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What is/is not science? Which science disciplines have testable theories?

  1. Sep 25, 2006 #1
    Hello all -

    While discussing Darwin's Origin of Species with a friend, I was asked, "Do you really consider that 'science' "?

    My response was, "Yes." But upon reflection, the conversation made me realize I do not have a good definition of what science is and is not.

    Even after reading several books written for the express purpose of defining science, I'm still uncertain.

    The closest thing I can come up with for a defining characteristic is that to be science, the endevor must involve empirically testable hypotheses.

    As such, physics and chemistry quickly meet that criteria.

    But does evolutionary biology? geology? cosmology? One can't really rewind time and see what happened, or see what would happen if we were to recreate the Earth (geology), life (evolution), or the universe (cosmology).

    So, what is science? And do these and other discipline's qualify? Why?

    Battling Webster
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2006 #2
    "Science requires the testing of explanations of the natural world against nature itself, and discarding those explanations that do not work" (E. C. Scott, 2004, Evolution vs Creationism, U. California Press). The key words are "testing" and "nature"--and there are different types of testing, direct experiment is but one. There are also "indirect experiments" that form an important part of scientific knowledge. Some examples, giant planets have been discovered orbiting stars--yet we cannot observe the planets directly. Sub atomic particles are too small to be seen by physicist, yet indirect experiments can be used to test claims about the particles. Evolutionary theory rests on the same type of indirect experimental evidence, you use the information found in nature to test claims about the origin of species. So, yes, biology, geology, cosmology, (and let us add particle physics) are all fields of study that follow the methods of science. If I may suggest that you read the book cited above, the author deals directly with your question.
  4. Sep 26, 2006 #3
    You have to go a bit further. It is not sufficient that the scientific method be used to test any hypothesis. The hypothesis must be falsifiable. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Since there is no way to count the number of angels no hypothesis can be formulated that can be proven wrong and so no falsifiable (scientific) hypothesis can be formulated.
  5. Oct 3, 2006 #4

    Good answers Rade and Colion. Thank you.
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