Reductionism and kinds

Reductionism goes beyond naturalism to say that biology is reducible to chemistry which is reducible to physics.  The acid of reductionism turns fixed kinds into temporary kinds and differences in kind into differences in degree.

The paradigmatic example of differences in kind is the periodic table of elements.  This structure is fixed and unchangeable.  But it is problematic because it can apparently be reduced to the physics of atoms.  This is considered to reflect the maturity of chemistry — that it can be reduced to something else, that its limits are known.  But that undermines the reality of kinds.

Can we get rid of reductionism?  No, in some ways it reflects what is there.  Instead we have to counter reductionism with its opposite.

Reductionism says the universe is constructed from many simple entities.  That is not untrue but it is not the full truth.  The universe is also reconstructed from one complex entity, called the earth in Gen. 1:2.  The division of light and dark, of land and sea, of land and sky, and of creatures in these various divisions are a testimony to this.

Modern science began with a turn away from explanations in terms of the “metaphysical” causes of teleology and design to the “empirical” causes of efficient/temporal and material explanations.  The former are top-down explanations, the latter are bottom-up explanations.  We need to bring both of these together.

To do this requires a dynamic method — a dialectic that allows these two halves to work together without either replacing the other.  This means seeing them as complementary rather than conflicting.  That would be new in Western culture, where a fixed method or contradictory dialectic has dominated.  This would also be consistent with the Genesis mandate to be stewards of nature rather than the modern mandate to command and control nature.

September 2014