Alex Rosenberg is a hardened reductionist who has written a book to persuade biologists that "interactions of macromolecules" are sufficient to explain all biological data. "The only serious challenge that he sees to reductionism comes from the principle of natural selection (PNS), which he believes has a central role in the subject." Rosenberg then attempts to present PNS as a biological law, but "he cannot find an acceptable definition, which is unsurprising given that many others before him have also tried and failed." The reviewer adds: "My own view is that PNS is a tautology, not a law."
Rosenberg writes: "Darwinism includes the claim that natural selection is at least the most significant causal mechanism of evolutionary change instantiated by lineages on Earth's tree of life." In which case, PNS is just declared to have the role that Darwinism assigns to it. It is not something that emerges from empirical science. The reviewer adds: "Darwinism as so defined is not a tautology, but it is more a theory or a paradigm than a law."
So Rosenberg's reductionist crusade founders on not being able to integrate PNS into his philosophical framework. Saunders is not too impressed with the way he handles genetic reductionism either. "Rosenberg has made a serious attempt at an impossible goal. I would like to think that his failure will help convince Darwinians that they should show the same degree of reticence in biology that some are already demonstrating in the study of human behaviour."
This is an interesting review, covering several issues much discussed by scholars associated with the ID Movement. It is encouraging to find common ground with many of the points made by Saunders.
Reductio ad absurdum
Peter T. Saunders
Trends in Ecology & Evolution , Volume 22, Issue 3 , March 2007, Pages 118-119
Book Review: Darwinian Reductionism: Or How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology, by Alex Rosenberg. University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Most contemporary biologists believe that biological processes are essentially physical. Despite this, most of us do not accept that explanations in biology can be truly satisfactory only if they can be formulated in terms of the laws of physics. In Darwinian Reductionism, Alex Rosenberg dismisses this as illogical. He insists 'that there is a full and complete explanation of every biological fact, state, event, process, trend or generalization, and that this explanation will cite only interactions of macromolecules to provide this explanation.' If this were merely a statement of what is possible in principle, there would be no real disagreement with the majority view. For Rosenberg, however, reductionism is not only a metaphysical thesis, but is also a claim about explanations and a research programme. His aim in Darwinian Reductionism is 'to convince the reader that heaven belongs to the molecular biologist, and to convince non-molecular biologists that there is room for them in the molecular biologist's heaven.'
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