ENGL 350: Science

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Current Definitions


Source: www.science-alliance.nl/page.php?lang=en

Science n.

1. New Oxford American Dictionary the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment

2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary "having knowledge," knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method

3. Mosby's Medical Dictionary a systematic attempt to establish theories to explain observed phenomena and the knowledge obtained through these efforts. "Pure science" is concerned with the gathering of info solely for the sake of obtaining knowledge. "Applied science" is the practical application of scientific theory and laws.

Natural Science n.

1. New Oxford American Dictionary a branch of science that deals with the physical world, e.g., physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. • the branch of knowledge that deals with the study of the physical world.

2. Oxford English Dictionary the branch of knowledge that deals with the natural or physical world; a life science or physical science, such as biology, chemistry, physics, or geology; (in pl.) these sciences collectively, in contrast to the social sciences and human sciences

Commentary on Modern Science:

Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt. Richard Feynman, Nobel-prize-winning physicist

To do science is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts. Robert H. MacArthur, Geographical Ecology.


1. Online Etymology Dictionary "a pretended or mistaken science," 1844, from pseudo- (q.v.) + science.

2. Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific

Franklin's Science

File:Franklin Portrait.jpg

Source: http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/outofthemails/franklin

Observations and Experiments being the methodical exploration of physical phenomena and requiring repetition for verification. Although there are many laws and rules created by these repeated observations and experiments the knowledge and studies of science are always changing, therefore, nothing is fact but speculation. Most scientific experiments use some form of the scientific method.

Science of Geometry

Franklin talks about going through two different books of arithmetic to teach himself different aspects of mathematics and he mentions that they included some geometry but that he never made it far in that science. Here it is evident that Franklin views geometry as a form of science, therefore we can add mathematics to the definition of science. (See page 9 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.)


Here Franklin uses a form of science in the usage of the word conscience. Here he uses it as a way to describe how his personal feeling is that all faiths should be able to practice as they see fit. In the OED conscience the first definition is “Inward knowledge, consciousness; inmost thought, mind.” Therefore we can see that during Franklin’s time science can be modified to include introspective thought and feelings. (See page 9 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.)

The Origins of the Modern Scientific Method

As stated in this definition, "science" is conducted by observation and/or experimentation in the particular area of study. In any attempt at scientific method, the "scientist" must outline his or her observation in a stated hypothesis, or an educated guess. This hypothesis is then either proven or disproven through an experimental design, data collection, logical reasoning, and analysis. Although lacking in the latter half of a scientific experiment in this particular example, we see Franklin formulating a logical hypothesis, adhering to sound physical laws, while attempting to coerce his companions at Watt's Printinghouse out of drinking (Franklin 45). In this example, the workmen at Watt's argue that one must drink strong beer in order to perform strong labor. Franklin argues that the amount of energy a beer provides is composed of grain, flour, or barley dissolved in water, which happen to be the main ingredients in beer.

Either knowingly or unknowingly, Franklin has adhered to the Law of Conservation of Mass. Franklin uses this physical law, which states that mass, or matter, may neither be created or destroyed, to argue the amount of organic energy beer provides. Franklin argues that there is more flour in a penny-worth of bread, leading to the logical conclusion that one may as well eat a loaf of bread and a glass of water, rather than drink beer for "strong labor". (see Franklin pages 154-57)


In 1736, Franklin loses a son to smallpox because he had been infected with the small pox disease, which at the time had a morbidity rate of 20-30%. Franklin mentions that he regrets not "inoculating" his child, otherwise known as "vaccinating", because he was scared, most likely due to the imperfections in the small pox vaccine at the time. Despite being an "imperfect" vaccine, the death rate of those contracting the disease through a vaccine was roughly 2.5%. (See page 101)

Franklin's fear is understandable because as a father, one would not want to risk killing their child by a disease willingly administered, as it is described in his writings. But many medical breakthroughs in the area of immunology occurred during the small pox outbreaks, where the small pox vaccine was the first to be administered on humans. The connection between small pox and cow pox, how one immunized for cow pox was immune to small pox, provided the foundation for virology and immunology. Inoculations of this kind were performed since 1000 B.C. but it was the case studies and experimentation with inoculations that began define immunology and virology as a science with repeatable results and statistical evidence, rather than a myth open to doubt criticism.

