Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mangling Science Part 5: Two Kinds of Science?.

The Whirlpool Galaxy is 20 odd million light years away. With Jason Lisle’s AiG published ASC model in mind does its study classify as observational science in the present or historical science? Or does it really matter? Don't ask Ken Ham; there is little chance that this fundamentalist will understand that in science the time coordinate doesn't have a fundamental significance; scientific epistemology is an attempt to get data samples about logical structures for which time may be thought of as just one coordinate.

 Below I have published a blog post by Fundamentalist Ken Ham where once again he tries to explain to himself why he is not being anti-science in rejecting historical science. It all swings on Ham attempting to maintain that there is a sharp distinction between "observational" (sic) and historical science. As I have said before in this series this distinction can’t be made because all science is at once both historical and observational. This is not to say, however, that all science is on an equal footing in terms of its observational rigor. The objects science deals with vary in their logical distance from observational protocols and the number of observational samples gathered supporting these quasi-conjectured objects. If Ham had his head screwed on properly he would simply maintain that some scientific objects have a more tenuous basis in accepted observational protocols than others. What the scientifically naive Ham is trying to prove to himself is that there is a fundamental difference in quality between "observational" and historical sciences that provides him with a pretext for writing off historical science as “unobservable”. This is all very typical of the fundamentalist mentality which tends to think in black and white dichotomies anyway. I caught Ham trying a similar trick with his “mature” creation theory where he has a need to decide what objects are permitted to show evidence of a bogus history and those that aren't – that is, the YEC needs to try and decide when and when not to apply the omphalos hypothesis. (See my Beyond our Ken series – links at the end of this post).

Around the Twist World with Ken Ham

ShareThis Published on December 5, 2014 in Current Issues in the World.

I recently saw something in Discovery News that perfectly highlights the difference between observational and historical science.

Common Tenrec (Tenrec ecaudatus). By John Mather (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
A study has shown that tenrecs, hedgehog-looking creatures, have an amazing ability to hibernate (observational science) so the scientists inferred that the tenrecs must have hibernated through the dinosaur extinction (historical science)! As I’ve said many times previously, there are two different kinds of science. Observational science deals with the present and is observable, repeatable, and testable. It’s what produces our technology and our medical innovations. Creationists and evolutionists can both agree on this kind of science. Now, historical science deals with the past. It is not testable, repeatable or observable. What you think about historical science is based on your starting point. Do you begin with God’s Word or man’s ideas? Well, I would like to show you how to recognize the difference between these kinds of sciences by looking at this news item that is reporting a scientific study.

My Comment: Notice straight away that this science dunce is imposing a dichotomy on the situation. He thinks that “observational science deals with the present and is observable, repeatable, and testable” whereas “….historical science deals with the past. It is not testable, repeatable or observable”.  It seems well beyond Ken Ham’s mentality to make the fine distinctions needed to understand that in an absolute sense nothing is observable and repeatable and everything is subject to “your starting point”.  Even when testing the present tense continuous objects of physics we can never exactly reproduce test conditions and the test is therefore subject to one’s starting point in terms of fundamental assumptions about the rationality, uniformity and epistemic integrity of nature. Moreover, given that observational protocols quickly pass into history Ken’s so-called “observational science” is bound up with history.  And yet in a relative sense a wide class of objects, including historical objects, are all subject to observation and repeatable tests in as much as, for example, we can go back to check and reinterpret documents and fossils and perhaps even find new documents and fossils. In fact as a rule all science depends on us interpreting signals sent to us from the past; documents and fossils are an example of such signals.

I’d agree with Ken that a lot depends on one’s a priori world view. E.g. one’s view about very fundamental and foundational stuff like whether or not one considers the world to be rational, readable and to have epistemic integrity. But as a hardened heretic hunting fundamentalist Ham ups-the-ante by raising his far less fundamental opinions about Biblical interpretation to the level of fundamental and unreviewable authority. It is on this basis that Ham does his heresy testing: “Do you begin with God’s Word or man’s ideas?” He hasn’t spotted the abstraction that “God’s Word” is a signal and as such must be interpreted.

Observational Science
According to Discovery News, radio transmitters with body temperature loggers were strapped onto 15 tenrecs for a scientific study on hibernation. The tenrecs were then released back into the wilds of Madagascar. The scientists involved learned some interesting things about tenrec hibernation and body temperature. For example, one of the male tenrecs hibernated for nine months with no ill side effects! According to the news report, the information about hibernation from this study, as well as a similar one being done in the United States, “could one day allow researchers to better mitigate the effects of induced medical comas and the ‘hypogravity and/or inactivity’ that would occur during a lengthy trip through space.”
Now, everything from the study so far is observational science based on directly observable, testable, repeatable studies. A creationist or an evolutionist could have done the study and obtained the same data, and either scientist could apply the data to medicine or space travel. But the study then does a huge leap from observational evidence to the unobserved past. They switch from observational science to historical science. And it’s this switch that people need to learn to recognize, as evolutionists do the same sort of switch when talking about origins!
My Comment: This is a case where the tenrec study provided a replete set of data samples about the objects under scrutiny. But let’s not fool ourselves that this is about “direct observation” as Ham would have it. Scientists clearly did not directly observe tenrecs but were engaged in the interpretation of signals sent by them. And no, fundamentalists don’t necessarily agree about “observational” science even with other fundamentalists: Viz: Ken Ham would certainly disagree with fundamentalist Gerardus Bouw about the “observational” science that leads Bouw to propound geocentric theories. And in turn Bouw would disagree with the late fundamentalist Charles K Johnson whose science of “appearances” lead him to propound flat Earth theories. At the most abstracted level there is only one kind of science: Viz: the observed signal and the interpretation of the text it is sending us.
The past is observable in as much as it sends us signals that ultimately result in observational protocols; as does everything else. True, we may not have as many signals as we like returning to us and they may have been a long time in the travelling, but they are observations none the less. Ken Ham just doesn’t seem able to make this theoretical abstraction about signals being the medium of all observation. It is ironic that it was his AiG organization that first published Jason Lisle’s ASC model of the cosmos, a model that so blatantly raises questions about the nature of signaling and by implication just what is “the present” and what is “the past”! But this sort of stuff is well beyond our Ken not to mention his audience of admiring and less than critical followers.

