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 Definition: Science...3 comments
Science

First Definition

Here is a dictionary definition. Many people assume that when we use the word "science," we are talking about this definition. In my opinion, it's a pretty good definition, and it would be good if we all meant this definition when we used the word "science." In general, when you see the word "science" in these pages, this is the definition.
"Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied." (Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language)

Implied in this definition is the idea that conclusions are made on the basis of empirical evidence (i.e., evidence that comes from experimentation and observation). Thus, a true "scientist" is someone who studies a part of the world around him for evidence that he then uses to draw conclusions about the world he lives in.

Few people should have trouble with this definition of science.

Second Definition

However, there are many who use the term "science" to refer to a way of looking at the world. To them, the word "science" refers to a philosophical mindset. Their definition of science might be something like this.
"An understanding that matter is the only true reality in the world and that everything in the world can be explained only in terms of this matter. An understanding that the natural world contains everything that is real and of value."

Now it should be easy to see that if someone who adheres to this second definition of "science" hears me refer to the fact that the empirical evidence points to the fact that this world must have had a Creator, they will cry, "That is not science! That is religion!"

They are using a definition of science that, by definition, excludes the concept of a Creator. They believe, in essence, that their philosophy of life (or religion) of materialism and naturalism is "science" and that the Christian philosophy of life (or religion) is "religion." In fact, both materialism and Christianity can be thought of as philosophies of life. One must examine the evidence closely to ascertain which "philosophy" most closely fits the evidence that exists in the world around us. (And, in fact, one can do "good science" [first definition!] and still adhere to either "philosophy"--or some other philosophy--of life.)

I can argue all day that "science" (first definition) points to a Creator, but they will have none of it because they claim that "science" (second definition) allows no room for the concept of a Supernatural Creator!

This is the very reason you hear so many people on television "nature programs" and in high school biology textbooks talk as though the natural world is all that there is. They believe that to imply that a Creator might be involved in all this would be to deny "science" (second definition, of course).

I would suggest that we need to do our little part to insist that the first definition of science (above) is the only valid definition. And I would suggest that those who use the word "science" to mean the second definition should be required to use a different word--a word that shows that they are really talking about their philosophy or their religion. They are talking about the philosophy (or "religion" if you please!) of materialism or naturalism.

We must not let them get away with taking a good word ("science") and redefining it to mean "materialism" or "naturalism!" (And then claim that anyone who disagrees with them is trying to replace "science" [second definition] with religion!)

Evolution

First Definition
"The theory that all forms of plant and animal life are descended from earlier and simpler forms of life whose existence can be explained without reference to a Supernatural Creator."

Since the vast majority of the empirical evidence that science (first definition!) has discovered about life does not support this theory, it is largely held by those whose definition of "science" (i.e., the second definition) allows no other option.

Therefore, because this theory is basically an a priori* conclusion based on a philosophy of life (materialism or naturalism), and not a theory supported by science (first definition), I often add the suffix "-ism" to the term ("evolutionism") to help emphasize that fact.

*(A priori reasoning is reasoning from a previous assumption to a conclusion [also called "deductive" reasoning], as opposed to a posteriori reasoning, which is reasoning from the empirical evidence to a conclusion [also called "inductive" reasoning]. For example, if you assume that the world is flat and, on the basis of that assumption, deduce that you are in danger of sailing off the edge, you are doing a priori reasoning. But your conclusion is only as good as your original assumption. If you use evidence from astronomy and the experiences of other sailors to conclude that the world is round, you are doing a posteriori reasoning.

A scientist who starts with the assumption that everything can be explained materialistically will inevitably deduce that evolutionism [first definition] is true, regardless of any contradicting evidence! That's a priori reasoning. However, if, on the basis of that evidence, he concludes that the nature of life is such that it requires the existence of a Creator, he is doing real science [first definition!] using a posteriori reasoning!)

Second Definition
"Certain observable small variations, very limited in extent, that occur over a period of time as a species adapts to its surroundings."

