Ruse & Leyser - ISSR Symposium New Holistic Biology (Part 1)

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Leyser, Ottoline & Ruse, Michael
Year 2017

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SYMPOSIUM: the International Society for Science and Religion - Implications of the New Holistic Biology.


Part I: Led by Ottoline Leyser (University of Cambridge) and Michael Ruse (State University, Florida).


Filmed on Friday 21st July 2017.


Michael Ruse, Florida State University The Christian’s Dilemma: Organicism or Mechanism?


Is organicism inherently Christian friendly, and for that matter, is mechanism inherently religion non-friendly? They have tended to be, but the story is much more complicated. The long history of the intertwined metaphors of nature taken as an organism, versus that of nature as a machine, reveals that both metaphors have flourished in the endeavors of philosophers, scientists and persons of faith alike. Different kinds of Christians have been receptive to both organicist and mechanistic models, just as various kinds of non-religious scientists have been receptive to both holistic and machine metaphors. While, it is true, organicism has been generally more attractive to persons of faith than mechanism (and vice versa), an overview of the rich and varied history of allegiances to these metaphors –religious and non-religious alike – shows that debate is much more interesting and complex. A brief inspection of conversation surrounding recent scientific discoveries shows that this debate between metaphors is still very much alive today.


Ottoline Leyser, University of Cambridge A Integrative Biology: Parts, Wholes, Levels and Systems


Biological systems are complex and dynamic. To understand them it is essential to observe and describe them, and perturbations to them, at scales ranging from the atom to the ecosystem. That requires terminology. It is not possible to communicate ideas about how organisms work without a shared vocabulary, across those scales. This includes naming the physical parts of biological systems- metabolites, proteins, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, populations. It also includes naming concepts and narratives that capture the behaviours of those physical parts- The Krebs Cycle, which is a series of biochemical reactions at the heart of respiration; Crick’s Central Dogma that in cells information in DNA is decoded first to RNA and then to protein; Mitosis, which is the process of cell division; The Cardiac Cycle, how hearts beat; and Evolution by Natural Selection. It is not possible to make progress in understanding how biological systems work without a shared vocabulary that describes parts, wholes, and systems, as well as their behaviours. However, while terminology enables understanding, it can also constrain it by biasing interpretation according to existing paradigms. And while terminology is essential for communication it can also hamper it, when the same word cryptically has different meanings to different people. These problems have recurred throughout the history of biology and are no less prevalent today. It is necessary to keep the vocabulary subservient to the science, but it is easy for the science to become subservient to the vocabulary.