Science as Storytelling
Version 4.0 (August 21, 2006)
B. R. Bickmore
Department of Geological Sciences
Brigham Young University
D. A. Grandy
Department of Philosophy
Brigham Young University
©2006 B.R. Bickmore and D.A. Grandy. This paper may be copied and distributed only on a
non-profit basis, unless the express, written permission of the authors is given.
What is Science?
Much of our modern culture revolves around something called “science.” Governments
want “scientific” analysis of various problems to guide policymaking. News reports detail the
latest “scientific” studies about human health. People worry about whether their religion
conflicts with “science.” But what is science? This turns out to be a complicated and
controversial question, and whenever we try to come up with a really precise definition, we end
up calling some activities “science” that we would rather exclude, or excluding some activities
we would like to include (L
, 1996). For example, some people might distinguish science
from other activities by noting that scientists perform experiments. However, some sciences are
not particularly experimental, e.g., it is hard to imagine astronomers performing experiments on
celestial bodies. On the other hand, astronomers do collect and record observations, even if these
cannot properly be called “experiments.” Is the collection of observations of the natural world
the defining feature of science? Apparently it is not, since astrologers have been observing and
recording the motions of heavenly bodies for millennia, and most people would not classify
astrology as science. Scientists typically go on to explain their observations by creating theories
that might be used to predict or control future events. However, astrologers also explain their
observations by creating theories, and they certainly try to use them to predict things (O
2002, pp. 1-2)! Furthermore, there is a certain breed of physicists, called “string theorists” who
have not yet come up with a single testable prediction, but that does not keep them from being
classed with the other scientists in the university physics departments where they work.
Even if a precise definition of “science” is not forthcoming, however, most people would
agree that, in general, science does involve collecting observations about the natural world and
coming up with explanations for them that might help us predict or even control the future.
Therefore, we could propose a loose definition of science like the following.
Science is the modern art of creating stories that explain observations of the natural
world, and that could be useful for predicting, and possibly even controlling, nature.