Oops! How a Gunshot Injury Illustrates the Limits of the So-Called ‘Scientific Method’:
Contrasting Empirical Science and Forensic Science
James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, CIHE, CPEE
[Fair Use photo credit: http://images42.fotki.com/v860/photos/7/42477/8361594/TXArgylePolice01-vi.jpg ]
A recent gunshot accident, in a rural part of Texas, illustrates the difference between empirical science (observing the present) and forensic science (discovering the no-longer-observable past).
“An Argyle [police] officer was flagged down by a man on Stonecrest Road who stated he’d just shot himself with a .45-handgun. The officer observed a gunshot wound to the 22-year-old’s right thumb and forearm. He applied a gauze pad to control the bleeding until medics arrived. The victim’s fiancée stated they were sitting … on the front porch. The victim told her that if you put your hand in front of the gun, it could not fire. The brother [of the victim] told the victim that if you put your finger in the barrel it won’t fire. Both witnesses stated the victim then put his thumb on the [end of the] barrel and pulled the trigger. Both the victim and the brother were proven to be incorrect. … The medics transported the victim to the Denton Regional Medical Center.”(1)
The gunshot victim, in effect, used an empirical science approach to learn about the effect of firing a handgun when a thumb is put onto the end of its barrel. The immediate results were quickly observable. (This experiment can be repeated, of course, but it should not be!) Empirical science is all about observing how things presently operate in the real-world, especially how physical things operate according to real-world laws, such as the observable laws of physics: thermodynamics, optics, gravity, etc.
But learning the truth about unique events of the past is completely different from observing things in the present.
How can we know who shot the gunshot victim, and how, and where, and when, and why? How did the investigating officer determine the cause of the gunshot wound? The gunshot wound itself is a physical effect of a past causation event. But the gunshot injury itself cannot tell us, with certainty, how that past event happened.
In general, how can we ever know reliable truth about unique events of the past?
To learn reliable truth about non-recurring events – such as a gunshot injury – we need the report of at least one trustworthy eye-witness. Eye-witness reports can be corroborated – or can be refuted – by physical evidence (and logic), because physical evidence must be consistent with a witness report, in order to corroborate (i.e., support vs. refute) what a witness says occurred.
For another example, consider something less bizarre, yet just as unique: when and where were you born? Observing you in the present can never answer that question. Likewise, how can we know Earth’s origins? Or what about the origins of human life? Or death? By just looking at the world (or doing lab experiments), today, we cannot know the answers to these questions, because these past events are not being repeated today.
In other words, the “uniformitarian” assumption (i.e., that the present is supposedly the “key” to the past) is unreliable when it is applied to unique events of the past, such as specific etiology (cause-and-effect) events.(2),(3) Therefore, what we really know about unique cause-and-effect events (like Creation Week events, the Flood, or even our own births) depends upon reliable witness reports.(2),(3)
But can the so-called “uniformitarian” assumption — i.e., the assumption that the observable present is the “key” to the no-longer-observable past — adequately substitute for a reliable witness?
No — not unless the past events are constantly recurring, today, in ways (and at rates) that are truly representative of past events. And our origins are unique events, not recurring today — just as you are not (and I am not) being birthed from your mother’s womb today.
But evolutionists hang their highest hopes on the uniformitarian assumption. Evolutionists (whether atheists or closed-Bible deists or animism-affirming “selectionists”(4)) habitually assume that unusual events, such as cosmic origins or human origins, can be determined apart from reliable witness reports, by using “only the scientific method” (i.e., observation-based empirical science). But the “scientific method” (a/k/a empirical science) applies only to observing natural facts in the present, such as the boiling point for water at sea level. Empirical science methods can even be trusted, sometimes, to infer events of the no-longer-observable past, but only if those events are similar to events that routinely recur today,–such as sunrise, sunset, the moon’s cycle, the annual seasons, etc.(2),(3),(4),(5),(6)
But, if a past event is unusual (e.g., creation of Adam and Eve, the global Flood, etc.), we cannot know the truth of what happened without a reliable witness. So, is it hopeless? How can we learn of our origins, and of the origins of our world?
