Most ideas that become important concepts probably start as rather fuzzy notions, and it may take great effort to remove the fuzz and uncover the notion. (p. 52)Science As a Way of Knowing is both more and less than I expected. More in that after reading the first half the book I was pleasantly surprised, and less in that the second half of the book takes a very different course in comparison. The book is an abbreviated version of several essays Moore published between 1984 and 1990 for American Zoologist. Up until about Chapter 13, Moore's style is in the popular vein--not too detail oriented for the vast majority of readers. After that point in the book (basically the last 200+ pages) he becomes much more technical. Although I found this latter section to be the most tiring, it was also the most educational due to its newness, to me, relative to the earlier topics covered.
Self-replication can produce, in theory, an infinite number of products; yet, in reality, the world that supplies the materials for replication is finite. Life, then, is a tension between the infinite and the finite. It is inevitable that the finite prevails. (p. 1)
More than anything else, Moore covers the history of science and how science is the best way of "knowing" (as the title suggests). Although the history of evolutionary theory isn't covered in great detail--the history of genetic and developmental/embryological theories are. An entire section of the book is devoted to the theory of evolution though. More than 20 pages are included in a chapter that tests Darwin's hypotheses. This site's themes are touched on more than once so if you like the ideas on this site then you'll probably like this book. For example, on page 32 we read
We know, of course, that rationality was not forever the hallmark of human thought in the centuries following the classical Greeks. Other systems of thought remained in favor, and to this day there continue to be conflicts of the two dominant and antagonistic patterns of thought we have inherited--one based on the acceptance of supernatural forces, authority, or revelation to explain the phenomena of nature and another relying on observations, data, hypotheses, and verifiable conclusions.Moore probes into what those Greeks and Romans (Aristotle, Galen, Theophrastus, Pliny, Hippocrates, Erasistratus, etc.) got right and wrong and how it took well over a thousand years for people like Galileo, Bacon, and others to question and experiment enough to correct many of the wrongs that had been taken on faith and authority. A distinction is made with regard to Aristotle. While Aristotle was a good observationalist at times, he still didn't bother with experiments. This made his work in biology far better than his work in astronomy since without modern equipment observation didn't do much for the science of ancient astronomy. The second sentence in this description of Aristotle (emphasis added) is of utmost importance--today as it was then.
For [Aristotle], knowledge of natural phenomena comes from the application of disciplined thought to data acquired by observation. One believed what one saw, not saw what one believed. (p. 40)Continuing a similar thought later in the book while speaking of Sir Francis Bacon, Moore writes
The mind must guard against preconceived ideas if observations are to be accurately interpreted. This is extraordinarily difficult to achieve, since what we are, think, and do depends so greatly on our acceptance of the belief systems of the society in which we live and of the science that we profess. These belief systems become the idols to which we may submit and, to the extent we do, may lead to erroneous conclusions. (p. 90)And this is one of the key differences between the methodology of science as a way of knowing and other methods of "knowing." Science recognizes preconceived ideas and seeks to look beyond them, or, at the very least, obtain independent verification/confirmation that may bolster a tentative conclusion and eventually help to prove a hypothesis beyond all reasonable doubts.
Moore expertly shows how Dobzhansky was correct to say that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." The differences in scientific terminology from day-to-day jargon are also explained. A scientific theory carries a much different weight in comparison to someone stating that they have a theory which in scientific terms would mean that they merely have a speculation or hypothesis.
Inductive vs. deductive reasoning is explained with the pros and cons of each being weighed and the appropriate time for the usage of each defined. Moore states
"For most people, in most situations, deductive reasoning is the more comfortable mode--it is better to know what the answer is before you start to look for it.After spending the first half of the book discussing things such as evolution and how people have looked at nature through science and religious history, Moore turns to genetics and its history. Attention is given to the long debate between pangenesis/preformationism and epigenesis. Improvement in microscopic technology and Mendel's experiments ended the debate and gave rise to the science of genetics. An interesting quote that Moore uses in regard to pangenesis can also be applied to religious apologetics.
Paley and Darwin dealt with the same biological phenomena--mainly structure, function, diversity, and adaptation. The deductive approach of one was sterile and remains so to this day. The inductive approach of the other would give us modern biology with its vast explanatory and predictive powers." (p. 142)
The hypothesis of pangenesis was 'so ad hoc as to withstand any criticism which sought to point up any fact inconsistent with it.' (p. 251)The details of the sections on the history of cellular theory, genetics, developmental, and embryological biology are too cumbersome to briefly review. Suffice it to say that these later sections aren't nearly as quotable or fast moving as the first half of the book as mentioned above. Numerous illustrations are used, however, to help clarify the sometimes technical explanations and discoveries.
Overall, Science As a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology is a very good book. I especially like the way Moore places emphasis (see page 52 for example) on those who developed better methods of knowing--even if their hypotheses and conclusions were in error due, in part at least, to the times in which they were living.
from the publisher:
Science was not always the dominant way of knowing, as we see in this spirited exploration of how human beings over the millennia have sought to understand the phenomena of life. Central to the puzzle are several questions: How did living matter arise, and how does it reproduce itself? How does life develop from a single cell into a complex organism? And how did the vast variety of species we see around us, and those long-extinct, come to be?
One of the intellectual wonders of our time has been biologists' gradual untangling of these great mysteries, beginning with the investigations of Aristotle and the Greeks, continuing through the experiments and theories of Darwin and his contemporaries, and culminating in the researches of geneticists, developmental biologists, paleontologists, and other specialists in the twentieth century. For more than twenty years John Moore has taught biology instructors how to teach biology -- by emphasizing the questions people have asked about life through the ages and the ways natural philosophers and scientists have sought the answers. This book makes Moore's uncommon wisdom available to the general reader in a lively and richly illustrated account of the history and workings of life. Employing a breadth of rhetorical strategies - including vividly written case histories, hypotheses and deductions, and chronological narrative - Science as a Way of Knowing provides not only a cultural history of biology but also a splendid introduction to the procedures and values of science. This book's interpretive, nontechnical approach to the sciences of life will delight and inform anyone curious about what we knew and when we knew it. It is indispensable reading for the nonspecialist seeking a deeper understanding of how modern molecular biology, ecology, and biotechnology came to be.
"This volume is a worthy addition to the literature on the history of biology. It explains the foundations of evolution, genetics, and development and the logic behind scientific enquiry with a clarity that will put most writers of ... textbooks to shame. It both demystifies science and exalts it." -- Nature