Where did science come from?
In the Introduction I tried to give some flavour of the controversies surrounding science, both as an activity in its own right, but also in its role in investigations of the social world. Before we can confront these matters we need to get some clearer views of what science is. This is the task of the next two chapters. In this chapter I want to look at a few episodes of what counted as science (particularly natural science) in past times in order to identify what kind of factors have been important in defining such practices as ‘scientific’. Second, I want to show, again with some brevity, how it was that studies of the social world came to be called science.
The dynamic of science
Science is not miraculous, nor is its contemporary manifestation the result of miraculous birth. As a social activity it is of human parentage and like all offspring it has evolved characteristics of its own, though it has retained many of those of its parents. If we stand in awe of science, we stand in awe of ourselves. The history of science is not simply a dialectical development of a relationship of human beings with nature, but also of scientists with their theories, and scientists with society. Society here is shorthand for religion, philosophy, ideology and politics. By this I mean that the romantic idea of the lone scientist pitted against nature is just one small part of the picture. Nature, as the scientist imagines it, is the product of scientific theories, themselves rooted in a philosophical world view. This in turn may have been shaped by politics or religion. Moreover world views may themselves have been shaped by the discoveries of earlier scientists.
We can summarise three interrelated characteristics:
1 The relationship between metaphysics and science. Early science was mystical and bound up with religious beliefs about nature and the universe. What we might see as recognisably scientific content was small. Yet