Sunday, May 08, 2005

Martin and Meyer

TfK has a huge crush on Kathy Martin. It's the hair. Just look at that! Plus, every time she says she has a Christian agenda, and that this nation wasn't founded on science, but on Christianity, it makes it much easier to show that this process is a massive violation of the Lemon test.

In a comment, a reader asked about the interaction between Kathy Martin and Stephen Meyer.

Basically, Meyer said that historical sciences are completely different from "nomological" sciences. The idea being that experimental or "law based" sciences are performed differently than sciences which are more historical. There are lots of problems with this, but it makes it easy to cut evolution, cosmology and geology out from the other sciences.

During the hearings, there was time for the subcommittee to question each witness, but usually it was veterinarian Steve Abrams who did the questioning. On Saturday, the only time any of the other two members spoke up was when Kathy Martin spoke up.

I don't have transcripts or the audio yet, so I'm going off my notes and memory here.

Martin asked whether science classes are teaching historical sciences "as fact." There was more on the same theme in her question, but she never specified the sciences in question. Before she really got herself worked up and said something really dumb, Meyer stepped in to answer. He moved her away from the "fact" aspect without embarrassing her by exposing the dramatic misunderstanding which motivated it. He bridged to a critique of historical sciences and their usefulness as science. He did note that textbooks do identify theories as theories, and said that talking about theory versus fact was "the wrong question." Then Martin asked more or less the same question again, and Meyer ran out the clock for a while. He was very adept at that.

The audio for the hearings will be available at on Monday, and I'll do another round on this if she said anything really significant there.

In answer to the question asked, I don't believe she singled out any historical science per se, but did suggest that she doesn't think historical sciences are facts. That's a statement that could be interpreted generously as accurate, but it suggests that she rejects historical sciences outright, since she seemed to draw an implicit contrast between historical science (not fact) and experimental science (fact).

Why is this wrong? All science is a process of discovery. You ask questions, make predictions, and test them. Some claim that historical science is the search for explanations of patterns, while experimental sciences look for laws and follow those laws to their consequences. I think historical sciences do the same thing. Geology has laws, astronomy has laws, and biology has laws. We test them in the lab and we test them through exploration of natural occurrences. Chemists do that, physicists do that, geneticists do that. While there may be a continuum between particular studies or research programs which are purely experimental or purely historical, it's silly to divide science on that basis.

It's even sillier to talk about a science, or a whole category of science, as being fact or non-fact. It's worse than confusing theory and fact. Is physics "fact"? Do we have to include physical principles like inertia? String theory? Gravity? We know that something like gravity is there, but there's no generally accepted and experimentally verified theory of gravity!

As we say here in Kansas: What's next, gravity?