iSoul Time has three dimensions

Category Archives: History

history

Approaches to origins

Let’s distinguish three approaches to the study of universal origins:

Philosophical naturalism with natural science

Biblical creationism with creation science or Philosophical creationism with universal history

Autonomous Humanism: naturalism with natural history and science

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History and science

Authentic eyewitness testimony carries more weight than physical evidence concerning events in the past – particularly the distant past. Artifacts of the past are always open to interpretations that contradict one another whereas the ambiguities in testimony are minor in comparison. If the testimony is recorded, then the transmission of the recording needs authentication, preferably with testimony from those involved in the transmission.

The situation is exactly like testimony vs. circumstantial evidence in a court of law. The former is far more significant than the latter. Indeed, the rules of evidence require that all exhibits be introduced by a witness. The prosecutor can’t just show the jury a photograph without a witness testifying about when and where it was taken or found. So history, which compiles and synthesizes testimonies and artifacts of the past, is superior to any physical science of past events. Creationists could argue this point to put evolutionists and uniformitarians in their place.

“Pre-historic events” are by definition unattested by eyewitness testimony. They may simply be dismissed since they are unknown to history. Various myths have suggested pre-historic events but these are not taken seriously anymore. But extrapolations of current physical laws and processes into the indefinite past are taken seriously. The reasons for this seem to be (1) the success of physical laws in covering events dispersed in space and time, (2) the prestige of the physical sciences in explaining phenomena and contributing to new technology; and the spread of materialistic ideas that presume everything is covered by currently known laws and processes.

The result is that many give greater credibility to physical sciences than history in studying past events. The testimony of reliable witnesses is set aside or dismissed when they seem to contradict processes and laws that are presumed to be universal in space and time. One thing that creationists can do is show how reliable witnesses do not contradict the physical sciences. But beyond this creationists should emphasize that history trumps the physical sciences in the study of past events.

2005

History and law

The main problem with evolution is not that it has the wrong history but that for evolution history is everything.  That’s everything including the laws of nature, philosophy, religion, God, literally everything.  The one law of evolution is that everything evolves.  There is no being, only becoming; there is nothing fixed, only change.

But surely they accept the laws of physics, don’t they?  Not really.  Rupert Sheldrake’s “The Presence of the Past” attempts to show that nature has “habits” rather than any fixed laws.  Like evolutionary species, the laws of physics are temporary and evolve, too.

So arguing about chronology and history is right up the evolutionary alley.  It doesn’t shift the debate to what evolutionists cannot accept: anything that does not change — laws or created/natural kinds.

Also, if the argument is about chronology and history, it is always possible to argue that God was involved and this is consistent with basic theology.  So the debate goes around in circles because chronology cannot be a basic doctrine of Christianity.

But law is a basic doctrine of Christianity.  If there is no law, there is no gospel: law and gospel go together.  And these are not just spiritual laws, but laws that include physical reality because resurrection is physical, too.

So the debate should be shifted to be about the existence of what does not change — laws, kinds, and the nature of God.

September 2014

Galileo again

It’s amazing how much “Remember Galileo!” is still used as a warning cry for those who dare question current scientific orthodoxy. And it’s amazing how much history has been replaced by mythology, meaning something everyone knows but doesn’t check to see if it’s true.

A few salient facts are in order:

Galileo was a life-long member of the Roman Catholic Church. He could easily have avoided problems with his church but chose to make a nuisance of himself instead. The reigning scientific view at the time was a variety of Ptolemaic astronomy, which was incorporated into scholastic philosophy and supported RCC theology. Alternatives to Ptolemy were known but they and Galileo did not convince the scholastics to change. The RCC went along with the scholastics whose sophisticated philosophy had no intellectual peer at the time.

But the most important fact is the Galileo was not “right” and the RCC was not “wrong”. There were valid points on both sides and the answer was not obvious at the time. The main misunderstanding is that the sciences progress by completely rejecting one theory and affirming a completely new theory. Rather, the sciences progress by improving on a theory so that what was valid in the old theory is maintained in the new theory along with new and better material. Sciences converge by a kind of alternating series of theories, each one closer to the limit so that the past is prologue, not pseudoscience.

One contemporary lesson is that evolution is not 100% right or wrong. It’s that the next theory will preserve what is valid and drop what is not valid plus add new material from a different paradigm.

September 2014

Old theories

Newton’s theory of gravity was superseded in the 20th century. Orthodox Popperians should therefore throw it on the dustbin of history. But Newton’s theory is not rejected because his laws are still valid within a limited range that is very useful. Similarly, we still speak of the sun rising and setting even though absolute geo-staticism has been superseded.

In short, the narrative that science “disproves” old theories is wrong. Old theories do not necessarily go away; they may remain indefinitely. True, some theories such as the phlogiston theory of combustion collapse on their own. But well-established theories persist as limiting cases of more general theories.

