RSR: Historical & Observational Science Equally Good

Ken Ham debates Bill Nye the science guy on creation* Can You Know a House Had a Builder? Creation organizations attempt to diminish "historical" science as compared to "observational" science. That claim, at odds with the overwhelming success of forensic science, comes awfully close to the false materialist claim that you can only really know what your five senses tell you. Question: Can you have a certainty that a house had a builder, even if you did not see your home being built? Yes. For, if you cannot trust your mind to ascertain many things that absolutely have happened in the past, then neither could you trust your eyes about what is happening in the present.

* Arguments Creationists Should Not Use: We recommend that you not use the argument that historical science has less validity as compared to observational science. As a Real Science Radio listener says, Answers in Genesis shouldn't pull the rug out from their own signature flood observation. "It is historical science—in action— to understand Ken Ham's point about billions of dead things, buried in rock layers, laid down by water, all over the earth."

* Reporters/Bloggers Claim Ham & Sarfati Reject Historical Science: Jonathan Sarfati posted on Facebook this week that a friendly reporter overstated her case. For Dr. Sarfati does not reject historical science, but draws a distinction between it and observational science. Also this week Ken Ham offered, attempting to defend creationism, that his opponents misunderstand the difference between historical and observational science. However, this is no defense. Arguing against the qualitative distinctions that many creationists draw between these scientific disciplines, RSR hosts Bob Enyart and Fred Williams discuss this topic: 

Creation Movement Wrong on Historical Science

Does the creation.com article CSI and evolution use good argumentation or poor and arbitrary evidence to justify its claim of a qualitative distinction between observational and historical science? At Real Science Radio, we suggest that the creation movement generally, and in particular the article’s publisher, Creation Ministries International, and Answers in Genesis and Ken Ham in his debate with Bill Nye, err in their effort to diminish forensic science of the past as compared to the science of ongoing processes.

* Test Our Analysis: Atheists often make the materialist claim that: we can only be certain of what our five senses tell us. We assert that many creationists make a similar error when they try to relegate forensics to a second-class science. (See our interview with a cold-case detective for a note on the expanded use of the term "forensic" to also describe the historical sciences.) In so doing, they are backing into the traditional demarcation problem, trying to decide what does and does not qualify as science, perhaps without carefully considering the implications of their claims. We invite you to test this analysis to see whether or not we easily falsify this claim about forensics. In CMI’s article by wonderful creationist Shaun Doyle, note both the distinction between “present” and forensic science, and the use of quotes around the word science:

…between the science of present processes and the ‘science’ of figuring out what happened in the past… there is far less certainty in the science of past events than there is in the science of present processes.

Real Science Radio asserts this claim is overly broad and therefore incorrect. As a summary of the general creation opposition to forensics, the excerpts below list all the justifications provided by Doyle. Many events in the past (such as sun flares, the distribution of a genetic mutation, volcanic lava flows, etc.) can have far more certain descriptions and explanations than can any number of explanations for phenomena scientists observe in action. Note that CMI’s reasons for diminishing forensics apply equally to "observational" science:

CMI Excerpts: On Forensic Science
[RSR: Yet all of these apply to all of science]

"facts can't speak… for themselves" * "There are also numerous uncertainties in forensic science"
* data or evidence can be "planted" by the unscrupulous * "technicians" can err
* some particular "experimental method... may be suspect" * "Investigators can draw poor conclusions"
* "the gap between circumstantial fact and [scientific] inference is quite large" * "questionable assumptions"
* "famous" erroneous conclusions * other investigative approaches may "reveal unfounded assumptions"
* extraordinary events "would inevitably produce problems for anyone relying solely on" only one kind of inquiry
* forensic science "is a useful, but fallible methodology."

* A Fatal Arbitrariness: Creationists are arbitrary in attributing such concerns to forensic science as though they do not apply also to other science. As a result of this arbitrariness, the argument is meaningless because the exact same body of evidence can be used to argue the exact opposite, that forensic science provides greater certainty than observational science, which claim of course would also be false. Anecdotally, forensic science has even corrected eyewitnesses who identify the wrong suspect in a lineup.

