First, a caveat: the presentation of the nature of science and even the definitions of facts, hypotheses, laws, and theories I presented is very, very simplified and unnuanced, for which I apologize to philosophers of science. I encourage readers to consult some of the literature in philosophy of science; I think you'll find it a very interesting topic.
Science is an especially good way of knowing about the natural world. It involves testing explanations against the natural world, discarding the ones that don't work, and provisionally accepting the ones that do.
Theory building is the goal of science. Theories explain natural phenomena and are logically constructed of facts, laws, and confirmed hypotheses. Knowledge in science, whether expressed in theories, laws, tested hypotheses, or facts, is provisional, though reliable. Although any scientific explanation may be modified, there are core ideas of science that have been tested so many times that we are very confident about them and believe that there is an extremely low probability of their being discarded. The willingness of scientists to modify their explanations (theories) is one of the strengths of the method of science, and it is the major reason that knowledge of the natural world has increased exponentially over the past couple of hundred years.
Evolution, like other sciences, requires that natural explanations be tested against the natural world. Indirect observation and experimentation, involving if-then structuring of questions and testing by consequence, are the normal mode of testing in sciences such as particle physics and evolution, where phenomena cannot be directly observed.
The three elements ofbiological evolution—descent with modification, the pattern of evolution, and the process or mechanisms of evolution—can all be tested through the methods of science. The heart of creationism—that an omnipotent being created— is not testable by science, but fact claims about the natural world made by creationists can be.
In the next chapter, I will turn to the science of evolution itself. REFERENCES
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Runnegar, Bruce. 1992. Evolution of the earliest animals. In Major events in the history of life, ed. J. W. Schopf. Boston: Jones and Bartlett. pp. 64-93. Shubin, Neil H., Edward B. Daeschler, and Farish A. Jenkins Jr. 2006. A Devonian tetrapod-like fish and the evolution of the tetrapod body plan. Nature 440: 757-763. Thomson, Keith Stewart. 1994. The origin of the tetrapods. In Major features of vertebrate evolution, ed. D. R. Prothero and R. M. Schoch. Pittsburgh, PA: Paleontological Society. pp. 85-107.
Trefil, James. 1978. A consumer's guide to pseudoscience. Saturday Review, April 29, 16-21. Weiss, Robin A. 2001. Polio vaccines exonerated. Nature 410: 1035-1036.
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