Historical Vs. Origin Science – A Rejoinder

uglycatBack a few months ago I posted a theological geeky article entitled, Historical Science, Observational Science, and Creation. I was interacting with the challenges of an old earth proponent by the name of Luke Nix who maintains his blog called Faithful Thinkers.

Luke claimed in his initial post that the categories historical/origin science and observational/operational science are a false dichotomy. Young earth creationists, like Ken Ham and those Answers in Genesis folks, regularly distinguish operational science from origin science when they respond to their critics.

But, as Luke goes on to suggest, when they make that distinction and try to argue for their position, YEC are simply arguing falsely and are really just giving a reason for Youtube atheist to point and laugh at Jesus. Most importantly, it also cuts against his old earth views that he insists are necessary to make Christianity look rational in the eyes of the skeptic.

In my critique of his article, I tried to show that Luke had manufactured something of a strawman. He starts with inaccurate definitions of what origin and operational science means and from there forward the major criticisms he levels against YEC its use of the distinction falls rather flat. Not only that, but I noted two major pioneer books in the debate between evolutionists and creationists that addressed the very topic of origin science vs. operational science. They specifically utilized the distinction as a key, apologetic talking point and they were written by old earth creationists years before AiG even came into the worldview arena.

I notified Luke for his feedback after I posted my article. I didn’t hear back from him at first, and it wasn’t until around Christmas break that he acknowledged my post. He thanked me for the critique and said he’d respond. And true to his word, he did shortly after the new year. His rebuttal attempts to take me to task,

Historical Science, Observational Science, and Creation – A Clarification and a Critique

I have to confess I was a bit disappointed with his response. Primarily because he didn’t even attempt to interact with my review and rebuttal of his major arguments he claims refutes the alleged false dichotomy YEC make distinguishing between historical and operational science.

I will say, however, that I was appreciative of the fact that he at least reluctantly acknowledged the philosophical implications of his position. In other words, he acknowledges the fact that YEC consider (rightly, in my mind) historical science inadequate as a source of knowledge and truth. That’s because historical science relies heavily upon indirect, circumstantial evidence. Indirect, circumstantial evidence must be interpreted and so the majority conclusions that are often times extrapolated from those interpretations are heavily dependent upon the presuppositions of the person making them.

Luke, however, totally rejects that historical science is fraught with those philosophical notions. So much so that he charged me with misrepresenting the authors of those two works I noted. He even claims they affirm his position. That got me all riled up and I am going to show you that such is hardly the case.

Let me begin with The Mystery of Life’s Origins written by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen. Again, a scanned PDF of the book is available online HERE.

The authors spend a number of pages in the epilogue discussing the distinction between origin/historical science and operational science. I didn’t provide any citations in my first article because that wasn’t my point; but seeing that Luke insists I’m misrepresenting those men, I’ll provide selective quotes.

First, regarding the definition of operational science the authors write,

Notice, however, that this approach to testing theories only works if there is some pattern of recurring events against which theories can be checked and falsified if they are false. Through repeated observation attention is focused on a class of events, each of which is similar. The equations describing the behavior of the class would be applicable to any of its individual members. Let us say,for example,we have a theory about earth orbiting the sun and we propose to test it by predicting a solar eclipse. Although a particular eclipse would be the focus of the experiment, the result would apply to solar eclipses as a general class. Because there are recurring patterns of celestial movements we can test the theory. Such theories are operation theories. That is, they refer to the ongoing operation of the universe. We shall call the domain of operation theories operation science for these theories are concerned with the recurring phenomena of nature. [Mysteries, 202 (of the printed edition)].

That definition is my definition; the definition of the folks at AiG.

But what about origin/historical science? The authors write,

On the other hand an understanding of the universe includes some singular events, such as origins. Unlike the recurrent operation of the universe, origins cannot be repeated for experimental test. The beginning of life, for example, just won’t repeat itself so we can test our theories. In the customary language of science, theories of origins (origin science) cannot be falsified by empirical test if they are false, as can theories of operation science. [Mysteries, 204 (of the printed edition)]

They continue by explaining that the only way to investigate origins is similar to sleuthing a murder. Why that sounds exactly like what Luke is saying. The authors, however, go onto to write,

Such scenarios of reconstruction may be deemed plausible or implausible. Hypotheses of origin science, however, are not empirically testable or falsifiable since the datum needed for experimental test (namely,the origin) is unavailable. [ibid]

In other words, one has to bring his interpretations to the evidence. Interpretations fall into the realm of philosophical presuppositions. For the average, secular old earther, that excludes the supernatural and God creating.

