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Why historical science is the best kind of science

This is for a planned wide-audience writing project on evolution, in which I pre-empt (rather than respond to) creationists’ counter-arguments, such as their downplaying of historical science. I would greatly value comments on this approach.

There are sciences, such as physics and chemistry, where we can perform experiments. There are other sciences, such as the science of planetary motion (and astronomy in general) where we cannot do this, but we can still carry out repeated observations in well-controlled circumstances, and devise theories with whose help we can make definite predictions. All of these are what I will call rule-seeking sciences. At the other extreme, we have sciences such as palaeontology and much of geology, which one might call historical sciences.1 With these, the aim is not so much to establish general rules, as to unravel and explain the specifics of what happened in the past. It is usual to regard the rule-seeking sciences as the most rigorous, to which the others should defer. This shows a deep misunderstanding of how science works, and, time and time again, when historical and rule-seeking sciences have come into conflict, it is historical science that has triumphed.

Rocks exposed at Grand Canyon, from Proterozoic to Permian. Click to enlarge

A few examples. The rocks clearly show (for detailed arguments, see e.g. here) that the Earth, and by implication the Sun, Read the rest of this entry

50 Years Ago: How the Continents Fit Together

When speaking of early adopters of plate tectonics, remember also Arthur Holmes remarkable 1931 contribution, which I have written about here.

The Mountain Mystery

Edward Bullard, 1936, during a geophysics study of the CaribbeanEdward Bullard, 1936, during a geophysics study of the Caribbean

50 years ago, on October 28, 1965, an unlikely British geophysicist made a map that set the record straight on how the world’s tectonic plates fit together. As a child, Edward Bullard was such a slow learner that his family thought he’d end up mopping floors at their brewery. Instead, he became one of a half dozen scientists who proved plate tectonics – and he was knighted for some of his work.

Sir Edward’s family could have given him a wide range of advantages, but they did their best to wreck the young man instead. He overcame the burden of privilege, but it took an unusual and sympathetic teacher to help him realize he wasn’t stupid.

goatBullard’s great-grandfather Richard owned The Goat, a once-popular Norwich pub, and started a brewery, making the family wealthy. Bullard’s grandfather Harry was…

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