What is the Definition of Science?" - Some Personal Thoughts
Today most people tend to think that science refers to using the scientific method of experimentation to learn more about the physical world around us. Given that the word in its roots simply means "to know," is it proper to consider knowing about the world around us only via the experimental method? This itself is a philosophical question, i.e. one that requires an answer which physical data cannot provide. In a similar way, as soon as someone asks "Why should we do experimental science?" they too have left the realm of science. There is no scientific reason why we should pursue science, to know more about the world, or to make it a better place, that is itself a moral question.
For Aristotle and the later Medievals, science had a much broader meaning, something like "... an intellectual grasp of a true proposition grounded in an understanding of why that proposition is true." With this definition then we can understand why they could call other disciplines like "Theology" a science. It's the grasping of a truth within a larger system of truth which justifies that particular one. Given the premises and fundamental principles of God's revelation to humanity, one can have a framework in which to talk about many other truths regarding God, the formation of a "divine science."
As Aquinas puts in at the beginning of the Summa Theologiae PP, Q1, A2 :
"There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God."
From a later Cartesian perspective, science takes on the role of helper. Science takes on the role of helping to uncover the details of the already known essences of perception in the mind. For example, the details of Geometry are based on elements of our mental perception which are already present in us a priori, i.e. extension in space, number, angles, etc. Investigation into the world is simply uncovering more details about these principles which could have been deduced without science but for their complexity. Here science plays a role of being helper to the Rationalist philosophy which is more fundamental.
Returning back to the original question, "What is the definition of science?" A practical application which may show the importance of contemplating this question could be that of the controversy over a form of science known as "Intelligent Design." ID theorists challenge the worldview assumption that every phenomena in the observable world has ONLY material causes for its explanation. Of course
there are material causes, but the controversy lies in whether or not a particular phenomena can be reducible to only those causes, and leave out the possibility of a cause which is "immaterial," so to speak. An example used by ID leader, Dr. Stephen Meyer, would be that of the Rosetta Stone. One could approach the Rosetta stone from a purely material science perspective and analyze the stone in terms of wind and erosion marks and try to understand it. They would be completely wrong as to what the item was though! There is an immaterial reality behind the physical markings on the stone, that of human language and ideas. Can the same be said for phenomena in the universe such as highly designed cosmological, physical, geological, and biological systems that rely on "specific complexity," or in other words, pattern free arrangements which are united together to produce something meaningful, ordered, and functional for a reality which exists at a larger level of abstraction than the processes themselves? What do we make of the evidence of this type of design? Must we de-facto reduce it to material processes, or can we, like with the Rosetta stone, invoke a cause which may not be physical but which better fits the data? Can a fundamental premise of doing hard science be that everything that exists should be considered as part of an intelligently designed system, and therefore we go about research with that premise in mind?
Is that still science? ... Comment below with your thoughts.