Historical Science
Again, the observational evidence showed that tenrecs have an amazing ability to hibernate (observational science). But the scientists then took the evidence beyond observational science to infer that tenrecs must have hibernated through the dinosaur extinction (supposedly millions of years ago) and that’s how mammals survived to evolve into other mammal species (historical science). Supposedly, dinosaurs “‘intensely suppressed, dominated and bullied’ early mammals, which ‘could never get big in size because then they would not have been able to hide effectively during the day.’ This presumed pressure, combined with seasonally limited resources and other factors ‘may have armed modern mammals with the useful capacity to metabolically switch off.’” It is claimed. So, tenrec ancestors apparently evolved the ability to hibernate for long periods of time because of competition with dinosaurs. And they just happened to be lucky enough to hibernate at the right time to avoid extinction. Now, this is all historical science, and creationists and evolutionists would (quite obviously) disagree here. This jump from the observable hibernation periods of tenrecs to the unobservable supposed dinosaur extinction event is based, not on observational evidence, but on imagination. The study itself shows nothing about supposed tenrec ancestors and the supposed dinosaur age millions of years ago!
Interestingly enough, according to the lead author of the study, “the common tenrec [is] a living Cretaceous fossil, a living critter that has retained the physiological characteristics of our common placental ancestor.” In other words, tenrecs basically haven’t changed since their appearance in the fossil record. The evolution isn’t in the fossils or the tenrecs—it’s in the imaginations of scientists!
My Comment: No!... this evolutionary hypothesis about tenrecs is not in principle beyond observational science because the past sends us signals such as historical documents, research papers, archaeology, fossils, light rays etc. But what I would concede is that in this case the signals are highly attenuated, the observational protocols few and far between and perhaps the gaps filled in with a fair amount of speculation. You see, the issue is not to do with the past per se, but with the comprehensiveness of the sample of observational protocols and their logical distance in terms of adjustable variables from the putative objects they allegedly reveal. This is not an issue of a fundamental distinction in science, but a question of degree of observational support for a hypothesis; true, we can sometimes be tempted to join very few dots with very free format speculation and elaboration.
But Ham being a fundamentalist thinks habitually in dichotomies and not in degrees. Ham wants to portray himself as science friendly and give a pretext based on his dichotomized thinking to justify to himself  his science hostility and scientific ineptitude. He cannot accept that there is a uniformity of principle at stake with all science, historical and otherwise; namely, the interpretation of the signals sent to us from the cosmos near and far. It is simply beyond the mentality of this man to understand the paradox that relatively speaking just about everything is observational and repeatable and yet in an absolute sense nothing is observational and repeatable!


What Does the Bible Say?
Now, the Bible’s account of origins would mean the tenrec kind was created on Day 6, to reproduce after their kind. Tenrecs produce tenrecs (interestingly enough, in nature we see tenrecs producing only tenrecs)! God created animals to fill the earth, so He placed in their DNA the information they would need to produce the wide variety within a kind that we see today so that they would be able to survive as the environment changes. The incredible variety of tenrec species displays God’s care and wisdom in equipping them with the information they needed to fill many niches in the different environments found on Madagascar and in Africa. One of these features is the ability of some tenrec species to hibernate for long periods of time. So this incredible ability to hibernate is just one more example of God’s care for His creatures.
As you read through science news, I encourage you to be discerning, part of which involves learning how to separate observational science from historical science.
In the debate with Bill Nye, I took time to explain the difference between historical and observational science, as once people understand this, they recognize that molecules-to-man evolution is a belief system.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
My Comment: I suspect that Ken’s comments about “Information” are based on the North American taste for a God-of-Gaps theology of evolution. It would simply be too much to expect Ham to attempt to think round these categories to advanced ideas about information generation, so I can’t be too hard on him here. Notice, however, that his main agenda is to impose on his followers his fundamentalist views about a fundamental division in science based on a bogus distinction between observational and historical science. However, I would agree that any signal interpretation is influenced and perhaps even based on a priori belief systems – it’s just that some belief systems, for a variety of socio-psychological reasons, are far more elaborated, baroque, entrenched, authoritarian and unreviewable than others; know what I mean?
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying that Ken Ham will be less of an embarrassment to Christians.

Relevant Links
Mangling Science Series

Beyond Our Ken Series

No comments: