The term natural science as the way in which different fields of study are defined is determined as much by historical convention as by the present day meaning of the words.
Thus the traditional description of natural science is the study of nature: the physical, nonhuman aspects of the earth and the cosmos. Natural sciences form the basis for the applied sciences. Together, the natural and applied sciences are distinguished from the social sciences on the one hand, and from the humanities, theology and the arts on the other. Mathematics is not itself a natural science, but provides many tools and frameworks used within the natural sciences. The term natural science is also used to identify "science" as a discipline following the scientific method, in contrast to natural philosophy.
Alongside this traditional usage, more recently the words "natural sciences" are sometimes used in a way more closely matching their everyday meaning, stemming from natural history. In this sense "natural sciences" can be an alternative phrase for biological sciences, involved in biological processes, or perhaps also the earth sciences, as might distinguished from the physical sciences (more directly involved in the study of physical and chemical laws underlying the universe).
Last updated: 08-16-2005 11:17:53