HomeArticlesHisotircal Science vs. Empirical Science

Hisotircal Science vs. Empirical Science

[Note to reader: this is a series of articles is to expose the false science that is presented in a popular college biology textbook. When this series of articles is complete it will be posted as a free ebook on this website. The first part can be viewed here]


To introduce the importance to think critically when studying science, or any topic in college or after college, we will open this book with one of the opening statements from What Is Life?. Jay Phelan writes, “Here’s something important to know: science doesn’t require advanced degrees of secret knowledge dispensed over years of technical training. It does, however, require an important feature of our species: a big brain, as well as curiosity and a desire to learn.”1)Jay Phelan, What is Life?: A Guide to Biology (Third Edition), W.H. Freeman & Company (New York, NY: 2015), p. 2 Is this an accurate scientific statement? Is the brain size a definitive feature for humans? Do smaller brains make an individual less human? Does a small brain make one less intelligent? Would someone have a lower IQ simply because they have a small stature?

The obvious implications from this comment is that a small brain makes one less intelligent. This is a common misconception imbedded in much of evolutionary ideas. By evolving from ape-like creatures, humans evolved large brains giving us greater capabilities to think deeper. This very logic was refuted by evolutionists Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man (1981),2)Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, W. W. Norton & Company Inc. (New York, NY: 1981). wherein he exposed the error of assuming that a skull’s size can indicate the brain size by which we can infer the intelligence of an individual. Gould further connected this concept with one of the major premises used to reinforce the racist ideologies of the 1800 and early 1900s.

One geologist reminisced of his education during his college years (1979-1982) that expressed the teaching of small heads equate small brains.

In one sociology class, the professor made derogatory remarks about women – that they had smaller brains and therefore were not as intelligent as men Remarkably, no one, not even the women in the class, questioned these claims. Later, I learned that this colossal ignorance stemmed from the earlier 19th-century evolutionary beliefs. As I understand it now, brain size in humans has little or nothing to do with intelligence.3)Roger G. Sigler II, in Persuaded by the Evidence: True Stories of Faith, Science and the Power of the Creator (Ed. Doug Sharp and Jerry Bergman), Master Books (Green Forest, AR: 2008), p. 130

This blunder of science and logic is obviously still being taught today.

Let us examine of few quotes from What Is Life? as Jay Phalen attempts to explain “scientific thinking.” “Scientific thinking is important in the study of a wide variety of topics: it can help you understand economics, psychology, history, and many other subjects.”4)Jay Phelan, What is Life?: A Guide to Biology (Third Edition), W.H. Freeman & Company (New York, NY: 2015), p. 3 It is also stated,

Knowledge about history, for example, comes from a systematic examination of past events as they relate to humans, while the “truths” in other fields, such as religion, ethics, and even politics, often are based on personal faith, traditions, and mythology.

Scientific thinking can be distinguished from these alternative ways of acquiring knowledge about the world in that it is empirical. Empirical knowledge is based on experience and observations that are rational, testable, and repeatable.5)Jay Phelan, What is Life?: A Guide to Biology (Third Edition), W.H. Freeman & Company (New York, NY: 2015), p. 6

Let’s think critically. Is this text book offering a confused view of scientific thinking? Note the definition of “empirical knowledge” is something being “based on experience and observations that are rational, testable, and repeatable.” Is psychology “empirical” science? Is history “empirical” science? Can “a systematic examination of past events” be empirical? Are historical events observable, rational, testable and repeatable? Can any reference to evolution occurring millions of years ago in the past throughout this textbook be empirical science? Furthermore, notice the attack on religion being equated with mythology. Is religion and ethics relative “based on personal faith”?

If a religion could be presented as viable historically, would that give credibility to the religion in question? Would that religion remain “based on personal faith,” or has it been established empirically? Or put another way, since evolution is a hypothesis of what may have happened in the past, is the evidence presented for it any more viable than the historical evidence that could be given for a religion? Should evolution be considered one’s personal faith or science? There need to be a distinction between “empirical” science and “historical” science.

Contrast to many “scientific” authors who fail to distinguish between “empirical” and “historical” science, religious authors are adamant to honestly note the difference. N. T. Wright’s 800+ pages book presents reasonable historical evidence to accept the event of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Concerning historical science, he writes,

I use the word “probable” in the common-sense historians’ way… that is to say, as a way of indicating that the historical evidence, while comparatively rarely permitting a conclusion of “certain,” can acknowledge a scale from, say, “extremely unlikely,” through “possible,” “plausible,” and “probable,” to “highly probable.”6)N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Fortress (Minneapolis, MN: 2003), p. 687

 John Meier also writes on the topic of Jesus Christ in similar terms. “I will content myself with such general judgements as ‘very probable,’ ‘more probable,’ ‘less probable,’ ‘unlikely,’ etc.”7)John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Doubleday (New York, NY: 1991), Vol. 1, p. 33 James Dunn agrees, “almost certain (never simply ‘certain’), very probable, probable, likely, possible, and so on. In historical scholarship the judgement ‘probable’ is a very positive verdict.”8)James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, Eerdmans (Grand Rapid, MI: 2003), p. 103 Interestingly enough, Jay Phelan also admits this factor. “As one of several approaches to the acquisition of knowledge, the scientific method is, above all, empirical. It differs from non-scientific approaches such as mathematics and logic, history, music, and the study of artistic expression in that it relies on measuring phenomena in some way.”9)Jay Phelan, What is Life?: A Guide to Biology (Third Edition), W.H. Freeman & Company (New York, NY: 2015), p. 29 So “history” is not empirical science but he will continuously treat historical events (such as evolution) as if they were empirical throughout his text book.

However, the problem with this text book and the fundamental idea of evolution is further thrown into questionable creditability when Phalen writes:

The facts that (1) all living organisms are made up of one or more cells and (2) all cells arise from other preexisting living cells are the foundations of cell theory, one of the unifying theories in biology, and one that is universally accepted by all biologists. As we see in Chapter 10, the origin of life on earth was a one time deviation from cell theory; the first cells on earth probably originated from free-floating molecules in the oceans early in the earth’s history (about 3.5 billion years ago). Since that time, however, all cells and thus all life have been produced as a continuous line of cells, originating from these initial cells.10)Jay Phelan, What is Life?: A Guide to Biology (Third Edition), W.H. Freeman & Company (New York, NY: 2015), p. 87

Here we see that the very basis for evolution is the origin of life, which is not only a historical assumption, but also a “deviation” from all empirical science. On this basis, we don’t even have a “possibility” for evolution according historical criteria. There is absolutely no reason to assume a naturalistic origin of life outside of the philosophical atheistic presupposition.

What Is Life? further makes the statement, “The scientific method (observation, hypothesis, prediction, test, and conclusion) is a flexible, adaptable, and efficient pathway to understanding the world, because it tells us when we must change our beliefs.”11)Jay Phelan, What is Life?: A Guide to Biology (Third Edition), W.H. Freeman & Company (New York, NY: 2015), p. 8 This expression is obviously intended by the author to place doubts on one’s “religion” or “personal faith,” but when we learn to think critically and examine the evidence, we will find that it is the atheistic views of naturalistic evolution is the “beliefs” that we must change.



Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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