Re: Payne-Miller dialogue regarding facts/interpretation

From: Darryl Maddox (
Date: Sat Jun 16 2001 - 06:59:49 EDT

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    Good morning Bill, Joel, & group.

    I found this post by Bill to be enjoyable (it is well written and brought to mind information I knew but had not thought of in these contexts) and informative (it provided information I did not know previously). I particularly like and agree with the following statement from Bill: " If we were to investigate a historical event not subject to emprical testing, our report would necessarily have a prominent qualifier stating the conditions undergirding our interpretations."

     As Bill pointed out, many of us in this group are educators. If we are to educate we muct communicate clearly. (What follows may be nothing more than a restatement of his last paragraph but perhaps it adds something, I can't tell.) I think if we would state specifically whether we are discussing the merits of two interpretations of a single set of data, i.e. and outcrop or a formation etc, OR whether we are addressing a larger question such as old earth/young earth or universal flood/ no universal flood, THEN our listeners and readers would learn much more from us. Of course it take time to point out this distinction but it also brings forth the opportunity to show the relationship (if there is one) between the particular piece of data we are discussing and a large question to which it may be relevant. This little bit of extra time may also give our listeners time to get focused on that relationship between the specific and the general and thus learn something about how scientists extract sweeping generalities from a myriad bits of data yet scoff at those you dissagree with us when they try to argue for their generality by showing it is supported by some individual bit of data.

    In physics (and chemistry?) we teach generalities (Newton't laws and all the others) then show the students how to use these generalities to solve problems or explain laboratory results. In Historical Geology we look at bits of data from the field (an experiment which happened but in which we did not participate) and draw conclusions. Although Newton supposedly developed his laws of motions and gravity from seeing an apple fall and knowing the moon orbited the earth, I never take the time to do lots of experiments and then try to derive a universal law. The only time I did any "research" at all I just took the laws I had been taught, applied in a new context and showed that the data (paleocurrent direction determined by the new technique) was in agreement with the field data and therefor the technique could reliable be used to determine this on sandstoness for which it had either been impossible or too time consuming to do it any other way. But in my current geological research I am obtaining and using hundred of bits of data to contruct a generalized history of the area I am studying. These are very different ways of doing things and I don't think our students generally understand this. And, I am afraid that from reading many many posts on this and other newsgroups and discussion groups, many of us don't always make the distiction clear of WHETHER we are argueing about a generality we feel is supported by data (the earth does or does not orbit the sun, there was or was not a universal flood, the earth is young or old) OR we are argueing about the most logical inferrence from a specific bit of data (a partular coal bed etc).

     SNIP ------

    Bill's last paragraph in-
    > I find this lack of distinction between empirical-based science and
    > historical-based science common in the evolution debate. If
    > architects/engineers ran their businesses with the same lack of rigor,
    > they would soon be gone, courtsey of our friends the lawyers.

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