Nevertheless it is necessary to remember that there is a wider Teleology, which is not touched by the doctrine of Evolution, but is actually based upon the fundamental proposition of Evolution. That proposition is, that the whole world, living and not living, is the result of the mutual interaction, according to definite laws, of the forces possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the universe was composed. If this be true, it is no less certain that the existing world lay, potentially, in the cosmic vapour; and that a sufficient intelligence could, from a knowledge of the properties of the molecules of that vapour, have predicted, say the state of the Fauna of Britain in 1869, with as much certainty as one can say what will happen to the vapour of the breath in a cold winter's day.
“Consider a kitchen clock, which ticks loudly, shows the hours, minutes, and seconds, strikes, cries "cuckoo!" and perhaps shows the phases of the moon. When the clock is wound up, all the phenomena which it exhibits are potentially contained in its mechanism, and a clever clockmaker could predict all it will do after an examination of its structure.
If the evolution theory is correct, the molecular structure of the cosmic gas stands in the same relation to the phenomena of the world as the structure of the clock to its phenomena.
Now let us suppose a death-watch, living in the clock-case, to be a learned and intelligent student of its works. He might say, ‘I find here nothing but matter and force and pure mechanism from beginning to end,’ and he would be quite right. But if he drew the conclusion that the clock was not contrived for a purpose, he would be quite wrong. On the other hand, imagine another death-watch of a different turn of mind. He, listening to the monotonous ‘tick! tick!’ so exactly like his own, might arrive at the conclusion that the clock was itself a monstrous sort of death-watch, and that its final cause and purpose was to tick. How easy to point to the clear relation of the whole mechanism to the pendulum, to the fact that the one thing the clock did always and without intermission was to tick, and that all the rest of its phenomena were intermittent and subordinate to ticking! For all this, it is certain that kitchen clocks are not contrived for the purpose of making a ticking noise.
“Thus the teleological theorist would be as wrong as the mechanical theorist, among our death-watches; and, probably, the only death-watch who would be right would be the one who should maintain that the sole thing death-watches could be sure about was the nature of the clock-works and the way they move; and that the purpose of the clock lay wholly beyond the purview of beetle faculties.
“Substitute ‘cosmic vapour’ for ‘clock,’ and ‘molecules’ for ‘works,’ and the application of the argument is obvious. The teleological and the mechanical views of nature are not, necessarily, mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the more purely a mechanist the speculator is, the more firmly does he assume a primordial molecular arrangement, of which all the phenomena of the universe are the consequences; and the more completely is he thereby at the mercy of the teleologist, who can always defy him to disprove that this primordial molecular arrangement was not intended to evolve the phenomena of the universe. On the other hand, if the teleologist assert that this, that, or the other result of the working of any part of the mechanism of the universe is its purpose and final cause, the mechanist can always inquire how he knows that it is more than an unessential incident–the mere ticking of the clock, which he mistakes for its function. And there seems to be no reply to this inquiry, any more than to the further, not irrational, question, why trouble one's self about matters which are out of reach, when the working of the mechanism itself, which is of infinite practical importance, affords scope for all our energies?-- from Huxley, T. H. 1896. The genealogy of animals. [HT: David Haig]
In context, Huxley is claiming there are two kinds of teleology. The narrow kind (local final causes) is about the functionality of particular mechanism or body-part/limb. He thinks Darwinism effectively displaces theistic explanations of those narrow ones. But there is another kind of teleology that has more cosmic reach (general final causes). Huxley allows that evolution is silent on the possibility of, and compatible with, say, the existence of a Laplacian demon (''sufficient intelligence").
And, in fact, echoing a point of Leibniz, he discerns that when it comes to wider teleology, the Darwinian is in no position to make any claims about the purposes of nature as such. (I return to this below.) But she can raise the bar on any wider teleological explanation. For, whenever some feature is held up as being evidence for such wider teleology, she can argue that this phenomena may be a byproduct of the fact that the world is law-governed. Huxley's own main point is that the debate over wider teleology cannot be settled (by Darwinism), and (here speaks the Humean) that the debate is of no practical significance; it's (to honor David Haig's research) sterile. In addition, there are opportunity costs to focusing on the nature of wide teleology, while so many scientific problems remain unsolved.
As an aside, Huxley's claim that the nature of wider teleology has no practical significance can be read in two ways: first, one may see in it the assumption that religious and metaphysical doctrines over the purpose of creation/nature are motivation-ally inert. (We find hints of such a position in Hume.) When treated as an empirical claim this is manifestly false. When treated as a normative claim (that is, they should be inert), it presupposes something non-trivial. To see that, we need to see that the second reading of Huxley's claim about the nature of wider teleology seems to assume an answer to a widely debated question (in the reception of Spinoza and Bayle) whether a (minimally decent) society of atheists is possible (recall this post on Voltaire). For those that assumed that belief in the afterlife or God's providence were required to stability this-worldly-morality and social coordination, Huxley would seem to be begging the question.
Let me close with a final observation. It may be thought prima facie puzzling that he accepts that there is a stand-off over wider teleology. One may have thought that his reliance on a Laplacian demon would have made it seem plausible that the world is deterministic and so that behind the order of nature's laws, there is just (a version of Spinozistic) brute necessity. I think I can explain why this is not treated as a live option. A few weeks ago I attributed the following 'Posidonian' argument to Darwin:
(I) A necessary condition of the possibility of (an (intended)) successful scientific representation or concrete model of (a region of) nature is that (a region of) nature is orderly;
(II) (A region of) Nature’s hidden order could not be the product of mere chance [as suggested by Epicureanism]* or mere necessity [as suggested by Spinozism], but only by an Ordering God/Very powerful/infinite mind or Natural Selection.
(III) [It’s possible that] Science produces successful representations and successful concrete models of (a region of) nature.
(IV) ∴ There is a God (of order) or Natural Selection.
That Huxley is in the ambit of the Posidonian argument is revealed by two facts: first, he uses the characteristic Posidonian heuristic (a time-keeper that also tracks the heavens) to motivate this argument (recall, e.g. here; here; here; and here). Second, his explicit embrace of (IV; and, less surprising, III). It is no surprise, then, that (as David Haig pointed out to me) Huxley coined the term 'agnostic.'
To be sure, one may well think that Natural Selection is itself an effect of the operations of necessity. And Huxley leaves the door open to that possibility. (So this post-Darwinian version of the Posidonian argument is really of little use to an ardent Theist.) But there is an important distinction between appealing to Natural Selection and necessity. Natural Selection can explain observed particular variety (that is it can block arguments that start from local teleology); an appeal to necessity explains -- as Clarke noticed in his debate with Spinoza and Toland* -- nothing about local variations (and it even raises the question why there is any variation at all--having to treat initial conditions as mysterious brute facts).
One post-script, I had always assumed that the Posidonian argument died with Darwinism. Even when I encountered it in Darwin, I assumed it primarily served a rhetorical purpose. But seeing it in Huxley makes me suspect that the Posidonian argument really only went out of fashion when an appeal to ultimate brute facts became philosophically respectable, that is, only after people like Russell started the reject the PSR .