causes belong to the realm of physics, and that final causes, or teleological claims, belong to the realm of metaphysics.  Bacon objected to including teleology in physics because in his experience teleological claims tended to discourage the search for efficient causes for natural phenomena.  Because Bacon relegated teleology to metaphysics science largely followed his lead, evolving over the next four hundred years a growing distaste for including any teleological implications in scientific explanations.  Bacon claimed that human nature, ``will yet invent parallels and conjugates and relatives, where no such thing is.''

Yet, as the material and efficient causal discoveries by science have progressed since Bacon’s time, they have in turn revealed more legitimate parallels and conjugates and relatives than perhaps he could have ever imagined.  Stated succinctly, the process of exploring material and efficient causes in nature has also given breathtaking justification for also inferring final causes as well.  As such, inferences to teleology in science should be allowed where they are warranted by the empirical evidence.

The tool for determining whether a teleological inference is warranted is analogy.
Bacon could have helped science avoid its gradual but inexorable drift into methodological naturalism if he had emphasized how analogy, used as an analytical tool in the process of induction, legitimately leads to reasonable inferences of teleology in nature.