The Nature and Logic of Science

Part of the Springer Texts in Education book series (SPTE)


This chapter provides the basic foundation for understanding the logic involved in scientific/biological reasoning. Topics include: inductive and deductive logic, hypothesis formulation (if … then reasoning), the concept of “proof” in science, and the difference between truth and validity. The interplay of these elements are illustrated by the “dissection” of a specific set of investigations by Italian biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani in the eighteenth century concerning what elements of the male semen were causally involved in fertilization and embryonic development in animals. The chapter then moves to a discussion of the way in which hypotheses are formulated as different kinds of explanations in biology, such as teleological versus causal explanations, all illustrated by the question of why warblers begin to migrate south from New England in the fall. This section also examines some of the recent philosophical studies on the nature of mechanisms in biology, and what elements are necessary for a mechanism to be successful as part of a scientific explanation. After discussing the nature of cause-and-effect in biology, and how causal relationships can be distinguished from simply correlations or accidental coincidences, the nature of bias in science is introduced to emphasize that science cannot eliminate all bias, and indeed that sometimes biases (or points of view) are extremely fruitful. The final part of the chapter is devoted to philosophical issues in biology: the nature of paradigms and paradigm shifts in biology, the materialist (as opposed to idealist) foundations of modern biology, and a review of both the strengths and weaknesses of science.


Paradigm Shift Rous Sarcoma Virus Deductive Logic Vitalist Debate Scientific Hypothesis 
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Further Reading

  1. Conant, J. B. (Ed.) (1957). Harvard case histories in experimental science (Vol. 2). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (The Harvard Cast Histories have been extremely useful in teaching the nature of science by selecting a series of controversies in the physical and life sciences. The cases include explanatory material setting the context (mostly intellectual rather than social or political) in which the controversy took place with extended excerpts from the writings of the scientists involved. This approach provides students with the chance to learn how to read and analyze material from primary sources as well as understand the scientific issues of earlier times in their own terms. Cases range from the verthrow of the phlogiston theory by Lavoisier’s oxygen theory, to the nature of plant photosynthesis in the work of Joseph Priestly and others in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and Pasteur’s and John Tyndall’s work on spontaneous generation in the 1860s and 1870s.).Google Scholar
  2. Geison, G. L. (1995) The Private Science of Louis Pasteur. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (One of the most recent, and controversial biographies of Pasteur, because it questions some of the most cherished myths about Pasteur as a scientist), Geison’s book provides ample evidence of Pasteur’s political and religious biases in the spontaneous generation controversy. The specific Pasteur-Pouchet controversy has been summarized in Garland E. Allen, “That Louis Pasteur Disproved Spontaneous Generation on the Basis of Scientific Objectivity,” in Kostas Kampourakis (ed) Myths in Science Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015, pp ____.).Google Scholar
  3. Farley, J. (1977). The spontaneous generation controversy from Descartes to Oparin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. (This book is a very readable introduction to the history of ideas of spontaneous generation from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. It includes discussions of Spallanzani, Redi and Pasteur-Pouchet.).Google Scholar
  4. Grinnell, F. (1987). The scientific attitude. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (Written by a practicing scientist for undergraduates and graduate students in science, this book is a simple, straightforward introduction to many aspects of science as a process. Topics include problems of observation, experimental design and interpretation, science as a collective activity and “thought-style,” how scientific ideas are perpetuated and become entrenched.).Google Scholar
  5. Kuhn, T. S. (2012) The structure of scientific revolutions (4th ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (This edition contains revisions and was published on the 50th anniversary of the original appearance of the book in 1962. Kuhn’s work has had a powerful effect on scientists, historians and philosophers of science alike, as well as in realms of social science and literary studies. In this book, Kuhn lays out his concepts of paradigm, normal science, puzzle-solving, anomalies and describes the development of science as a series of paradigm replacements, (shifts) or what he calls “scientific revolutions.”).Google Scholar
  6. Longino, H. E. (1990). Science as social knowledge: Values and objectivity in scientific inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (A clear introduction to problems of science as a social process, the author steers a solid course between the stereotype of science as objective truth and the view that it is nothing but subjective social construction. Longino deals with such issues as sex bias in research, the nature of evidence, values in science and science as social knowledge.).Google Scholar
  7. Mayr, E. (1961). Cause and effect in biology. Science 134,1502–1506.( An elaboration of the example of the causes of bird migration discussed in Section 2.6.).Google Scholar
  8. Numbers, R. L., & Kostas Kampourakis (Eds) (2015). Newton’s apple and other myths about science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Contains a number of case studies of how science has been traditionally mythologized, and thus presented in an unrealistic way. Among other myths covered is a more detailed version of the Pasteur-Pouchet controversy.).Google Scholar
  9. Varmus, H. (1987, September). Reverse transcription. Scientific American 257 (3), 56–64. (A detailed account of the discovery and process of reverse transcription and the action of the enzyme reverse transcriptase as originally postulated by Howard Temin.).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Wesleyan UniversityMiddletownUSA

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