Ken Ham’s Historical vs. Observational Science

You’re all familiar with the oft-repeated mantra of creationists that there’s a big difference between what they call “historical science” — which they describe as “views about the unobservable past,” and “observational science” — which they limit to that which provides our technology.

The last time the creation scientists at Answers in Genesis (ol’ Hambo’s online ministry) mentioned it was in a recent article we ignored: Secularists Can’t Handle AiG’s Cosmos Reviews, written by Elizabeth Mitchell, the creationist gynecologist. Among many other silly things, she said:

[W]e have said numerous times that we do not deny science. What [one of our critics] really means is that we deny their belief in molecules-to-man evolution and millions of years. But these ideas fall in the category of historical science — views about the unobservable past. On the contrary, observational science — the science that builds our technology — is completely consistent with God’s Word.

We’ve previously discussed their worthless distinction — see Creationism and Science, and also Answers in Genesis Explains Science to Us. We thought we had said pretty much all we had to say on the subject, but today we have some additional remarks.

The reason Hambo and other creationists make their artificial distinction between historical and observational science is because the former so clearly contradicts the creation account in Genesis. It’s not surprising that science has discovered a thing or two since Genesis was composed, in part from various pre-existing legends, back in the days of the Babylonian empire.

To preserve their peculiar notion that Genesis is solid science, people like Hambo are obligated to some build a barrier around their ancient beliefs which science is unable to penetrate. The result is that they’re left standing in the middle of what amounts to an intellectually blighted area where they imagine scientists are unable to go.

What makes Hambo’s effort to quarantine the past so laughable is that he would undoubtedly accept the results of, say, a paternity test based solely on DNA evidence, notwithstanding the absence of anyone’s testimony. There are numerous other examples of “historical science” that creationists routinely accept — crime detection being an obvious one — but they nevertheless insist that the same procedures can’t penetrate what they’ve been told about the history of the Earth in Genesis.

What their artificial “historical vs. observational science” distinction amounts to is Apologetics — defined as the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity. Wikipedia says: “As the world’s religions have encountered one another, apologetics and apologists from within their respective faiths have emerged. Some of these apologetics respond to or fight back against the arguments of other religions and secularism; others are pure defense.”

In creationism, the “historical vs. observational science” distinction is one of many narratives which was invented for the purpose of defending Genesis. It’s a narrative they all memorize, and which they automatically repeat whenever their beliefs are questioned. In reality, creationist apologetics is nothing more than a collection of talking points.

That is what makes debating creationists such a foolish activity. They always stick to the script. Why? Because they’ve been taught that if they abandon it, they’ll end up in the Lake of Fire. There’s a deeper reason too. Without their memorized scripts, they literally don’t know what to think. The script gives them certainty, which they crave. Without it they’re totally lost — a frightening prospect.

Creationists have never learned how to think for themselves, so they’ll never abandon what they’ve been trained to believe. Learning and depending on such scripts is what creationists call “education,” which they want included in (and eventually to supersede) all science classes.

That is what we’re dealing with in The Controversy between evolution and creationism. It’s quite literally the difference between thinking and not thinking. If the creationists prefer not to think, that is their decision. But it’s most definitely not their right to make that decision for the rest of us.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Ken Ham’s Historical vs. Observational Science

  1. Curmy concludes—

    “If the creationists prefer not to think, that is their decision. But it’s most definitely not their right to make that decision for the rest of us.”

    The trouble is that they believe firmly that they have a divine and unequivocal mandate to do exactly that.

  2. The divide between “historical science” and “observational science” is blurred at best, even when one isn’t talking about evolution or cosmology. Evidently Ken Ham thinks paleontologists just make things up, and never mind that they use tools such as radioactive dating (to name just one) which depend on the same fundamental physics which underlies our technology. Meanwhile, Ham et al. ultimately depend on a book which doesn’t even get geometry right (1 Kings 7:23, re the value of pi). (Of course one could say the Bible is approximately correct, but you can’t have it be only approximate and literally true word-for-word at the same time.)