None of CMI’s examples demonstrate any uncertainty peculiar to "historical" science as compared to observational science. Further, consider whether or not these very terms are misnomers and therefore unhelpful. Much "forensic" science overlaps with the science of "present processes", and much observational science overlaps with forensic science.

* Past and Present: Is it a trivial matter to distinguish between the historical and observational aspects of an astronomer using a telescope? How about a geologist reading a seismograph? Qualitatively and epistemologically, how great a difference is there between those kinds of investigations and microscopy? If we are attempting to be precise, then to what degree is our routine scientific investigation of ongoing processes actually a forensic task? Forensics is the study of the aftermath of phenomena. Much of our observational science and even our experimentation is actually observations of the aftermath of phenomena. In Ken Ham’s great debate with Bill Nye, the creationist used precious time to distinguish between observational and historical science. So if that distinction is not the significant factor that many creationists make of it, then why do so many make that argument, and where does it come from?

* Proving Things Present: Some influential creationists who believe that it is impossible to prove anything historical then take the next step and claim that you cannot prove anything in the present either. A few examples:
- ICR's repeated statements, like at their April 2016 Bozeman seminar where the photo on the right was taken, that "Science cannot prove anything."
- A leading creation homeschool textbook, authored by a friend of Real Science Radio no less, states that, "Science cannot prove anything... there is no way that science can prove anything."
- The founder of Stand To Reason, a leading apologetics ministry (whom we once debated), states that by the scientific method, we "cannot be certain about anything in an absolute sense. ...its method never allows certainty."
However, it appears that this extreme claim that science "cannot prove anything" is really just an accidental hyperbole by those who confuse something with everything. Knowing something absolutely does not equate to knowing everything. We do not have to be omniscient to know certain things absolutely. For example, the scientific method has revealed that the solar surface is hotter than the lunar surface, that electromagnetic opposites attract, and that light travels faster than sound. Yet, since the present is only an immeasurable instant from the past, doubting that we can prove anything historical leads to the belief, even among creationists who then mimic relativists, that nothing can be proven whatsoever such that we really cannot know, absolutely, anything, perhaps not even our own existence.

On Scientific Thought, by C.S. Lewis
[Christian Reflectionspage 77]

If popular thought feels ‘science’ to be different from all other kinds of knowledge because science is experimentally verifiable, popular thought is mistaken. Experimental verification is not a new kind of assurance coming in to supply the deficiencies of mere logic. We should therefore abandon the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thought. The proper distinction is between logical and non-logical thought. - Lewis

AiG: Defending Your Faith -- Common Misconceptions, 2007* Proving The Curator Exists: Kirk Johnston is the atheist curator of Denver's Museum of Nature and Science. Real Science Radio spoke with him in front of a journalist for the Colorado Springs Gazette and dozens of homeschoolers and their parents. (See rsr.org/denver-museum-curator-kirk-johnston-might-not-exist.) At the children's' eye-level, an exhibit claimed that fish scales evolved into human teeth. Asked about the truth of this, Dr. Kirk Johnson answered a question with a question by quoting Pilate: "What is truth?" Having heard many atheists make the self-refuting claim that truth does not exist, and yet looking for common ground and trying to get this atheist to admit to the existence of at least some truth, we asked, "Dr. Johnson, do you exist?" The Darwinian curator answered, "I don't know." We then said, "Dr. Johnson, you intuitively fear God and so you are refusing to admit that truth exists because you know where truth will lead you. Truth will lead you to the God of truth." Since that was exactly where Dr. Johnson did not want to go, he threw an intellectual tantrum by implying that it was just possible that he might not exist. But cogito ergo sum; I think, therefore I am, so that the very act of doubting one's existence proves the opposite.