Niels Bohr called this the correspondence principle and applied it to quantum mechanics. This principle should be applied to ancient science as well, notably the science contained in the Bible. While it would be improper to speak of the Bible as proposing a theory, the Bible does use the vocabulary of ancient science.

This means we should not interpret the Bible in terms of modern science; instead modern science should include science in the Bible as a limiting case. The refusal to do this retards science today.

Every scientific theory has limits which will be found after sufficient investigation. If the limits of a theory are unknown, it is foolish to say or imply that the theory has no limits. Notably, evolutionary theory has limits. Once we accept that we can investigate the limits but if such investigation is hampered, the development of science will be retarded.

November 2014

Creation history

A prima facie case can be made that mainline science conflicts with the Scriptures, that is, the Bible. For one thing, mainline science excludes final causes and follows naturalism so some conflict is inevitable. Naturalism excludes all miracles. The chronology of nature adopted by most science institutions is contrary to some historical parts of Scripture, at least if those parts are read as history. All these things come together in the question of the origin of creation.

Christians have dealt with these issues in various ways, and the main point to note is that there are reasonable ways of dealing with the question of origins that are consistent with Christianity. However, Christians disagree with one another on what is the best approach. Some consider science and Scripture to be operating in mutually exclusive realms that have no interaction (an idea that is found among some non-Christians as well). Often Christians accept as much science as they can and modify a few points to avoid head-on conflict. This is complemented by interpreting Scripture in a way that is compatible with mainline science. Theistic evolution and progressive creation are leading examples of this approach.

Intelligent design is a newcomer to the field of origins. ID proponents bring final causes into natural history and take exception to the assumption of naturalism. They accept mainline science in so far as it doesn’t presuppose naturalism. Finally, there are the creationists, who go beyond denying naturalism and declare boldly that the history presented in Scripture is correct and should be incorporated into science. This last group will be the focus here.

The study of origin of the universe, the earth, life, and humanity touches on science, history, philosophy, and theology. These short essays endeavor to show how they inter-relate.

The Creation Paradigm

Explaining Everything

Nature, Creation, and Science

A Short Critique of “The Short Proof of Evolution”

The Short Proof of Creation

Origins Links

History

In broad terms there are two kinds of history: diachronic and synchronic history. The history of a people or nation over generations and centuries is told by diachronic history. The history of a time or period across peoples or nations is told by synchronic history (also called synchronistic history). The diachronic history of Western Civilization leads back through Roman history to Hebrew history to the Great Flood and ultimately to Creation Week. This formed the storyline of the Grand Narrative of Western Civilization.

A synchronic history from natural science achieved prestige in the 19th century in which human history is overshadowed by a deep time of evolution across species, the earth, and the stars. An anthropocentric diachronic history was ignored in favor of a mechanistic, evolutionary history that determined the destiny of every atom, organism, and population.

The evolution paradigm says that synchronic history moves from primitive to advanced, from simple to complex, and from weak to strong. This paradigm of progress is seen to be played out in every aspect of the world, from nature to economics, from politics to religion. It is a Grand Narrative that is askew of the traditional diachronic narrative.

A comparison of the diachronic narrative with the synchronic narrative leads to comparing evolution with creation. As the study of evolution vastly expands synchronic history, the study of creation expands diachronic history. The creation paradigm says that history moves chronologically from creation to corruption to redemption, from a golden age to a dark age to an age of light. This is not a paradigm of mere regress or progress, although there is some of both.

As an example, compare the history of mythology. The evolution paradigm sees mythology as comprised of primitive nonsense, which is gradually replaced by explanations that are more sophisticated until myth simply means falsehood and science is the only explanation left standing. The creation paradigm sees mythology as a corruption of early history and looks for the true diachronic history behind the myths.

Since time is time, one would hope that diachronic and synchronic history would converge but the tendency has been for one to gain prestige at the expense of the other. There are some researchers who try to reconcile them without denigrating either but these people have been widely derided in the late modern age. Surely the civilization to come will seek a genuine harmony of diachronic and synchronic history.

Justification of tradition

Like many people born after World War II, tradition doesn’t come easily to me. We’ve prided ourselves on making our parents justify every practice they tried to pass on to us. If it didn’t make sense to us, it was oppressive or foolish and should be stopped. Automatic acceptance of tradition was unthinkable.

Tradition was another way of saying “we’ve always done it that way” even though no one could explain why. Tradition seemed to be something someone made up a long time ago and everyone since had to follow along even though it made no sense. Unthinking robots adhered to tradition and impersonal society imposed tradition on people. Tradition was the civilization Huck Finn escaped from and Tevye complained about.

