Reductionism (ultimately, the empirical explanability of everything and a cornerstone of science), has uses that are appropriate, and it also can be used inappropriately. It is appropriately used as a way (one way) of understanding what is empirically known or empirically knowable. When it becomes merely an intellectual “position” confronting what is not empirically known or knowable, then it becomes very quickly absurd, and also grossly desensitizing and false.
— Wendell Berry is 85 years old today. He published this book in 2000.
Wendell Berry is a poet, not a scientist, but he got this exactly right. The notion that living things are machines, explainable in terms of chemistry and physics, that no élan vital is necessary to explain what we see, is a 19th Century idea that has become untenable, given what we’ve learned about cell biology and evolutionary ecology. I think this statement is supported by deep study of biology from any vantage, but nowhere is it more obvious than in the origin of life. This point is made convincingly if somewhat polemically by Prof. James Tour, a synthetic organic chemist.