Not a simple question. And the answer depends on who you ask. A Pastor will say yes, of course. Many biologists will answer no, the whole idea of purpose or, the ancient philosophical concept of teleology, has no place in science in general. Things happen in obedience to the laws of nature, not for any purpose.
But I am not so sure this is true when if comes to life as we know it.
I have just had a paper published in the journal Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith, a peer reviewed, scholarly/scientific journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. The paper is called “Teleology and the Origin of Evolution“, and can be found at the journal’s web site .
Here are some extracts from the abstract and body of the paper.
The key to biological evolution is a tight linkage between inheritable genotype and gene-directed phenotype, which allows the phenotype to be the target of selection. It is theoretically possible for some forms of life to exist without evolution; thus, the origin of life and the origin of evolution are two separate research questions. The classical problem of teleology in biology may be approached by a close examination of the mechanism behind the universal genotype-phenotype linkage: the protein synthesis or translation system. This solution to the problem of converting nucleic acid chemistry into protein chemistry may be the fundamental root of teleonomy and inherent teleology in living organisms.
The roots of biological teleology do not lie in the action of evolutionary processes. Instead, I believe they can be found in the very fabric of the evolutionary process. In other words, purpose is built into the central, deepest biochemical meaning of what evolution is.
Cells do not see the future and do not decide to change based on what is needed. And that is the point. Cells do not need to see the future, because evolution provides a way to deal with any novel circumstances or challenges in the absence of sight, thought, will, or any form of consciousness. Evolution by natural selection is the cellular biological alternative to survival by conscious struggle.
If you would like to read the whole paper, and are not yet a member of the ASA, you can get the pdf from this link.
I expect the conclusions of this paper, namely that teleology is a real part of biology based on a scientific argument, will be controversial, to say the least. I am interested in any thoughts from readers.