HAO Colloquium - Carol Cleland, CU Boulder

Differences in the Methodology and Justification of Experimental and Historical Natural Science

Carol Cleland
Director, Center for the Study of Origins and
Professor, Department of Philosophy
CU Boulder

Experimental science has long been held up as the paradigm of “good” science.  Yet many scientific hypotheses cannot be tested in the classical manner of experimental science, namely, by conducting controlled experiments within the artificial, sterile environment of a laboratory. Hypotheses about long past events, which are common in astronomy and astrophysics, as well as biology and geology, provide salient illustrations.  Two well-known illustrations are the hypothesis that the end-Cretaceous mass extinction was triggered by a meteorite impact and the ‘big bang’ hypothesis for the origin of the universe. The observational data supporting historical hypotheses are collected in the messy, uncontrollable world of nature through field studies, as opposed to laboratory experiments. Because they cannot be tested directly in the manner of experimental science the research of historical scientists is sometimes judged inferior. This talk explains why this view of historical science is mistaken.  First, the claim that historical science is inferior to experimental science is founded upon a deeply flawed, one-size-fits-all, logical analysis of the evaluative relation between hypothesis and observation, namely, Baconian inductivism or falsificationism. Second, the distinctive methodologies of historical and experimental science are keyed to pervasive causal (vs. logical) differences in their evidential situations, namely, opposite sides of a pervasive time asymmetry of causation.



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Announcement Timing: 
March 21, 2018
Calendar Timing: 
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm