History of Biology Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Aug 30, 2011

Introduction to the History of Biology

Although ancient peoples around the world have been informally learning about Biological Order (and its counterpart, Biological Disorder) for thousands of years, a systematic approach to the search for Order has only begun relatively recently. Aristotle ( AIR -ist-ahtl), who lived during 384–322 in Greece, was one of the first natural philosophers (Figure 1.5). Aristotle may have been the world’s first great biologist. He collected huge amounts of information about the anatomy, physiology, and behavior of many plants and animals. He was the first person to describe the differences between plants and animals, and between living versus non-living things. Aristotle studied the parts of living organisms in terms of their teleology ( tel -e- AHL -oh-jee), their “complete” ( teleo -) or final purpose for existence. The final “purpose” of numerous plants and animals, this early biologist thought, was to provide food for mankind, thereby adding to human happiness. Aristotle emphasized the importance of making detailed observations to help state general principles, and he assumed that the World of Nature had a great deal of Order within it. Aristotle may also be considered the Father of Natural History – the collection and classification of plants and animals into particular groups.

Aristotle’s ideas about a broad Natural History – the comprehensive study of plants, animals, fish, birds, and all other living creatures – were widely adopted and followed for hundreds of years. During the 1700s in Europe, a number of brave explorers made dangerous journeys to faraway places around the globe, collecting and classifying a great variety of plants and animals. Gradually, the immense Biological Order of the world was becoming quite apparent. The ability of naturalists to keep classifying newly discovered organisms into particular groups was strong evidence of a high degree of Order underlying the natural environment.

The Coming of Biology Natural History: The Search for Order Begins in Earnest

Fig. 1.5 Aristotle: The world’s first great biologist.

By the 1800s, the collecting and classifying activities of Natural History were becoming more and more replaced by the experimental method. In this method, an hypothesis (high- PAHTH -eh-sis) or starting hunch is “placed” (thesis) “below” (hypo-) a group of facts as a tentative explanation. The researcher then conducts an experiment to test the hypothesis or hunch and collects some results. The results are compared to what was originally predicted by the hypothesis. A conclusion is reached. Either the hypothesis is accepted (being supported by the collected evidence) or it is rejected as not being consistent with the evidence. By this more sophisticated experimental method, no particular hypothesis is ever proven as “absolutely true.” There is always the possibility that a new experiment may be conducted which will provide contradictory evidence. Nevertheless, the experimental method began to provide ever-closer and closer fitting to the “real truth” as it exists in our natural environment.

One of the key investigators using the experimental method in the mid-1800s was a Frenchman named Claude Bernard (ber- NAR ). Claude Bernard was one of the first experimental physiologists (fiz-e- AH -loh- jists ). As “one who studies” (-ologist) about body “Nature or function” (physi), Bernard performed lots of experiments on dogs. Bernard did much of the early work on homeostasis ( hoh -mee-oh- STAY -sis). Homeostasis literally means a “control of sameness,” that is, a relative constancy, of the body’s internal environment.

You may recall the S-shaped pattern from Figure 1.2 (A):

The Coming of Biology The 1800s: Experimental Physiology Comes of Age

Remember that this pattern indicates the maintenance of a relative constancy of oral body temperature within its normal range. This S-shaped pattern therefore also generally indicates the existence of homeostasis of any measured aspect of body structure or function. Claude Bernard, for instance, measured blood glucose ( GLOO -kohs) concentration in dogs. Glucose is the most important sugar or “sweet” ( gluc ) substance within the bloodstream. It is the major fuel for our body cells.

  • sing the experimental method, Bernard found that blood glucose concentration (like oral body temperature) remains relatively constant within its normal range. Thus it, too, shows the characteristics of homeostasis.

Modern biology (especially physiology) owes much to Claude Bernard for demonstrating the importance of the experimental method in detecting homeostasis and other “truths” about living organisms.


Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:  The Coming Of Biology Test

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