Some philosophers argue that Darwin was a teleologist. For example:
1) James G. Lennox in his article "Darwin was a teleologist" (and his exchange with Ghiselin).
2) Andre Ariew in his article "Platonic and Aristotelian Roots of Teleological Arguments in Cosmology and Biology" in the book "Functions: new essays in the philosophy of psychology and biology".
3) Similary, T. Hoquet in the article: "Darwin teleologist? Design in The orchids".
One of the reasons for arguing why Darwin was indeed a teleologist is related to his view of natural selection. To quote Ariew:
How is natural selection a teleological "force"? I see remnants of two sorts of teleology operating in Darwin. The key to seeing both is within Darwin's concept of natural selection which can be summed up as follows: as a result of individuals possessing different heritable abilities striving to survive and reproduce in local environments, comes an explanation for changes in trait composition of populations through time. Traits become prevalent in populations because they are useful to organisms in their struggle to survive. Aristotle's functional teleology is preserved through the idea that an item's existence can be explained in terms of its usefulness (Lennox 1993). What makes a trait useful is that it provides certain individuals an advantage over others in their own struggle to survive and reproduce. Secondly, the concept of individual striving to survive and reproduce plays the fundamental role in Darwin's explanation for the origins of organic diversity. The same concept reminds us of Aristotle's formal teleology – the striving for self-preservation.
Basically, Darwin saw natural selection as some sort of force or cause that influences biological change or evolution (evolution is just another word for change, and biological evolution a subset of it). In much of today's talk with regards to evolution, people often also see natural selection as some sort of cause or force that "maintains" the prevalence of beneficial mutations, or "limits" or "favours" some variations over other variations, or "steers" biological change toward the local maxima in the "fitness landscape".
Contrast this view with that of other evolutionary biologists and philosophers such as John A. Endler and Will Provine.
John A. Endler states you have natural selection when:
1) You have a population (of anything, be it molecules, organisms etc.) where the individuals have variation.
2) Fitness differences, meaning differences in the propensity of certain individuals to survive change.
3) Inheritance. Meaning certain traits are passed on irrespective of environmental factors.
You will then have:
1) A frequency distribution of certain traits that differ among various population of organisms
2) If the population is not at equilibrium, then the trait distribution will be different from the parents' distribution.
Will Provine, following Endler, states in his book, The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, that:
As John Endler has argued eloquently in Natural Selection in The Wild (1968), natural selection is not a mechanism. Natural selection does not act on anything, nor does it select (for or against), force, maximize, create, modify, shape, operate, drive, favor, maintain, push or adjust. Natural selection does nothing. Natural selection as a natural force belongs in the insubstantial category already populated by the Becker/Stahl phlogiston (Endler 1986) or Newton's "ether".
Natural selection is the necessary outcome of discernible and often quantifiable causes.
While Darwin saw natural selection as some sort of "force" of biological change, others seem to view it as some sort of outcome as a result of causes.
Which view is correct? Or are both of them wrong? Is natural selection neither a cause nor an effect of biological change? Instead, is it a mere descriptive label to describe what happens when you have individuals in a population that have some kind of variation (e.g. genetic) and fitness differences and are able to pass on their traits? On this view, it is not prescriptive, but descriptive.
To describe it analogously, when we say there are "Natural Laws that govern the universe", many use it in a descriptive manner to describe the regularities in nature. It is not used in a prescriptive manner where the laws are active, prescriptive entities that actually govern this or that piece of matter. Thus, Natural Laws on this view are neither causes, nor effects, they are mere descriptions of regularities. Similarly, natural selection also is neither a cause or an effect, just a descriptive term to describe when you have individuals in a population that have some kind of variation and fitness differences and are able to pass on their traits.
So what is the nature of natural selection, what is the correct view? Is it a prescriptive entity or force or cause or mechanism, or merely a descriptive label of biological change?