Science, truth without certainty

By Grant Jacobs 12/06/2010

How does science work?

What is a hypothesis?

Are theories ranked higher than laws?

If you are looking for a broad introduction to the basics of a scientific approach to investigating problems this  book chapter, Science: Truth without Certainty, available on-line as a PDF file may help.

The chapter outlines the different approaches and levels of thinking that science takes to examining things, explaining for example the roles of evidence, proof and disproof as well as the different  concepts of facts, hypotheses, laws and theories.

ncse_logo_color_300pxThe author Eugenie Scott is the Executive director of the USA’s National Centre for Science Education. Despite it’s name, the goal of the NCSE is narrower that science education in general, as it’s subtitle indicates ’Defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.’

Following this the book this chapter is drawn from, Creationism v. Evolution, an introduction, is aimed at the creationism v. evolution (non-*) controversy, particularly in the USA.

The beginning and end of the chapter discuss religious approaches to looking at things, but the body of the chapter should be of interest to anyone wanting a relatively short, well-written, account of these aspects of science whether or not you are interested in the creationism v. evolution story.

review of the book is available on-line.

I quibble about a few of the passing claims made about side topics, but then I’m a harsh critic. For example, I am not entirely convinced that aesthetics ’has’ to lie outside science, as aspects of it are studied by science. (No doubt readers will have their own opinions!)

There are many alternative sources for information on these things, it’s a very popular topic on-line! A local source with a (very) concise description is the at the Evolution for Teaching website of the University of Waikato. (This effort is headed by scibling Alison Campbell who writes bioBlog.)

A particularly illuminating account can be found at the PseudoAstronomy blog, which contrasts the colloquial and scientific use of some of the terms.


This post is inspired in part by a conversation Alison Campbell is having with a Christian minister and her efforts to address some of his misunderstandings about science. It occurs to me that these basics underpinning science might deserve a wider airing.

HT: Greg Laden for the source of the book chapter.

* There is no scientific controversy over evolution occurring; there is a social/political/religious controversy over some people pushing for religious views in it’s place.

Other articles on Code for life:

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

You can change the ideas, but not the data

Doubt not certainty

A course for all degrees: PHIL 105, Critical Thinking

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