Blank slates, babies and beyond: of evolution and epistemology (part VI of VIII)

21 Mar

6) Also, there is always an element of trust in all this…  and I think that both sides in this battle are really talking about the nature of historical knowledge (and we need to decide which accounts of history we are going to trust or keep trusting, and why).  Again, Evolution writ large is an idea with a massive historical component, and here it involves lots of interpretation of fossil and geological evidence (although the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins is now saying that this particular evidence is not really important anymore at all, since there is other evidence for evolution that seals the deal).  We cannot repeat the origin of the universe or the species in a lab.  In other areas of science, there is much that is replicable, or repeatable, and this creates confidence.  But when it comes to scientists as regards history, how much can we, or they, trust their judgment?  Who do we trust when it comes down to determining what has happened from the beginning of space and time (and what it means)?

It is not only creationists who make points like this:

Science needs objective criteria to rank the value of predictions and observations without the appeals to authority inherent in peer review or “scientific consensus.” Observations that are experimentally repeatable should rank higher than historical observations whose repeatability is limited by increasing entropy. Specific predictions regarding future events should rank higher than expectations of future discoveries of pre-existing evidence. Thus, the science of natural law is inherently more objective than scientific descriptions of natural history.

What is the benefit of pretending that science provides the same high levels of certainty in historical theories of origins (species, universe, solar system) as the more objectively and repeatably testable quantum electrodynamics and classical mechanics (within their well-established areas of applicability)?

In my view, this all has to do with trust.  First of all, I think historians, more than scientists, are the experts when it comes to telling me about the past.  Further, I think that prehistory, or history before human writing, is only able to “tell” us so much.  In short, I think what cosmologists, archaeologists, geologists and paleontologists do is more limited in scope than what is often assumed, because complex interpretation, involving all manner of assumptions and presuppositions are involved (this is not to say that they cannot tell us some very important things definitively, or that their methods are altogether without value – hardly) – i.e. this is “model” stuff (see above).  Historians certainly make assumptions as well, but historians have an advantage: they really deal not with “prehistory” but history, meaning the writings of people who were really there.  Here, we are dealing with people who left writings that can be of great assistance in helping us to interpret the evidence we uncover.  Their writing can “testify” to the truth.  Although there is no doubt that the remains of bones, statues, buildings, pottery and arrowheads may certainly illuminate historical texts, I think that, generally speaking, historical texts illuminate the remains of these things even more.  In short, the value of this recorded human communication for helping to discern the truth about the past is inestimable and irreplaceable.  Then, for me, the question simply comes down to which historians I am going to trust – and here of course, we get into questions of character, wisdom and knowledge.  Historians don’t just tell us what happened, but what they think probably happened, why things happened like they did, and to a greater or lesser extent, what they think it all means.

Without a doubt: in the end, what we believe about history – what we think is true about history – what we think we can and should confidently determine and even assert is true (and false) about history (perhaps in spite of our very real doubts), does have a significant impact in determining how we think we should live our lives in the here and now.  This is clearly the case regarding our own personal history in this world, i.e. what we know – or think we know (some may be more confident about this than others!) – about from where we originally came (in the case of parents) and have come from (understood as the time from our birth until now) has a momentous impact in how we see ourselves and know ourselves. In like fashion, what we believe about where the universe came from (in the case of its beginning) and has come from (understood as the time from that beginning until now) will impact us, regardless of how aware of this we are or not.

And just as a person may not even begin to question the fact that her parents love (i.e. desire for and action towards her “good” in a way that also exhibits faithfulness, commitment, personal sacrifice, etc.) her unless someone can produce evidence that is, on the face of it, immediately compelling and seemingly damning (i.e. unless they have this she will not even begin to question her personal history), in like fashion, a person may not even begin to question the fact that Christ is risen in the absence of this kind of evidence.  Much of what we are confident is true is never or cannot be proven, and what we know is, quite frankly, what we have yet to be shown is false.


See part I (addresses issue that this series of posts is not really about infant faith and theology), part II, part III, part IV, and part V


Posted by on March 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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4 responses to “Blank slates, babies and beyond: of evolution and epistemology (part VI of VIII)

  1. messianicmichael

    September 20, 2016 at 3:20 am

    Click to access 0812.4932.pdf

    My wife and I are the authors of the paper quoted above. We are Biblical creationists.

    My blog:

    • infanttheology

      September 20, 2016 at 3:31 am

      Thanks for the note. Good to know! Seems like something Mr. David Berlinski, for one, would affirm though. : )


  2. messianicmichael

    September 20, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    I think so, and I have found similar quotes from secular sources. Stephen Jay Gould is a great source for secular quotes when making epistemological arguments of this kind.

    Begin Exact Quote (Gould 1984, p. 11):


    1) The Uniformity of law – Natural laws are invariant in space and time. John Stuart Mill (1881) argued that such a postulate of uniformity must be invoked if we are to have any confidence in the validity of inductive inference; for if laws change, then an hypothesis about cause and effect gains no support from repeated observations – the law may alter the next time and yield a different result. We cannot “prove” the assumption of invariant laws; we cannot even venture forth into the world to gather empirical evidence for it. It is an a priori methodological assumption made in order to practice science; it is a warrant for inductive inference (Gould, 1965).

    End Exact Quote (Gould 1984, p. 11)

    Gould, Stephen Jay. “Toward the vindication of punctuational change.”Catastrophes and earth history (1984): 9-16.

    also see:

    Gould, Stephen Jay. “Is uniformitarianism necessary?” American Journal of Science 263.3 (1965): 223-228.

    Gould, Stephen Jay. Time’s arrow, time’s cycle: Myth and metaphor in the discovery of geological time. Harvard University Press, 1987.

  3. infanttheology

    September 21, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Thank you sir!



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