Science vs. History

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, June 23, 2017 2 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

When it comes to the origins debate regarding Creation and Evolution, very few fields of study are confused more than science and history. I would suggest this is a problem on all sides of the debate, not just the secularists and the Old Earth crowd. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis infamously makes a distinction between observational science and historical science, however I personally find his distinction to be lacking in clarity. I believe is he right to make such a distinction, but my opinion is it needs more work. In his debate against Bill Nye, Ham did accurately showcase the difference between science that builds computers and rockets and studies of past events, however I noticed he tended to talk negatively towards the secular historical science, but failed to point out what his side is doing is also historical science. He has not polished that argument properly yet. Is there a difference between science and history in the origins debate?

Last week, I discussed how science cannot be done in a vacuum and how the science suggesting an old earth never considers the written and historical evidence that demonstrate the opposite. Here I want to zoom in on this science vs. history issue. I was in a discussion with an atheist who has a PhD, and he kept talking about how science proved Evolution and a millions-of-years-old earth. However, every time he opened his mouth he kept talking about historical events, not scientific observations. So I challenged him to prove he was born. His response: “That’s a categorical error.” I initially didn’t catch on to his tactic, which was to pin his error as though I was the one committing it. I knew he was trying to use science to prove history, and I was trying to get him to see the folly of his logic. However, instead of admitting his own error, he tried to make it my error. When I said, “Scientifically prove you were born,” I was not confusing science and history, but was rather seeking to point out science CANNOT prove history. Allow me to explain.

What is the evidence that you could use to prove your birth? Or that you went to Hawaii on vacation? Or have an education? Most people would present a birth certificate, or a plane ticket, or a hotel receipt, or a diploma. That is fine, but that is not scientific evidence. I can see many people crying foul already at that statement. “The evidence is right here!” Yes, that is evidence, but it is not scientific evidence. It is what we would call legal or historical evidence. You see, to make claims about a past event, you cannot determine them in a lab. You would rather determine them in a court room setting.

We can use science as part of the analysis of historical events, but science cannot be the only factor considered. The Mythbusters do a great job at using science in testing a myth. They take the myth, or the historical account, and try to replicate the event. If they succeed, they consider the myth confirmed. If they cannot replicate the event, they consider it busted. If there are factors they cannot scientifically test, or not quite fully replicate it but get close, they consider it plausible. But here is a key thing we have to understand: science, no matter how much we’d love it to do so, can never prove history true. You cannot scientifically test that George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day. You can scientifically show it was possible, but you cannot demonstrate scientifically that it happened. Why not? Because you cannot replicate the event. You can replicate the conditions of the event, but you cannot replicate the event itself. To validate the event itself, you need a historical document or a historical claim.

Skeptics will usually respond to this line of thinking with “So forensics is not a valid science then?” Two things to this objection. 1) Most of these skeptics think of forensics from NCIS, CSI, and other crime shows. Most actual forensic scientists will tell you outright that much of what they do is not very reliable compared to what the shows tell us. One can spot numerous “Hollywood-ized” scientific “facts” from those shows that cannot happen in the real world, and even the Mythbusters themselves often busted numerous of these shows’ takes. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but forensics is not the “great science” Bill Nye seems to think it is. 2) I do not deny forensics from having a role to play. They just aren’t the standard of truth and, void of other factors in play, they can easily be misleading. We can use them, but they are not the ultimate standard that settles all cases.

“But, but, what about clearances from DNA and such like that?” Again, I am not denying the use of forensics. Yes, many people have been cleared of charges due to forensics, however, how many innocents were incarcerated because the forensic evidence was planted? In the movie Training Day, Denzel Washington’s key phrase to Ethan Hawk was, “It’s not what you know. It’s what you can prove.” Washington played a corrupt cop, and his purpose was to show how to make the forensic evidence fit the story he wanted to tell, whereas Hawk’s ideal was to speak the truth in every case, even if the evidence was not in his favor.

My point is not “forensics is invalid,” but that forensics cannot be done in a vacuum. They work when you combine them with eyewitness testimony and other fields. Ever notice how in every criminal case the detectives do not go to collect evidence as their first step? They actually look for eyewitnesses first. They do look for evidence to see if the eyewitness claims are legit, but a key part of deciding court cases is the eyewitness testimony. That is why courts take so much time to determine if the witness is reliable or not. If we wish to know the true past, we need to examine both science and history and NOT treat them as the same field.

Regarding Genesis, I am tired of skeptics accusing young earth creationists of treating Genesis as a scientific textbook. We never do and never have. Such a statement not only shows ignorance of YEC, but also an ignorance of the field of science. Genesis is a history book. It’s not poetry. It’s not a metaphor. It’s not an allegory. It’s not a myth. It is not written as any of those. Now, you do not have to believe the historical account to recognize this. The secular-humanistic account of Evolution (the big model, not merely biological evolution) is also a historical account. It is not a scientific claim; it is a historical claim. I expect many to be crying foul with that statement too. If you are dealing with past events, you are making historical claims. If x happened millions of years ago, that is a historical claim. It’s not science. You can use science to help make the claims, but that does not make it a scientific claim. The origins debate is not science vs science. Nor is it science vs the Bible. It is history vs history. The question is, which account has the evidence that backs it up?

As I mentioned last week, the historical evidence for any old earth model is missing. There is a lot of scientific evidence put forth, but that evidence was generated in a vacuum of all other fields of knowledge. I would also question what makes such proposed evidences “scientific.” Where is the observation, testing, and repeating of experimentation? There is a lot of scientific evidence for a young earth model as well. Many reject it, primarily because it disagrees with the history they side with, not because it is actually invalid science (try as they may). That being said, the young earth audience needs to be careful about what is science and what is history. We are more aware of the distinction than our secular peers, however, we too can easily fall into the trap of confusing them. Next week, I’m going to dig further into this aspect and how we use science, or what we think is science, as our “evidences” for our models.

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Bobby Maddox said...

Good article, Charlie. Your discussion about forensics actually rather favors a focus on NOT viewing science in a vacuum. Forensics by themselves don't solve crimes. In order to even use DNA or other forensic evidence to identify the culprit, the first thing that is needed is a sample from a suspect to compare. How are suspects determined? By using history/eyewitness accounts (finding out a potential identity of the victim through missing person reports or other witness evidence and then studying the victim's family, acquaintances and last known activities to narrow down possible suspects) and analyzing the historical/eyewitness evidence through logic (thinking through who were the logical suspects). The forensic analysis process is actually a really good illustration of how law enforcement uses science in harmony with history/eyewitness accounts and logic to crack cases. And THAT is the key to this whole discussion about science and origins: that science MUST be used in HARMONY with, and not in exclusion of, all other human disciplines (history, logic, etc.) to get to the TRUTH, not just speculation. The dirty little secret is that the scientific method actually excludes, without falsifying its existence, the effect the Supernatural would have on the world. Why? BECAUSE THE SUPERNATURAL IS NOT TESTABLE OR REPEATABLE THROUGH THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD. That is why science ABSOLUTELY MUST be harmonized with history/eyewitness accounts to account for the Supernatural. To actually be able to account for the Supernatural activity in our otherwise natural world, you would need eyewitness accounts that have been attested by others and that meet historically recognized criteria for reliability. Guess what Book is chock full of the Supernatural that meets those tests? The Bible, which by the way has never been definitively FALSIFIED.

Charlie said...

Good word, Bobby. In my next two posts, I'm addressing how all these things need to come together to work WITHOUT depending upon political protection or a financial wall to keep dissenting ideas from having a voice. If they need those two, then you have good reason to question the validity of the claims.