The Problem With Prehistory
The study of prehistory poses many problems for the historian. Prehistory is the study of humans in the past before writing. By definition, any knowledge we have of humans, before writing, is speculative. Historians, trained mainly how to interpret written records, try to piece together with various scientists, what happened. Man’s certainty of prehistoric events will always remain hazy, because of this lack of an eyewitness written account. The historian’s ability to determine what happened in prehistory is limited.
The Scientific Problems of Knowing The Origin of Life and the Origin of the World
One issue that will forever cause wondrous imagination and thanksgiving, and also confusion and frustration, is the question of origin of life. The written word was not available at the beginning of life, so we cannot look to historians for our answer. Scientists, such as paleontologists, geneticists, biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and so on, have tried to discover the origin of life, using scientific methods. However, these scientists all face a similar dilemma, in determining the origin of life.
According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is "knowledge attained through study or practice," or "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world." The scientific method uses observation and experimentation to gain knowledge.
To know something for certain in science requires humans to experiment, observe, document their observations, and to have others do the same. When scientists conduct experiments, trying to discover the origin of life, they need to “take a leap of faith” and base their experiments and findings on what they believe to have been the circumstances at the time of the origin of life, based on the latest scientific findings. Based on the definition of science, scientists cannot know exactly what the origin of life was. This issue lies outside of science. The scientist’s ability to determine what happened in prehistory is limited.
Robert Badillo, professor of metaphysics at St. John’s University, writes, “The issue of biogenesis or the origin of life is a complex question that has not been resolved from a purely materialist perspective. There is no scientific demonstration for concluding that life comes from or derives from non-life. This is to say that there is no evidence for saying that the pre-biotic world is exclusively responsible for the generation of the biotic one. Traditionally, for the genesis of life, one needs, in addition to matter, a vital principle, also termed the soul, an immaterial principle that organizes matter into life forms. The issue of the origin of life is still an open question.”
When scientists cannot know exactly what happened, they base their ideas of nature on what appears, scientifically, to be the most plausible theory. Then, when many scientists agree with this idea, it is often falsely reported as fact. For example, very often, the theories of evolution are reported as fact, when they are in reality theories.
There is a tendency for readers to assume that scientists, when they agree, have established a fact. And, there are scientists who want you to believe, that if many scientists agree on something, it is factual. For example, if you see the sentence begin with the following, “Most scientists think….”, this does not mean that what follows is fact. It means only that at this time, most scientists think something. Consensus among most scientists does not mean that a fact has been established. It means that, at this moment of time, most scientists think this. It does not mean that it is true.
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world. As its name suggests, it belongs, at least partially, outside of the physical world. Whereas the scientific world today bases its knowledge almost solely on what is measurable, or quantifiable, metaphysicians base their ideas on things that are not only experimental, such as experience, thoughts, logic, emotions and ideas. The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world.
The study of prehistory can only be understood better with the aid of metaphysics. The study of the origin of the world, of the origin of life, is a metaphysical question. It lies outside the realm of the purely physical, since it touches on themes that cannot be fully expressed by the physical sciences. The study of Science and history are limited and will not ever be able to explain the origin of life and of the world.
In the ancient times, metaphysics was seen as “the Queen of Sciences,” as the Greek philosopher Aristotle called it. When Greek scientists made a discovery of something, they were more interested in how the discovery affected the understanding of who man was and what life meant, than in the discovery itself. These are questions that are not easily answered.
With the Scientific Revolution, and later the Enlightenment, European philosophers began to over rely on science and reason to answer all of man’s problems. The study of metaphysics waned. However, science and reason has its limitations, as we see when trying to understand prehistory.
Evolution and Belief in God
Theories about the origin of life and of the world are metaphysical questions. They lie beyond the realm of the study of history and of empirical sciences such as paleontology, genetics, biology, anthropology, archaeology, and so on. There is no way man can prove, scientifically, exactly how life began and the origin of man. The scientist takes a leap of faith to “prove” what exactly happened in prehistory.
This is not to say, however, that we should not try to understand how life began. But, humans should do so in a humble manner, acknowledging our limitations in order to completely understand something that is beyond the merely physical world, and something that happened before our existence on Earth.
The belief in God is a metaphysical notion, existing also outside the realm of the natural world. God the Creator cannot be fully comprehended by man, because of our limitations, and because He is supernatural. God cannot be proven or disproven completely by the sciences or by historians, because his being and powers ultimately lie outside of these human realms of understanding the world. The interpretation of the Bible as it pertains to prehistory is challenging. Theologians differ on the exact meaning, and historians are not able to use all of it as a precise history, when using the tools of the historian.
Much of higher academia today is governed by those who are without faith in God. What’s more, they believe that man is capable of understanding fully the world in which he lives in. Or, they believe that one day, humans will be able to explain completely the origin of life through science. There is much wrong with this idea.
In writing “What’s So Great About Christianity,” author Dinesh D’souza discusses evolution and Darwinism. He writes, “Evolution is a scientific theory. Darwinism is a metaphysical stance and a political ideology.” D’souza argues that evolution as a scientific theory has many problems, but even if it is true, it shows merely the mode that God designed. Darwinism, however, is an unscientific, metaphysical theory, that seeks to reject God and replace him with a materialistic view of the world and of life. It does not have as its basis scientific evidence.
The study of prehistory is wrought with more problems than answers. Man attempts to use what is available to him to discover what happened, but in the end, he needs to approach the study of prehistory with humility. Over the last few hundred years, many scientists have come to believe that humans are capable of fully understanding and explaining completely the natural world, including the origin of life and the beginning of the world, without a supernatural power. These scientists take a leap of faith, filling in missing evidence where the scientific evidence can’t fill in the answers.
Teaching with the Take a Stand! series helps me get to know my children and students better and it helps them how to think critically, form historical judgement, and express themselves in speech and in writing.