But gradually I’ve come to see the value of tradition. Let me explain. What is tradition? Tradition simply means practices handed down from generation to generation. Note that each generation must practice them in order to pass them on to the next generation. So tradition preserves practices through time. However, traditions are usually not unchangeable; every generation makes some modifications. Here are seven reasons why tradition is valuable.

Tradition is a good place to begin. We may wonder how best to do something but often it is something that has been done many, many times before us. Why go to all the trouble of coming up with a new way of doing things when there is a way that worked before? If no good reason exists to do things another way, go with tradition. The burden of proof is on someone who would change things to show that these changes are better than tradition.

Tradition is familiar. We learn many traditions growing up. We hear or read stories that show traditional practices. People know their roles and the roles of others. But new practices may be strange and confusing; they have to be explained to people who may be skeptical of them or comfortable with a well-worn path. Tradition is like a friend we’ve known for years.

Tradition is empirical. There is a history of experience with tradition. Many others have tried tradition and found that it works. There is a kind of science to tradition: traditions have been tested many times and the results are well known. New ideas lack the knowledge-base of tradition; they need years of experience to fully check them out. Tradition is “tried and true”.

Tradition is evolutionary. Each generation has an opportunity to make minor modifications so traditions are never out of date. Traditions can be adjusted to suit new circumstances. Major blunders are avoided because something that has worked before will work again more or less. There is change as well as continuity.

Tradition is non-ideological. Because tradition evolves and incorporates change gradually, there is no one ideology that drives the process. Tradition is far different from an ideology that would revolutionize things according to some rule or idea. Many things influence tradition over the years. No party or faction controls tradition.

Tradition is worth passing on. Life is short and each generation desires to pass on something significant to the next generation. Tradition is a valuable gift for parents to give their children. It allows each generation to feel part of a chain of events reaching back in time and forward in the future. Tradition connects generations across time.

Tradition is long-lasting. Many things come and go in life but tradition continues year after year. Traditions begin in the distant past and continue for a long time. Fashions change year to year. Many new ideas are short-lived. Tradition remains through it all.

In the end it’s not that tradition has been fully justified. But I don’t demand that tradition be justified anymore. I may still wonder why a tradition is the way it is but there are other things I wonder about more. Tradition simply is. It’s everything else that needs to be justified.

2008

Dissident scientists

There is a curious paradox about the science community. On the one hand scientists have a reputation for independent thinking but on the other hand the science community likes to present a solid front. The latter is closer to the truth: most scientists are conformists. It is well known from the history of science that dissent is not welcomed in the scientific community. Dissidents are roundly condemned and ostracized — until they turn out to be correct. Then history is rewritten from the perspective of the new paradigm (it’s called a Whig history).

Also, along with so many aspects of the modern world, science has become increasingly politicized. Since much research funding is government controlled, it’s not surprising that politics gets involved. So perhaps we should pay more attention to dissident scientists. Below are some links.

Big-bang Dissidents

Global Warming Dissidents

Goethean Scientists

Darwin Doubters

Intelligent Design Scientists

Creation Scientists

Historical sciences

Ben Jeffares wrote a useful article “Testing times: regularities in the historical sciences”  (http://www.ege.fcen.uba.ar/ecodes/Integrantes/Javier/cursos/PDFs/(02)%20Jeffares%202008.pdf):

Abstract

The historical sciences, such as geology, evolutionary biology, and archaeology, appear to have no means to test hypotheses. However, on closer examination, reasoning in the historical sciences relies upon regularities, regularities that can be tested. I outline the role of regularities in the historical sciences, and in the process, blur the distinction between the historical sciences and the experimental sciences: all sciences deploy theories about the world in their investigations.

This is based on his dissertation “Testing Times: Confirmation in the Historical Sciences”  (http://philpapers.org/archive/JEFTTC.pdf) which concludes:

To conclude, I will outline what I take to be the confirmation strategies of a good historical science. Firstly, a good historical science will utilise the understandings of regularities that the sciences in general use. These regularities will be well tested, using all the apparatus of experimentation, repeated observations, and intervention in processes that allow us to understand the relevant variables. They will be regularities that are well confirmed. Secondly, historical scientists will engage in research to determine how these regularities leave traces that can act as evidence for their occurrence. This dispersal of consequences also utilises regularities that can be tested, observed, and understood.

Utilising these regularities in dispersal allows researchers to choose between alternative hypotheses. Hypotheses about the past should have distinct signatures of downstream consequences. They should also make predictions about additional lines of evidence.

From the side of history Robert A. Hurley wrote “The Science of Stories: Human History and the Narrative Philosophy of Science” (http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/2227/thesis.pdf?sequence=2) which argues that history is an epistemic narrative, different from literary narrative but essentially the same as the historical sciences.

September 2014