09 January 2007

Wilson's fundamental laws of biology

The New Scientist magazine's latest free science podcast* (dated 5 January 2007, available on this page) has an approximately 5-minute excerpt from a talk the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson gave last December in New York at a celebration of the New Scientist’s 50th anniversary.

Wilson briefly discusses the nature and the current standing of biology, which he calls the "paramount science", and then proposes 2 fundamental laws of biology.

1. All of the phenomena of biology are ultimately obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry.

2. All of the phenomena of biology have arisen by evolution thru natural selection.

Of course, it is not quite accurate of me to call them Wilson's laws, because Edward Wilson didn't come up with them.

That all biological phenomena obey the laws of chemistry and physics without the need for a vital force (or, for divine intervention, for that matter) was established by the collective scientific effort of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries.

And the idea that evolution by natural selection is responsible for all biological diversity was first proposed by Darwin and Wallace in 1858 and has since been demonstrated, again, by the collective scientific effort, to be a fact backed up by insurmountable evidence.

We should follow Wilson's lead and teach and demonstrate the validity of these laws and defend them, if need be.

*Note added 28 February 2008: The New Scientist has since stopped producing regular podcasts and the existing archive doesn't list the podcasts from before April 2007. However, the said podcast is available here at the New York Academy of Sciences web page.


Anonymous said...

Interesting doctrine. Reminds me of the Anarchists' Rule:
1. There shall be no order.
2. No one shall be obliged to comply with the preceding parahraph.
Because, of course, chemistry/physics/biology/the process of evolution through natural selection, all of which are valid, still can't tell humans *how* to behave. So we can't teach these laws to the exclusion of all else, including, say, philosophy.


The immediate purpose here is to explain the nature & the origin of the biodiversity. These laws have nothing to do with human morality, if that's what you are getting at.

And there is no contradiction between #1 & #2 (Wilson's laws, not the anarchists').

Allen Aigen said...

Ethics evolved along with people so that societies can exist without collapsing into anarchy. (Anarchy would support far fewer people, so it is selected against.) Even societies of chimpanzees show ethical behavior. Morality is religious rules based upon someone's understanding of ethical rules. Because it is usually based upon a "perfect" book, morality cannot evolve significantly. Ethics does follow Wilson's "rules".

Matt said...

the 2nd "law" is completly wrong- but is characteristic of wilson as an adaptionist.

There are other process through which evolution happens- i.e. gene flow, drift, and mutation...


The 2nd law is not wrong. What it means is that natural selection is the final arbiter; you may have genetic drift or founder effects, but if you are not fit enough, you are out of the game.

a guy said...




Wrong! There is no heredity in physics.

Anonymous said...

To date no scientist has ever observed a living organism come into existence from a non-living substance. So the 2nd law is not true if you can please tell us where we can find that data


I don't quite understand the request.