What is the scientific method?  Everyone who sat through grade-school science class knows the answer to this question, right?: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, conclusion.  What may surprise you is that there is no such thing as the scientific method.  There are a variety of methods scientists employ in their quest to discover the truth about the natural world, none of which can be claimed as the scientific method.  Which method a scientist uses depends on what he is studying.  While the method outlined above works well for “experimental scientists” such as chemists and physicists, it doesn’t apply to “historical scientists” (i.e. those who study the past) such as paleontologists, astronomers, and evolutionary biologists.  Those in the historical sciences require a different method.

Historical scientists study the past, not the present.  They seek to discover the historical causes responsible for past events – effects that we observe in the present.  For such a task the scientific method outlined above simply won’t work.  It’s the wrong tool.  To explain the structure of the fossil record, for example, one cannot engage in experimentation.  Likewise, there is no need for making predictions since predictions address the future, not the past.  How, then, do historical scientists test their theories?

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