Two Kinds of Science

Posted by on Dec 20, 2013 in Think & Believe Newsletter | 0 comments

As a veterinarian, I’ve performed a number of autopsies. This postmortem practice illustrates two very different categories of “science,” relying on either conclusive, or circumstantial evidence.  It also addresses squarely the myth that “Creation is religion, whereas evolution is science.”

Here is a hypothetical case. Mrs. Smith lived in rural Colorado.  Her best friend was her dog, Muffy; a 5 year old, male, neutered, Lsaha apso.

One day, Mrs. Smith left home to buy groceries.  She returned two hours later to find Muffy dead in her fenced backyard.  She rushed to our office, angry and convinced that her neighbor, Mr. Jones, had poisoned him.  After all, Mr. Jones hated barking dogs.  Mrs. Smith left the veterinary office, and went home to wait for my phone call.  In essence, my job was to view the present, and try to prove the past.

Was there conclusive, legal evidence to prove this theory of poisoning?  I first approached this case according to the scientific method of empirical science.  This involves: observing the present world, gathering information, developing a hypothesis, performing experiments, and collecting data.  The final analysis is based on the observable, physical evidence found.  The motto for empirical science is “seeing is believing.”

A thorough physical exam of Muffy’s rigid body was performed.  Areas of trauma were examined, documented, and shaved.  This uncovered numerous puncture wounds, abrasions, and a broken bone.  One predominant abnormal finding was massive internal bleeding.  Evaluation of the stomach and intestinal contents revealed some mysterious dark, green pellets, along with some paper wrappers.  The approach qualified as true, empirical science, because it followed the scientific method.

At this point, I called Mrs. Smith.  She identified the green pellets as rabbit kibble, not poison.  Based on the autopsy findings and her testimony, the empirical process had determined conclusively that death was due to trauma, not poisoning. However, empirical science was incapable of answering her follow-up questions: “Who killed my Muffy, and how did it happen?”

This moved us from empirical science to historical “science.”  It is called historical because it is tied to the unobserved past, not the testable present.  The motto for historical “science” is “believing is seeing.” Thus it falls outside the experimental standards of the scientific method.  For example, no one had witnessed the “crime” nor had we seen the suspect(s).  Speculation and imagination were required to piece the puzzle together.

The circumstantial clues matched an attack scenario.  The measured distances between puncture sites were compatible with the canine teeth of a semi-large carnivore, as were the powerful jaws needed to crush, and break Muffy’s leg bone.

Several plausible scenarios emerged.  Could some stray dog or a coyote be the killer?  What about a small cougar or a bear?  Numerous wildlife sightings had been reported.  How did they enter the back yard?  Was the fence scaled, jumped, or tunneled under?  Could someone have left the gate open?  Were there any tracts, tufts of the killer’s fur, or other clues overlooked?  The more I pondered, the more questions surfaced, and the more these scenarios took on a life of their own.   

In reality, one couldn’t know with 100 percent confidence the truth about the unobserved past.  The problem wasn’t with the data.  The difficulty played out in interpreting the incomplete data historically.

Historical “science” can sometimes involve monumental feats of imagination even in present-day examples.  This is despite the benefit of a current knowledge of living creatures, the environmental conditions, and physical laws.  One must wonder about the validity and accuracy of historical reconstructions spanning millions to billions of years.  “Pre-historic” conditions were both extraordinary and totally outside our realm of experience.  There were different conditions on the earth, strange and perplexing dinosaurs, and a myriad of unknown variables.  Evolution attempts to explain the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of man, etc.  These one-time events are beyond direct observation, experimentation, retesting, and refutation.  Evolution therefore, is plainly not true empirical science.

Both evolution and Creation fall into the category of historical science.  Neither model of belief can be proven, or disproven.  Both are statements of faith, and are inherently religious in nature.  Hence the frequently made statement, “evolution is science whereas creation is religion,” is a myth.

By Dr. Dan Korow

This was published as an article in the January/February 2001 issue of Think & Believe newsletter .

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