¶ … Biology autonomous from physical sciences?
Background of debate
Biological science has undergone a time of progressive change in the last few decades. A distinctive element of this progress has been a continuous addition of fresh theoretical points-of-view and methods from physics and chemistry (the physical sciences). The most interesting fresh innovations in contemporary Biology are closely linked with how these new theories and methods are applied. There is a unanimous consensus that a lot of the phenomena that used to occur naturally in the arena of biological science has been overridden by a science that is practically physical. The exact reference of the new expanded theories such as 'biophysics', 'biochemistry', and 'molecular biology' apparently point to new knowledge for treating the science of life on earth as chemical and physical principles (Hansen. 1969)
What is Biology?
In an attempt to answer this question, it is worth noting that biology is in actual sense composed of two distinct and separate fields' namely historical biology and mechanistic or functional biology. All activities related to the physiology of living organisms falls under functional biology, more so in relation to cellular processes particularly where the genome is concerned. It is noteworthy that all these cellular functions can find adequate explanation in purely mechanistically physical and chemical terms. Whereas the other biological branch is historical, purely functional processes cannot be explained by knowledge of history much as this knowledge is important for explaining general aspects of the living world encompassed by time in historical dimensions when the theory of evolution is taken on board. The type of the more often asked questions also distinguishes these two fields of biology. In order to get the facts needed for in-depth analysis one must be certain to ask the 'what' question. The most commonly asked questions in functional biology is, however, "how?" while in terms of biology of evolution the frequently asked question is "why" But the question is practically incomplete because even in evolutionary biology one occasionally asks "how" questions, for example how can you explain the multiplication of species? One must therefore take note of the essential differences between the two classes of biology in order to understand its remarkable nature. Granted, some of the most distinctive differences between biology and the physical sciences is true for only of the branches, namely evolutionary biology (Mayr, 2004).
How the debate of reductionism started?
Up to the nineteenth and twentieth century, biology was practically a dead subject. Despite the fact that an enormous degree of factual knowledge of natural history, physiology, and anatomy was gathered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was believed that the world of life during that period purely belonged to the medical realm. However, this was only true for physiology, anatomy; and in some cases botany which to a large extent comprised of finding out plants that had medicinal values. Indeed this included important elements of natural history that in real sense was either regarded as a hobby or something that was in recognition of the contribution of natural theology. Lastly, when mechanics was recognized as an exemplary science, a new school of thought that organisms were essentially the same as inert matter was born (Mayr, 1997).
The logical conclusion that was drawn from this assumption was that the prime objective of science was to subjugate biology to the laws of physics and chemistry. But with the passage of time progress in biology made this theory null and void. Biology gained a stronger foothold in the science sphere when vitslism and its sister mechanism were overwhelmed by the acceptance of the new theory of organicism in the twentieth century, this, despite the fact that many philosophers of science have not yet fully accepted the impact of this new paradigm (Mayr, 1997).
Three very distinct...
One extreme position held it that biology should not be regarded as a science because it is devoid of the universally accepted quantitative and structured law of a "true science," this in reference to physics. But on the other opposite end of the spectrum of thought, biology not only shares the qualities of a true science but it is different from physics in essential points which ranks it as an autonomous science just like physics. In the continuum of these two opposing views a third preposition views biology as a "provincial science" due to the fact that its findings are ultimately reduced to the law of chemistry and physics; and that it is not universal (Mayr, 1997).
Is Biology an autonomous science?
The question whether biology is an autonomous science or not can be paraphrased in two ways: Like chemistry and physics, is biology a genuine science? And does biology as a science share similar characteristics with chemistry and physics? John Moore's eight criteria for evaluating whether a given action deserves to be called a science can help us answer the first question. According to him (Moore): (1) without resort to supernatural theories, the basis of science should be actual data collected in the field and taken to a laboratory for experimentation and observation. (2) Data must be gathered in response to questions and observations must be made to solidify or disparage guesses. (3) For any form of bias to be eliminated, objective methods should be applied. (4) There should be consistence between the observations made and the original hypotheses within a given conceptual framework. (5) Every hypothesis must undergo tests and there should be competing hypothesis no agreement so that their ability to solve problems (validity) is compared. (6) Within the domain of a given science, generalizations ought to be universally accepted. Without recourse to supernatural factors, all peculiar occurrences must be explicable. (7) So that possibilities of errors are eliminated, a discovery or factor must be wholly accepted only after repeated confirmations by the investigators. (8) A characteristic of science is a continuous refinement of scientific theories through replacement of incomplete or false theories and by finding solutions to hitherto confusing problems (Mayr, 1997).
From the above criteria many people would rightly conclude that just like physics and chemistry, biology should also be treated as a genuine science. One question that still lingers is whether biology is actually a provincial science and therefore should not be treated the same as physical sciences. The first time the term "provincial science" came into being, it was antonymous with the term "universal" in the sense that biology was concerned with localized and specific matter for which one could not impose universal laws. It was argued that the laws of physics had no limitations of space and time; that they remained as valid on earth as in the Andromeda galaxy. But that in contrast, biology was provincial because all known forms of life existing after the Big Bang did so for only 3.8 billion years of the entire 10 billion years. Ronald Munson convincingly refuted this claim by demonstrating that none of the fundamental laws, principles or theories of biology are explicitly or implicitly tied down in their range and scope of application to a spatial region either in space or time. The world of life has immense peculiarities and so one can generalize about phenomena that are unique. Although every ocean current has peculiar qualities, this does not preclude establishment of theories and laws about ocean currents (Mayr, 1997).
We must question "what is universal" if we have to accept all the arguments that deny biology of the principals of universality. Since even non-living matter is believed to be in existence outside the earth, for any science dealing with non-living matter to be regarded as universal it must be applicable extra-terrestrially. So far, life is only demonstrable on earth yet the same laws and principles similar to those of non-living objects are taken to be universal because they are given validity on earth which is the only place existence is known to occur. There is no point of denying the term "universal" for a theory that is true across the whole sphere where it is applicable (Mayr, 1997).
What is meant by describing biology as a provincial science is the fact that it is an outcrop of chemistry and physics and that in the final analysis the discoveries of biology can be tied to physical and chemical theories. A proponent of the independence of Biology, by contrast, might postulate the following argument: various characteristics of interest to biologists will never be reduced to physiochemical laws, and besides, many attributes of the physical world examined by physicists are irrelevant to the study of life or any science outside physics, as a matter of argument. In this sense both biology and physics are provincial. There is no point of treating physics as superior simply because it was the fast structured science. This historical accident does not confer on it more universality that it's younger cousin biology. Until it is accepted that science contains…
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