Scientific Methods in Historical SciencesFor most scientists, the main goal of science is to find truth. They want to construct theories that are true, that correspond with reality by correctly describing what really happens in nature. In a search for true theories, the main thinking tools — the generation and evaluation of theories, using observation, imagination, and logic — are described in an introduction to The Simple Logic of Scientific Method and in this brief paraphrased-summary of a central idea:
As shown in the diagram below, OBSERVATIONS (from physical experiments) are used to imaginatively generate a THEORY, which can be used with if-then logic (in a mental experiment) to make PREDICTIONS, so you can do a REALITY CHECK by comparing observations with predictions, to test whether "the way you think the world is" (in a prediction made by assuming your theory is true) corresponds to "the way the world really is" (in a corresponding observation of reality)."
Does historical science
produce reliable conclusions? This is not a useful question,
because it tends to generate a yes-or-no response claiming that "YES,
[all] historical science [always] produces [totally] reliable conclusions" or "NO,
[all] historical science [always] produces [totally] unreliable conclusions." Each
of these extreme generalizations is wrong, because each implies the "all
or none" claims inside the brackets, [ ].
Earlier, I say that scientific methods "vary from one area of science to another." Some variations in methods are due to differences between operation science (to study the current operation of nature, what is happening now) and historical science (to study the previous history of nature, what happened in the past). Both types of science are similar in most important ways, especially in their use of scientific logic, but there are minor differences. / Although some young-earth creationists try to contrast historical origins science with experimental empirical science (i.e., science based on observations), this is wrong because historical origins science is based on observations so it is empirical.
Although repeatable controlled experiments can be done in operation science, this is not possible for historical events. Sometimes, the limitations of historical data provide a reason for caution about conclusions. But this challenge has inspired scientists to develop methods that reduce the practical impact of data limitations, and historical sciences — in fields such as astronomy, radiometric physics, and geology — are authentically scientific.
In historical science, one way to "reduce the practical impact" is to use repeatable uncontrolled experiments to gather data. For example, other pages explain how observations of many Cepheid stars from many parts of the universe have shown that all Cepheids have similar properties, allowing them (and supernovas, which have their own consistencies) to be useful for measuring astronomical distances. These consistencies let scientists develop reliable descriptive theories, which can become explanatory theories that usually are related to (and are consistent with) explanatory theories in operation science.
teminology: Should we call it operation science (singular) or operations science (plural)?
Experimental Science and Observational ScienceThis is another useful distinction, overlapping with and similar to "operation science and historical science" in some ways, but not others.
In all historical sciences, scientists observe systems they cannot control, since they can only observe what happened the way it already happened. But in astronomy and geology, for example, they can decide "how far back in the past" to observe, by looking further out in space or deeper down in the geological column.
In non-historical sciences, scientists can do either experimental science or observational science by observing systems that are controlled or uncontrolled, respectively. In fact, in many field studies (in ecology, oceanography, anthropology,...) the goal is to observe a system "as it is naturally" with no interference due to actions by the scientists. The degree of control over a system can range from no control through partial control to total control, but for any system the result (what happens in the system) depends on nature. And when observing a set of uncontrolled systems, scientists can achieve some benefits of controlled experiments by using multi-variable statistical analysis of the systems-and-observations.
When scientists decide how they will make observations, when they decide what to observe and how, their goal can be to fill gaps in current knowledge or confirm previous observations, to resolve anomaly, distinguish between competitive theories, provide support for an argument, or impress a funding agency.
To be more efficient (so they'll use less of their valuable time and resources) or for systems that cannot be physically observed, scientists can run thought experiments by asking "if we do this, what might happen and what would we learn?"
An important practical aspect of science is experimental design, which is introduced as a foundation for the simplicity of science and is analyzed in my overview of scientific method and detailed examination.
Unobservable Causes of Observable Effects
Miracles in Operation Science and Historical Science
Terminology — Operation Science and Operations ScienceThe first recent major use of this concept by a scholar, in Mystery of Life's Origin (1984) by Charles Thaxton, compared operations science (plural) with origins science, which is one type of historical science, or perhaps is a narrow way to view historical science. Logically, we could call it either operations science (because different areas of science study the many different operations of nature) or operation science (if we view the many operations as being combined into a unified overall operation of nature). A prominent young-earth organization, Answers in Genesis, calls it operation science. But in his recent book Signature in the Cell (2009), Stephen Meyer follows Thaxton in calling it operations science. Originally I also used Thaxton's term and called it operations science, but I recently changed it to operation science, partly because in a recent Google-search in 2010, I found 300 entries for one search ["operation science" "historical science"] but only 80 when using the analogous search ["operations science" "historical science"], although this balance may shift due to the prominence of Meyer's book. Also, I like the sound of "operation science" better, because it flows more easily by avoiding the s-and-s in the middle of operations science, which requires careful-and-slow enunciation yet still sounds awkward.
HISTORICAL SCIENCE — Can
it be scientific and reliable?
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