In her provocative essay, "A clash of two cultures", Evelyn Fox Keller wonders whether the quest for universal principles is reasonable in biology:
How appropriate is it to look for all-encompassing laws to describe the properties of biological systems? By its very nature, life is both contingent and particular, each organism the product of eons of tinkering, of building on what had accumulated over the course of a particular evolutionary trajectory. Of course, the laws of physics and chemistry are crucial. But, beyond such laws, biological generalizations (with the possible exception of natural selection) may need to be provisional because of evolution, and because of the historical contingencies on which both the emergence of life and its elaboration depended.
In DSO, we refuse to believe that biology’s descriptive complexity is mathematically intractable. Moreover, there is far more than just biology at stake. If we can develop the tools to understand systems as complex as biology, we can also apply those tools to design complex technological systems, materials, structures, and devices, and even expand our understanding to the dynamics of social networks.
Should we really give up on our search for general laws in biology?