Now coming to the second book, Origin Science by Norman Geisler and Kerby Anderson (excerpts are available online HERE, specifically the introduction that lays out the thesis), Luke says I make the “grave error” of ignoring four key categories of science the authors mention by zeroing in only upon the third category, historical science, and conflating it with origin science.

Really? That is a rather puzzling accusation. The authors identify only two major approaches to science (not four “types” of science as Luke states), observed and unobserved. Those two approaches are then each broken into two further categories: singularities and regularities. The category of singularity is broken into two further categories, primary causes and secondary causes. See this diagram,

scientificapproachLuke is faulting me for ignoring the concept of “regularities” under the first category of the unobserved past and conflating them with the concept of “singularities.” In Luke’s view those so-called historical regularities like geology are dependable for providing us knowledge about the ancient world. Hence, geological forces that we see today are analogous to geological forces 40 million years ago, so it is erroneous to call that “origin science” and that the historical science is unreliable. That way he can maintain his views of deep time and accommodate secular views of an ancient earth and Reasons to Believe can keep chugging along.

However, Geisler and Anderson both acknowledge that historical science in the past is based upon assumptions experienced only in the present and applied to the past. In other words, philosophical presuppositions. They write,

A science about the past does not observe the past singularity but must depend on
the principle of uniformity (analogy ), as historical geology and archaeology do. That is, since these kinds of sciences deal with unobserved past events (whether regular or singular), those events can be “known” only in terms of like events in the present. [Origin Science, 14]

It’s that “known only in terms of like events in the present,” part that is problematic and what YEC like the speakers of AiG object to. That’s because what is always “known” in the present may not be what happened in the past. Sure, it may be the probable, educated guess, but again that is an assumption. That is especially true if the science is laying out a radically different story of historical events than what is revealed in Scripture.

And then one last comment before closing out. Luke claims I am ignoring Jeremiah 33:25,26 in support of his take on the reliability of historical science. Jeremiah writes,

Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.

Jeremiah states something similar in 30:35-37. The idea being that God’s promise to restore Israel through the New Covenant of Christ is as certain as the fixed order of the astronomical events like the sun rising and setting.

But is Jeremiah’s revelation really affirming the wildly unbiblical apologetics of Reasons to Believe and other so-called old earth creationist attempts to accommodate the reading of Scripture with secular science? Of course not.

Why this is an important discussion is because of what Luke’s disagreement ultimately comes down to. He believes, for example, that the secular geological “evidences” against a global flood of Noah are reliable and should be accepted. Hence, the biblical text of Noah must be interpreted to be just a regional flood, not a global one.

Yet what exactly is the authority, then? Do we read the biblical account and understand the geological evidence in light of what the inspired biblical text emphatically states, that Noah’s flood was worldwide in its extent in spite of consensus “expert” opinion? Or do we re-read the Bible in light of the evidence, accommodating the claims of secular geologists who by default exclude a worldwide flood?

Now Luke, along with other deep time creationists, will say there truly isn’t any conflict. They’ll insist they never have to relinquish the authority of Scripture. They are merely harmonizing it with God’s “general revelation” or some such nonsense. But where exactly does that harmonization end?

The pseudo-Christians of Biologos insist all the genetic evidence stands opposed to a real, historical, biblical Adam uniquely created as a full formed man. They’ll equally insist they are using the same principles of induction and past regularities established by analogy in the present just like Luke says are reliable. But surely he will not follow them to their conclusions that the Bible is errant or we must re-interpret the Genesis account according to some fabricated genre that strips it of any historical reality? I don’t believe that is a direction even he is willing to take.

By the way, Neil still thinks you’re an idiot,


10 thoughts on “Historical Vs. Origin Science – A Rejoinder

  1. John K. Reed and Peter Klevberg have an informative series of articles in two parts in the Creation Research Society Quarterly Spring & Summer 2014, (Vol. 50 Number 4 and Vol 51 Number 1 respectively) entitled “Beyond ‘Origin & Operation’ Science; An Alternative”.

    Reed and Klevberg write, “If the main problem between Christian and secular worldviews concerns the nature of truth and knowledge, particularly the secular epistemology of positivism, then looking for an answer inside science implicitly grants that positivism to some extent”.

    They posit that “because the concepts behind the terms ‘origin science’ and ‘operation science’ are deficient in defending a Christian view of science and history from secular positivism, an alternative scheme is suggested that accommodates a traditional Christian view of truth. In contrast to origin and operation science, we suggest that: (1) origins (properly defined) is a question of metaphysics, (2) the study of the past is the domain of history, and (3) science addresses present phenomena and timeless rules of nature. Interdisciplinary investigations like natural history or historical science are best addressed as ‘mixed questions’.”

