Science, humanity's greatest discovery

I am not a scientist by qualification or profession but I recognise that it is science that has allowed humanity to learn almost everything that we have learned about the world we all live in.

There are various definitions of science, look them up on the Internet. I will simply say that science is a method for understanding things, the best method that has been discovered so far. Basically it allows the development of theories by continual referral to evidence. If evidence contradicts a theory then that theory is not scientific and should be abandoned, or at least corrected.

An advance in science can start with an observation, for example it was noticed that the precession of Mercury’s elliptical orbit could not be explained by Newton's law of gravitation but Einstein could explain it with his Theory of General Relativity. Or an advance in science can start with an idea, for example, that the Earth might move around the Sun rather than the Sun moving around the Earth.

To engage in science is to follow the evidence wherever the evidence takes one.

It is science that informed us that the Earth is just a speck in the Universe and that the Universe is amenable to reason. It is science that allowed us to learn that all matter is composed of some 90 or so elements, and that energy and matter are different forms of the same stuff. It is science that showed us the complexity of life, how living things are related to each other and how present living species came about.

Technology is applied science. The combination of science and technology has allowed our civilisation to get to where it is at present. Science and technology have been used for both good and bad, they are amoral; we need ethics, moral philosophy, to tell us how we should live.

I need to stress that science and technology are tools, they cannot be blamed for any misuse of them any more than a hammer could be blamed for someone using it to break a window.

This page was started 2020/12/08, last edited 2023/06/09
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

The value of science.
What has science allowed humanity to understand?

I'll list just a few of the things that science has allowed mankind to gain some understanding of...
  • The first glimmerings of science started with the ancient Greeks. They did not have the scientific method as we do today but a number of influential Greeks seem to have accepted that the Universe could be understood by using observation and reasoning rather than relying on religious dogma. Using reason and evidence they discovered that the Earth was round and they used scientific methods to measured its size. They made many other steps toward understanding 'how the world works';
  • One of the earliest successes of science was in astronomy: discovering that the Earth is round and it's place in the Universe;
    A closely related page on this site is Milestones in the development of human society.
    • Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler used scientific methods to show that the Sun, not the Earth as was previously believed, was at the centre of the solar system.
    • Newton used observation, mathematics and reasoning to discover the Law of Universal Gravitation; how everything in the Universe attracted everything else and how the amount of attraction depended on mass and distance;
    • Over time it was found that there were cases in which Newton's 'laws' didn't quite describe reality. Einstein produced his theories of relativity which has been very successful in describing the Universe on the large scale;
    • As scientists studied atoms, nuclei and sub-atomic particles it was found that neither Newtonian mechanics nor Relativity explained their behaviour. Quantum mechanics was developed to fix this and has been very successful;
    • Science has showed us how stars are formed, how they are powered, how they can become supernovae, neutron starts, black holes and other exotic objects.
    • Science has allowed us to measure the solar system and the Universe;
    • Just recently science has allowed us to build instruments that detect the vanishingly small distortions in space caused by the merging of black holes billions of light years away .
  • Science has allowed us to discover that everything in the solar system is made of of about 90 elements, what those elements are, how they interact, and how they formed.

Periodic table
Science has not only allowed the discovery of the elements that make up the solar system, but it has uncovered where they came from and how they formed.

I ask the reader to, just for a minute, ponder on what an amazing achievement this is.

Image source Science Blog from the SDSS; Origin of the Elements in the Solar System

I could go on attempting to list all the things that science has allowed us to discover. I could not possibly do justice to the attempt. I will make do with just a few more points:
It is science that permitted us to understand how we came to evolve from single celled organisms over several billion years, it is science that allowed us to discover the varied causes of disease, it is science that showed us that the Earth is about four and a half billion years old and the Universe about 13 billion years old, it is science that showed us that we are damaging our world by dumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and cutting down our forests.

The only reliable way that mankind has ever found to understand the world is through science. Religion has provided fairy stories in an attempt to explain the world; science uses observation and reason to search for truth.

It is remarkable how many of the milestones in the development of human society are connected with a scientific, questioning, free-thinking state of mind.

Some have said that science is just another religion.
Nothing could be further from the truth!


Climate change, science, religion

Similarly, some have claimed that the belief that climate change is a developing disaster is also religious. The acceptance of climate science is necessarily scientific; it is not based on unfounded belief. (Religion and climate science denial are based on unfounded belief.)
  • Science is based on sound, verifiable evidence; religion is based on unsubstantiated belief.
  • Science is based on reason, religion is based on blind faith.
  • Science is based on doubting and questioning, religion is based on accepting.
  • Science is based on searching for truth, religion is based on being given falsehoods and being satisfied to accept them.
Science and religion have nothing in common.

The deepest roots of science are in philosophy, which, like science, is based on reason, doubt and searching.

This section added

Kepler's third law of planetary motion; p2 = a3

This law demonstrates how beautiful and simple science can be.

Johannes Kepler used carefully recorded observational data collected over many years by Tycho Brahe to discover three laws of planetary motion.

In doing so he reinforced a step away from the established Church's (erroneous and delusional) teachings - that the planets revolve around the Earth. This step was taken by Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei. Copernicus suggested that the Earth and other planets orbited around the Sun, Galileo produced evidence supporting that theory, but the Church forced him to deny what he believed to be true.

PlanetPeriod, p
Distance, a
In this section of this page I will only discuss the third of Kepler's laws, because I think that it is wonderful and can be shown to be so with a bit of basic arithmetic.

The third law, expressed simply, is that the squares of the orbital periods of the planets (the length of their years) are directly proportional to the cubes of their distances from the Sun.

Putting this another way, p2 = a3. Where 'p' is the length of the planet's orbital period expressed in Earth years and 'a' is the planet's distance from the Sun expressed in units of the Earth's distance from the Sun (Astronomical Units, AU). This equation is very simple and elegant, as is Einstein's E=mc2.

The table shows the figures for all of the planets and Pluto. The last column shows the accuracy of the figures, if they were perfect all the figures in the last column would be exactly one. Of course the figures I've entered are not exact (they have a limited number of decimal places) and squaring and cubing increases the inaccuracy.

For the Earth both p and a equal one and both 12 and 13 also equal 1.

Einstein's equation of the equivalence of matter and energy, E = mc2

This is the formula that Albert Einstein discovered and published in his General Relativity theory. It tells us that energy is another form of matter, that matter is another form of energy, that the one can be transformed into the other, and how much of the one we will get from a given amount of the other.

What science has taught us about the Sun is an example of the application of E = mc2.

"... our Sun converts 600 million tons of hydrogen into 596 million tons of helium every second. The missing 4 million tons of matter are converted to energy, according to Einstein's equation E=mc2. This amount of energy is so large that the Sun gives off 40,000 watts of light from every square inch of its surface."
The above was extracted from Professor Dorneman's pages on the Mercer County Community College site. It accords with my recollection of the figures.

According to the book Larousse Astronomy, 1981 edition (I know, it's old; I'm old too) the total energy output of the Sun is 383 billion billion Megawatts. It is likely to continue to do this for the next five billion years or so.

Where did all this knowledge come from? Devine revelation? No, no knowledge at all has come to humanity from Devine revelation. It has come to us from free thought unbridled by delusions and from the application of the scientific method.

Don't waste your advantages

The human brain is a remarkable instrument; the only thing in the Universe that we know of that is capable of understanding how the Universe works. Science is a remarkable tool; the only tool we know of that is capable of allowing us to understand how the Universe works.

We all use our brains, but if we use tools other than science to try to understand how the world works we can make egregious errors. Don't waste your amazing brain by ignoring science or disbelieving what it is telling us.