Jefferson's Science

File:Jefferson's Portrait.jpg

Source: http://www.lonelantern.org/images/

The "America Experiment"

In "Notes on the State of Virginia," Jefferson focuses on useful information about the geography of the land, its resources and information related to commerce. In his analysis he frames his knowledge and investigation of the land under the headings: Boundaries of Virginia, Rivers, Sea Ports, Mountains, Cascades, Productions mineral, vegetable and animal, Climate, Population, etc. Here science is related to the development of the land and is of value because investigation of the nature and state of the land ostensibly will aid in its development.

Jefferson, in defense of America's promise and potential for growth as a nation, discusses science in the following terms:

"As in philosophy and war, so in government, in oratory, in painting, in the plastic art, we might shew that America, though but a child of yesterday, has already given hopeful proofs of genius, as well of the nobler kinds, which arouse the best feelings of man, which call him into action, which substantiate his freedom, and conduct him to happiness, as of the subordinate, which serve to amuse him only. We therefore suppose, that this reproach is as unjust as it is unkind; and that, of the geniuses which adorn the present age, America contributes its full share. For comparing it with those countries, where genius is most cultivated, where are the most excellent models for art, and scaffoldings for the attainment of science, as France and England for instance, we calculate thus." p. 191 (Italics added)

His discussion suggests a redefining of science in response to the opportunities presented by the new resources of America. With these different scientific discoveries and raw materials, America can be developed into a nation equal, if not superior, to the modern, established nations of their time. America is able to contribute to not only its own growth, but also that of its neighbors and foreign allies because of the variety of resources available that aren't found in other continents. These differences make the "America Experiment" unique and lead the figures of Early America to create a prosperous and flourishing nation.

See page 243 in Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. In this usage of science Jefferson is referring to the development of government in the United States. He remarks that in the beginning they were inexperienced in the science of government. He goes on to list the various problems with the initial government and its struggles. The way science is grouped with government here seems to refer to the trial and error process, part of the scientific process as explained above, which was conducted in order to get a government which would work well. Government in its most rudimentary form really is an experiment, a way to control and manipulate a group. Thus, America, and its creation, was referred to as the "America Experiment".

In the Jefferson reading we find the idea of science as being intimately connected with politics. In fact it seems as though politics hijacks science and uses it for its own benefit. What Jefferson begins as a somewhat objective look at the population and how it is distributed turns into a discussion of how the most intelligent, vibrant, and fertile population could be created using the people that were inhabiting the land at the time. This is where we get his long discussions of the potentiality of Native Americans to be mothers and how many children they could have when compared with people of European descent. In this discussion we also see the melding of another key word, marriage. In his development of how this new American population could develop Jefferson mentions racial marriage combinations and speculates as to which groupings would be the most fertile.

Animal science

Jefferson also brings up animal science, namely biology and zoology, to observe the peculiarities of America. He observes different species of animals found in the country and compares them to those found in other lands. For example, when discussing the honey bees of America, he says, "they furnish then an additional proof of the remarkable fact first observed by the Count de Buffon, and which has thrown such a blaze of light on the field of natural history, that no animals are found in both continents, but those which are able to bear the cold of those regions where they probably join" (199). Another example is when Jefferson discusses fossil history after finding the bones of an extinct species specific to America, seen on page 169.

This insight, that these animals are not found on both continents, is important because it enables Jefferson to begin to redefine resources in America. Instead of looking for the same kinds of animals in America that would be found back in England, the possibility of new and uniquely organized systems of life arises. It is interesting to note his word choice in the honey bees example, that this discovery has "thrown a blaze of light on the field of natural history". These observations being to redefine conceptions of creation and organization of the world.

It's important to note that, by listing the plants and animals specific to America, Jefferson is able to establish a national identity for his country apart from Britain. By listing the animals, geographical features, and other physical aspects of the country, Jefferson is able to definitively state what makes America unique. The first few queries of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia deal with establishing this identity through the physical, tangible attributes of the country rather than the theoretical, metaphorical characteristics that originally separated America from Britain.

Man of genius in science

See page 190 in Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. Jefferson continues to discuss the genius or lack thereof of the inhabitants of the “New World.” What he is commenting on is attacks from the west namely the French and English that there has not been any “man of genius” in any area of science. From this usage we can see that Jefferson views science as having various subcategories. Not only are their various subcategories but strength in science is a male or masculine aspiration at this time. On page 191 he continues to describe science and really seems to connect science to the development of a country. He groups science with civilization and state on this page. This seems to adapt the overall definition so that it science would be some kind of a barometer for a countries progress.

