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Specifically Biology presents some problems for me. For instance, now that we have Evolution we know what to look for. Thus we are bound to observe some adaptations, and over time even new species. Does this not confirm Evolution Theory?

From Genetics we might have an experiment where selecting and breeding for a specific trait is expected to increase the average lifespan. After several generations a statistically significant increase with respect to a control group. Again a positive proof.

Then there are people that take a piece of DNA from one organism, splice it into the DNA of another organism and we have algae that produce biofuel. Here there isn't even a gradient of change, the genetic theory either works or it doesn't.

It seems that a failed biology experiment doesn't disprove the theory, rather it shows the limitations of your equipment and data set. Biology is in a phase of working out the details, whereas Physics still contend with the great unknown and other dark matters.


Question:

So is there in actual fact different epistemic paradigms between the sciences? And who has argued for/against it?


  • Do you recognise a difference between 'confirming' a theory and 'proving' it : 'confirm Evolution Theory' in biology and in genetics providing or obtaining a positive proof ? – Geoffrey Thomas Aug 22 '18 at 12:12
  • @GeoffreyThomas Good spot there. The relationship between 'confirmed' and 'proven' seem, to me, to be different between Physics and Biology. Biology has much less gray area, a sharper line between what works and what don't. Apart from the examples ask yourself: If Evolution and Genetics were as incompatible as Quantum theory and General relativity, would either still be used as a 'working theory'? – christo183 Aug 23 '18 at 7:43
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In essence, biology and physics are, like all natural sciences, based on observation, formulation of falsifiable hypotheses, skepticism, experimentation and the formulation of verifiable predictions. They follow the exact same scientific method but have to deal with vastly different scales of reality. Because of this, biology is more "compatible" with the workings of the human brain than (quantum) physics, which can be extremely counter-intuitive.

Evolution by natural selection is arguably the most solid theory in science, confirmed not only by genetics, but also by direct observation (evolution observed in short lifetime insects), anatomy, bio-geography, and the fossil record. It is precisely because we have so many different disciplines of evidence that this theory is rock solid, and unlikely to be completely proven wrong in the future.

Essentially, on the most basic level biology IS physics and chemistry. But unlike the VASTLY larger body of physics studies, it deals with matter and energy on the atomic level as the smallest scale. Quantum mechanics does not come into play on the biological level, so biologists don't have to deal with things like the uncertainty principle, nor does biology have to consider the astronomical scale that cosmologists work on. Biology "only" deals with scales from the atom up to the planetary ecosystem. Because of this, it can render clear and concise classification and evolutionary relation of species supported by a vast body of evidence derived from the scales mentioned before.

Physics on the other hand has to ultimately formulate theories that are consistent with observations on the quantum level up to the universe itself (and arguably even beyond our own universe). If you were to compare the state of theories and completeness of biology and physics within the same scales (so Newtonian physics), that is completely done.

  • Your point being that because Biology has a smaller domain of interest, i.e. Life, the attitude towards what constitutes confirmation/proof is different? Interesting angle. Could you possibly provide a reference for: "Quantum mechanics does not come into play on the biological level"? You may be interested in books by Roger Penrose where he argues that ' consciousness is the result of quantum gravity effects in microtubules'. – christo183 Aug 23 '18 at 8:26
  • @christo183, thanks for the ref to Roger Penrose. However, even if quantum mechanics have some influence on biology, its domain of interest would still be considerably smaller than that of physics (consider distant galaxies, clusters, neutrinos, etc.). I was just using the difference in domain of interest size as a possible explanation why the perception exists that the epistemic paradigms would be different when comparing the two sciences as asked by the OP. – Codosaur Aug 27 '18 at 6:57

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