    Reed and Klevberg critique the responses by Geisler, Anderson, and Thaxton, et al., following the trials in Arkansas (MacLean vs. Arkansas, 1982) and Louisiana (Edwards vs. Aguillard, 1987) and the books that followed by these gentlemen who proposed different kinds of science, including origin, operation, historical, and supranormal (see Geisler and Anderson, “Operation Science: A Proposal for the Creation-Evolution Controversy”, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1987, and “The Mystery of Life’s Origin; Reassessing Current Theories” by C.B. Thaxton, W.L. Bradley and R.L. Olsen, Philosophical Library, New York, NY, 1984).

    Reed and Klevberg in conclusion, “Although superior to the pure positivism of the secular worldview of naturalism, the Christian alternative of OS2 (origins and operation science) advocated by Geisler, Thaxton, and Anderson is not a satisfactory alternative. It does point to a necessary emphasis on the history and philosophy of science, but it fails to follow to conclusions in both areas that invalidate naturalism. Since science is the child of Christianity, its axioms are justified only by a biblical worldview. This requires more fundamental revision than OS2. Furthermore, the idea is flawed in several key areas. Its attempt to divide science into different disciplines to study both primary and secondary causes is shortsighted because science is methodologically capable of investigating primary cause. Philosophy and theology are better suited to metaphysical questions. Furthermore, OS2 is built on dual dichotomies (past/present and regularities/singularities) that do not provide a sufficient foundation for science.”

  2. I’ve had some discussion with atheists and deep time Bible believers. I’ve always said, we have no idea what a flood in the Bible would have looked like or what effect it would have had on the earth. Usually I get a response that we know based on geology and studying other great floods and tsunamis. But honestly, we have a very vague description of how the flood was accomplished and no description of how it is that the water resided (whether it was completely natural or a combination of miraculous intervention and natural means). So how could be possibly postulate a theory with any degree of certainty? And then you get into the more obvious problems. We have no idea what the earth looked like inside or outside of the garden of Eden before the fall nor the complete effect of the fall on nature over time.

    Finally, the idea that unbelievers will be convinced by any scientific argument is absurd. We already have scientific arguments against homosexuality, adultery, and numerous other sins. And yet, unbelievers still move full steam ahead.

  3. Sid,
    From Scripture, we do know that the Flood was global and universal and wiped out every living creature save 8 and those animals on the Ark. The description of this cataclysmic event is not as vague as you might imply, but aptly described with language such as ‘all the fountains of the great deep bursting open’, ‘the floodgates of the sky being opened’, ‘the rain falling on the earth for forty days and forty nights’,’and all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered’.

    Biblical creationist geologists have published quite a lot of material on how this could have happened. There are several competing models.

    Some unbelievers ‘can’ be convinced, if the Holy Spirit in his divine Providence wills to use such scientific evidences, and is not ‘absurd’, but well within the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit in the life of an individual.

  4. Pingback: Third Week of January 2016 Presuppositional Apologetics Link Round Up | The Domain for Truth

  5. Steve:

    Perhaps some clarification is in order. I would agree that the description of the flood is not vague for a historical account. And let’s be clear, that is what it is. It is extremely vague from a scientific perspective. That’s not to say you can’t make any scientific conclusions from the historical account but obviously we are left without exact details. You actually make my point for me when you pointed out that many Biblical creationists have come up with competing models.

    I’m not sure what to say about your last paragraph. People have to hear the gospel to believe. I’m a supporter of ICR and as such, agree that there is usefulness in learning about science from a Biblical worldview. I also believe there is a place for apologetics in regard to creation. But our focus should always be on telling people the gospel as given to us in 1 Cor 15:1-4.

  6. Aaron,
    Don’t know why I called you Sid. Thought you were ‘Sid Aaron’, but now see it’s “Sir Aaron”. My apologies,

    So Aaron, can’t remember too much of reading some of your other comments on Fred’s blog here, but I know I’ve seen your name before. So forgive me for coming at this a little blind. You italicize the word ‘extremely’ in “extremely vague from a scientific perspective” (referring to the Flood in the days of Noah). What’s the point you are driving at with that?

    Yes, people do need to hear the gospel, but the gospel begins in Genesis 3. not in I Corinthians 15, and I don’t think we emphasize that enough. I Cor. 15 makes no sense without Genesis 1, 2, & 3. People need to know the backstory. Are you ashamed of that backstory? Do you believe it is accurate? If not, what parts of it do you have trouble with? Do you have trouble with Gen. 6-9 describing a universal and worldwide Flood which destroyed and wiped out every living creature save 8 and those on the Ark?

    Would be interested in your thoughts.

  7. Pingback: Refuting Theistic Evolution and Old Earth Creationism | hipandthigh

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