SYMPOSIUM: the International Society for Science and Religion - Implications of the New Holistic Biology.
Part II: Presentation by Fraser Watts (University of Lincoln) and panel chaired by Michael J Reiss (University of London).
Filmed on Friday 21st July 2017.
Fraser Watts, University of Lincoln. A Philosophical and Religious Implications of the New Holistic Biology.
There is a widespread misunderstanding of biology that is based on mono-causal thinking, in which a single factor is put forward as the sole explanation; in fact there are almost always multiple causal factors which interact with each other in complex ways. Mono-causal thinking leads on to a simplistic kind of determinism in which genes, neurones (or whatever) are said to be responsible for complex human characteristics, and to have ‘made us do’ things. I suggest that we need to recognize just how holistic the biological world is, and explore the implications for reductionism, determinism and mechanism. Causal complexity does not favour simple forms of reductionism; it also points to a search for biological mechanisms in the broad sense of detailed explanatory models rather than anything strictly mechanistic. There are also implications, more generally, for philosophical and religious worldviews. As far as divine action is concerned, a holistic understanding of the living world suggests subtle but systematic divine influences on a richly inter-connected world, rather than a decisive influence on discrete events. Divine influence within the world may be, in some ways, analogous to the creation of habitats favourable to particular forms of life. The inter-connected world envisaged by the new holistic biology is also consistent with the mystical vision of the unity of all things. However, Christian theology is very diverse, and some strands will find the holistic turn in biology more congenial than others.