Is math a science? A question that seems so simple to answer, yet is far from it. To classify ‘mathematics’ as a branch of science seems a bit much to me. Yes, we use math to do science, and yes, we sometimes use science to do math. However, the two have certain distinctions that keep them separate. Based on research and my own thoughts, I would say that math and science are closely related, but not one in the same. Here is why…
The main difference between math and science: how ideas are tested and accepted.
In science, the task is to figure out what rules/laws are operating by observing the results following the rules. If your predictions conflict with your experimental data, then you need to change the set of rules you picked. Math is the opposite though: we choose the rules, with the task to discover what the results will be when choosing this particular set. Here, our choice in rules yields no specific right or wrong outcome. If the results produced are interesting enough, another mathematician will surely keep playing with them.
One of the criteria on the Science Checklist is relies on evidence. This relates to science, of course – evidence can make or break a scientific theory. Science NEEDS evidence to be accepted! And the more evidence, the better! However, there is always new evidence being discovered. Constant revision of theories means scientific ideas can never be absolutely proven. Again, math doesn’t work this way. Mathematics relies on proof. No proof? No deductive reasoning? Shot down! Not accepted!
Doctor Ian, from mathforum.org, summarizes his response to the question quite nicely:
“Science is the pursuit of the correct description of this particular world; whereas math is the pursuit of interesting descriptions of possible worlds. Whereas scientific theories are right or wrong, mathematical ‘theories’ are merely interesting or uninteresting.” – Doctor Ian