* Proof Is Possible Outside of Mathematics: Some claim that proofs are only possible in mathematics. But then we ask, Does math exist? If you cannot prove that the discipline of mathematics exists, then we might as well also throw out the notion that anything mathematical can be known with 100% certainty. In an otherwise wonderful article, consider this self-refuting claim published by CRS in Creation Matters in June 2015 from Dr. Michael Windheuser (and many other Christian apologists who happen to be wrong on this issue):

When one speaks of "proof" in the context of an argument, he is not strictly correct. Rather, proof is the proper domain of mathematics and geometry. Only in mathematics can there be both certainty and exclusion.

This widespread falsehood is self-refuting. Just like the countless unbelievers who make the same argument, if asked for proof for their assertion, the Creation Research Society could not provide a mathematical proof for this claim. Thus it is self refuting. Applying this argument (which is a non-mathematical proposition) to itself would indicate that it is not certain and therefore cannot exclude even an opposite claim. And just as creationists (rightly) call upon atheists to acknowledge their logical contradictions, so too should we acknowledge our own errors. Seeing that many things are uncertain, some seem to extrapolate that therefore virtually nothing is certain. However that supposition, that only a narrow range of claims can be proved certain, is itself unproved, unprovable, and false. In reality, the certainty of the existence of the disciplines of mathematics, of logic, and of economics, as with ten thousand other particulars of life, is self evident and 100% certain.

* Proving things Historical: Regarding historical certainty, did the world exist prior to today? Did the Bible exist prior to this very moment? If you think that you cannot prove that you, the reader, existed yesterday, then your uncertainty would be reminiscent of the relativistic atheism of that curator above. If someone has difficulty with the concept of being able to prove with a certainty that human beings existed a moment ago, the difficulty lies with that person's confusion over what it means for something historical to be proven, and not with the clearly seen certainty that humanity has existed. Scripture, for example, speaks of "many infallible proofs", and of the testimony of the conscience that God put within us, and the general revelation that He gave to mankind through His creation.

* Your Five Senses: With their forensics argument, creationists are uncomfortably close to the false materialist claim that you can only know that which your five senses tell you. (Rebuttal: Says which of the five?) Can you have a certainty that a house had a builder, even if you did not see your home being built? Yes. No one had to see the builder to know, with the utmost certainty, that a house had a builder. Moreover, meeting the builder and watching him or even filming him build a house and reviewing the video daily does not give a person any more certainty that the house had a builder than is possessed by those who had never seen him. If you cannot trust your mind to ascertain many things that absolutely have happened in the past, then neither could you trust your eyes about what is happening in the present. Yet the Bible confidently asserts that, "every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God" (Heb. 3:4) and even His "invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" (Rom. 1:20), that is, understood by drawing systematically proper conclusions about events that happened in the past. Jesus' expression about those who have eyes to see and ears to hear (Mat. 11:15; 13:16) refers not to empiricism but to one's reasoning. So just as Nye used out-of-date claims, the claim that scientific knowledge is only really obtainable through observation is likewise out of date with important work being done by philosophers of science (Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt, 2013, p. 387-389). Yet in another CMI article, we can see the same arbitrariness as above, where it states, "Creationists have absolutely no problem with operational science, because the evidence drives operational science", and then: "origins science, or historical science, is essentially an exercise in story-telling..." But such disparagement of forensic science is not merited.

* Presuppositions and Certainty: We do not deny the presuppositions, widely acknowledged by creationists, that are necessary for coherent thought and knowledge. Rather, we maintain that by beginning with those presuppositions, human beings can know with 100% certainty that which is thereby "clearly seen". For, beginning with presuppositions does not mean that we end with suppositions. Biblically, God does not find a man "without excuse" (Romans 1:20) for rejecting something that might be true. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). One's presuppositions can be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses (1 Corinthians 13:1). Further, one's presuppositions apply equally to scientific observation of both present and past processes, so it would be arbitrary to use presuppositional logic to diminish 'historical' science as compared to 'observational' science.

