Reductionism – the philosophy based on the work of Galileo, Newton, and their followers that everything can ultimately be understood in terms of particles in motion – has been the basis of our scientific worldview for nearly 400 years and is the foundation of modern secular society. Yet, can a couple in love walking along the banks of the Seine really be reduced to the interactions of fundamental particles? Can societies really be explained by laws about people, which in turn can be explained by laws about organs, then cells, then biochemistry, chemistry, and particle physics?
They cannot, argues Stuart A. Kauffman in, REINVENTING THE SACRED: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion. Kauffman shows why reductionism is an inadequate theory to explain the infinite possibilities of the evolution of the biosphere, human economic life, and human history. Instead, he offers a radical new worldview: the natural universe contains a ceaseless creativity that simply can’t be predicted. It is this creativity in the cosmos – not a supernatural “Creator God” – that should be viewed as divine.
Kauffman asserts that it is time to break the “Galilean spell” – the faith that all aspects of the natural world are governed by natural laws – that has driven science for the past four centuries. With examples ranging from DNA and cell differentiation to Darwinian preadaptation, consciousness, and human technological advances, he argues that not everything that happens in the universe is governed by natural laws.
Further, science alone simply doesn’t have the ability to predict the complex processes that occur every day. According to Kauffman, we do not lack sufficient knowledge or wisdom to predict the future evolution of the biosphere, economy, or human culture. Rather, it is that these things are inherently beyond prediction.
Stuart A. Kauffman is well-known for his research in theoretical biology and as a pioneer in the field of complexity theory. He is the founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics, which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology, and a professor at the University of Calgary. During the 1990s he rose to prominence through his key role at the Santa Fe Institute, where he is currently External Professor. His previous books include The Origins of Order, Investigations, and At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. He lives in Calgary, Canada.