Can Science Speak About the Past?

(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(William Stropnicky) #2

As the proper name of a planet (and not the general concept of dirt or ground), Earth needs to be capitalized in this context. Otherwise, this is a great article!


From the article:

“There are some people who say that science cannot tell us about what happened in the past. They say that science must be about verifiable or repeatable things. And since we cannot observe first-hand what happened in the past, those things lie outside of the scope of science—or so the argument goes.”

As I mentioned in another thread, what this argument gets wrong is that the observations need to be verifiable and repeatable, not the hypothesis. You don’t observe or repeat the hypothesis.

In the case of evolution, the repeatable and verifiable observations include the morphology of fossil species, the morphology of living species, the geographic distribution of living and fossil species, the temporal distribution of fossil species, and the DNA sequences of genomes. These are all verifiable and repeatable observations, and it is these observations that can be used to test our hypotheses of what happened in the past.

Just to sum up, these are the requirements of science:

Observations need to be repeatable and verifiable.
Hypotheses need to be testable and falsifiable.
Theories need to be supported by verifiable and repeatable observations that have been obtained through scientific studies and potentially falsifiable by future observations.

“And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.”–Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory”