Monday, January 20, 2014

God's QC 11.1: Nye - Ham: Historical And Observational Science

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham on Feb 4, 2014 at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.

As we saw in the previous video, Ham attempts to attribute equal validity to creationism and evolutionary theory by placing both concepts within the realm of historical science, as opposed to observational science. I must apologize if I gave the impression in the previous video that this distinction is not legitimate. It is legitimate, and is pondered deeply by philosophers of science. Fortunately, as I hope I have convinced you over the years, one need not have a deep understanding of the philosophical underpinnings in order to grasp the basics, which I'll discuss here.

To start, let's forget for the moment about the terms observational and historical, which for our purposes have unnecessarily technical meanings. Let's call the two approaches general and specific instead. In the general approach, we use repeatable experiments and testable observations to infer general principles that we call scientific laws. In the specific approach, we use known scientific laws to infer specific details about the world around us. As you can probably see, these two approaches complement each other, each feeding back into the other, building our body of knowledge.

Consider an example of the general approach. Anyone who has cut down a tree may notice that there are concentric, alternating bands of light and dark wood in the interior of the stump; these are known as tree rings. Scientists and non-scientists alike have observed for quite some time in trees of known age that the number of rings in a given tree corresponds to the number of years that tree has been alive. Based on this phenomenon, we infer that trees in general grow in this fashion, and we call the inference a scientific law, or a law of nature, or simply a general principle.

Now consider an example of the specific approach. If I cut down a tree of unknown age, although no one observed it growing, I can use the known principles concerning tree rings to infer the age of this specific tree. This, the concept I have temporarily called the specific approach, is what philosophers of science mean when they say historical science.

And this is where Ham and his fellow superstitionists get it utterly wrong. Much of the support for evolutionary theory comes from the fossil record, which could be considered a historical account of sorts, but that is not what makes it historical science. It is historical science because it is supported by known principles that are derived from testable, repeatable observations. Creationism is not a historical science; it is historical only in the sense that it is based on a historical account. It is science in no sense whatsoever. That's 11.1. Thanks for watching.

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