  3. “[W]e have said numerous times that we do not deny science.”
    And every time you said it you lied. The only question is to whom; I don’t totally exclude you lied to yourself in the first place.
    1. We have the totally repeatable observation that galaxies move away from each other.
    2. We have a theory that correctly describes this plus a whole bunch of other phenomena, like your GPS.
    The simple conclusion is that in the past those galaxies were very, very close to each other. The moment that that was the case is called the Big Bang. This is an undeniable fact, based on indirect witnesses, just like we can witness indirectly today that Germany invaded Poland on September 1 1939. Just like we can calculate that that invasion happened 75 years ago we can calculate (it just requires more work) that the Big Bang happened 13,7 billion of years ago. Now I agree with you that historical events can’t be denied anymore as soon as we are sure that they happened. That’s exactly what non-repeatability means.
    Hence according to your very own argument YEC is debunked.
    Unless you deny science when it suits you, of course.

    “Creationists have never learned how to think for themselves.”
    Spot on. But that’s exactly what makes it fun (for me) to debate them. With my nasty character it’s quite easy to get them writing things more ridiculous than you and I can ever imagine.
    Which applies to a lot of non-crea apologists as well, btw.

  4. Charles Deetz ;)

    mnbo says “it’s quite easy to get them writing things more ridiculous than you and I can ever imagine”. I got a smart-aleck on Facebook to agree that a croco-duck would be an acceptable proof of evolution after trying to throw Archeopteryx at him.

  5. Lest we forget some recent history, the redoubtable Dr. Egnor, writing on the Discoveroid Blog last February (here: Reflecting on the Ham-Nye Creation Debate: Intelligent Design Stands in a Great Scientific Tradition) warmly embraced Ole Hambo’s Historical/Observation Hokey Cokey Two-Step Shuffle:

    I think that Ham did very well — he pointed out the important differences between observational/experimental science and historical science, and he made the important point that historical science is particularly influenced by metaphysical assumptions. Darwinists like Bill Nye do their historical science from a materialist and atheist perspective, and it clearly taints their insights.

    Unlike Nye, Ham was honest about his own perspectives — which are Biblical and for which I have great respect and much agreement.

    My own perspective is that revelation and reason are not, and cannot be, in conflict. Nature speaks to us of our Creator. I seek to “follow the evidence,” as do other advocates of intelligent design. But it would be naïve to think anyone’s quest for scientific truth is without a specific metaphysical perspective.

    To follow the evidence, one must begin with some very specific assumptions. I presume that nature is real, and that the laws of nature are rational and that we have access to the truth about nature through our reason. I presume that it is good to explore nature, and that the truth about nature is in accord with a broader understanding of creation and with my personal faith.

    But whatever you do, don’t call the Discoveroids Creationists. Uh huh. No way. Nothing like Creationists. Not even one eensy-teensy spec the same….


  6. On the other hand, Olivia tells me there are some historical questions that are simply too horrible to be explored. Her example is the origin of Megalonyx.

  7. Just as valid a distinction between “historical” and “observational” can be drawn for “distant” and “observational”. We cannot go to outer space to make experiments. “How do you know, are you there?” and “Only God is there”. (Of course, this was much more narrowly true before the middle 20th century, when we could not “directly” know that Newton’s laws of motion and gravity worked anywhere than near the surface of the Earth. It is still true, by the way, about the inside of the Earth. We have no direct knowledge even that there is an inside to the Earth, we only “assume” that solid geometry works there.)

    How can we be scientific about the stars, if we cannot visit them, or make repeatable experiments on them? How do we justify our extrapolation of “micro-gravity” within the Solar System to “macro-gravity” throughout space?

    And how about “microscopic science”? We assume that microscopes are really enlarging things. And even “worse” is subatomic science – electrons, protons, neutrons, photons, and so on. We assume that the laws of physics work (with modifications) on the subatomic scale.

    And how can we assume that there really is infrared and ultraviolet light, let alone X-rays, radar …?

    Actually, the real power of science is in its ability to tell us about things that we have no direct observation of.

  8. So-called ‘historical science’ has ruled things out. However some of them are things YECs demand Christians must believe nevertheless in order to be suitably biblical.

