But can’t, for psychological reasons. First, why the divorce? From Philip Ball at Nautilus:
[Ernst] Mayr made perhaps the most concerted attempt by any biologist to draw clear disciplinary boundaries around his subject, smartly isolating it from other fields of science. In doing so, he supplies one of the clearest demonstrations of the folly of that endeavor.
His characterization of physics as rigid, notes Ball, was “thoroughly flawed, as a passing familiarity with quantum theory, chaos, and complexity would reveal.”
Of course, that defect deepens the mystery of why his view dominated, largely unchallenged. Most people with even a passing interest in science are aware of quantum effects.
Again, from Ball,
But Mayr’s argument gets more interesting—if not actually more valid—when he claims that what makes biology truly unique is that it is concerned with purpose: with the designs ingeniously forged by blind mutation and selection during evolution. Particles bumping into one another on their random walks don’t have to do anything. But the genetic networks and protein molecules and complex architectures of cells are shaped by the exigencies of survival: they have a kind of goal. And physics doesn’t deal with goals, right? As Massimo Pigliucci of City University of New York, an evolutionary biologist turned philosopher, recently stated, “It makes no sense to ask what is the purpose or goal of an electron, a molecule, a planet or a mountain.”
Purpose or teleology are difficult words in biology: They all too readily suggest a deterministic goal for evolution’s “blind watchmaker,” and lend themselves to creationist abuse. But there’s no escaping the compunction to talk about function in biology: Its components and structures play a role in the survival of the organism and the propagation of genes. More.
If people are still worried about protecting their positions from “creationist abuse,” they are not yet focused enough on the problem and posible answrs from nature to get anywhere anytime soon. It won;t help matters that, these days, it’s hardly even clear what a creationist is.
A friend writes to comment that Philip Ball is an excellent science writer, well worth reading, and that this article is really about how biology needs design. But, friend thinks, “He isn’t allowed to use the word. So he calls it ‘physics.’”
Well, there is plenty of ferment in the air, what with the new rethinking evolution scene, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if cautious people start talking in code.
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