From Oxford University Press, Everything Flows: Towards a Processual Philosophy of Biology, edited by Daniel J. Nicholson and John Dupre,
– A radical new conception of biology and the metaphysics of the living world
– Offers a new kind of process philosophy with a naturalistic grounding
– The Introduction provides a state-of-the-art survey to orient readers new to the topic
Here’s the abstract from a chapter by Daniel J. Nicholson, “Reconceptualizing the Organism: From Complex Machine to Flowing Stream,”
This chapter draws on insights from non-equilibrium thermodynamics to demonstrate the ontological inadequacy of the machine conception of the organism. The thermodynamic character of living systems underlies the importance of metabolism and calls for the adoption of a processual view, exemplified by the Heraclitean metaphor of the stream of life. This alternative conception is explored in its various historical formulations and the extent to which it captures the nature of living systems is examined. Following this, the chapter considers the metaphysical implications of reconceptualizing the organism from complex machine to flowing stream. What do we learn when we reject the mechanical and embrace the processual? Three key lessons for biological ontology are identified. The first is that activity is a necessary condition for existence. The second is that persistence is grounded in the continuous self-maintenance of form. And the third is that order does not entail design. More.
The distinction between complex machine and flowing stream is artificial; life is really both of those things at once, and more. Of course, if all people want to do is rule out design, they can tell the tale any way they want to, as long as it sounds sciencey.
See also: J. Scott Turner on why we do not have a coherent theory of evolution…