Proposition 1

November 16, 2008

Biology is a history, not a science.

Any thoughts?



  1. Just to be contentious: What’s historical about the operations of mammal kidneys?

  2. The historical part is how they came to be. It is fascinating that you chose something like a kidney. This is because the assumption of evolution drives the theory of how a mammal’s kidney came to exist. We don’t really have any evidence of Kidneys from the past because they decompose, unlike bones, so any “scientific” understanding of the process of Kidney development is going to be educated conjecture, kind of like a lot of history.

  3. Well, part of biology certainly is history. But not the whole of it, for sure. I picked up Molecular Biology of the Cell (5th edition) about a year ago, and most of it is chemistry, genetics and what I would call the “mechanics” of living things.

  4. The development of things is the part of the natural sciences I’ve never really understood. I understand figuring out how kidneys and cells work, but figuring out how they develop — the historical part — is, by and large, mostly impossible and full mainly of plausible conjecture.

    Also, I like “Kidneys from the past” with the kapital K.

  5. Biology is straightforward, unlike many other sciences, which leads some to assume it is simple. It isn’t history, as history is a record of events, places, ideas, people, etc. Biology is a collection of ‘known’ (read temporarily) interactions and reactions between natural organisms. If you wanted to be a smart ass, you could say so is history, but that would mean we are nothing more than cells executing genetic orders. There goes religion, social theory and Jerry Springer.

  6. Yeah, grammar is something I don’t really have down. I capitalize relatively arbitrarily. Some words just look like they need to be capitalized. I listened to a physiologist describe the lack of evidence for transition and that any time you seen an image of a transitional creature it is hypothetical and it fascinated me that there could be that much fiction in a science.

    At Michael: I would say that you are right. What strikes me as fascinating about this issue is to what extent we can derive meaning from biology. To me it seems that the historical aspects of biology are as worldview dependent as any humanities discipline.

  7. Matt, thanks for the comment.
    When you look at the idea of what is “known” currently and what is conjecture you find a whole lot of assumptions resting on assumptions. This is what Michael Denton (an atheist at the time) was writing about it “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis.”

    Karl Popper argues that for a science to be a science it must be clearly stated and falsifiable. Evolution is neither and as an all-encompassing theory absorbs or disregards evidence that could refute it.

  8. Ah yes, Mr Popper.
    The problem with him is his arguments essentially rest on one made by David Hume two hundred years ago. It goes as follows. We can never be absolutely sure of something, because we can never ascertain with total surety that A causes B. There in fact may be no relation. But to get on with our lives, we have to assume A does cause B, just to avoid constantly having to empirically test everything, at all times. If the only way to prove something is to falsify it, then it can be true until it isn’t, which leaves us exactly nowhere. This is why I have trouble with strict adherence to theory and ideology…they limit thought.

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