What Is Biology? Part 1 of 4

Biology is the scientific study of life. But what is “science?” And what is “life?” Most of us use these words all the time and have a general idea of what we mean by them, however, it is common for scientists themselves to not have a clear understanding of what science is and this is not as surprising as it sounds. Philosophers of science struggle to define their own area of study, with different and incompatible ideas of exactly what is and is not science holding some sway. Defining life has proven to be equally enigmatic. Instead of definitions of life, it is common to settle on a set of characteristics that life exhibits. Having said that, there are major ideas about science and life that most scientists and other people agree on. In this series of blogs, we will examine science and metaphysics, rules of science, the scientific method, and finally how life is defined.

Science and metaphysics:

A common misconception is that science provides irrefutable explanations of reality that only the mentally unstable would question, but consider this recent quote from a paper about the reproducibility of published results in papers dealing with psychology:

“After this intensive effort to reproduce a sample of published psychological findings, how many of the effects have we established are true? Zero. And how many of the effects have we established are false? Zero. Is this a limitation of the project design? No. It is the reality of doing science, even if it is not appreciated in daily practice. Humans desire certainty, and science infrequently provides it… Scientific progress is a cumulative process of uncertainty reduction that can only succeed if science itself remains the greatest skeptic of its explanatory claims." [1]

"The Thinker" Rodin Museum, Paris, France

Science is a way of gaining understanding of the natural world through the logical interpretation of information taken in through our senses. This sensory information is called “empirical data.” Commonly, machines like microscopes, thermometers, sound recorders and other technologies are used to extend our senses when collecting data.

Scientific knowledge has given us vaccines, antibiotics, men on the moon, abundant food and many other blessings. Most people agree that the scientific method is a powerful tool for understanding our world, but no one believes it is the only way of understanding. In fact, science can’t be done without making certain assumptions that are untestable using science. These are called “metaphysical assumptions” and they are purely philosophical. For example, to do science, it is assumed that information acquired through our senses accurately represents reality. That makes sense to most Western people, but it has been argued that what we take in through our senses is actually an illusion, not real at all. The Hindu Yoga Vāsistha puts it this way:

“Just as the world and its creation are mere appearances, a moment and an epoch are also imaginary, not real.” [2]

Four metaphysical underpinnings of science are:

  1. The material world exists
  2. The universe is logical
  3. Our senses provide reliable information about the world
  4. Our minds allow us to understand at least some aspects of reality

Each of these metaphysical underpinnings is consistent with the biblical worldview. The material world exists as a reality because the True God created it. God, who is the same “yesterday, today and forever” Hebrews 13:8 sustains the creation, so it is consistent and logical. God created humans with senses to perceive our world and encourages us to understand it with the minds He gave us.

Timothy G. Standish, PhD

Senior Scientist, Geoscience Research Institute


[1]Swami Venkatesananda (translator). 2010. The Supreme Yoga: Yoga Vasistha. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited: Delhi, India. pg 47.
[2] Open Science Collaboration. 2015. Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science 349(6251):943, aac4716-1-8. DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4716