What is Science?

2006 Feb 3

In the wake of struggles over origins instruction in schools (evolution vs intelligent design) a new definition of science has been promoted by Judge Jones of US District Court in Pennsylvania. On page 64 of his opinion he said that "science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena".

That is not what I was taught in school. And that is not what I find when I research for the definition of science:

  • OSU: "Science is "systematically acquired knowledge that is verifiable".
  • Britannica: Science is "any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws."
  • Wikipedia: Science attempts to identify phenomena and entities in the environment, their causal powers, the mechanisms through which they exercise those powers, and the sources of those powers in terms of the thing's structure or internal nature.
  • McGraw Hill: Science is "a" systematic field of study or body of knowledge that aims, through experiment, observation, and deduction, to produce reliable explanations of phenomena, with reference to the material and physical world.
  • Crichton: "Science is the business of generating testable hypotheses".

I particularly like that last one by author Michael Crichton because science compares theory with the evidence!

My problem with Judge Jones' statement, is the "natural causes" part of his definition. In some of the physical sciences we do not know the causes of things (e.g. gravity) and yet we have detailed, accurate scientific models for them. By the Judge's definition, the extremely accurate predictive models of gravity that we have today were not developed through science because we haven't been able to explain gravity by natural causes (or even by any causes).

Imagine (for talking purposes) a biological system, designed and constructed by a being of superior intelligence. If evolutionists lacked the ability to evaluate and study the origins of such a system in a naturalistic context, that would not falsify its true explanation. The problem would be their definition of acceptable explanations.

When I compare the Judge's definition with the other definitions, I find it to be defective and weak. If he was using this definition to guide his decision then I think he came to the wrong conclusion.

2006-02-03 updated 2021-02-14   © 2021 Larry Grove