Is Historical Science Reliable? An Exploration of the AiG “Origins” Science Label

Yours truly speaking in Guatemala the following week.  Fortunately I was allowed to speak there and had a wonderful experience with a great audience.

Yours truly speaking at Central American Theological Seminary in Guatemala the week following the Veritas course. I gave several presentations and had a wonderful experience with all involved.

Young earth creationists frequently speak of two kinds of science which they refer to as “origins” and “operational” science.  These terms are possibly akin to what scientists may call “historical” and “experimental” science.  What is this “origins” science and how does origins science play a role in the discussion of the Age of the Earth?

A few days ago I posted some thoughts on a Young Earth Creationst’ Approach to Scientific Apologetics.  This grew from a response to several days of listening to representatives from Answers in Genesis lecture for a course entitled “Scientific Apologetics:  The Age of the Earth” taught at Veritas Theological Seminary in Santa Ana California.  In my follow-up lectures I had planned to address some of the issues I raised in my written response. However, more specifically I had planned to take up the question of what “origins” science is and explore how YECs use it to cast doubt on the conclusions of what is better known as the historical sciences which typically include geology, archaeology, astronomy and includes many fields of biology.

Upon returning from Veritas Theological Seminary I decided to go ahead and record some of what I had planned to present as part of that class.  Below is the first of three lectures that I had prepared.  This one I entitled:  Scientific Apologetics:  Origins vs Operational Science. This first lecture is an exploration of the reliability of the historical sciences.

I have written about the distinction – or lack thereof – between origins science and operational/experimental science several times.  The first of the links below includes one of the same examples that I use in my lecture.

Historical Science and the Case of T. rex’s Puny Arms and Dinosaur Diets

Origins Science and Misconceptions of Historical Science

Historical Science and Perceptions of Age: Craters on Mars

The take home message of my lecture, which I do not explicitly say in the video, is that YECs accept the vast majority of interpretations of the historical science as long as they don’t directly touch on the question of the age of the Earth.  As soon as a result of historical science suggests something contrary to the YEC model of origins, that conclusion is branded as being the result of “origins” science and thus unreliable.  But can they really separate “origins” science from the methods and conclusions of “historical” science? I don’t think so.

The AiG speakers relentlessly painted all other perspectives on the age of the Earth as being the product of “origins” science, and hence untestable and untrustworthy, while at the same time reiterating their faith in “operational” science but their definitions of these two terms were very nebulous.  I have searched the YEC literature on the nature of how science is done and have found that there is a little academic rigor with respect to defining these terms.  There is a deep literature in philosophy of science on how science works and many article written about the validity of historical science and the distinctions in methodology of historical and experimental science.  The YEC literature does not interact with that literature at all completely ignoring prominent philosophers of science from the last 50 years on this issue. As a result their definitions lack rigor and are simply created to serve as rhetorical devices.

Comments

  1. As a result their definitions lack rigor and are simply created to serve as rhetorical devices.

    This seems typical of YECs as a whole. The other example that springs immediately to mind is “kind” — a division of life unknown to taxonomy yet which seems of increasing importance in YEC circles.

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  2. Evolve the Universe says:

    I’ll be sure to watch your lecture later today. There’s a philosopher of biology from Australia, John Wilkins, who blogged about this topic a couple of years ago. It’s worth a read:

    http://evolvingthoughts.net/2013/09/is-history-a-science-creationists-dont-think-so/

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  3. As one who takes YEC literature seriously, I appreciate your attempt to understand it. Almost all their critics hardly look at it. YECs usually return the favor and are generally estranged from the academic press (ID is different). One result is reinventing the wheel on the philosophy of science.

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  4. He is not at all objective, or scientific, in his analysis. He falsely represents Answers in Genesis’ opinion about historical or origin science. He misstates Andrew Snelling’s views on the Hawaiian islands. He creates non-existent strawmen and then attacks those strawmen. Apparently he cannot critique the actual positions of AiG and Snelling, so he attributes to them non-existent positions which he then attacks.

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    • Zadocfish says:

      Well, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to treat them how they treat everybody else, you know? That’s karma! AiG is quite possibly the least scientific site on the internet. And I have seen many of the “strawmen” this guy makes as actual arguments on YEC websites, so there is at least some flesh there.

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      • What an incredible cop-out! Now you falsely accuse creationists of creating strawmen to justify the blogger creating strawmen!

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    • That’s an easy enough thing to say. Would you care briefly to sketch the relevant genuine positions of AiG and Andrew Snelling?

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      • I will state their position on origins science. They do not contend that origins science is unreliable or that it cannot be trusted. The blogger seems to base a major portion of his lecture on that falsehood, and he does so ad nauseum. They distinguish origins science from operational science, because operational science deals only with repeatable observable processes in the present.

        Their actual position on origins science is that they accept the same evidence as do the old earthers. They just do not accept that same conclusions which old earthers draw from that same evidence. Origins science, like forensics, enables us to make educated guesses about origins in the past. Their educated guesses are based upon their world view, just as the educated guesses of the old earthers are based upon their world view.

