Scientists seek explanations of natural phenomena based on empirical evidence.

Advances in the understanding of evolution over the past two centuries provide a superb example of how science works. Scientific knowledge and understanding accumulate from the interplay of observation and explanation. Scientists gather information by observing the natural world and conducting experiments. They then propose how the systems being studied behave in general, basing their explanations on the data provided through their experiments and other observations. They test their explanations by conducting additional observations and experiments under different conditions. Other scientists confirm the observations independently and carry out additional studies that may lead to more sophisticated explanations and predictions about future observations and experiments. In these ways, scientists continually arrive at more accurate and more comprehensive explanations of particular aspects of nature.

In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena. Natural causes are, in principle, reproducible and therefore can be checked independently by others. If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations. Any scientific explanation has to be testable — there must be possible observational consequences that could support the idea but also ones that could refute it. Unless a proposed explanation is framed in a way that some observational evidence could potentially count against it, that explanation cannot be subjected to scientific testing.

Definition of Science

The use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.

Because observations and explanations build on each other, science is a cumulative activity. Repeatable observations and experiments generate explanations that describe nature more accurately and comprehensively, and these explanations in turn suggest new observations and experiments that can be used to test and extend the explanation. In this way, the sophistication and scope of scientific explanations improve over time, as subsequent generations of scientists, often using technological innovations, work to correct, refine, and extend the work done by their predecessors.



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