David: Reductionism, determinism: do they, when you put them together… A lot of people say, ‘Ah, what that means is we see ourselves as machines’, which, I think, people are quite happy to look at an ant and go, ‘Yeah, it’s a little machine with legs’. Is that what those two parts of modern science force us to think?
AR: Well, yes, unless you’re going to put too much weight on a machine, because a machine is an artefact, and an artefact requires a designer, and the designer in our case was Mother Nature operating through the principle of blind variation and natural selection.
Ard: I think there’s no ambiguity. We believe that the machines…
AR: But the machine includes our brain and therefore our minds, and we’re descendant, all of us, from the same struc…
AR: That’s one of the key ideas of Darwin’s discoveries.
Ard: So maybe someone would say… So we’re animals. I think nobody dis…
AR: Without a divine spark.
Ard: Without a divine spark. We’re animals, but there’s nothing… If we’re looking in that category, there’s nothing beyond the fact that we’re animals. We’re no different from animals.
AR: Yes, right.
David: But unlike a lot of animals, we have thoughts.
AR: Yes, unlike a lot of animals, but like a lot of animals.
David: Yes, but there’s a qualitative difference in the thinking which we are capable of than most of the rest. So in other words…
AR: I think I just…
David: Yes, we’re animals. But something has emerged in our evolution…
AR: I just don’t think I’m going to grant that. If you want to use the words ‘emergent’ or ‘irreducibly complex’ or ‘valuative’, then I think these are placeholders for questions on the agenda of science. At this point we don’t have a good handle on the details of the answer to this question that I favour. And you, holding an alternative view, have probably even less grounds for confidence.
Ard: So David doesn’t believe in God at all?
AR: No, but he does believe in the existence of emergent properties, shall we say.
David: Well, I think that’s…
Ard: Do you think that’s something he should let go of, emergent properties?
AR: Alternatively, I think you should treat emergent properties as a signal, or a flag, that indicates a domain, or a terrain, in which science has some work to do.
David: Could there not be a proper science which did include emergence, which would be scientific? Why couldn’t that be? I feel open-minded about it.
AR: My confidence here is based on induction, and I could be wrong, because inductive arguments are arguments that are not truth-preserving. They’re arguments from a finite body of data to expectations about the future.
David: Yes, it’s been true up to now, and so…
AR: When I look at the history of science, I look at the history of people drawing lines in the sand and challenging science to transcend them, and science successively doing it. And the most famous example is this: Kant, the great German philosopher who wrote The Critique of Pure Reason proved, or purported to prove in that book, that the only possible way to conceive of the universe was in the way that Newton had. He was a total determinist and mechanist and reductionist about the physical world. But then he said, ‘There will never be a Newton for the blade of grass.’ And what he meant by that was when it comes to the biological domain, we will have to employ teleological or purpose-driven theory, because the properties of life and of the means-and-ends economy of biological nature are impervious to physical explanation. And 22 years later in Shropshire, England, the Newton for the blade of grass was born.
AR: Charles Darwin. Okay? And it’s a perfect example of how people say, ‘Reduce this. I dare you.’ And science eventually finds a way to do it.