RE: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Sat Sep 09 2006 - 17:07:53 EDT

It may be best to characterize paleontology & astrophysics as observational sciences that use the results of experimental sciences to make sense of their observations. Certainly, astronomy is the best example of an observational science.




From: George Murphy []
Sent: Sat 9/9/2006 3:50 PM
To: Alexanian, Moorad;
Subject: Re: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?

 I grant that we can't do controlled experiements on the whole universe &
that if "Nature" does such experiments they are (at least at present)
inaccessible to us. But we can learn a great deal about our own universe by
means which are experimentally testable

But you haven't clarified the things I asked about. Do you want to include
the word "other" under points 3 and 4 below? I.e., can paleontology &
astrophysics be included under the heading of "experimental science"?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; <>
Sent: Saturday, September 09, 2006 2:21 PM
Subject: RE: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?

When it comes to cosmology, the only way one makes an experimental science
out of it is by considering parallel or multiple universes and so get rid of
the difficulty associated with the fine-tuning necessary for life to arise.
In general, experimental sciences deal with conscious, rational beings
setting up experiments and have Nature take over from there. Is there a
conscious, rational mind behind the experiments "done" by Nature?



From: George Murphy []
Sent: Thu 9/7/2006 5:55 PM
To: Alexanian, Moorad;
Subject: Re: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?

My numbers refer to Moorad's responses below & in turn to my earlier points.

1. You often have enough evidence to average over lots of different
members of species, different species of genera, &c. That's sufficient.
That's really all you need in order to say that paleontology is a science in
the same sense as chemistry &c. It's only if one would start to make
about "the biosphere" as a whole that the analogy with cosmology would

Bondi is kind of what I cut my teeth on as a cosmologist but it's been
awhile since I read the book. I may be wrong, but on looking again it
doesn't seem to me that he really questions whether or not cosmology is a
science. What he deals with in connection with the uniqueness of the
universe (Section 1.3, 2d ed) is what kind of science it is. In any case,
it isn't its historical character that concerns him there, it's the fact
that this uniquenesss
"rules out the usual inductive approach."

2. & as below, I would add "astrophysicists."

3. OK, maybe I'm being overly suspicious but when you say "from the
experimental sciences," do you simply mean "from the OTHER experimental
sciences," which would be consistent with what you said in 2 above? Or are
you continuing to distinguish historical and experiemntal sciences, in spite
of 2 above?

4. Again I raise the same question: Do you mean "other experimental
scientists" or are you distinguishing astrophysicists from experimental
physicists - in spite of the fact that the former are in fact (as you agree
in 1) experimentalists whose experiments are done for them by "Nature"?
(Needless to say I leave a place for theorists as scientists too but that's
not the point now.)

If under 3 and 4 you do indeed mean "other experimental sciences/scientists"
then we are in complete agreement - & should agree that there is no basic
distinction between "experimental" and "historical" sciences.

I don't think you have an ulterior motive. I thought I had understood your
point - that there is an important difference between "experimental" and
"historical" sciences. But given your agreements - or what seem to be
agreements - with me, I don't see why you think that.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; <>
Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 3:13 PM
Subject: RE: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?


1s, There is no disagreement here. The same is done in stellar evolution
where one studies many stars and so determines the typical lifespan of a
generic star. However, the description of the whole history of the
occurrence of life on earth is a different matter. There is no average
that one can take over observed occurrences of life elsewhere. For
instance, whether cosmology is a science or not was an issue raised by
Bondi in his book Cosmology.

2d, Paleontologists and forensic scientists can do experiments; there is
no problem with that. Who does the repeatable experiments is not

3d, One is referring here to a division a labor. Paleontologists want to
reconstruct history according to extant data and results from the
experimental sciences. That is all I am saying and I believe that it is
obvious. It seems that people read what I write and imagine that I have
some ulterior motive for saying what I say!

4th, There are aspects of astrophysics that are historical like the
origin of galaxies, stars, etc. In fact, astrophysics is like making a
sandwich with stuff that experimental scientists make available to them.

I do pay attention and very much appreciate your posts.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of George Murphy
Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 11:09 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?

Presumably you mean that the "historical sciences" such as paleontology
more like forensic science than physics, but the analogy is not that

1st, paleontologists are not concerned just with the development of one
organisms whose fossil they've found but with the development of entire
species or even higher taxa. Thus much of the contingency in what they
study is averaged out.