* Eyes vs. Mind: There are various ways to acquire careful scientific knowledge. Visual observation does not trump reason, math, logic, and the mind the way implied by the creationist argument against forensics. (For the scientific preeminence and even the eternal nature of mathematics, see rsr.org/logical-fallacies#by-creationists and rsr.org/math.) And of course many observations are not repeatable, and plenty of experimental research (which in some respects are repeatable) are never repeated due to various factors including limited resources, interest, commitment, etc.). In his great debate with Bill Nye, Ken Ham presented the origin of the term science, from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge, by which we mean carefully acquired knowledge of the cosmos. Whatever differences there are between observational and historical science, they do not qualitatively prevent one method from obtaining certainty in a scientific sense (again, see rsr.org/fallacies#by-creationists).

* Ham vs. Nye: As with CMI, Ken Ham's attempt in the debate to diminish the value of historical science does not come off like a winning argument. The message we creationists unwittingly send is that our position fairs poorly if forensic science is valid. Bill Nye so easily countered by pointing out that forensic science is as powerful as other branches of science, and that all of astronomy (including therefore, the astronomy performed at AiG by RSR friend astronomer Danny Faulkner and previously, by astrophysicist Jason Lisle), is "historical" science, since we are observing only the effects of past events. Ken then undermined one of his primary arguments by (rightly) agreeing with Bill Nye that scientists do use observational and repeatable science even to evaluate the aftermath of past events, as when we make carefully inquiry in astronomy, astrophysics, archaeology, geology, paleontology, and even history. We Christians recognize the Scriptures as our highest authority. Amen! Yet is the boundary between biblical revelation and historical analysis as absolute as many creationists presume? Even our use of the Bible as our ultimate source of truth is intermingled with history and linguistics (as in the historical-grammatical hermeneutic) and with archaeology itself (as in our selection of a biblical manuscript tradition with its inherent study of the thousands of handwritten papyri, codices, and scrolls which predate the printing press). Further, the millions of people who lived prior to Moses and Job had no Bible yet they were not left without any source of truth. For they could even know God, as a number of them did, and God is truth. Various methods exist for obtaining (or possessing) apodictic, or absolute, knowledge. Creationists trying to diminish historical science ironically err in a similar fashion as atheists and uniformitarians, for first, they unintentionally mimic the "five senses" error of the materialist (which is actually what Ken Ham said to Nye in their 2016 Ark tour). And then, ironically, they err like uniformitarians, for many evolutionists insist that you can only use currently observed phenomena to understand past events. Likewise, many creationists similarly, and wrongly, claim that you can scientifically understand something only if it is a current phenomena.

* Rebuttal to Airplane and Cell Phone Claim: Atheists like Nye and, right here on Real Science Radio, theoretical physicist (emphasis on the theoretical) Lawrence Krauss, say that creationists contradict themselves because we reject materialist origins yet we use the benefits of modern science, like phones and planes. Rather than responding to this with a nuanced discussion of the various kinds of scientific inquiry, which comes across as defensive, we can take the offense and simply expose the logical fallacy of argument from authority. So we can ask:

Do Boeing's engineers, because they work at an aerospace manufacturer making jet aircraft,  therefore know how gravity originated? Can they even demonstrate the mechanism by which one atom attracts another a million miles away? Because engineers at AT&T design cell phone towers, can they therefore explain the extraordinary fine tuning of the universe, or why across the cosmos there is an apparently exact one-to-one electron to proton ratio (with a standard deviation of only 1 in 10 to the 37th)? Of course not. So you atheists are committing the logical fallacy of argument from authority, because being an authority in the use of energy and materials does not make someone an authority on how those things originated.

Here too creationists must avoid a similar error. For while atheists conflate operations and origins, we must not confuse the investigation of every past event with that of supernatural acts. Many ongoing physical processes are, at present, scientifically inexplicable, as are many processes in the past. Many future events will occur by God's supernatural intervention, and just like such acts in history, analysis of them will be, by definition, beyond the scope of natural law.

Returning though to that argument from authority fallacy, committed by atheists everywhere, we can look at their actual progress in explaining origins from a materialist perspective. Because atheists don't have a workable hypothesis to account for human consciousness, therefore they don't even have a theory to explain where we've come from, let alone a robust theory. The following pattern shows that atheists do not have even a hypothesis on origins, as demonstrated by these six irrefutable observations:
- the origin of species for Darwin begins with species already in existence
- the origin of stars begins with the explosion of existing stars and with protostars
- the origin of genes that code for new proteins begins with modifying existing genes
- the origin of species by neo-Darwinism begins with existing complex reproducing life
- the origin of life on earth is increasingly seen as seeded from already existing alien life
- the origin of the universe is increasingly explained by appeals to the pre-existing multiverse.

