Nature of Science
I. Science is a powerful way to understand and explain the
natural world in which we live. It is based on the following
1. There is a real and knowable universe
2. The universe (which includes stars, planets, animals and rocks. as
well as people, their cultures and their histories) operates according
to certain understandable rules or laws.
3. These laws are immutable - that means they do not, in general,
change depending on where you are, or "when" you are.
4. These laws can be discerned, studied, and understood by people
through careful observation, experimentation and research.
Myths, and Mysteries; Feder, 1990:13)
II. One way that science investigates
the natural world is by using the scientific method to seek out
reliable (predictable) explanations for phenomena. Scientists using the scientific method:
1. look for recurring patterns and
relationships among events and processes
2. explain observed events and processes in terms of natural phenomena
3. develop explanations (called hypotheses) that are testable
(Taken in part from Biology; Levine and
III. In order to clarify the
controversy of what constitutes evidence, Kitcher (Abusing science : the
case against creationism; 1982:45-54) presents
an excellent discussion of what makes a science successful and the
relation between theory and evidence.
Three characteristics of a successful
1. Testability of hypotheses
independently of the particular cases for which they are introduced.
2. Unification resulting from ability to apply a small family of
problem strategies to a broad class of cases.
3. Fecundity, resulting in new and profitable lines of investigation.
must be justified, not through "proof" as demanded by the creationists,
1. Predictive success
2. Problem solving that provides answers that can be independently
examination of evolutionary theory shows it to fit the description of a
1. It is explanatory, in that it
provides a method of reasoning that can be used to answer a multitude
of biological questions.
2. It is unifying, because it addresses so many diverse questions
-i.e., accounts for similarities/differences in
species, geographical distribution of animals, etc.
3. Claims are subject to independent check.
-i.e., geology, plate tectonics, fossil record,
microbiology, organic chemistry, etc.
4. It is fecund in that its problem solving strategies have given rise
to important new areas of scientific investigation
-i.e., ecology, genetics, etc.