Historical Science and Observational Science

Because time machines have not been invented. All we can do is observe the present.

Great. How did you refute it?

By showing that we have much greater confidence, rightfully so, in things we can test and repeat and see with our own eyes, than we have in stories we may choose to concoct about what we think happened billions or millions of years in the past when there was no one around to see it.

Well, of course. Historical sciences observe the present for clues about the past. I’m sorry, but you’re hopelessly confused. All science is inferential, using observations to infer things not observed. Atomic physicists don’t actually see atoms and particles. Chemists don’t see chemical bonds. Your misunderstanding of the nature of science is egregious.

But we can’t see most things with our own eyes, at least not as you seem to be claiming. Historical science is also based on repeatable observation, of course. The past leaves remnants in the present. Events have consequences through time, just as very small things like atoms, though too small to see, have consequences in the macro world. There’s no real difference except in your mind. Your “refutation” is hopelessly naive.


This is pure obfuscation as well as flat out wrong.

We know about things like chemical bonds from testable, repeatable observations in a laboratory setting. NOT through stories about the past.

And have you had any pushback from YEC students?

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No, it is entirely possible to effectively use critical thinking - in hypothesis generation, experimental design, and other areas - without formal training in philosophy. I would agree that philosophy can be very helpful for ethical considerations of research.


I don’t know any scientist who would agree with that. For example, unearthing fossils is clearly empirical, but not experimental.


I covered that. I said that describing the physical characteristics of something is also empirical. When you develop a story about the past and attempt to explain the unobservable past causes that you think led to that fossil being there, that is when you have entered into history rather then empirical observation.

We would have to go into an investigation of what you mean by “see”. Is “seeing the glow” the same as seeing the atom? Even your quote makes the distinction. Doesn’t it require some serious theory and inference to equate that glow with an invisible strontium atom? Further, were we not assured that strontium atoms exist long before anyone had performed that experiment? Or do you consider atoms, prior to that experiment, as “stories about little things”?

I see you’re back to equating observation with laboratory experiments. There are other ways to make observations, and other places where they can be made. Hopeless.


When you see a track in a bubble chamber and attempt to explain the unobservable tiny causes that you think led to that track being there, that is when you have entered into telling stories rather than empirical observation. Again, you seem to have no understanding of how science works, or of philosophy of science for that matter.


How do we see anything?

The conclusions of the RATE project essentially required the speculation that radioactive decay rates must have been vastly accelerated at some point in the past. However, there is a decided lack of evidence supporting that keystone speculation.

On the other hand, dating analysis using multiple isotopes has provided independent verification for the reasonable accuracy of radiometric dating techniques.

What evidence is available to support the YEC hypothesis over the mainstream hypothesis?


But yet you’re using empirical observations in the present to draw inferences about the past…

Let’s say I’m studying a member of Borophaginae. I look at it gets Skull and dental anatomy and notice it would have had a very strong bite based on its muscle attachments compared to modern canids. Strong enough to crush bone. I then look at its coprolites and notice they are full of bone fragments.

Are you telling me that isn’t empirical and I can’t confidently conclude Epicyon crunched on some bone?


That’s a fantasy version of evolutionary biology. Evolutionary theory and geology, for example, predict where particular types of transitional fossils, Tiktaalik and hominids being the most famous examples, will be found. That’s empirical, not historical storytelling.

Or do you think that paleontologists are just randomly digging?


A more profound question than you seem to realize.

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When I see fluorescent bands when I put my gel on a UV box and attempt to explain whether my restriction enzymes cut my DNA, that is when I have entered into telling stories rather than empirical observation. Correct?

@PDPrice, your distinction is completely bogus.


That is a big question that may deserve its own thread at a future time.

You’re right, we could certainly save that one for later.

But we never actually directly see the atoms or bonds. I think @John_Harshman is correct that in chemistry we mostly “see” via indirect experimental methods. How does that fit?

I’ve made an image of graphene on an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) like what you posted about. That image is made based on theory about quantum tunneling of electrons and by measuring a voltage or current on a metal needle as it is “dragged” across a surface. I don’t think I would say I directly observed the C atoms, but I did experimentally create an image I think reflects something real about the shape and arrangement of them.

I teach chemical instrumental methods courses. In almost all cases (spectroscopy, chromatography, mass spectrometry, etc.) what we actually observe is a signal voltage. It is up to us to figure out what that means, which means theory and experimentation.


Experimental methods that are still repeatable, and based in the present. It may be an ‘inference’ in some cases, but it is an inference we can test and repeat.

So do you see historical science as a continuum? Like, is the forensic scientist doing historical science because the event happened hours or days before? Is it the further in the past we go, the less empirical/experimental/observational and more historical we get?