What is science?
This is a very good question. When I ask my middle school aged children, they think of science class in school. They think of test tubes, bubbling liquids, and cutting open small animals. Others may think of science as the thing that isn’t religion, a secular process that is seeking to undo religion, as though science were out to eliminate religion, spirituality, and faith. There are some who revere science and equate it with truth. If it is scientific, it is good enough for them.
Well, science really isn’t any of these things. Science is not limited to a few hard science methodologies, it is not hell-bent on destroying religion, and it is not the arbiter of truth. Science is more complex, less sinister, and more humble than any of the above caricatures.
Science is a way to ask and respond to questions. Science is always asking, “How could we know this better than we already do?” and the science goes about finding a way (method) for responding to the question.
It should be stated that science doesn’t really set out to answer questions. Answers are so final in nature. Answers tend to end conversations. Science is not interested in ending conversations, but rather it is interested in just the opposite. Science wants to keep the conversations going. So, science responds to questions. Responses are more tentative than answers. Responses assume whole lot less than answers. Answers had better be right while responses can be what represents good thinking.
Science could be defined as a discipline meant to keep the conversation about knowledge going. Questions that inspire responses which bring about more questions which inspire even better responses and so forth.
Science is a fun discipline because it is essentially a process of having ideas (theory) that you try to figure out a way to test (methodology) to see how much of the idea is not supported (results) and then ponder the implications (discussion). Children do this sort of thing all the time. I did when I was a kid.
I did a science experiment once as a kid, although I thought I was playing and getting into mischief. My buddy had a toy called a “Stretch Arm Strong,” a doll whose limbs would stretch when pulled. We knew he could stretch (review of empirical literature), but was he unbreakable (theory – ideas that go past the edge of knowledge)? If enough pressure were used to stretch the arms, they would break (hypothesis). We tried to break him (methodology). Our first effort to break him failed. My friend was stronger than I was, so he pulled on both arms in the opposite direction. The arms of the “Stretch” extended as far as my friend’s arms, but did not break. We then tried a second attempt (there no one perfect methodology to test a theory). We got more clever (advanced methodology – we created a methodology that this question required). We knew that there were ways to exert more pressure on “Stretch,” so we did (Limitations of first experiment). We placed his torso on a strong tree branch, with one arm on one side of the branch and one arm on the other side of the branch. I pulled on one arm and my friend pulled on the other arm. We both put the full weight of our bodies into this effort as we pulled down on the arms. The arms stretched downward as the torso of “Stretch” remained on the limb. Finally, his arm broke. His doll flesh split open (results - hypothesis supported). But there was also an unexpected finding. We learned that “stretch” was full of thick goo that was so sticky it was like superglue in gel form. We had to deal not only with the success of our intended finding, but also the surprise and problem of our unintended finding (discussion).
Science is a discipline, but it is also a natural approach to child-like curiosity. Maybe to become really good in the discipline of science, one must retain, restore, or rekindle their natural child-like curiosity. Science at its best innocently asks questions and innocently finds ways to respond to those questions. How could that be sinister?