The 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 principles
:

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.

(Frauds, 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 Miller; 1991:9)



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 science are:


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.


      Theories must be justified, not through "proof" as demanded by the creationists, but through:

1. Predictive success

2. Problem solving that provides answers that can be independently tested

3. Fruitfulness

      An examination of evolutionary theory shows it to fit the description of a successful science.
    
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.