Theology of Creation,
Scientific Evidence,
and Education

HISTORICAL SCIENCE — Can it be reliable?

Even though we cannot directly observe ancient history, can we — by a logical analysis of historical evidence (in fields like astronomy, geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, or archaeology) — reach reliable conclusions about what happened in the past, on the earth and in other parts of the universe?

        Officially, ASA does not have a position on historical science.  Yes, Part 3 of the ASA Statement of Faith does say, "We believe that in creating and preserving the universe God has endowed it with contingent order and intelligibility, the basis of scientific investigation."  But critics of historical science will agree;  they just think science is much less reliable when we're studying the past history of nature, compared with studying the current operation of nature.
        Unofficially, most members of ASA think the essential foundation of historical science — the logical evaluation of evidence about the past — provides a reliable way to learn about the history of nature.

        If all scientists have the same evidence, will all reach the same conclusion?  If not, does this show that "it's all personal opinion and philosophical prejudice" with no basis in fact or logic, so you can ignore what scientists say?  Can science help us reach reliable conclusions about the history of nature?
        Questions about reliability are important for all areas of historical science.  But they are especially relevant when we ask "how old is it?" because young-earth creationists challenge the credibility of all historical sciences that claim to provide evidence for an old earth and universe.  They ask, "Were you there? Did you see it?", and imply that "NO" means "then you can't know much about it."
        Criticizing historical science is rhetorically useful for young-earth creationists because it lets them attack the credibility of conventional "age science" in which almost all scientists, after carefully examining the scientific evidence-and-logic, conclude that the earth and universe are almost certainly old.

        Attacking the Credibility of the Old-Earth Witness
        Questions about the reliability of historical science are important when we're thinking about WISELY USING THE TWO BOOKS OF GOD because advocates of a young earth know that the evidence-and-logic of science is testifying against their own views, so they try to "discredit the witness" by claiming that:  1) some people, including themselves and others who agree with them, can correctly interpret one of the books (scripture), but   2) nobody can correctly interpret the other book (nature) using only scientific evidence-and-logic without divine revelation.   The first claim is examined in AGE OF THE EARTH (THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES) and the second is the focus in this page.  You can examine the scientific evidence-and-logic in AGE OF THE EARTH (SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES).

Young-Earth Creationists and
Historical Science

• A brief introduction from Answers in Genesis claims that when the same evidence is analyzed by evolutionists (everyone who thinks the universe is old) and creationists (who think the universe is young) they will reach different conclusions because they "see the world" in a different way, by seeing through a secular history lens and Biblical history lens.  They ask "Is nature the 67th book of the Bible?" and explain why they think the Bible is our best source of knowledge about the history of nature. (4 k)
• Ken Ham, in a longer page with the same theme, asks "Where's the proof?" and explains why there is no proof — "we interpret facts differently... because we start with different presuppositions... that we assume to be true... and use to build a way of thinking which enables us to interpret the evidence" — and why "leaving the Bible out of it" will "stack the deck" against a correct interpretation of history and the Bible. (10 k + 3k)   Ham thinks we should return to Biblical authority and should not "start outside the Bible to (re)interpret the Words of Scripture" but (as explained by Craig Rusbult) he doesn't follow his own advice when asking, does the earth rotate and orbit?
• Chris and Lucy are wondering whether they should believe what Manuel wrote in his note, or use scientific evidence and logic, in The Parable of the Candle by Garth Wiebe (3 k) which is about The Two Books and the possibility that (if God created with a FALSE APPEARANCE OF OLD AGE) we cannot believe what we see.
• John Morris asks "Can scientists study the past?" (3 k) and says NO because "Science is limited to the present. ... No scientist has direct access to the past — all are locked in the present, studying the evidence, which exists in the present. ... We cannot scientifically prove creation or disprove evolution."  Instead, he proposes an alternative way of knowing: "Even though we can't ‘study the past’ [scientifically], we can [theologically] study the record of One who was an active eyewitness throughout the past, who can accurately communicate His thoughts and deeds, and whose Word is true."  Therefore, the Bible is more reliable than science as a way to know the history of nature.

Open-Minded Historical Science
• Frank Sherwin, a young-earth scientist, seems to disagree with the views of Ham and Morris (above) when he explains — by criticizing scientists with old-earth views because they aren't open to young-earth views — why scientists should Follow the Evidence.  This is an interesting challenge.  Sherwin says "scientists of all stripes should go where the evidence leads" but do young-earth scientists really want to look at the evidence, or ignore it?  To gather information about this question, ask a young-earth believer "Is there any scientific evidence, of any kind, that could ever convince you the earth is old?"   If the answer is yes, follow up by asking "then why do you harshly criticize the theology (and sometimes the faith and character) of the many Christians (your brothers and sisters in Christ) who have logically and prayerfully examined the evidence and it has convinced them that the scientific support for an old earth is extremely strong?"   And if they say no, ask "should a scientist reach an unchangeable conclusion before studying and evaluating the evidence?"
• Craig Rusbult examines historical science in a three-part series:  Part 1 (14 k) summarizes basic principles of scientific logic, and explains why historical science, which is built on a solid foundation of empirical observations, can produce reliable conclusions;  Part 2 (19 k) is an application for age-questions, explaining the logical principle of "multiple independent confirmations" and analyzing the postmodern "radical relativism" of young-earth skeptics.   And he asks, why doesn't Ken Ham follow his own advice?
• Keith Miller describes scientific logic and explains The Similarity of Theory Testing in the Historical and "Hard" Sciences.  (14 k + 5k)   Brian Pitts responds, Dissimilarity of Theory Testing in Historical and Hard Sciences  (4 k)
• Craig Rusbult compares 3 creationist theories (young-earth, old-earth progressive, old-earth evolutionary) about 2 questions (age and design) and asks "Is old-earth progressive creation inconsistent?" because it accepts one consensus conclusion of historical science but questions the other?  (17 k + 6k) (Sections 2 & 3 are especially relevant for thinking about historical science)

more criticism of historical science by young-earth creationists:
Searching for the Magic Bullet by Ken Ham, is an interesting combination of logical evaluation (re: some YEC claims) and postmodern skepticism about the logic of historical science in general.
• Although YEC and PostModernism are similar in some ways, they differ in important ways — for example, PoMo criticizes all science, while YECs criticize only historical science (to study what happened in the past) while praising the logic and reliability of non-historical science (to study what is happening now) — as seen in Loving God with All Your Mind: Logic & Creation (40 k + refs) and Evolution & Creation, Science & Religion, Facts & Bias (21 k + refs) which is Chapter 1 in Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Sarfati.
Naturalism, Operational Science, and Origins Science by Jonathan Sarfati  (5 k for this section, 50 k total)

I.O.U. — Later, we'll try to find more pages that respond by defending historical sciences.

In this page you'll find links to resource-pages expressing a wide range of views, which don't necessarily represent the views of the American Scientific Affiliation.  Therefore, linking to a page does not imply an endorsement by ASA.  We encourage you to use your own critical thinking to evaluate everything you read. 

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