Race Science and Modern Issues

Race science is a pseudo-science, which attempts to draw on behavioral, physical, biological, and genetic differences that separate "superior" races from "inferior" races. Thomas Jefferson uses race science to separate the Indians, the Blacks, and the Whites in America. He uses physical distinctions such as color, hair, scent, and sweat in order to extrapolate differences in organs, glands, heat tolerance, and beauty. This science is an ever changing definition, where in this case it was used to distinguish the Whites from the Blacks and Indians, but it was also used to separate the Aryans (sanscript languages) vs the Semites (Hebrew speaking) during Nazi Germany. Variations in Nazi race science included skull formations, genetics, ancestry, and evolution. Modern day definitions of race science include IQ tests, and research aimed to justify racist ideology. Common opponents of these race scientists are critics involved in political correctness and censorship. see Jefferson 187 and 265

It seems over 200 years later man still was ignornant in believing this pseudo-science of race. Laura Briggs discusses this in the Keywords book, saying "a battle was being fought over race, ostensibly over IQ but more generally about African Americans and public school desegragation, admission to higher education, equality of oppportunity in good jobs, and civil liberties." It seems some still tried to prove certain races had lower intelligence. Briggs brings up Arthur Jensen who argued that "black children's lower IQ meant that they could never achieve equal success in school alongside white children" (206). This idea of pseudo-science ignores what may be the causes and effects of the given "scientific" results. For example, maybe black children tested at lower IQ's (if they did at all) because of quesitons in direct opposition of their culture or simple because they couldnt/didnt receive the education white children were given.

As an example, it is seen in "Notes" that Jefferson talks about the Native Americans in an attempt to defend them, by saying that their “lack of genius” comes from the fact that letters have not been introduced to them. His argument is that there would not have been advances in the “arts or sciences” in the western world without them (See Jefferson page 189). It is this similar defense of minorities and ethnic groups that can be seen in race sciences today.

Wheatley's Science

File:Phillis Wheatley.jpg

Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division, digital ID cph.3a40394

In Wheatley's poetry, people who study science are described as those given the responsibility and privilege to map the heavens. It certainly seems telling in Wheatley's "messengers of heaven" that she is connecting science science and religion. That these "messengers of heaven" are given the divine right to study the skies seems to implicate Wheatley in arguing that science, unlike it is viewed in a more modern sense, is in fact a fundamentally religious tool given by the hand of God in order to know his nature through studying the world through science. It is apparent that the science Phillis Wheatley refers to is astronomy the study of the material universe, yet in light of its religious qualities constructed by God. This is evident in the way she writes that "sons of science" "mark the systems of revolving worlds", referring to the planets and moons and yet still refers to them as the "messengers of heaven". That she refers to these "scientists" as "messengers of heaven" indicates the connection/possible tension that arises between science and religion as Phillis Wheatley saw it in her perspective of the world. However, in light of this, an interesting conversation arises between Wheatley and Jefferson. Jefferson critiques Wheatley, saying that "Religion indeed has produced Phyllis Wheatley; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism" (147). For Jefferson, the sciences, often linked with the arts, are channels of intellectual pursuit. In critiquing Wheatley, and subsequently black slaves, Jefferson can be seen to make a qualitative assessment between religion and science, emphasizing the intellectual superiority and integrity of the whites over Wheatley's collapse of the dichotomy between science and religion (as this is seen as a product of Wheatley's intellectual inferiority).

The study the heavens and its abilities to affect human lives is referred to as "astrology". Astronomy, in its modern day definition, is given the suffix "-nomy", which means "arrangement" or "management". This distinction is given to accent the difference in the two studies. Astronomy is considered a purely scientific endeavor, while astrology lacks the physical scientific evidence to be considered a science. Astronomy today deals with the categorization and naming of celestial bodies in space. Astrology is a pseudo-science, often categorized with fortune telling and superstition in its modern day definition.

Rowson's Science


Walker's Science


"When we take a retrospective view of the arts and sciences--the wise legislators--the Pyramids, and other magnificent buildings--the turning of the channel of the river Nile, by the sons of Africa or of Ham, among whom learning originated, and was carried thence into Greece, where it was improved upon and refined. Thence among the Romans, and all over the then enlightened parts of the world, and it has been enlightening the dark and benighted minds of men from then, down to this day. I say, when I view retrospectively, the renown of that once mighty people, the children of our great progenitor I am indeed cheered. Yea further, when I view that mighty son of Africa, HANNIBAL, one of the greatest generals of antiquity, who defeated and cut off so many thousands of the white Romans or murderers, and who carried his victorious arms, to the very gate of Rome, and I give it as my candid opinion, that had Carthage been well united and had given him good support, he would have carried that cruel and barbarous city by storm. But they were dis-united, as the coloured people are now, in the United States of America, the reason our natural enemies are enabled to keep their feet on our throats" (22). Walker is trying to make a case that learning/ enlightenment was generated in Africa and was then carried out on into Greece and then began to spread over the world, and the result of which was the eventual backlash and the blacks current position as slaves.

