is Science ?
article by Prof. Frank Wolfs at University of Rochester with a
rather well written and clear description of what science is.......
article on the Talk.Origins site with a brief explanation of the
concept of science and scientific evidence......
confuse and misuse (and
often deliberately) the terms
ontological (philosophical) naturalism and methodological
naturalism. The former is the view that nothing supernatural
exists - a point which may engender heated debate among theologians
and philosophers but is irrelevant to the pursuit of science.......
The PBS website
containing a multitude of resources to help answer this question........
One of the
more concise definitions of science I have seen was that given by
Edward O. Wilson and published in the American Scientist,
Jan/Feb 1998, pg.6.
"Science, ... is
the organized systematic enterprise that gathers knowledge about the
world and condenses the knowledge into testable laws and principles.
The diagnostic features of science that distinguish it from pseudoscience
are first, repeatability: The same phenomenon is sought again, preferably
by independent investigation, and the interpretation given to it is confirmed
or discarded by means of novel analysis and experimentation. Second, economy:
Scientists attempt to abstract the information into the form that is both
simplest and aesthetically most pleasing the combination called elegance
while yielding the largest amount of information with the least amount
of effort. Third, mensuration: If some thing can be properly measured,
using universally accepted scales, generalizations about it are rendered
unambiguous. Fourth, heuristics: The best science stimulates further
discovery, often in unpredictable new directions; and the new knowledge
provides an additional test of the original principles that led to its
discovery. Fifth and finally, consilience: The explanations of different
phenomena most likely to survive are those that can be connected and proved
consistent with one another.
excerpted below is D. J. Daniels' web site http://home.earthlink.net/~dayvdanls/whatsscience.html,
containing a collection of some rather excellent definitions.
Science can be defined
in a number of ways.
Dictionary defines science as "the observation, identification, description,
experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena."
The following definition
of science was agreed upon by 72 Nobel laureates. (From
the Amicus Curiae presented in the US Supreme Court Case of Edwards vs
The Oxford English
Dictionary defines science as "a branch of study which is concerned with
a body of demonstrated truths or observed facts, systematically classified
and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and which
includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truths within its
Cuffey adds that
"using actual practice as the basis for definition, we can define 'science'
simply as the attempt to understand natural phenomena more completely by
means of repeatable or verifiable observation. (This is broader than the
rigid, prediction or experiment-oriented definitions developed by some
philosophers not actively engaged in scientific work.)" (Montagu, pg. 269).
is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural
phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording
data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected
data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the
The essential characteristics
of science are:
It is guided by
It has to be explanatory
by reference to natural law.
It is testable against
the empirical world.
are tentative (are not necessarily the final word).
It is falsifiable
(Ruse, from Montagu, pg. 340)
The processes whereby
scientific theories are supported or rejected is called the Scientific
Method. In most science classrooms students are told that this process
can be broken down into the following steps:
Ask a question about
some discrete part of the natural world.
However, this sterile
formula of simplification to bare components, experiment under controlled
conditions of a laboratory, prediction, and replication is not the entirety
of science. (Gould, 1987, pg. 69)
Research the question
to determine how much is already known about it.
Propose a solution
to the question (HYPOTHESIS) which may explain it. A hypothesis is an imaginative
preconception of what might be true in the form of a declaration with verifiable
deductive consequences (Futuyma, pg. 167).
Devise a controlled
experiment which will either support or refute the hypothesis.
Conclude based upon
the facts derived by the experiment and existing scientific theories whether
the hypothesis should stand, fall, or be revised.
many tests a hypothesis may be elevated to the level of a THEORY.
Method - Summary
of the problem,
of hypothesis and predictions - induction,
collection and interpretation
of conclusions - often based on deductive reasoning.
- gathering data through the senses or sensory enhancing technologies
The collection of
facts "The grist for the mill of scientific inquiry is an ever increasing
body of observations that give information about underlying 'facts.' Facts
are the properties of natural phenomena, The scientific method involves
the rigorous methodical testing of principles that might present a naturalistic
explanation for those facts.
of discrepancies helps to form a basis for the statement of problems.
and prediction - Inductive reasoning
on well established facts, testable hypotheses are formed. The process
of testing "leads scientists to accord a special dignity to those hypotheses
that accumulate substantial observational or experimental support." This
"special dignity" is denoted by the granting of the title "theory," which,
when it "explains a large and diverse body of facts" is considered "robust"
and if it "consistently predicts new phenomena that are subsequently observed,"
it is "reliable."
test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth,
examine the validity of a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy of something
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition
hypotheses generated by historical sciences (where direct experimentation
is impossible) requires the scientist to patiently wait for "new" data
to be uncovered from the historical source.
doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might
make it invalid - not only what you think is right about it: other causes
that could possibly explain you results." Feynman, 1988 p 247.
This scientific process
is what philosophers of science call the hypothetico-deductive method,
making specific predictions from the general conclusions. As part of a
conclusion the researcher will suggest a means of verification, that is
checking the predictions against further observations. This allows the
scientific method to be self-correcting.
conjoining it with
a statement of 'initial conditions'
deducing from the
two a prediction, and
or not the prediction is fulfilled" (Bynum, Browne, Porter, 1981, p. 196.
