Science Doesn’t Distinguish Between “Historical” and “Observational”

A charge I’ve heard from some apologists (like Frank Turek and Ken Ham) is that there are fundamentally two different kinds of science.  There’s “historical” (sometimes called “forensic”) science, which deals with science claims of the past, and “observational” (sometimes called “empirical”) science, which deals with what we can observe. I think the fundamental reason that religious apologists make this nonsense claim is so that they can discredit the science that they fundamentally disagree with (like evolution), while still holding onto the science that they do agree with (like the germ theory of disease.)  I’d like to take a tiny bit to address this claim, and try to explain why it’s nonsense.

All science deals with empirical evidence, because that is what science does.  Science is a rational method of investigating natural causes by examining empirical evidence.  Regardless of whether science is investigating the diversity of life, or why the planets move the way that they do, empirical evidence is all that matters.

Nothing In Science Is Provable

One of the first things I want to get out of the way is that science doesn’t actually prove anything.  Only mathematics and logic can actually prove anything, because that is how analytic systems work.  You start with something and try to show what can be logically deduced from your premises.  Valid logic, with sound premises, means that your conclusion is sound.  Science, on the other hand, being empirical in nature, can’t do that.  Science has to work with induction, and simply doesn’t have the ability to prove anything.

What is important to realize is that while science cannot prove anything, it does give us incredible confidence that its theories, and surrounding facts, are very likely to be true, even if we cannot be 100% sure that the theories are correct.

All Conclusions In Science Are Tentative

Nothing in science is absolute, and no theory is beyond question, because we’re dealing with inductive conclusions, rather than deductive ones.  There simply is no current theory of science that couldn’t (at least hypothetically) be falsified tomorrow with some new data. Why? Because models are a simplification for how reality actually is, and can never be complete. Even the most solid theories we have could be overturned tomorrow with one new piece of evidence that falsifies the theory.

That said, a lot of work has gone into testing every current theory of science, and to make sure that the evidence supports the models.  This is why peer review, and replication, are so critical to science.  If honest scientists, working with what you’ve published, can’t reproduce what you claim to have produced, then your findings should be considered to be in error.

Conclusion

There really is no difference between the science that built the theory that germs are the cause of diseases, and the theory that the diversity of life can be explained by the genetic variations between organisms and that these variations can (largely) be explained by natural selection and mutations.  Both of these theories are built upon models, and the testing of these models.  The theory of evolution stands on over 150 years of hard work done by scientists to support the theory, and that support is now pretty much universal.

The only people who are trying to push the idea that science makes any distinction between “historical” science and “empirical” science are religious apologists, and pseudo-scientists  who are trying to confuse the subject.  These people aren’t interested in real science, or giving out good information.  Their goal is to convince you that you have good reasons to believe their nonsense, and get you to reject solid science.

Please, dear reader, there is no reason (yet) to accept supernatural claims.  Take my advice and please stop listening to religious apologists.  They have very little to offer you.

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