The Scientific Method;
Its Emergence and Use
In Western Culture
Warner Pacific College
July 12, 2010
In every science fair across the country the young students are instructed to use the scientific method. In this systematic way of drawing conclusions the student must follow each step in the process in order to come to a provable answer. This gives two desired results. The project outcomes are supportable with data, and the student comes out with a clearer understanding of how science works. The conclusions derived using the scientific method are based on observable data and analysis. This is the foundation of science today.
Using the scientific method involves a step-by-step approach by making careful observations. This involves much more than merely “seeing,” and must continue throughout the entire exercise. When you carefully observe the world and the phenomena, information and materials that are contained within it you will naturally be led to questions. The true scientist is curious about how things work and about changes or trends over periods of time. When there is an observation and a question, a hypothesis is created. There is definitely some conjecture involved, but good and thorough observation will lead to a good question will tend to lead to some answers that are more likely to be true than others. The scientific mind has made some predictions about what the outcome of his work will be. It is imperative at this point that the individual be committed to continued objective observation. It is common to want to be correct in our predictions, but in pure science one has to be willing to have their prediction disproved. “What makes good scientists isn’t that they have no expectations at the start, but the fact that when the results don’t match those expectations, the scientists believe what nature is saying. Instead of ignoring or suppressing the results, they change their idea about what those results should be” (Trefil, 2008). The next step is devising a way to test the prediction. This is simple for some questions, but very challenging for others. For a testing process to be of value, the item in question must be isolated in order to allow for a true conclusion. Doing the testing or experimentation is the next step in the process. Recording the results accurately and then analyzing the data will then lead to a conclusion. It will show that the hypothesis is more likely true or false. Over a long period of time, and testing by many researchers, similar hypotheses that continue to be proven to be true will result in a scientific theory that will be a generally accepted rule unless better technology shows the theory to be incorrect.
This process has given us great advances, not only in thought, but in standard of living, as well. There is power in knowing how things work because we can then discover ways to make nature work in our favor.
The roots of the scientific method reach back to ancient Greece. The Greco and Roman empires represent the beginnings of western culture and thought, therefore the world cultures that have sprung from Greece and Rome have naturally inherited the methods that were put into place by ancient philosophers, naturalists and scientists.
The first natural historians whom we would recognize as such lived, observed and theorized in the city states of ancient Greece. In an atmosphere of relative freedom and prosperity, and unconstrained by religious authority they had time to deliberate about matters beyond day-to-day survival. No longer held back by superstitions, the new thinkers of Greece could speculate on the causes of natural phenomena and the origins and workings of the universe. The application of reason to what they could see, hear, or feel was the key to understanding, and the observations of the great philosopher-naturalists such as Aristotle and Theophrastus were to paint a picture of the natural world that was to persist for centuries, later passed on unchallenged to less free-thinking societies. (Huxley, 2007)
The Greeks lived in an environment in which they were free to question the nature of this world. Among the populace in around 600 B.C. was found “A group of thinkers (who) initiated a serious, critical inquiry into the nature of the world in which they lived – an inquiry that has stretched from their day to ours” (Lindberg, 1992, p. 26). The system of inquiry is not the only contribution they made. Early Greeks can be credited with devising the Genus/Species system for classifying animal and botanical organisms. It was the life work of some very gifted individuals. Their contribution has been broadly accepted by the scientific world as a whole and has not limited its influence to western cultures. The tradition of inquiry and observation they embraced has survived many cultures and eras, with some opposition along the way. Over the centuries science has been challenged by religions, governments, and sometimes by traditionalist within its own disciplines. Because the method is both true and helpful, it survived all the opposition. Over the eras of time, the use of this pattern of thinking gave rise to the agricultural era which resulted in greater prosperity for the human family. It also encouraged larger communities. Later, as the need for more materials within communities arose, the industrial era grew. Natural resources fed this growth and innovations in machinery and production were necessary. These pursuits necessitated further use of science and innovation.
Just as mankind has been successful in using science and scientific principles to continue to increase our comforts, we are also coming to an era of greater respect for our planet and a consciousness of the impact that our advances have made and continue to make on limited resources that support our health and the long-term health of the earth. Although it is not necessary that everyone be a scientist, it is imperative that the human family have an understanding of basic science and an awareness of the things that we are learning today. We have the technology and the intelligence that are the summation of centuries of using the scientific method which has been refined to become a solid foundation for the science we have today.
Huxley, R. (2007). The Great Naturalists. London, England: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Lindberg, D. C. (1992). The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Pholosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Trefil, J. (2008). Why Science? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.