Getting history right … or not


Science and history are both complex disciplines that require significant knowledge and skills to do well.

A research scientist has to have a good theoretical background in their branch of science, keep up with others working in his or her field, probably have a good working understanding of mathematics and statistics and be able to design and perform experimental or observational programs to test hypotheses.

A historian likewise has to have a good theoretical background in their area of history and keep up with others working in their field, and also have a working knowledge of relevant languages and culture and access to documents and artefacts.

Yet I’m finding that many people who wouldn’t dream of contradicting the consensus findings of peer-reviewed scientists seem quite happy to do be much more cavalier about history.

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I remember when the world was very different

The world in 1945

I’m not sure if I was a normal boy, but I always loved maps. So one of my favourite books was the Oxford University World Atlas. I loved it because of the diversity of its maps – it even included details on the solar system (I loved astronomy too!) and the exploration of Australia by Europeans (the unexplored parts of the country were shown black, as if the first Australians weren’t even there). As you can see, I still have it, much the worse for wear – sort of like me and the world it portrays! :)

I was born in 1945, right at the end of the Pacific war in which my dad fought. The atlas was from about the same period – it doesn’t show Israel as a separate country (which occurred in 1948). And it shows, as you can see in the above world map, the British Empire, on which the sun never set, proudly marked red.

The might and grandeur of the Empire was a wonderful fact of life in those days – we even celebrated Empire Day with a half day school holiday in May, and fireworks in the evening.

They were innocent days. But they didn’t last.

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Reality used to be a friend of ours?


The purpose of science and philosophy is to explain difficult facts. If our current philosophy or science cannot explain some facts, we consider a new hypothesis or vary the current hypothesis.

But one aspect of reality is proving impossible to reconcile with current science and philosophy, which creates tensions.

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Who needs a crane? (Sceptics or believers?)


Philosopher Daniel Dennett used the metaphor of cranes and skyhooks to contrast different ways of arriving at knowledge, whether in science or in philosophy.

Skyhooks are approaches that require a jump from what we know (science) to some explanation that isn’t science-based (like God). He argued that we should only use approaches that build from the ground up, just as a crane is firmly based on the ground.

It’s a good metaphor, but is it a good way to think?

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The earth is unique!?


Are we alone in the cosmos? Or are there other, perhaps many other, intelligent life forms out there?

An associated question is whether earth is unique, or whether there are many other planets that could support life. This is a scientific question, but also has importance (for some people) for the question of the existence of God.

New scientific information may have some bearing on this question.

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Reasons to believe: one person’s meat is another’s poisson!


Victor Reppert is a philosopher. His book, CS Lewis’s Dangerous Idea discusses the theistic argument from reason. His blog, Dangerous Idea has long been a source of information and ideas for me, and many others.

Recently he responded to the argument that there is no evidence for God, and summarised his reasons for believing in God. They are worth looking at.

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