Using history and science to investigate ancient times
When history trumps science
Crime investigation often involves eyewitnesses and forensic science. But when these conflict, which gets precedence? Forensic science uses the evidence to infer what happened in the past and so deduce who committed the crime. Eyewitnesses report what they saw happen and who actually committed the crime. More importance is usually given to a reliable eyewitness than to forensic science, but forensic science can help explain an eyewitness account.
History and science are two main ways to investigate events that occurred in the past. History is like an eyewitness and science is like forensic science. In this article, we use the term “ancient forensic science” to refer to the use of science to investigate ancient times. Let’s look at the relationship between history and ancient forensic science.
How history works
History is the study of past events. Its accuracy depends on the accuracy of the information available to the historian, which is also related to the amount of time between the events studied and the historical investigation. Obviously, all other things being equal, the greater this time gap, the greater the uncertainty in the investigation.
History is more accurate when there are written records available than when these are absent. History can also use other evidence such as oral records and archaeological findings.
As a result of historical research, the historian produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.
How ancient forensic science works
Ancient forensic science uses the scientific method to investigate ancient times. This approach has been used in astronomy, archaeology, biology, chemistry and geology to investigate ancient times. Because it relates to past events that were not observed and the evidence is thousands of years old, ancient forensic science is based on more assumptions than most science. Many assumptions need to be made to interpret the evidence. An example of an assumption made by modern forensic science in that “everyone’s fingerprint is unique”. The assumptions of ancient forensic science include extrapolation from present conditions backwards in time assuming uniformity of scientific laws. If an assumption is incorrect, then the findings of the forensic investigation can be unreliable.
By the way, science can only address situations that are described by scientific laws. This means it can’t address questions such as the ultimate origin of matter and energy in the universe.
As a result of ancient forensic scientific research, the scientist also produces a written account of past events and attempts to put them in chronological order.
The historical record
The Bible is the best record of ancient history we have today. It contains documentary evidence from eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. The authors were either eyewitnesses themselves or they spoke with eyewitnesses. In the case of the original creation, the account was given to Moses by God, who was the Creator. God asked Job, “Where were you?” when this happened (Job 8:4-7)! He hadn’t been born yet! Therefore, it is an eyewitness account! Likewise, the question for us today is “Were you there?”. Obviously the answer is “no”! We can only look back thousands of years towards this event.
The Bible says that God created the universe rapidly in six days and that people have existed since the sixth day of creation. The creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex. This means that at the beginning, the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. The Bible also says that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation
Ancient forensic science says that the universe developed slowly over billions of years. During this time, things developed gradually from simple to more complex. First there were stars, then planets, then single-celled organisms, then multi-celled organisms, followed by fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and finally human beings.
Much of this explanation relies on the “big bang” theory and the idea of evolution. However, ancient forensic science is unable to answer questions like:
- How did the first life originate?
- Why was there a “big-bang”?
- What happened before the “big-bang”
- How did something come from nothing?
This conflicts with the biblical record as the dates are significantly older, all things developed gradually from simple to more complex instead of being complex from the beginning, and people appear after billions of years of evolution.
How can we resolve this conflict?
Scientists use mathematical methods to make predictions. These mathematical methods (which are called “models”) are developed from measurements (observations) that have been made over a certain period of time and under a certain range of conditions. The predictions are most accurate for circumstances that lie within those under which the model was developed. Predictions made outside these circumstances are less reliable as they are extrapolations outside the realm that was measured and observed.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation of ancient history uses theories and observations made in the past few hundred years to make statements about what happened millions and billions of years ago. In science it is well known that the accuracy of a prediction decreases as it extends outside the region of measurement and observation.
Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1.
We will now estimate the degree of extrapolation that is made by ancient forensic science. In order to be conservative, we will assume that the scientific theories and observations have been developed from measurements and observations made in the past 1,000 years. So any prediction that applies greater than 1,000 years ago is an extrapolation outside the range of measurement and observation. Therefore, a prediction of an event 10,000 years ago represents an extrapolation of one order of magnitude. Using the dates taught in the Big History Project, we see that the extrapolations are at least 2 to 7 orders of magnitude. As the degree of uncertainty usually increases with the size of the extrapolation, these enormous extrapolations indicate a huge uncertainty in these predictions. In normal science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.
|Proposed Event||Extrapolation – Orders of magnitude
|Big bang||7 (a factor of 107 )|
|Earth and solar system formed||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First life on earth||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First humans||2 (a factor of 102)|
Resolving the conflict
As eyewitnesses trump forensic science in criminal investigations, we need to see what implications the historical record has for the ancient forensic scientific explanation. The most obvious implication is that it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years because this was when the universe was “stretched out” by God (Jer. 10:12). The creative week was a unique time that can’t be explained by the laws of science. Scientists would call it a “boundary condition” or an “initial condition”. The assumption of the uniformity of scientific laws only applies since this time. Extrapolation backwards past this time is invalid because the current scientific laws may not apply when God was creating the universe.
This means that most of the apparent billions of years in the ancient forensic scientific explanation represent what God did in less than a week. This was the miracle of creation. So the billions of years is related to how far God stretched out the universe, not the age of the universe.
Because it is wrong to extrapolate backwards in time past about 6,000 years, the millions of years of evolution are also incorrect.
So when the ancient forensic scientific explanation is corrected by imposing historical eyewitness boundary conditions, we see that the assumptions behind the “big-bang” theory and the theory of evolution are obviously incorrect.
Does it matter?
Why can’t we accept both ancient forensic science and the Bible? Because the ancient forensic scientific explanation destroys the gospel message in the Bible. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.
It also moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death away from Adam and Eve’s disobedience. It makes them a normal part of our world. They are not viewed as being abnormal. It puts death before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death from the beginning. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.
As a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime, so reliable history is better than ancient forensic science in investigating ancient times. So reliable history trumps science when dealing with the past.
“reliable history trumps science when dealing with the past”
Let’s follow the reliable history of the Bible, instead of the erroneous assumptions and extrapolations of ancient forensic science.
Written, October 2013
Also see – Big history or little history?
– Big history
– Is the theory of biological evolution science or history?
Comment by Jay Wile.
I think your analogy between forensic science and science that deals with past events is a good one, but I disagree that history trumps science when dealing with the past. Eyewitnesses, for example, don’t always trump forensic science. Eyewitnesses can be notoriously unreliable, and forensic science can often be used to show that an eyewitness’s testimony is wrong. In criminal investigations, the case is strong when the eyewitness testimony and the forensic science agree. In the same way, some historical documents are notoriously unreliable, so the interpretation about the past is strong when the historical documents and the relevant science agree.
October 19, 2020 at 3:22 pm
Thanks for the comment Jay.
Yes, the conclusion doesn’t apply to unreliable eyewitnesses and unreliable history. As the historical record discussed in this post comes from the Bible, it is reliable. To clarify this, in the second sentence of the conclusion I will add the word “reliable” before the word “history”.
October 19, 2020 at 3:35 pm