Nature of Science
We stated in the first sentence of this
section that zoology is the scientific
study of animals. A basic understanding
of zoology therefore requires an
understanding of what science is, what
it is not, and how knowledge is gained
by using the scientific method.
Science is a way of asking questions
about the natural world and
obtaining precise answers to them.
Although science, in the modern
sense, has arisen recently in human
history (within the last 200 years or
so), the tradition of asking questions
about the natural world is an ancient
one. In this section we examine the
methodology that zoology shares with
science as a whole. These features distinguish
the sciences from those activities
that we exclude from the realm of
science, such as art and religion.
Despite the enormous impact that
science has had on our lives, many
people have only a minimal understanding
of the real nature of science.
For example, on March 19, 1981, the
governor of Arkansas signed into law
the Balanced Treatment for Creation-
Science and Evolution-Science Act (Act
590 of 1981). This act falsely presented
“creation-science” as a valid scientific
endeavor. “Creation-science” is actually
a religious position advocated by a
minority of the American religious
community, and it does not qualify as
science. The enactment of this law led
to a historic lawsuit tried in December
1981 in the court of Judge William R.
Overton, U.S. District Court, Eastern
District of Arkansas. The suit was
brought by the American Civil Liberties
Union on behalf of 23 plaintiffs,
including a number of religious leaders
and groups representing several
denominations, individual parents, and
educational associations. The plaintiffs
contended that the law was a violation
of the First Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, which prohibits “establishment
of religion” by the government.
This prohibition includes passing
a law that would aid one religion
or prefer one religion over another. On
January 5, 1982, Judge Overton permanently
enjoined the State of Arkansas
from enforcing Act 590.
Considerable testimony during the
trial dealt with the nature of science.
Some witnesses defined science simply,
if not very informatively, as “what
is accepted by the scientific community”
and “what scientists do.” However,
on the basis of other testimony
by scientists, Judge Overton was able
to state explicitly these essential characteristics
- It is guided by natural law.
- It has to be explanatory by reference
to natural law.
- It is testable against the observable
- Its conclusions are tentative, that
is, are not necessarily the final
- It is falsifiable.
The pursuit of scientific knowledge
must be guided by the physical and
chemical laws that govern the state of
existence. Scientific knowledge must
explain what is observed by reference
to natural law without requiring the
intervention of a supernatural being or
force. We must be able to observe
events in the real world, directly or
indirectly, to test hypotheses about
nature. If we draw a conclusion relative
to some event, we must be ready
always to discard or to modify our conclusion
if further observations contradict
it. As Judge Overton stated, “While
anybody is free to approach a scientific
inquiry in any fashion they
choose, they cannot properly describe
the methodology used as scientific if
they start with a conclusion and refuse
to change it regardless of the evidence
developed during the course of the
investigation.” Science is neutral on the
question of religion, and the results of
science do not favor one religious
position over another.