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        • I’m sorry. You say this:

          They do not contend that origins science is unreliable or that it cannot be trusted.

          And then you say this:

          Origins science, like forensics, enables us to make educated guesses about origins in the past.

          But if AiG reckons that all “origins science” (whatever that might actually be) can do is to let us make “educated guesses,” then the author’s perfectly correct in his summation: AiG is saying that it can’t be trusted for more than guesswork.

          Their educated guesses are based upon their world view, just as the educated guesses of the old earthers are based upon their world view.

          For one who claims that creationists don’t use straw-man arguments, you should think twice about your position here. Geologists and biologists do not interpret the evidence “based upon their world view”; it’s exactly the other way round, as you must know: their “world view” (their conclusion that the earth is ~4.5 billion years old) is based upon the overwhelming evidence. If you cared to read a little about (Western) science in the 19th century, particularly its latter half, you’d find out that there was considerable resistance among scientists to the notion of the ancient earth. It was only as more and more evidence piled up that the consensus conclusion came to be that indeed the world was old, and that the idea of its youthfulness was unsupportable.

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          • realhog writes: “if AiG reckons that all “origins science” (whatever that might actually be) can do is to let us make “educated guesses,” then the author’s perfectly correct in his summation: AiG is saying that it can’t be trusted for more than guesswork.”

            — AiG is not saying any such thing at all. To say that “Origins science, like forensics, enables us to make educated guesses about origins in the past”, is an obvious statement of fact. It cannot be more than an educated guess because no one witnessed it.

            And, real hog writes: “Geologists and biologists do not interpret the evidence “based upon their world view” it’s exactly the other way round, as you must know: their “world view” (their conclusion that the earth is ~4.5 billion years old) is based upon the overwhelming evidence.”

            — That comment shows that you are unaware of the fact that their world view of naturalism — that that all features of the natural world can be explained by material causes without recourse to purposive intelligence, mind, or conscious agency. If they would look past that world view, they easily would recognize such obvious realities as intelligent design, which they insist cannot be considered at all.

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            • That comment shows that you are unaware of the fact that their world view of naturalism

              Actually, I almost certainly know more about this subject than you do; to suggest I’m unaware of it is ludicrous.

              If they would look past that world view, they easily would recognize such obvious realities as intelligent design, which they insist cannot be considered at all.

              The reason biologists ignore ID is that it’s garbage — purest pseudoscience based on the false “watchmaker” premise.

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              • realhog writes: “The reason biologists ignore ID is that it’s garbage — purest pseudoscience based on the false ‘watchmaker’ premise.”

                — Thank you. You have made my point. You allow your world view to dictate your prejudices against obvious evidence of design.

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                • So what you’re saying is that every time someone disagrees with you it’s because they’re allowing their worldview to dictate their prejudices?

                  Has it never occurred to you that your worldview might be dictating your prejudices?

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                  • realhog writes: “So what you’re saying is that every time someone disagrees with you it’s because they’re allowing their worldview to dictate their prejudices? Has it never occurred to you that your worldview might be dictating your prejudices?”

                    — realhog, what I’m saying is what I have written. But with regard to your previous comment about ID being “garbage — purest pseudoscience based on the false ‘watchmaker’ premise”, well, yes indeed, you are letting your prejudices slip out. My worldview is determined by my God.

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                    • My worldview is determined by my God.

                      Then you are in no position at all to lecture other people about what you perceive as their prejudices when it comes to a discussion of science.

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                    • realhog writes: “Then you are in no position at all to lecture other people about what you perceive as their prejudices when it comes to a discussion of science.”

                      — Au contraire, you poor heathen, I am in the best position to warn you of the risks you take by ignoring the obvious evidence of God’s creation.

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                    • There’s no polite reply to that. Goodbye.

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                    • realhog: You left the word God out of your response. Ask Him to open your eyes and ears to the Truth.

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        • Rod, your miss the basic point which is that conclusions about the age of the Earth as a logic/rational and as well-supported as our conclusions that T-rex had two arms and that were short. Sure, the YEC worldview leads to different conclusions but the question is are these reasonable explanations based on the data? I don’t think so. It would not be reasonable to assume that T-rex didn’t have two arms just because we don’t have a picture or eye-witness/Biblical testimony that says that they do. It is far more than educated guess based on a worldview but is beyond reasonable doubt. I’ll admit that there are times when even something beyond reasonable doubt is wrong but the point is there isn’t reasonable reasons to doubt until there is sufficient evidence to create that doubt.

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          • Natural Historian writes: “Sure, the YEC worldview leads to different conclusions but the question is are these reasonable explanations based on the data? I don’t think so. It would not be reasonable to assume that T-rex didn’t have two arms just because we don’t have a picture or eye-witness/Biblical testimony that says that they do. It is far more than educated guess based on a worldview but is beyond reasonable doubt. I’ll admit that there are times when even something beyond reasonable doubt is wrong but the point is there isn’t reasonable reasons to doubt until there is sufficient evidence to create that doubt.”

