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Multilevel interpretations of development and evolution take to heart the contextual nature of both those processes, and so necessarily assume top-down causation occurs, right down to the physics level. In this article we revisit the Principle of Biological Relativity proposed by Noble in 2012, where all emergent levels of organisation are equally causally valid. While this is true in general for physical interactions between levels, we argue that in the case of conscious organisms making rational choices, there is indeed a preferred causal origin - namely the overall embracing influence of meaning and values. This is the opposite of what is suggested by a reductionist viewpoint, where it is the bottom-most physical level that is stated to be causally preferred (by some physicists), or the genetic level (by some evolutionary theorists). Charles Darwin was therefore correct to distinguish between Artificial (conscious) Selection, where values enter, and Natural Selection. The Modern Synthesis was wrong to exclude Darwin's distinction.

Original publication




Journal article


Theor Biol Forum

Publication Date





45 - 69


Biological Relativity, Causal Closure, Emergence, Values, History, 19th Century, Biological Evolution, Selection, Genetic, Family, Physics