Monday, January 4, 2016

Historical Science, Observational Science, and Creation- Clarification and Critique


Early last year I wrote a post addressing the common young-earth creationist (YEC) distinction between historical and observational science (click here). It was brought to my attention that a critique of my article was recently posted (click here). The critique was retweeted quite a few times, so it seems that it resonated with many supporters of the blogger and/or the YEC view. After I read the critique, I had mixed feelings. The post did not accurately represent my rejection of the distinction (which could be my fault for not being more specific in the original post), and the author cited scholars who support the antiquity of the earth. These two things are what prompts this short response.

Please read both my original post and the blogger's critique. This will ensure that you, the reader, understand the claims made and in each of our respective voices. Also, if I have misrepresented the blogger, you will see where and be able to take this critique with a "grain of salt."

For your reference, the two works cited by the blogger are:

NOTE: Since the second book is a free eBook, I was able to quickly investigate the blogger's use of that source. I ordered the first book and read the introduction (specifically cited by the blogger) before writing the second part of this post.

The Distinction

It is important that we understand exactly what the distinction is that is described by Bradley, Thaxton, and Olsen in "The Mystery of Life's Origin" (the explanation can be found in the Epilogue of the book, as mentioned by the blogger). The authors describe observational science as being events that can repeat on command (experiments) and observable phenomena as they repeat naturally. This represents direct, empirical evidence of an event or pattern. However, historical science is not repeatable thus the event must be reconstructed similar to how a criminal investigator constructs his case against a suspect (the process used and described by detective J. Warner Wallace in his apologetics books "Cold Case Christianity" and "God's Crime Scene"). It is dependent upon indirect, circumstantial evidence of an event. Both are sources of truth about events according to Bradley, Thaxton, and Oslen, but the methods of discovery related to each are different. Both belong to the philosophical category of epistemology (sources of truth, specifically), but they have distinctions within that epistemological category. I do not reject this epistemological distinction.

The Rejection

Unfortunately, many young-earth creationists (YECs) often try to place indirect, circumstantial evidence in a completely different philosophical category than direct, empirical evidence. In his debate with Bill Nye, Ken Ham was asked what evidence would convince him of the ancient age of the earth. He stated that no evidence could do such a thing. He reiterated that he places much of the evidence that is provided for the antiquity of the universe and earth in the category of indirect, circumstantial evidence. So, if he cannot be convinced by the evidence, then he necessarily rejects that evidence's philosophical status as being within the category of epistemology (a source of truth, specifically). Which further means that for Ham (and similar YECs), the distinction is in the philosophical category: while direct, empirical evidence belongs to the category of epistemology (it is a source of knowledge/truth), indirect, circumstantial evidence does not (it is not a source of knowledge/truth). To them, historical science is not and cannot be a source of knowledge/truth in virtue of its reliance upon indirect, circumstantial evidence (see this article from Ham also: here). I do reject the philosophical distinction made by Ham and other YECs; this is the rejected distinction that I attempted to articulate and defend in my original post.

I do not reject the distinction described by Bradley, Thaxton, and Olsen. Neither have I erected a strawman of Ham's understanding of the distinction. I agree with the Bradley, et al, distinction but reject Ham's distinction because he is the one who has disagreed with the proper categorization of historical (confused with "origin"- see below) science as epistemology.

The Conflation

At the time of my writing this portion of this post, I received the other book that the blogger cites: "Origins Science" by Norman Geisler and J. Kerby Anderson. I read the introduction which the blogger specifically uses in his critique. Unfortunately, he (and Ken Ham, here) makes a grave error in his representation of Geisler and Anderson. In the introduction to their book, they identify four different types of science. This includes both operation science and origin science. The problem is that the blogger takes the third type of science (historical science) and equates it to origin science. These are NOT the same according to Geisler and Anderson, and the difference is critical. Historical science studies past regularities, not past singularities (origin science). Knowledge of past singularities can be discovered via indirect, circumstantial evidence, while past regularities can be established by analogy to the present.

Constant Laws of Physics

On top of that conflation, the blogger never mentions my biblical evidence for constant laws of physics (Jeremiah 33:25-26). This is a major problem for the blogger (especially if he wishes to marshal Geisler and Anderson), for constant laws of physics today give us empirical evidence to compare how the universe is acting from moment to moment, year to year, century to century. The biblical assumption, that the laws of physics are constant, means that extrapolation of those laws into the past (all the way back to, but not past, the creation event) to discover what happened in the past is valid. So, we have empirical observation of the present that by analogy reveals truth about the past, regular behavior of the universe. If the author wishes to deny that historical science can reveal truth about the past, then he has taken Geisler and Anderson out of context and has not properly understood or represented their distinctions. He simply cannot deny that historical science (or origin science) are sources of truth and still properly use Thaxton, Bradley, Olsen, Geisler and Anderson in a critique.


The critique of my post struck me as quite confused. I knew that the author did not properly understand my position, but he also misrepresented all the authors he cited (by conflating historical and origin science and by removing both from the philosophical category of epistemology). I did not misrepresent Ken Ham- Ham does not recognize origin science or historical science as distinct or as sources of truth. The author and Ken Ham affirm "the only way to know about creation is if we have the creator tell us what happened," which all the cited authors deny in the very works cited by the blogger. So, I am curious as to why the author would cite them in his critique against my post. If he (and Ken Ham) properly understood the distinctions described and defended by Bradley, Thaxton, Olsen, Geisler and Anderson, then it seems that his (and Ham's) philosophical distinction would fall apart in his (their) own mind; thus, there would be no place for the critique offered against my (and the cited authors') understanding of origin science, historical science, and observational/operational science.

Anyway, (and here's where the "mixed" feeling comes in) I must give the blogger a big "Thank You" for alerting me to "Origin Science." I was not aware of this book before I saw it in his post. This appears to be an excellent work that I will be reviewing on this blog and, based on the introduction alone, I'm sure that I will be citing it in future posts. In the coming weeks I will read through the book to better understand Geisler's and Anderson's distinctions. I'm hoping that it will help me to nuance (and change where necessary) the view explained in my original post and to better defend the view. I will review the book in the same way that I have all the other books reviewed on Faithful Thinkers. The review will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary so that you, the reader, may properly understand the position of the authors and see how the blogger (and Ken Ham) has misunderstood and misused their work.

1 comment:

  1. I provide a rejoinder to this post here,


****Please read my UPDATED post Comments Now Open before posting a comment.****