What is Science?

Over the course of time, as scientists change their view of what they find interesting and plausible, the definition of science will change and evolve along with their interests.

There has to be some other criteria for science. If the definition of science is prescriptive, who gets to decide what counts as science? Scientists? Philosophers? God? Moreover, is science a field of study (“the natural world”)? Or is it a method of study (“the scientific method”)? Our apparently simple question has a complex set of answers.

 

The discussion of the relationship between science and faith rests, among other things, on proper definitions of “science” and “faith”. Is “science” simply a term that explains what scientists actually do (descriptive)? Or is the definition of science a statement about what scientists ought to do (prescriptive)? If the definition of science is merely descriptive, then it cannot have fixed boundaries. Over the course of time, as scientists change their view of what they find interesting and plausible, the definition of science will change and evolve along with their interests. But how do you know when scientists are acting as scientists, and when they are merely acting as regular human beings? Are scientists doing science when they eat breakfast and kiss their wives or husbands? If not, then just because a scientist is doing it, that doesn’t necessarily make it science. There has to be some other criteria for science. On the other hand, if the definition of science is prescriptive, who gets to decide what counts as science? Scientists? Philosophers? God? Moreover, is science a field of study (“the natural world”)? Or is it a method of study (“the scientific method”)? Our apparently simple question has a complex set of answers.

Here is one definition of science:

Science is a method of explaining the natural world. It assumes the universe operates according to regularities and that through systematic investigation we can understand these regularities. Because the methodology of science is based on explanations that use empirical data, it cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Science has increased our knowledge because of this insistence on the search for natural causes.

This definition sees science as both method and field of study. But as a definition of science, it is problematic. To begin at the end, the last statement is clearly historically false. Most of the initial growth in scientific knowledge was based on Christian presuppositions, and between 1500-1800, the typical scientist would likely have been a Christian believer, even a churchman. There is no evidence that belief in supernatural creation in any way impeded or hindered the search for scientific knowledge during that period. On the contrary, the great astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote, “God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed man with a mind that can comprehend those norms”. In other words, far from being a bar to scientific discovery, for Kepler his faith was the foundation for scientific discovery.

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