That all adds up to a complete lack of progress that atheists have made in trying to account for origins apart from God. So, to respond to atheist confusion between operations and origins does not require us to attack forensics. Instead, we point out their logical fallacy, their missing theories on origins, and to pile on, we can point out that while all known biological life involves information encoded in DNA, atheists have not even provided a theoretical mechanism, let alone a demonstrated one, whereby the physical laws can even begin to encode the simplest of instructions, say for building a protein, onto a DNA molecule. They never have suggested a mechanism for accomplishing this, and they never will. Why not? It is as inscrutable as explaining how consciousness could possibly arise from inanimate matter. Just as with amino acids and genetics, the chemistry of ink and the physics that present pixels on a computer screen have nothing to do with the message being carried by such media. The laws of physics do not have any symbolic logic functions! And because genetic information, like all information, is symbolic, therefore chemistry and physics are the wrong tools for the job and  are utterly incapable of encoding any information, any way, anywhere.

* Three Statements in CMI’s Article: Consider whether the two statements below are damaging, but first, whether or not this innocuous sounding claim is arbitrary, and therefore not valid.

Eyewitnesses vs forensics:

…good eyewitnesses are more reliable because they tend to reveal unfounded assumptions forensic investigators make…

The adjective "good" reveals the arbitrariness of this demarcation. Comparing forensic evidence to observational (or "eyewitness") evidence, one could just as accurately assert the exact opposite. Good forensic evidence is more reliable because it tends to reveal the eyewitnesses' unfounded assumptions. Further, undoubtedly, a staggering number of "observations" that scientists have made are known (by more well-informed people) to be false (from the number of our chromosomes, to the canals on mars, to the belief that computers are becoming sentient). If there really is a distinction that reduces scientific certainty, from observational to historical science, we assert that, manifestly, the creation movement has not demonstrated such a distinction. 

 

Australia’s infamous “dingo case”, cited by Doyle, is no more an example of the problems inherent in forensic science than it is an example of the problems inherent to all science. Unjustified inference from the data is wrong, whether applied to the past or the present.

Are forensics kind to Darwin? Doyle then asks this, decidedly not innocuous, question.

…can creationists affirm the (general) reliability of forensic science in criminal trials and yet completely reject evolution and long-age geology? Fair question.

No, it’s not a fair question. The unintended but definite implication here is that if forensic science is generally reliable, then it appears to support evolution and long ages. No, historical science does not appear to support an old earth. The implication, only barely unstated by much of the creation movement, is that we creationists better undermine the reputation of forensic science otherwise the evidence of past events will undermine creation. The major creation groups, however, will agree with RSR (we believe), that such a concern is utterly unjustified. Yet their epistemological strategy is based on exactly this unjustified fear. Ironically, uniformitarians claim that chemical, stellar, and biological evolutionary processes are all ongoing (i.e., present processes), so this whole creationist defensive posture is off point anyway.

Fair question: Now here's a fair question. Even based on evolutionary starting assumptions, are evolutionists being consistent? Consider that question when you read this quote from Doyle:

The same forensic approach can be used by creationists, using a different starting point (i.e. different assumptions about the past) to reach a quite different conclusion from the same facts.

Even this is a concession to atheists and evolutionists. It implies that their untenable interpretation of the data follows from their starting assumptions. It does not. Regardless of their assumptions, they contradict the data at every turn. Consider two examples from the Grand Canyon. None of their starting assumptions justify their claim that a million nautiloids in the Redwall Limestone must have been fossilized while standing vertically for tens of thousands of years. None of their assumptions justify their claim that 100 million years passed (the assumed Ordovician & Silurian) without depositing sediments or causing erosion. Regardless of the statement that, “long-age ‘clocks’ can’t be independently verified,” they sure can be falsified. We hear repeatedly that: Science can't prove that a hypothesis is true, but science can falsify a hypothesis. RSR disputes the first part of that sentence, but we certainly agree with the last part. Countless contradictions and inconsistencies in old-age dating scientifically demonstrates that it is unreliable. Further, while Doyle says that there are no courtroom-like “checks and balances” in “evolution and long-age geology”, of course consistency and integrity are always available to those claiming an old earth.

