Mechanist Philosophy

Information technology is the latest expression of the mechanist philosophy. Machines (even robots) had been conceived by the ancient Greeks, though their prejudice against manual labor mostly prevented them from realizing their fancies in technology. The prevailing models for understanding nature were themselves still natural: organisms and “elements” such as fire, air, earth, and water. Nevertheless, the Greek ideal of deductive certainty informed the body of scientific theory that underpins modern technology. It inspired the Scientific Revolution, which arose in the context of medieval European interest in machines. The Enlightenment understanding of efficient causality favored a mechanist view of nature and the rise of machines in society, whose successful use then reinforced the mechanist view. The sort of cause arising within things themselves was absent in the mechanist cosmos, since it had been transferred to the divine will operating from outside nature.

Computation is the latest mechanist metaphor by which to understand nature. The concept of mechanism is projected back upon nature as the organizing principle behind the very life and consciousness that creates the concept of mechanism! Yet, far from being a reasonable model for understanding nature, the machine is the very antithesis of the natural. Insofar as it implies an imposition of design and manufacture from the top down, mechanism is the very thing that cannot explain physical reality as a self-organizing process from the bottom up. The philosophy of mechanism reduces nature to simple artifacts (models, equations). Under its sway, science turned a blind eye to the complex interconnectedness within nature that might account for teleology and apparent design. This was obviously fruitful in many ways, as demonstrated by the success of technology. Yet the mechanist philosophy has crippled science in certain areas, and has indirectly forced it into a defensive stance in regard to the intelligent design movement.