A discussion at "The
methodology of scientific research programs" will give you a better
idea of what science is and how to tell it from pseudoscience.
What is a scientific
According to S. J.
Gould "in the American vernacular, 'theory' often means 'imperfect fact'
- part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact - theory
- hypothesis - guess". But Gould points out that "facts and theories are
different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts
are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas."
Isaac Asimov states
that "a theory is a detailed description based on long observation and,
where possible, experiment. It is the result of careful reasoning from
these observations and has survived the critical study of scientists generally."
For more about Scientific Theories go to Asimov's
G.G. Simpson reminds
us that "a fact is something that can be observed and that can be confirmed
by the observations of others. ...Truth is interpretation of fact, and
part of the scientific attitude is that any such interpretation is subject
to correction. Truth in this sense can only be relative or tentative".
Although the scientific
method has been established and dutifully followed, does it improve critical
thinking and discovery? Physicist Robert March maintains that the scientific
method only applies to the way facts and ideas are tested. Discovery however
follows a different pattern more often than not, "a lucky guess based on
shaky arguments and absurd ad hoc assumptions gives a formula that turns
out to be right, though at first no one can see why on earth it should
K. C. Cole points
out that "Ideas like Einstein's relativity, Bohr's atom, and Copernicus's
sun-centered solar system went against most current facts - not to mention
most common sense." "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen
and thinking what nobody has thought." (A. Szent-Georgi)
Thomas Kuhn (MIT
science historian) postulates that the scientific method is "a strenuous
and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied
by professional education." However this is not a bad thing since without
some means of focusing in on the enormous quantity of information, scientists
could never "penetrate existing knowledge to the core."
This must always
be tempered with the understanding that "the scientist believes in proof
without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof. "Let us never
forget that tyranny most often springs from a fanatical faith in the absoluteness
of one's beliefs." (Ashley Montagu, pg. 9)
Science is infused
with an unwritten and distinctive ethic: science promotes
for telling lies or falsifying data.)
of the world against the external world by using one or all of the following:
(Boulding from, Montagu,
recording followed by analysis
of systems which are alike in some respects but different in others.
"Science does not
claim to have all the answers. Science is a way of looking at things, and
the first approach of a scientist is to doubt and not believe." (Halstead)
In order to determine
if science and its theories are justifiable, and provide the best possible
explanation of the natural world, the theory must pass numerous tests.
other words it must be repeatable.
Once a theory is
established it will exert a powerful influence over further scientific
investigation. "Successful theories establish themselves as the 'paradigm'
for scientific activity: They define not only acceptable techniques for
tackling problems but also which problems to be considered relevant subjects
for scientific investigation" (Bowler, pg. 15)
"On principle, it
is quite wrong to try founding a theory on observable magnitudes alone.
It is the theory which decides what we can observe." (A. Einstein, from
J. Bernstein, "The Secret of the Old Ones, II." New Yorker, March 17, 1973).
and philosophers have established four areas for theory evaluation. These
include logical, empirical, sociological, and historical criteria.
(The above From
Robert Root-Bernstein in Montagu, pg. 64-94).
unifying idea that postulates nothing unnecessary - Occam's razor.
internally. Premises must hold true under conditions of the real world.
- cases must exist in which the theory could be imagined to be invalid.
Otherwise tautologies (circular reasoning) or there logically sterile constructions
might be admissible as theories.
by explicitly stated boundary conditions so that it is clear whether or
not any particular data are or are not relevant to the verification or
falsification of the theory. An unbounded theory is not falsifiable. And
if a theory can not be falsified it cannot be self corrected. Yet self
correctability is exactly the characteristics that gives a theory its epistemological
criteria (derived from observation or experiment)
must be empirically testable itself or lead to predictions or retrodictions
that are testable. A retrodiction predicts what has happened in the past.
The theory should
actually make verified predictions and/or retrodictions which are reproducible.
The theory should
provide criteria for the interpretation of data as facts, artifacts, anomalies
or as irrelevant.
should resolve recognized problems, paradoxes, and/or anomalies irresolvable
on the basis of preexisting theories, and must be of the domain of science.
The theory should
pose a new set of scientific problems upon which scientists may work.
The Theory must
posit a "paradigm" or problem solving model by which these new problems
may be expected to be resolved. It should be stated in terms that are operationally
It should provide
definitions of concepts or operations beneficial to the problem-solving
abilities of other scientists.
must meet or surpass all of the criteria set by its predecessors or demonstrate
that any abandoned criteria are artifactual.
The theory should
be able to accrue epistemological status acquired by previous theories
through their history of testing.
Finally the theory
should be consistent with all preexisting ancillary theories that already
have established scientific validity. Without such criteria scientists
would be able to pick and choose data that favor their previously recorded
evidence and ignore theories that falsify their own ideas.
1982. The Monkey Business (A Scientist Looks at Creationism). Washington
J. 1982. Science on Trial (The Case of Evolution.) Pantheon Books, New
1984. Abusing Science (The Case Against Creationism.) MIT Press.
McGowan, Chris. 1984.
In the Beginning (A Scientist Shows Why the Creationists Are Wrong). Prometheus
Ed. 1984. Science and Creationism, Oxford University Press.
Ruse, Michael. 1982.
Darwinism Defended (A Guide to the Evolution Controversies). The Benjamin/Cummings