Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > From Physical Causes to Organisms of Meaning > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

Causes are not laws (3)

Many people, when they speak of the world’s “causal regularity”, are actually referring to its lawfulness. This conflation of law and cause — this illegitimate bestowal upon physical causes of the regularity, predictability, and certainty associated with physical laws, as if the causes had the same necessity as the laws — yields a great deal of mistaken thought. Among other things, it lends to any science guilty of it the illusion of vastly greater explanatory power than it in fact possesses. This helps us to understand why so many biologists see a machine where there is in fact a living being; the physical lawfulness discoverable in the organism is unthinkingly equated in their minds with a collection of causal mechanisms.

In sum: laws do not determine any event at all, but only tell us something about how it will happen: certain invariant relations will be respected. Causes, on the other hand, approximate and ill-defined though they be, can give us a contingent sense for what may reasonably be expected within a temporarily limited and more or less closed system.

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