            — T-Rex is a red herring. If all you were talking about was the length of T-Rex’ arms or whether it had one or two, then there would be no argument between the two sides. And none of this is beyond a reasonable doubt, unless your world view controls your definition of “reasonable”.

            For example, say the evidence is an elephant’s footprint. Both sides agree that it is a footprint laid in seemingly wet sediment. The doubt arises when you try to determine why that footprint did not wash away. That is where the world views come into play and conflict. One side says it was there to dry in the sun for eons until covered by a thin layer of more sediment, followed by more eons and then another thin layer of sediment. The other says that it instantaneously must have been covered by layer after layer after layer of more sediment in a catastrophic event.

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    • Rod, you makes some bold claims there about what I have said. How about some specifics. I was 20 feet away when Snelling attempted to describe how Hawaii fits into a flood model. He did so in a way that was somewhat different than some published works. I have read 100s of papers on Hawaii geology and I believe every single article written by YECs about it. I have a 200 page book manuscript on Hawaii, the age of the Earth and YEC views of plate tectonics so I am more than a bit familiar with the various views. If I said something wrong they it is up to Snelling to clarify his meaning because he is apparently not communicating it well. The model of decelerating plate motions in exact parallel was decelerating radiometric decay rates is in itself if fanciful but there are so many other aspects of Hawaiian geology that make no sense in the scheme that Snelling outlined. As I said in my first post, his model was simply produced to pacify and assure the faithful such as yourself that there is an alternative explanation but what he doesn’t tell you is all the other evidence that makes that model far from likely. The only purpose is to create doubt in the mainstream view an imply that his view can take its place. But this is like believing that T rex only had one arm and pointing to the “facts” as showing that no fossil has ever been found with two and suggesting that you must believe that T rex only had one are when the preponderance of data would lead any jury to conclude that they had 2 arms.

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    • Rod, you are using the term “educated” guess for forensic science. The use of the word “guess” is a bit of a pejorative. These are much more than guesses since we can test historical hypotheses. Determining that T rex had two arms is more than an educated guess. I show that we use multiple sources of data and we examine our hypotheses by testing predictions that come from those hypotheses. Go to my other posts and read some of the literature on the philosophical literature on the reliability of the historical sciences. You must read Cleland to understand the concept of times arrow and the nature of historical investigations.

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  5. Clearly AiG know about writers/bloggers such as yourself – but I notice that they hesitate to try and deal with your arguments on their website. (I and others ‘blog’ on the British Centre for Science Education community forum – and they similarly give that a wide berth too.)

    I’ll probably listen to your lecture later.

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  6. “He is not at all objective, or scientific, in his analysis. He falsely represents Answers in Genesis’ opinion about historical or origin science. He misstates Andrew Snelling’s views on the Hawaiian islands. He creates non-existent strawmen and then attacks those strawmen.” (Rod)

    WHO exactly is Rod attacking (is it Joel Duff and does his lecture mention the Hawaiian islands) and HOW exactly, if so, does either his blog or his lecture or both do the things that are alleged? Please explain. (As I said in a previous comment awaiting moderation, I’ve not listened to the lecture yet.)

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  7. In reply to Rod’s comments, what AiG actually publically state and what they actually BELIEVE with regards to ‘historical science’ might not be quite the same thing. Their actions, and their words elsewhere on their website, clearly show that they fanatically believe that many of the discoveries science has made about the past (notably the great age of the Earth) are not only unreliable – but utterly ‘wrong’.

    https://answersingenesis.org/what-is-science/two-kinds-of-science/
    “Some bits of information can be gleaned simply by examining things with your senses—such as the height and weight. Other people can then check your results by making measurements of their own. We often call this operational science (also called observational science—for obvious reasons).
    But some research requires either making educated assumptions about the past by examining evidence in the present (historical or “origins” science)—or finding a primary source of information. While our assumptions could be accurate, it’s always better to start with an eyewitness account. Otherwise, our assumptions could lead us in the wrong direction.
    For example, some geologists take present-day rates of radiometric decay and rock formation and imagine that the rates have always been the same. That’s why they think the earth is so old (it’s not). But we can’t zip back in time to test this for accuracy.
    What we can do, however, is check our historical research against a trustworthy eyewitness account. But what about for the history of the earth? Does something like that exist? You bet—and this amazing compendium of history isn’t hard to find. Just pull out your trusty Bible.”

    That is not science but religion. Their position, whether they openly admit it or not, is that historical science is useless because it suggests that Earth is very old – but it is certainly not very old at all, because the Bible accounts suggest that it is young (and the Bible provides infallible eye witness accounts).

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  8. My post here dated 30 May 2014 might be of interest to some:
    http://forums.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3418&p=49269&hilit=hawaii#p49269

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  9. godfriend says:

    Folks – don’t respond to Rod – he is nothing other than Satan himself trying to trick as many good people as he can into falling for the hellish lie of “creationism.” You have nothing to gain from talking to the Devil.

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