* Two or Three Witnesses: Finally, this CMI article concludes with an interpretation of the Bible that virtually all murderers and defense attorneys would agree with:

This is why two eyewitnesses provide a judicial ground for establishing any matter, according to the Bible…

False. This is false as used by many Christians who quote the relevant verses to claim that the Scriptures require multiple eyewitnesses for the death penalty. Most criminals act in secret. What a boon it would be for murderers and kidnappers if we avoided punishing them appropriately unless they committed their crime in front of an audience. But even for those who have agreed, so far, with our analysis above, we realize that many Christians may not even consider the point that we are about to make, because it contradicts such a widespread assumption about these Bible passages. However, we beg your consideration on this. We have put decades of study into this matter. Since the 1990s, many have used Google to find out what God might say about the death penalty, by googling: God death penalty, or some version of that, like: God and the death penalty.
- Our article at TOL subtitled, New Testament Support for Capital Punishment, is ranked by Google #1 out of millions.
- We’ve presented our seminar, now available on CD, God’s Criminal Justice System, in cities from Honolulu to Pittsburgh.
- We’ve argued our biblical case for the death penalty on Court TV.

Bible students should not advocate the need for multiple eyewitnesses to resolve a matter. Why not? Because:
- Jesus explicitly indicated in the Gospel of John that the two or three witnesses necessary to conclude a matter do not need to be eyewitnesses but, in His case, include the Scriptures and His works.
- Men did not “see” Jesus come down from heaven but regardless, they can conclude that He did.
- The Ark of the Testimony shows that physical evidence can provide a witness of historical reality.
- The Apostle Paul even writes that the church should not consider an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Why not? We discuss the matter while commenting on an article by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, at rsr.org/eyewitnesses. God's standard requiring two or three witnesses (not necessarily eyewitnesses) applies not only to death sentences, but to all criminal proceedings (Deut. 19:15) from misdemeanors to felonies, and to all guilty verdicts, and even to the hearing of accusations against church elders (1 Tim. 5:19). Of course, this biblical standard does not mean that we must ignore a woman's claim of misconduct or an auditors warning of missing funds unless we have eyewitnesses. Sinning pastors tend to do so in private.
- Likewise in the Law of Moses, the criminal who is guilty of sexual assault can be convicted, even though he committed his crime in the wilderness where there was no one to hear the woman’s screams.
Ultimately, the biblical theme of two or three witnesses is understood best in the context of the triune God, as we document at rsr.org/euthyphros-dilemma.

* The Beginning and Ending of Disparaging Forensics: In the early days of the modern creation movement, nascent arguments and models, like the vapor canopy theory, were being proposed and tested. Those launching the movement had many solid objections to the particular claims of paleontologists and astrophysicists. Yet the idea obviously arose to attempt an end run around entire fields of scientific study by proclaiming them outside of the domain of science. As described above, this defensive maneuver was unjustified. Therefore Real Science Radio predicts that this debate tactic will gradually be abandoned by leading creationists. For, regarding both criminal investigation and scientific investigation, eyesight does not trump the many other God-given ways of obtaining reliable information.

Does God Exist? Vol. I - DVD or Download* RSR's List of Arguments Creationists Should Not Use
- When did unknown mechanisms become scientific concepts? Well, gravity itself is an unknown mechanism.
- When did unobservable processes become scientific concepts? How about Einstein's physics thought experiments?
- Historical "science" is not science. See above.

Bob Enyart
Real Science Radio & Denver Bible Church
800-8Enyart or 303-463-7789

 

Does God Exist? Vol. I - DVD or Download
See evidence for the existence of God.