Modern Biology and Natural Theology

By Alan Olding | Go to book overview
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Chapter 4

Reductionism or Darwinism

UNGRATEFUL OFFSPRING

Reductionist theories have a habit of founding on their parents. This was true of modern atomic physics which, arising out of a moderately common-sense Newtonian view, now presents to us a world quite beyond our capacity to picture. Newtonian physics, useful though it still may be for building bridges and predicting celestial orbits, has, in the matter of truth, failed us. It is not so often observed that the same is the case for Darwinism which, as itself a materialistically leaning theory, was at least a midwife at the birth of modern reductive materialism. In short, if reductive materialism is true then the theory of evolution by natural selection is false.

Some Darwinians have sensed a problem here and have tried to reassure us. Thus Ernst Mayr has claimed that evolution is ‘consistent with the laws of the physical sciences, but it makes no sense to say that biological evolution has been “reduced” to physical laws’. This is because ‘Biological evolution is the result of specific processes that impinge on specific systems, the explanation of which is meaningful only at the complexity of those processes and those systems’ (Mayr 1978:39). If Mayr is not implying that evolution, in being ‘consistent’ with physical laws, both does and does not impinge on those laws then his argument must be that there is a quite new set of irreducible laws at a certain level of complexity, i.e. that at a certain level of complexity new forces or properties (‘biological properties’) come to be possessed by physical objects and these new forces or properties interact with the original ones.

This is clearly shown by William C. Wimsatt who explicitly defends the view that there is a two-way interaction possible between lower levels of atoms or quarks or whatever and higher levels of biological organisation. In the course of his discussion, where he

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