Historical vs. Observational Science

So Bill Nye will be debating Ken Ham on the question of “Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins?” And I think it’s safe to say that expectations for Nye couldn’t be much lower. Reactions from people like Gref Laden and PZ Myers are basically, “Bill, what were you thinking?!?”

According to PZ, Ham intends to bring out his distinction between historical and observational science. I was trying to refresh my memory of this argument, and came across this Q&A from Answers in Genesis. Here Troy Lacey of AIG cites Discovery Institute fellow Charles Thaxton as the person who coined the phrase “historical and observational science,” but the concept is older that that.

This is a Logical Positivist argument – or a caricature of one at least. AIG is arguing that only scientific results that can be replicated in the lab are “observational science.” Or to put it another way, only those results that we can experience – that impinge on our senses – are scientific results.

By implication, only these verifiable results are “true” science that produces true, certain knowledge. Any other form of scientific reasoning is “historical science,” which is not certain and thus, by implication, crap. At least, it’s crap whenever AIG finds that it doesn’t square with their creationism.

This is weird. Logical Positivism is no friend of religion. After all, the claims of Christian tradition, including creationism, are not verifiable in the lab. Lacey essentially acknowledges that:

[...] we have stated that neither creationism nor cosmic evolution nor Darwinian biological evolution is observational science, and they are not observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable events. Therefore, we would state that you cannot “empirically prove” them.

Lacey argues that it all comes down to worldview. Our presuppositions guide our reasoning. My presuppositions guide me towards evolution, Lacey’s guide him towards creationism.

I’m not sure this works, but put that aside for now. Notice that after years of watching them sneer at post-modernism, we find that conservative Christians have now embraced it.

Really, really weird. Creationism makes for strange bedfellows.


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