Here we are talking about the famous "peppered moth" example, or the fact that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, or the fact that the Galapagos finch beaks changed over a period of time.

This second definition of "evolution" would be better called "variation" or perhaps "adaptation." No one argues that there are observable (but very limited!) variations that occur over time as animals adapt to their surroundings. Everyone knows that offspring are not "clones" of their parents. Everyone knows that dogs can be bred into smaller varieties, etc.

However, these slight variations are, by no stretch of the imagination, the same as "evolution" (first definition).

When people who believe in "evolution" (first definition) try to use the illustrations of variation or adaptation to "prove" their theory, those who are not sensitive to the definition of terms may be confused! Don't ever let any one convince you that if you believe that the slight variations mentioned above have occurred, then you are an evolutionist (first definition)!!

Those who believe in "evolution" (first definition) would like to claim that the same mechanisms that lead to variations in bacteria, peppered moths, Galapagos finches, breeds of dogs, etc. have led to the transition from one species to another. The evidence does not support that belief. It is a speculative hypothesis based on a philosophical presupposition--the philosophy of materialism (which they would like to call "science" [second definition!].)

Have you ever known of a dog breeder breeding dogs into cats? Selective breeding has very definite and impenetrable "barriers" or limits beyond which a breeder cannot go! There is no evidence that any mechanism exists which can cause one life form to gradually change into a more complex life form.

So, once again, we should do what we can to make sure that "evolutionists" (first definition) are not allowed to claim that small variations in a species are a form of "evolution."

If you make sure that these definitions are very clear in your own mind, you will avoid a lot of confusion when you talk with others about "science" and "evolution."

Hope this helps!

Steve Hall
August, 2000

© 2000 Steve Hall. Permission is hereby granted to quote from these web pages, in part or in full, as long as the following statement is included: "© 2000 Steve Hall (steve@aboundingjoy.com). Quoted by Permission."

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Pudenda:

I’m a big fan of word origins. One interesting one is the word “science.” The related word “Scientology” has been getting a lot of play lately, with some people claiming that it’s merely trying to cash in on the word-power of “science.” Really though, they both come from the Latin root “scientia” which means knowledge or learning. Scientology is said to literally mean “knowing how to know” or the “study of knowing”. Even more interesting than that though is the Indo-European root of scientia, “skei-” [link] .

Skei- is a word root which actually means to cut or split. Small wonder then that science as we know it is so concerned with breaking things down, categorizing, splitting things into component pieces. It’s closely tied to the IE root, “sek-” from which we derive the words “saw” and “scythe”. Science in the sense of cutting or splitting is related also to “schism” and “schizo-”. And one of the weirder correlations is that the extended form “skeid-” is the root for our modern word “shit”, to defecate.

One other connection this calls to mind. Jung talks somewhere about how the sword in dreams and myth often symbolizes reason and the analytical mind, because it’s able to cut things down, the ability of discernment or judgement. This makes the famous story of King Solomon also make a bit more sense - that tale where two women come battling for ownership of a baby. Solomon orders the baby to be cut in half and divided between the two women. The real mother breaks down and says she’ll give up her claim to the baby as long as it’s life is spared. And it’s by this selflessness that Solomon discerns that she’s the real mother.

;)



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3 comments

22 Dec 2005 @ 17:19 by gordon @71.37.16.63 : Fossil record
Are we taking the fossil record into account??? Is there enough of a record to call evolution a science or is it still a theory? This in combination with changes in the historic record? Must it be simple to complex to be evolution?

"Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation"  



22 Dec 2005 @ 20:52 by bushman : Hmm.
It used to be assumed that it was the DNA that was what made the brain, as it turns out, DNA is the software, but its the individual cell walls that are in contact with the enviorment, not the DNA. Cells mutate/evolve as the enviorment dictates. And because time is not a factor over all, it still takes lots of time before you see an accual change in whatever organisim. Id say some chimps are more evolved than others intelectualy, because what they have faced in thier enviorment, even though you dont see an overall change within a whole spicies, individuals are at various states of evolutuion at the cellular level. :}  


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