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Geosciences LibreTexts

1: Understanding Science

  • Page ID
    11191
  • Learning Objectives

    • Contrast objective versus subjective observations, and quantitative versus qualitative observations
    • Identify a pseudoscience based on its lack of falsifiability
    • Contrast the methods used by Aristotle and Galileo to describe the natural environment
    • Explain the scientific method and apply it to a problem or question
    • Describe the foundations of modern geology, such as the principle of uniformitarianism
    • Contrast uniformitarianism with catastrophism
    • Explain why studying geology is important
    • Identify how Earth materials are transformed by rock cycle processes
    • Describe the steps involved in a reputable scientific study
    • Explain rhetorical arguments used by science deniers

    Science is a process, with no beginning and no end. Science is never finished because a full truth can never be known. However, science and the scientific method are the best way to understand the universe we live in. Scientists draw conclusions based on objective evidence; they consolidate these conclusions into unifying models. Geologists likewise understand studying the Earth is an ongoing process, beginning with James Hutton who declared the Earth has “…no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” Geologists explore the 4.5 billion-year history of Earth, its resources, and its many hazards. From a larger viewpoint, geology can teach people how to develop credible conclusions, as well as identify and stop misinformation.

    • 1.1: What is Science?
      Scientists seek to understand the fundamental principles that explain natural patterns and processes. Science is more than just a body of knowledge, science provides a means to evaluate and create new knowledge without bias. Scientists use objective evidence over subjective evidence, to reach sound and logical conclusions. An objective observation is without personal bias and the same by all individuals.
    • 1.2: The Scientific Method
      Modern science is based on the scientific method. It is a procedure that follows these steps: 1) Formulate a question or observe a problem 2) Apply objective experimentation and observation 3) Analyze collected data and interpret results 4) Devise an evidence-based theory 5) Submit findings to peer review and/or publication.
    • 1.3: Early Scientific Thought
      Western scientific thought began in the ancient city of Athens, Greece. Athens was governed as a democracy, which encouraged individuals to think independently, at a time when most civilizations were ruled by monarchies or military conquerors. Foremost among the early philosopher/scientists to use empirical thinking was Aristotle, born in 384 BCE. Empiricism emphasizes the value of evidence gained from experimentation and observation.
    • 1.4: Foundations of Modern Geology
      As part of the scientific revolution in Europe, modern geologic principles developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. One major contributor was Nicolaus Steno (1638-1686), a Danish priest who studied anatomy and geology. Steno was the first to propose the Earth’s surface could change over time. He suggested sedimentary rocks, such as sandstone and shale, originally formed in horizontal layers with the oldest on the bottom and progressively younger layers on top.
    • 1.5: The Study of Geology
      Geologists apply the scientific method to learn about Earth’s materials and processes. Geology plays an important role in society; its principles are essential to locating, extracting, and managing natural resources; evaluating environmental impacts of using or extracting these resources; as well as understanding and mitigating the effects of natural hazards.
    • 1.6: Science Denial and Evaluating Sources
      Introductory science courses usually deal with accepted scientific theory and do not include opposing ideas, even though these alternate ideas may be credible. This makes it easier for students to understand complex material. Advanced students will encounter more controversies as they continue to study their discipline. This section focuses on how to identify evidence-based information and differentiate it from pseudoscience.

    Thumbnail: Sunset at Delicate Arch (Arches National Park, Utah). Image used with permission (CC-SA-BY; 3.0; Palacemusic).