Thursday, November 3, 2011

QOTD: Evidence-based history

Quote of the Day:
Keith Ward sounds just like Ken Ham. It's remarkable. You see, Ken Ham has this schtick in which he basically denies all of history: you weren't there (the only valid evidence is eyewitness evidence captured through your biological senses), and because history isn't repeatable, its study isn't a real science, isn't empirically verifiable, and is subject to whims and fads and therefore lacks any substantial objective core. ...

I agree that not every thing in the universe is scientifically verifiable or repeatable, but this cavalier attitude towards history is reprehensible. Yes, there are history laboratories: there are historians who do archaeology, chemistry, biology, astronomy and all kinds of hard sciences to confirm and test historical claims. The provenance and authenticity of documents is a major historical interest.

A discrete historical event may not be repeatable, but it is amenable to confirmation and validation. The source information can be independently verified. Multiple approaches can be taken to test a claim. Did Caesar invade Gaul? It only happened once, you don't get to repeat the invasion, and no one alive was there, after all. But we can look at the archaeology of France, we can see the linguistic evidence, we've got documents from the time, and every time someone digs up a Roman cache from the first century BCE we are getting more information on the event.

I do consider it scientifically tractable. Evidence-based, empirical study and logical analysis are right there at the heart of the discipline of history.

But you know why Ward is doing this, right? It's so he can claim Jesus, as a historical figure, is totally exempt from scientific examination. - PZ Myers

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