  • Walker then makes an appeal against Jefferson's argument of genetic inferiority, "I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind?"... "is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genius, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications."... "Will not a lover of natural history, then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of MAN as distinct as nature has formed them?" Science may not explicitly be stated but "natural history" as well as the various references to genetics were all used to justify black's inferiority to whites, Walker makes an argument that although Jefferson may have been a great philosopher he feels that he has committed a terrible injustice against the blacks because they have been nothing but docile, loyal workers and supporters to him.

On page 29 Walker is quoting Jefferson: "'It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genius, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications...Will not a lover of natural history, then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them?'" First off this is Walker making a mockery of Jefferson by rebutting Jefferson's claim that those of different races should be "distinct" and seperate. This relates to the science of genetics. Jefferson uses the idea of genetics as his reason that those of the same species but of different races are meant to be seperate. Although Jefferson refers to genetics, Jefferson uses a genetics based form of "race science", which is a pseudo-science, in order to distinguish the races.

In Walker, religion and science are intertwined and yet set against each other as opposites in different ways to accomplish Walker's goal of appealing to readers both on a logical, philosophical level and a sophisticated scientific level. While Jefferson seems hesitant to assert God's intervention in the racial hierarchy between whites and blacks, Walker is more than happy to do so: "...I am brought oftimes solemnly to a stand, and in the midst of my reflections I exclaim to God, 'Lord didst thou make us to be slaves to our brethren, the whites?'" (30). Here, Walker is reacting to Jefferson's assertion that the races may have been created biologically different in order to accomplish cultural separation--a scientific argument. But by asking whether or not God has mandated the dominance of whites over blacks, Walker imbues the question with philosophical nuances: a loving God's choice to enslave one people doesn't fit with Walker's worldview of equality, love, and spiritual happiness. By setting religion and science as inextricably connected and yet set against each other, Walker creates a more sophisticated argument that seems to poke philosophical holes in Jefferson's work.

Childs Science

Child's narrative draws some comparisons between Cooper and Scott. It seems that Childs questions the knowledge (Briggs 205) of her masculine predecessors. There is a clear element of the domestic in her narrative and this brings a kind of sentimentality to the word ‘science’.

It should also be noted that there has been a clear shift from the narratives of Franklin, and Jefferson. Their writing is wedged in Natural science and a Darwinian commentary on race, whereas Science in Child’s narrative is more centered on race and social relationships, the emotional and inter-people relations. i.e puritan vs. the native.

The ideas and thoughts that her narrative provoke are how might a woman’s narrative bring new observations to the scientific observation of the ‘other’? Child brings a domestic, feminine and sentimental lens through which to look at science. Laura Briggs talks about science as not ‘a knowledge, but the knowledge, that which speaks truthfully about the real’. Is the feminine knowledge of science the real? Or should it be disregarded?

Narrative of Robert Adams

Science seems to related to exploration and discovery (development of knowledge), specifically of new land such as Timbuctoo. This idea of land exploration is somewhat like how Jefferson uses the word science in parts of his Notes on the State of Virginia. From the preface: "Scientific credibility, on the one hand, and moral seriousness on the other--Robert Adam's extraordinary tale offered both...'the greater part of the published Narrative, composed of introductory details, copious explanatory notes by various hands and on various subjects, elaborate concluding remarks in defense of the story and the notes..." (xxviii).

Connections between Science and Other Keywords


Laura Briggs connects the keyword science to our other keyword sex using the term sexology--where science is used to create divides (or the keyword "borders") between peoples/preferance/races/ethnicities etc.

Science is now more directly connected to the keyword sex than ever before. During Jefferson's time science and sex were tied together through the idea of procreation. Now, procreation has taken on a whole new meaning through scientific advancements such as cloning and test tube babies. Science can now take the place of sex, as far as the reproductive definition goes.


Science is in direct opposition to religion. An example of this would be the classic feud between creationism and Darwinism. The former teaches that the universe and everything in it was "created" by one God. The latter refutes this by many scientific reasons, drawing on the "Big Bang" theory, and "evolution".