What is historical science?
In May 2019 I visited Uluru and Kata Tjuta in Central Australia. The explanations of these rock formations say that these sands and gravels were deposited about 500 million years ago. But where does this date come from? After all, it’s not written anywhere on these sedimentary rocks!
This post is based on a children’s book by Hughes and Cosner (2018).
Claims about the past?
If the Bible says that the earth is only thousands of years old, how do scientists know that fossils and rocks can be millions of years old? Fossils and rocks don’t have dates written on them like some historical events. This is explained by the fact that there are two stories about the past which are used to explain the facts we see today in different ways. One assumes the historical record in the Bible and the other a historical record constructed by those who disregard the Bible. Both of these stories are based on historical science.
There are two types of science. They are called operational science and historical science, and they deal with two very different things.
Operational science is the type of science that one might do in a laboratory, about how the world works today. It’s all based on what you actually see. You can perform tests and observe what happens. For example, at sea level, water will always boil at the same temperature (100 0C or 212 0F). In operational science, anyone can repeat an experiment and see if they get the same results. Testable and repeatable science is why we have smartphones, spaceships, and lots of other inventions.
Historical science deals with what happened in the past, but you cannot do experiments on events in the past. An example of this would be paleontology (the study of fossils). Scientists might unearth a dinosaur find and then tell a story of how long ago the dinosaur lived and died. But the scientist’s ideas about how old it is cannot be directly tested because it happened in the past without direct witnesses.
Is historical science real science? Can creationists use historical science?
Yes; creationists also use it to come up with ideas about what they think happened in the past, just like evolutionists. The difference is that creationists have eye witnesses for the big events of the past, and use historical science to explore the detail. For instance, creation geologists use what is known from small-scale disasters like the Mt St Helens volcanic eruption in 1980 to explain what may have happened during the global flood of Noah’s day (Gen. 7:11-19). The Bible has a better history than evolution (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Bible is the history book of the universe, so it should be our authority when it comes to looking at the past.
Can historical science prove creation or evolution?
No, but it can give people ideas about what possibly happened in the past. Actually, creationists and evolutionists have the same set of facts – the same fossils, rocks, living things, and so on. Those facts are interpreted by creationists and evolutionists as evidence for one view or the other, but the facts themselves aren’t automatically ‘for’ one side or the other. So, everyone has the same evidence, just different interpretations. Different worldviews. A good example is what we think happened to the dinosaurs. An evolutionist might say it was the impact from an asteroid. And a creationist might say they became extinct due to changes in the weather after the catastrophic global flood, or even possibly as a result of humans hunting them.
Why do people only hear the evolutionary view?
For many reasons, evolution has long been the popular view of most scientists, but it wasn’t always that way. Almost all fields of science were started by Bible-believing thinkers. But, since creation is linked with Christianity and not natural processes, people argue that teaching creation in schools and museums is teaching ‘religion’, not science. What they don’t realize is that evolution is also linked with a religion – atheism, that denies God as the Creator (Rom. 1:20-23).
How do I know when historical science is right or wrong?
We can’t know for sure what happened in the past unless there is an eyewitness – and the Bible has a trustworthy eyewitness – God Himself! So when historical science disagrees with the Bible, it is wrong (Acts 17:10-11). For example, the age assumed for the Uluru and Kata Tjuta is an apparent (conditional, hypothetical, inferred) age that has been decided by the assumptions made in its determination. It’s about 5 orders of magnitude (about 100,000 times) different to the date of Noah’s flood when most of the sedimentary rock layers on earth were formed and eroded. That’s a huge difference! The Appendix shows why dating methods based on secular historical science are so unreliable.
Creationists try to develop scientific ideas based upon the Bible’s history in areas such as astronomy, geology, paleontology, and archaeology. But even these ideas can change when they make some new discovery.
There are two types of science: operational science and historical science. The dating of past events like the formation of sedimentary rocks and fossils uses historical science. But the accuracy of these dates depends on the accuracy of the assumed history. The Bible gives an accurate history (which provides actual dates), whereas evolutionists use an apparent (assumed, conditional) history (which provides hypothetical dates).
Appendix: Methods used by secular historical science to date ancient events
No scientific method can prove the age of the earth or the age of events deduced in the fossil record, such as the date of extinction of the dinosaurs. No one saw these events, so we depend upon inferences made from present data, which is most cases relate to rocks and fossils. All dating methods are based on three main assumptions, and each method has its own particular additional assumptions. A dating method is a one that marks time by regular/systematic changes in a physical or chemical parameter over time. The three main assumptions are:
– The initial condition of the physical or chemical parameter.
– A knowledge between the initial time and now of the rate of a physical or chemical process that changes the parameter over time. This rate is usually assumed to be constant.
– A knowledge between the initial time and now of how much of the parameter has been lost or gained by other physical or chemical processes. This is usually assumed to be zero.
Secular historical scientists consistently choose the dating methods which they believe give sound ages (e.g. radiometric dating), and these are almost always the methods that yield the oldest dates. They choose to discard/ignore the dating methods that give much younger ages like: the salinity of the oceans, the decay of the earth’s magnetic field, and mutation rates, (Oard 2019). Likewise, they discard/ignore observations that give much younger ages like: fossils indicate rapid burial, parallel sedimentary rock layers with no erosion between them indicate that the layers were deposited rapidly in single a uninterrupted sequence, polystrate fossils, fragile organic molecules in dinosaur fossils, human observations of dinosaurs, C14 in coal and diamonds, and helium in zircon crystals.
So the dates that historical scientists determine for ancient events are extremely unreliable, particularly because dates are rejected unless they agree with the hypothetical geological time scale. Based on the little evidence that is available to the scientist, and the many assumptions that need to be made, and the lack of observations in the past, and the extreme extrapolation over eons of time, the supposed dates are speculative.
Hughes E and Cosner L (2018), Creation answers for kids, Creation Book Publishers, p.10-13.
Oard M J (2019) The deep time deception, Creation Book Publishers, p.79.