a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Philosophy of Science


What is Science?
Ernst Mayr Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I have presented a great deal of evidence for the autonomy of biology. I have shown that biology differs in innumerable ways, and very important ones at that, from the physical sciences. And this brings up the whole question of just what is science and what is the relation of fields like physics and biology to science? And my answer to this is that the former idea that physics was the exemplar of science and that there were some other less scientific sciences, if I may use that description, is absolutely wrong. There is indeed such a thing as Science, spelt with a capital ‘S’, and in my book again, that I’ve referred to, I give a list of 10 characteristics of Science. One of them is Science is objective, Science is willing to abandon certain beliefs and things, while, for instance, a revealed religion usually has a series of beliefs that cannot be abandoned because they are part of the thing. And there are many other characteristics. Science can… must be tested all the time, and so forth. However, there are… in the so-called philosophy of science that has been dominant from the 1920s to the 1970s, there were a number of beliefs and statements and components that are true only for physics and not for biology. And my conclusion is that we must make a distinction between Science as a whole, which is, so-to-speak, the combination of all the individual sciences, and a series of what philosophers have referred to as 'provincial' sciences of which of which biology indeed is one, but physics indeed is another one. Physics is not different from the others, it's not better than the others, in fact, the science of biology is in some ways more important because it has more relevance to mankind.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: biology, physics, science, religion, 1920s, 1970s

Duration: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008