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What do we mean by the History of Science? - A brief introduction

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What we call "science" is, in basic terms, the knowledge of the world of nature. There are many regularities in nature, and humankind has had to recognize and understand these in order to survive. When humans developed agriculture, for example, it was important to correlate the time of spring floods and the optimum time to plant seeds with the position of the sun. Science, defined as the knowledge of natural processes, is universal among humankind, and has existed in some form or another since the beginning of human history.

The history of science is the study of how this knowledge developed and is considered to include both the natural and the social sciences. More precisely, science in this context is the body of empirical, theoretical, and practical knowledge about the natural world, and is produced by scientists who use the scientific method, which emphasizes the observation, explanation, and prediction of real world phenomena.

In the Western tradition in the past, those who investigated the natural world were known as "natural philosophers", and their discipline was called "natural philosophy". The word scientist was first coined by William Whewell in the 19th century. When reading and discussing the history of science, it's important to understand that "natural philosophy" and "science" are synonyms.

The field of study is vast because the process of the development of science was different in different cultures, each of which has their own history. The West oftentimes focuses far too much on its own contributions, to the detriment of understanding the development and contributions of other cultures. It is important, and interesting, to understand how science developed in China, in India, in ancient Greece, and other areas of the world, and the contributions that each made to science's overall development.

Another aspect of the subject is understanding how science developed in its different fields: physics, biology, medicine, chemistry, and astronomy, to name a few.

The intent of this section of the Science and Religion forum is to explore how science developed in each of those areas. The present author being not remotely qualified to speak to the social sciences, the hope is that others will arise to contribute to those subjects. And it goes without saying that contributions to the history of the physical sciences are welcome as well.

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