Re: Testing in historical science

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Tue, 18 Nov 1997 11:22:30 -0500 (EST)

At 09:52 PM 11/17/97 -0600, Keith B Miller wrote:

Moorad wrote:
>>All the successes of physics, both in explaining nature and the resulting
>>technology, have nothing to do with the origin of the universe. Isn't that
>>precisely the same in biology, geology, etc. vis a vis evolutionary theory?
>>Besides studying the history of man itself, is there really any specific
>>discovery in those areas that could not have been made without positing
>>common descent?
>I really am not sure what you are getting at here. You can always have a
>bunch of obervations without a coherent theory to hold them together. In
>historical geology and biology, evolution is that theory. In recent years
>there has been increasing focus on the integration of observations from
>different fields into more comprehensive models for global change in Earth
>history. For example: the Earth's climate is effected by ocean chemistry,
>weathering rates, transpiration rates (water loss from plants), atmospheric
>composition, surface reflectivity, etc. All these factors are directly
>impacted by the Earth's biosphere. As a result, the evolution of that
>biosphere would have had a climatic impact. Such effects of an evolving
>biosphere can been recognized in the geologic record. The change in life
>on land and in the oceans also affected a wide range of other features of
>the geologic record including sedimentary structures in deposited
>sediments, sediment composition (rock lithologies), soil development,
>isotopic composition, etc.

I was thinking specifically of people like the bacteriologist Louis Pasteur
who made all sorts of important discoveries and did not adhere to an
evolutionary theory of man's origin. Similarly with the botanist Gregor
Mendel. I have no qualms with discussing that physical entities evolve. I am
raising the issue of origins. Change does not imply evolution. The second
law of thermodynamics came about in order to unify all the irreversible
phenomena observed in nature. But the question of why there is a law like
that or how did the universe start is quite a different issue.

>Again evolution provides a coherent explanatory framework for understanding
>Earth history. It also generates testable predictions for what to expect
>in the fossil record, and it has correctly predicted many critical fossil

Science can deal with Earth's history but the question of origins goes
beyond that. Forensic science deals with predictions also. However, it can
only establish the past so that jurors can made a decision "beyond a
reasonable doubt." The whole of man--mind, body and spirit--will not accept
such criteria when dealing with how the whole thing came into being.