The only eye-witness of the cosmos being created was God Himself — a fact that God emphasized unto the prophet Job: “WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I LAID THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE EARTH? DECLARE, IF YOU HAVE UNDERSTANDING!” (Job 38:4)
As finite creatures we need God to give us such information (which He has graciously done – see John 17:17; Psalm 119; 2nd Timothy 3:15-17; Matthew 4:4; 2nd Peter 1:16-21; Jude 1:3-4). Genesis is such a record; God Himself is the ultimately authoritative and reliable witness.
Physical effects existing today, like sedimentary rock layers or dinosaur soft tissue, can corroborate authoritative history reported in Genesis. But, any cosmogony(6) without Genesis is just wild speculation (oops!), illegitimately assuming the uniformitarianism of deists James Hutton and Charles Lyell – in contrast to the cosmogony endorsed by our Lord Jesus Christ.(2),(3),(6),(7)
1. “Argyle Police Blotter”, in THE CROSS TIMBERS GAZETTE, June 2016, page B10. The local police report summary concludes with this sentence: “No Looney Tune characters were involved in the incident.”
2. See James J. S. Johnson & Jeffrey Tomkins, “Blood Crying from the Ground: A Forensic Science Perspective, Illustrated by the Gruesome Killing of America’s Most Hated Woman, Comparing Empirical and Forensic Science Methodologies”, presented at the Creation Research Society Conference, Dallas, Texas, July 31st, AD2015; 25 pages. The point was made, at this CRS presentation, that reliable truth about our origins cannot be learned apart from the perspicuous report (i.e., the Holy Bible) provided by the only reliable eye-witness, God.
3. In effect, proponents of Darwin’s natural selection theory propose uniformitarian assumptions (and related non-empirical speculations) as a substitute for reliable eye-witnesses of Earth’s (and our own) origins. See James J. S. Johnson, “Is the Present the ‘Key’ to the Past?”, Acts & Facts, 43(6):19 (June 2014), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/8165 . See also, regarding the epistemological difference between empirical and forensic science methodologies, James J. S. Johnson, “Mystick Mystery: Scientists Investigate Connecticut’s Pequot War Battlefield,” posted July 8th, AD2015, at https://answersingenesis.org/what-is-science/mystick-mystery-scientists-investigate-connecticuts-pequot-war-battlefield/ .
4. See Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Imposter: The Illusion that Natural Selection Operates on Organisms”, Acts & Facts, 40(9):12-15 (September 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-illusion-that/ (explaining how “natural selection” concepts are polytheistic/pantheistic animism by another name). See also James J. S. Johnson, “Norse and Germanic Mythology”, Chapter 14 in World Religions and Cults, Volume 2 (Green Leaf: Master Books, 2016, edited by Bodie Hodge & Roger Patterson), especially at pages 271-272 & 287-288.
5. See, e.g., Genesis 1:1-18 & 8:22; Psalm 104:19-22. See also, regarding the popular trend of using uniformitarian thinking to evade the many evidences of the catastrophic worldwide Flood, 2nd Peter 3:3-6. Regarding the regularity of sun and moon cycles, see James J. S. Johnson, “The Moon Rules”, Acts & Facts, 44(9):21 (September 2015), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/moon-rules .
6. Cosmogony and cosmology are not the same, although both involve studying the cosmos. Consequently, because astronomers routinely never learn basic forensic science principles (since they only study cosmology, an empirical science — which they routinely extrapolate backwards into the no-longer-observable past, via uniformitarian thinking), most astronomers are routinely unqualified to serve as cosmogony “experts”. A “cosmogony” is an account of the origins of the cosmos; a “cosmology” is a systematic study of the cosmos as it exists in the present. Accordingly, cosmogony is a forensic science of cosmic origins, whereas cosmology is an empirical science of the currently observable cosmos. See James J. S. Johnson, “Genesis Critics Flunk Forensic Science 101”, Acts & Facts, 41(3):8-9 (March 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/genesis-critics-flunk-forensic-science/ .
7. Christ affirmed the Genesis account of origins provided by God through Moses (see John 5:44-47). See also 1st Timothy 6:20.