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Natural Science - Year II

Unit 35: What is science (round 2)

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History Weblecture for Unit 35


This Unit's Homework Page History Lecture Science Lecture Lab Parents' Notes

History Lecture for Unit 35: Defining Natural Science, Round 2

For Class
Outline/Summary

Reviewing Concepts and Methods

Historical study requires us to keep track of when different events occured, so that we can make assumptions about which event was influential on later events.

If the historian trusts historical information in its plain transmitted form and has no clear knowledge of the principles resulting from custom, the fundamental facts of politics, the nature of civilization, or the conditions governing social organization, and if, furthermore, he does not evaluate remote or ancient material through comparison with near or contemporary material, he often cannot avoid deviating from the high road of truth.

Ab-ar-Rahman Ibn-Kahldun

Current Issues in Science

In our first year, we started our survey of science and its history with the questions what is science? and what are the topics and methods appropriate to science?

Our focus this term is on the development of modern theories of matter, energy, space and time, the organization of living forms, the origins of life and its diverse forms, and the nature of human consciousness, order to answer the questions of our own time, what are the limits or science? and how are we to best use our scientific knowledge? Many of the key issues facing us are evident in legal battles, movies, literature, and the popular press:

  • Manipulation of genetic material (biogenetically-engineered food, designer genes to compensate for inherited diseases, cloning animals)
  • Use and abuse of the environment (pollution, conservation, global warming)
  • Sources of energy (nuclear energy safety, use of fossil fuels)
  • The creation and age of the universe (the Big Bang, quasars, black holes)

All of these issues have an impact on how we live, treat each other, and relieve poverty and disease in the world, so a basic understanding of the underlying science is necessary to help us make decisions wisely as stewards of God's creation.

Methods of Scientific Investigation

Besides the issues that result from scientific research into different areas of nature, we also need to investigate how science itself is done. Here we consider the issues of

  • Ethical experiments (using humans and animals, endangering the environment, "changing nature")
  • The function of scientific societies that review, control, and sometimes suppress publication of controversial theories
  • How "science" is taught (government funding, standards of education such as whether creationism can be addressed or not)
  • How science is funded (government, industrial, and academic projects)
  • Certainty and probability of outcomes (determining the cause of cancers)
  • How science and scientists are portrayed by the media or perceived by the public
  • the relationship between science and technology (just because we can do something, should we?)

Consider each of these points at greater length by working through this presentation on Science Issues. (Click on the link, then use the controls at the bottom of the screen to page through the slides).

EXAMPLE: Government Goals for Science Education

Read the material in the box carefully, remembering the suggestions in the previous unit's discussion of "Reading for Meaning". Even though this section is short, you may want to take notes, look up terms, and write down your own reflections as you read.

For example, the US department of Education sets standards for scientific "literacy" to achieve these

Goals for School Science

The goals for school science that underlie the National Science Education Standards are to educate students who are able to

  • experience the richness and excitement of knowing about and understanding the natural world;
  • use appropriate scientific processes and principles in making personal decisions;
  • engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about matters of scientific and technological concern; and
  • increase their economic productivity through the use of the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the scientifically literate person in their careers.

    These goals define a scientifically literate society. The standards for content define what the scientifically literate person should know, understand, and be able to do after 13 years of school science. The separate standards for assessment, teaching, program, and system describe the conditions necessary to achieve the goal of scientific literacy for all students that is described in the content standards.


  • What do you think the authors of the standards mean by the "richness and excitement of knowing about the natural world"?
  • Who gets to decide what is an appropriate process to use in making a personal decision? Why would government be interested in this process?
  • Why would we want public discourse on matters of scientific or technological concern?
  • What is an "increase in economic productivity"?

As we study the efforts of philosophers, scientists, and engineers for the last four centuries, and look at the modern theories to which they contributed key concepts, you may find the roots of some of these issues.

Study/Discussion Questions:

  • What is science today? How is it different from the investigations of nature in the past?
  • What impact do scientific efforts have on your own life?
  • What ethical issues confront scientists? Can these issues be resolved using scientific methods, or must they be addressed by other means?

Further Study/On Your Own