Ran across an interesting lead in a (response) letter by George Ellis in Physics Today:
[The original letter writer] says that no experimental evidence has established a boundary beyond which reductionism fails. Yes, there is evidence for such a boundary: As pointed out by Jean-Marie Lehn, it is the level of supramolecular chemistry. At and above that level, history and context become as important as physics; a reductionist account cannot, for example, predict the sequence of bases in the DNA of wheat, or what gene will be read next in a cell in a bee as it dances to convey information.
The footnote references J.-M. Lehn, Supramolecular Chemistry: Concepts and Perspectives, VCH Verlag, New York (1995). (The second part of Ellis's response is less than inspiring: it seems to rationalize free will with quantum indeterminacy—an error I will explore here soon, I hope.)
While rooting around the web, I ran across another interesting piece by Ellis in Nature. A jewel of a paragraph:
A simple statement of fact: there is no physics theory that explains the nature of, or even the existence of, football matches, teapots, or jumbo-jet aircraft. The human mind is physically based, but there is no hope whatever of predicting the behaviour it controls from the underlying physical laws. Even if we had a satisfactory fundamental physics 'theory of everything', this situation would remain unchanged: physics would still fail to explain the outcomes of human purpose, and so would provide an incomplete description of the real world around us.
He traces the putative line of cosmic causality back to flutuations of the cosmic background radiation, whose placement is supposed to be precisely that required to bring about all the human achievements of our civilization. "Those fluctuations are supposed to have been random, which by definition means without purpose or meaning.... However, such meaning did indeed come into being."
Most notably, the advocacy of determinism is intended by its adherents to be meaningful (intended), but it couldn't be meaningful if it were completely determined by the physical laws of the universe. (Ellis's letter: "if free will does not exist in a meaningful sense, the process of scientific investigation cannot take place; scientific procedure assumes we are able to make conscious choices about what is a sound theory and what is not." No physical law can explain the existence of physical theories.)
Ellis goes on to say that physical laws are necessary for the context for intelligent human activities to occur, but aren't sufficient to explain them: "It is possible that what actually happened was the contextual emergence of complexity: the existence of human beings and their creations was not uniquely implied by the initial data in the early Universe; rather the underlying physics together with that initial data created a context that made the existence of human beings possible."
Moles are blind but have their acute sense of smell enables them to discover many amazing things we humans are oblivious to. It is no surprise that they cannot see. But no reasonable person would use their blindness as evidence against the existence of light.1
Modern science excludes finality (a.k.a, intentionality, purpose) by assumption; it is no surprise that the natural laws it discovers omit finality. It is a wonder that supposedly rational people interpret this blindness as indicative of reality.
I was much more critical of Ellis here:
The ME Project's Contained Kenosis
1. Yes, thank you: moles aren't actually blind. "Proverbial moles," if you will.
George F. R. Ellis, "Physics, complexity and causality," Nature 435, 743 (9 June 2005).