2d, when you say that forensic scientists use "the results of
done by chemists &c" the implication is that they don't do experiments
themselves - & by implication that paleontologists don't. But this is
misleading. Forensic scientists do experiments (on decay of animal
carcasses e.g.) & criminals do lots of other experiments for them. & if

you'll excuse a misleading personification, "Nature" has done many
experiments for paleontologists, the results being all the fossils that
found &c. Of course the controls aren't as precise as they'd be if
scientists could arrange those experiments themselves but the number of
fossils formed under all different conditions makes that a relatively

3d, Paleontologists of course make use of more basic sciences such as
physics - but so do chemists & biologists. Different branches of
are at different levels in that sense but the distinction there is not
between "operational science" (or whatever you wish to call them) &
"historical" ones.

4th, the questionable character of a sharp distinction between physics &

"historical sciences" becomes obvious when you realize that astrophysics
an "historical science." Everything I've said above about paleontology
be said, mutatis mutandis, for astrophysics.

Moorad, you keep trying to make this distinction on the list & every
you do I or someone else demonstrates that it doesn't work, but a couple
weeks later you say the same kind of thing. Are you paying any
attention to
what we're saying?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
To: "Michael Roberts" <>; "Ted Davis"
<>; <>; "James Mahaffy"
Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 9:44 AM
Subject: RE: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?

> Can you tell the difference between a physicist and a forensic
> The former studies Nature experimentally and creates laws that
> the result of all the experimental data. The latter finds out if O. J.

> Simpson did it or not using results of experiments done by chemists,
> physicists, biologists, etc. Do you now see the difference?
> Moorad
> ________________________________
> From: Michael Roberts []
> Sent: Thu 9/7/2006 2:25 AM
> To: Alexanian, Moorad; Ted Davis;; James Mahaffy
> Subject: Re: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?
> Please learn a little bit more about historical science before
> your previous errors on the subject
> Michael
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Alexanian, Moorad" <>
> To: "Ted Davis" <>; <>; "James
> <>
> Sent: Thursday, September 07, 2006 1:32 AM
> Subject: RE: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?
>> The laws of Nature that are based on experimental science are
>> generalizations of historical propositions, viz., data obtained from
>> repeatable experiments. Historical sciences rely on results obtained
>> the experimental sciences, thus the use of the word science in
>> science, but deal with a single, unique event. One is not
>> one kind as being more or less legitimate than the other but the
>> distinction must be made to shed light in the so-called war between
>> science and religion.
>> Moorad
>> ________________________________
>> From: Ted Davis []
>> Sent: Wed 9/6/2006 5:50 PM
>> To:; James Mahaffy; Alexanian, Moorad
>> Subject: RE: [asa] What causes students to move from faith?
>>>>> "Alexanian, Moorad" <> 09/06/06 4:07 PM
>> Experimental science has nothing to say regarding any particular
>> historical event.
>> Ted responds:
>> Not exactly. True, experimental science can't rule in or out
>> like the resurrection or the virgin birth. Those events, if they
>> happened
>> (as I believe they did), are forever beyond the realm of scientific
>> confirmation or refutation since we can't rerun the history itself
>> subject the phenomena to scientific study.
>> However--and this is a very important however--the YECs and some
>> many, I'm not yet clear on this) IDs make much hay about the very
>> distinction you are using. In their view, the historical sciences
>> as
>> geology, cosmology, evolutionary biology) do not have status as
>> legitimate
>> sciences, or if they have some legitimacy it is quite small relative
>> experimental sciences. This particular move, in fact, is perhaps the

>> most
>> important way in which they keep Galileo's approach to the Bible (in
>> relation to modern astronomy) out of the garden of Eden. I recently
>> completed an unpublished essay with almost exactly that title
>> and
>> the Garden of Eden).
>> One could say a great deal more about this. But I'll add only this.
>> Experimental science *does* have something to say about some
>> events, perhaps even a whole lot of them. I offer the following
>> We know experimentally/empirically (I fudge the difference here) that
>> Greenland has not been completely submered under water in the past
>> 100,000+
>> years. We know this from evidence buried in ice cores from various
>> of
>> that continent. I call this an experimental/empirical claim, even
>> it
>> has an historical component. We have a continuous record buried in
>> ice,
>> and it has no evidence of a massive flood. THus, we can conclude
>> those
>> who interpret Genesis to require a worldwide flood submerging all of
>> land a few thousand years ago cannot be right. That particular
>> interpretation of world/biblical history is wrong.
>> Ted
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Received on Sat Sep 9 17:13:31 2006

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