Friday, June 15, 2012

Empirical Science Versus Logic

This is a great debate going on in archeology.  OK, maybe that is a sentence you don't hear every day.  But I bring it up today because it pits a logical argument against an empirical argument that are in direct contrast.

In one corner is the empirical science.  Apparently, cave paintings in Spain that we thought were 30,000 years old are really 40,000 years old - according to a new advance in carbon dating.  Carbon dating is one of those hard sciences that makes us feel really confident.  People can lie, but molecules??

The problem is that there were no modern humans around 40,000 years ago.  There were plenty of Neanderthals around, but that is where the logicians come in.  Neanderthals had been around for 300,000 years already.  What would make them all of a sudden decide to paint caves?  So logically, the paintings must have been done by humans who were new on the scene.  It would make logical sense for a new species, especially one with a brain structure that fits the practice of cave painting, to be the ones who painting the Spanish caves.

So who is right?  Are the paintings 40,000 years old and done by Neanderthals - as determined by the science of carbon dating?  Or are they 30,000 years old and done by humans - as determined by logic?

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