Deceitful or Distinguishable Terms—Historical and Observational Science

by Troy Lacey
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Is there a legitimate distinction between historical and observational science, or are we being misleading to use those terms? Troy Lacey, AiG–U.S., explains.

As a scientist, I never encountered the terms “historical” vs. “observational” science before seeing them on your website. To my knowledge, either a field has data or doesn’t, and it is the patterns in this data that either support a hypothesis or don’t. By your definition, astronomy goes out the window as a subjective “historical” science because we can’t repeat supernovas in a lab, and it took too long for the light to hit our telescope. On your site you say, “Neither creation nor evolution is directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable,” and therefore neither qualifies as observational science. But in recent articles, Ken is often saying that “observational science confirms that millions of years and evolution can’t be true and how the Genesis account of origins explains the evidence.” So? Which is it? Or is “historical” simply anything which contradicts and “observational” anything that supports you? I predict you won’t answer this question. That’s observational. . . .

–B.G., Canada

Hi B.G.,

Thank you for contacting Answers in Genesis. The first recent major use of this concept, contrasting operational (observational) science with origins (historical) science, was in The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984) by Charles Thaxton. I believe you are referring to the article, “Your Tax Dollars at Work—Indoctrination in Millions of Years,” from Ken Ham’s blog.

Not to try to frame things as a semantics debate, but there is some validity to that statement as regards your question. As you pointed out, we have stated that neither creationism nor cosmic evolution nor Darwinian biological evolution is observational science, and they are not observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable events. Therefore, we would state that you cannot “empirically prove” them. Both creationists and evolutionists have the same sets of data, the same evidence, and often the same techniques to examine their evidence. The different conclusions, therefore, must be based on presuppositions (or worldviews). I understand that the following is a simplistic example, but bear with me.

A creationist astronomer sees comets in the universe and realizes they have a limited “existence” of at most 100,000 years. He concludes that the universe must be less than 100,000 years old. A cosmic evolutionary astronomer sees the same thing but concludes there must be a constant source of comets, because he believes the universe is 13.7 billion years old. He would, of course, claim that he arrived at that date due to observational measurements of light from distant galaxies. The creationist astronomer would then hypothesize an explanation for the distant starlight problem, which the evolutionist would rebut, etc.

What we contend is that observational science has many evidences that line up with a young earth or universe but seem contradictory to an old universe. Getting back to Ken’s quote, you’ll notice that he did not say “prove” but “explains the evidence.” I realize the semantics argument creeps in here, but Ken is trying to stress that observational science exhibits evidence that corresponds to a recent creation.

Historical science (creationist or secular) by its very nature is based on a worldview i.e., religion.

  • Either the universe started out as a singularity, which billions of years ago exploded and has caused an expanding universe ever since, or God created it ex nihilo.
  • Either life evolved out of non-living chemicals, or aliens seeded the universe (but this only raises the question of how the aliens became alive), or God created life as described in Genesis 1–2.

Neither theory is provable (testable, repeatable, etc.). That’s why you’ll often see our articles state something like, “We trust the Word of God who was there” or “We accept God’s Word as a true testimony.”

We must be cautious, however, not to make sweeping generalizations, such as saying that secular scientists do not utilize observational science to make evolutionary models. Neither should we state that all evolutionary models are based only on historical science.

In the example of distant starlight, we see that their model is based on observational science—measurements of light and calculations of how far from earth the stars and galaxies are based on the speed of light. Creationist astronomers would rightly point out that the one way speed of light may be instantaneous, so this would nullify the billions of years light travel assumption. What we should (and I would contend that we do) point out is that even the observational science methods are flawed because of assumptions, unreliable dating methods, unwarranted speculations, etc.

For a better understanding of our viewpoint and for examples of observational science that points to a recent creation, see the article, “Evidence for a Young World.”

From a big picture, what you have set up as contradicting information is nothing of the sort. These are complementary, using the worldview as a framework to view evidences. Looking at specific evidences within this framework is indeed a confirmation of that worldview.

I hope this has been helpful.

Troy Lacey,
Answers in Genesis


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