Since both evolutionary scientists and forensic investigators observe signs in the present to infer past events, does it make sense for us to do the same?
The answer to this question is deep, and we could discuss it for a while without running short of material. Some have argued about terms like “historical science” and “operational science.” But the term “historical science” is a misnomer. It should be called “historical storytelling.”
Let’s start with the word “infer.” Why infer rather than “conclude?” Isn’t an inference a conclusion, but the word of choice is “infer.” Maybe that’s because the word “conclude” implies a conclusive answer, but the word “infer” has no such troublesome implication.
It is true that both evolutionary scientists and forensic investigators infer from observations in the present. Forensic investigators look at possible scenarios and try to find hard evidence about what happened in the past, some crime. Sometimes, they find a written document that acts as a confession. Sometimes, they find only circumstantial evidence, but the case goes to court anyway. Sometimes innocent people are sent to jail on circumstantial evidence. In all cases, we’ll never know for certain whether the person convicted on circumstantial evidence was guilty or innocent. In the Law of Moses, no one could be convicted to a death sentence unless two or three witnesses came forward. And if a witness was shown to be a false witness, that witness received the penalty.
What we’re talking about here is something we all do every day. We leverage ourselves beyond what we can observe or test. We extrapolate beyond the data. The farther we go back in time or forward into the future, the less reliable our extrapolation becomes.
That’s why we rarely find the weatherman making daily or hourly predictions that extend months or years into the future. Think of the stock market. You might be right and make a fortune, but you might be wrong and lose everything. So, we can speculate if we want to. Becoming dogmatic about speculations is foolish. Thinking that speculation is the same as empirical science is ignorant.
Though it’s not the same thing as examining fingerprints, soil samples, etc., historians are often able to look at ancient documents. They can’t necessarily know that the authors of those documents were well informed, truthful, or accurate, but they have more to go on than those who look at rocks and fossils. And yet, God does reveal considerable information about the past through Scripture. We know, by the Spirit, that Scripture is reliable. God speaks to us through Scripture. As Albert Einstein said:
“No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
The human mind can’t rationally reason to any conclusion without divine revelation. We can observe and test. We can learn what works and repeat that, but we don’t know that we’ve found the way that works best. Maybe there’s a better way that no one has yet discovered. That is pragmatism. It has nothing to do with having absolutely correct knowledge of the truth. It has to do with just finding solutions. Science is great for that, and it’s a way that God has provided to bless the human race. He reveals reality to every person by the method of observing and testing.
However, speculations about the past produce no airplanes, cell phones, computers, or other products that we can test. Some people confuse historical storytelling with scientific observation and testing. They aren’t the same thing.
God is right about this subject. In Proverbs 3:5-8 God says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. This will bring healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.
Real Faith & Reason Library will be out soon. It’s a six-book set containing two reference texts. Real Reality, Inc. will be offering the ebook version for free. This is the kind of book you want to keep in your library for future reference. We also plan an audiobook, and we’re going to try to make that free as well.