Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Genesis is not a science textbook"

I'd like to comment on the old chestnut that Genesis is "not a science textbook." Of course that's true, but deceptive. 

Let's take a few comparisons. When scientists reconstruct a natural disaster from the past, they sometimes rely on eyewitness accounts. For instance, medieval accounts of the Bubonic plague are not scientific. They weren't recorded by scientists. They had no understanding of bacteria or transmission mechanisms. 

However, that doesn't prevent a modern epidemiologist from identifying the disease. Medieval descriptions of the symptoms and progression of the disease supply raw material for a scientific analysis. 

On a related note, take the claim that the Aztecs were decimated by European disease, for which they had no resistance. Obviously, historical accounts fail to give a scientific diagnosis of smallpox. There were no virologists in the 16C. Yet a modern epidemiologist may be able to diagnose the epidemic based on historical reports.  

Likewise, a historical account of a tsunami is unscientific. It's not how a hydrologist would describe the event. Moreover, the event wasn't measured or recorded by scientific equipment. The observer has no understanding of how tsunamis are generated or propagated.

Nevertheless, the account may contain useful information to reconstruct the event. If observers say they saw the waterline recede or the bay empty, that's a precursor to a tsunami. 

Likewise, anecdotal reports of ball lightning are unscientific. As of yet, I don't think ball lightning has been reproduced in the laboratory. 

Yet eyewitness descriptions of ball lightening, however unscientific, contribute to a scientific understanding of the phenomena. They furnish observational data. 

Or take the Tunguska event. The nature of the event is still disputed. It wasn't seen by scientists or recorded by scientific equipment. Yet eyewitness reports are still relevant to understanding the event. 

Or take historical reports of supernovae (e.g. SN 185; SN 393; SN 1006; SN 1054). These aren't scientific records. They don't use telescopes. And it's not how a modern astronomer would describe the event. Yet modern astronomers take these reports seriously. 

Cave paintings of Ice Age animals are unscientific. Yet they are still informative about their existence and distribution. 

1 comment:

  1. Very good point, especially the last sentence which really drove the point home for me.