  9. There is one thing I love about the historical science argument. Not only is it wrong in the first place but even if it were right it still show that creationists are incompetent.

    Evolution is backed up and supported by every bit of “historical” science out there.

    Creationism is not.

    So thus even if creationists want to make that distinction they are still left with an utterly incompetent and un supported idea even using there own definition of science.

  10. SC said: ” where they imagaine scientists are unable to go”
    Sorry if I keep pointing this stuff out, but did you mean to say “imagine”?

  11. Gary says: “Sorry if I keep pointing this stuff out, but …”

    Don’t apologize. I’ve fixed both typos. Thanks for letting me know.

  12. SC: “…some historical questions that are simply too horrible to be explored. Her example is the origin of Megalonyx.”

    But were you there?? Of course not — he’s Neanderthal; you’re Cro-Magnon. His ancestry goes way back.

  13. TomS: “We have no direct knowledge even that there is an inside to the Earth, we only “assume” that solid geometry works there.”

    I understand the point you’re making, so I’m not arguing with your main premise. However, we do have direct knowledge of the Earth’s interior. We observe the way seismic waves echo and bounce about; they tell us the relative fluidity/viscosity of different layers of the mantle, that the Earth has a solid core surrounded by a liquid core, and the sizes thereof. There’s nothing mysterious about the technique — it works the same way an angler’s fish finder works. Sonar on a grand scale.

  14. I hope everyone will forgive me for going off-topic, but I couldn’t seem to send dear Curmudgeon an email. I wanted to alert him (he may have already read this) to Matt Slick’s resurrection of the Lady Hope-Darwin deathbed conversion I read yesterday on BarbWire. He has remarkable new evidence to suggest that Darwin turned to God in his final hours and realized the damage he had done to Christian civilization. This evidence appeared to me to be (1) how would Lady Hope know the color of his pajamas and wall paper unless she was in his bedroom (why didn’t Curmy realize long ago how unbelievably convincing this to the most skeptical mind?) and (2) Emma Darwin may have been some kind of Christian but she wasn’t a born again fundamentalist evangelical Christian. If the SC finds it interesting (or at least provocative), I would love to cheer him on and he gives this piece the demolition derby treatment that it deserves.

  15. @retiredsciguy
    You are “assuming” that the same laws of nature which apply to the here-and-now, here near the surface of the Earth, work hundreds of miles below us, where no one has ever gone. How do you know? Were you there? All we can trust is the testimony in the Bible by One Who is everywhere, about the supporting pillars, etc.
    I see the same arguments, replacing space for time, for distinguishing “distance science” from “observational science”.

  16. Charles Deetz ;)

    Jill, I found that article. As much scholarship as Slick put into it, the one commenter’s cut/paste refutation of the ‘evidence’ puts him to shame. I’d just say that Slick was using historical science and not the bible to support his case, and therefor is as wrong as an evil-utionist.

  17. @TomS: Yes, I am guilty of assuming that the Laws of Physics are universal. No one has produced any evidence to the contrary.

    S-waves don’t travel through liquids, but P-waves do. By charting where P-waves are detected on the far side of the Earth from an earthquake, but S-waves aren’t, we can deduce the size of the molten outer core. It’s a bit trickier, but we can determine the size of the solid inner core by detecting the P-waves echoing off it. Drawing a simple diagram on the blackboard made it easy for the 7th-grade students in my class to understand. They could grasp how science works. Ken Ham doesn’t want to acknowledge this, because it puts his investment in his Creation Museum in Jeopardy.

  18. retiredsciguy We are in agreement. But what I am trying to point out that there is no reason to single out science of past events. Much of science is about things which cannot be “directly observed”. Newton’s explanation of the Solar System (before interplanetary rockets) was not “observational science”. No one had been to the Moon. What we knew what that Newton’s explanations worked. Even today, no one has been to the center of the Earth. But no rational person would say of geology, “How do you know? Have you been there?”
    I know that the readers of this blog need no convincing that “historical science” and “distance science” are as valid as “observational science”