In the scientific method, we propose models to explain a phenomenon and propose falsifiable tests for it. In palaeontology, we cannot do direct tests to verify our models, but we still make predictions that this particular kind of fossil would be found within a particular time period, or a rabbit wouldn't be found among the Cambrian fossils. I assume that's why, even in the absence of experiments, we can call palaeontology science.

But in history also, we do a similar thing. We propose models (Jesus existed, let's say), and then make (implicit) predictions that no future discoveries would contradict that hypothesis, or better, mention him by name in a non-theological context.

Then, why is doing history not considered science, when palaeontology is?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Because of this $\endgroup$
    – L.Diago
    Sep 8, 2018 at 7:20
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about the philosophy of science and not biology. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2018 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Tests need not be direct to be scientific 2. Direct tests are common in Paleontology. For example, the prediction that non-avian dinosaurs went extinct from an impact event can be directly challenged by finding a dinosaur skeleton above the impact layer. $\endgroup$
    – Karl Kjer
    Sep 8, 2018 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


Paleontology is not only guessing and estimating how old a fossil is... And it's also not only imagining how dinosaur XY may have looked like during lifetime.

Paleontology also is:


Understanding the biology, physiology, anatomy, reproduction, evolution, and whole way of life of prehistoric animals, including trophic networks, life communities etc.


The way from a biocenosis to a thanatocenosis and a taphocenosis. What happens after the death of an animal? How it is transported (allochthonous/autochthonous), what changes in chemistry lead to decay and preservation of hard and soft tissues? E.g. the principles of local self-eutrophication for phosphate-based soft-tissue preservation. How is the fossil embedded in the rock? Is a fossil spirit level preserved? What diagenetic processes happen after embedding?


Understanding prehistoric climate changes by studing e.g. isotope levels, paleo-monsoon conditions during the formation of huge continents like Pangaea or Gondwana, the influence of plate tectonics on the conveyor belts of the oceans etc.


The mathematics and physics part... Breaking down animal locomotion to equations and calculations of forces and moment arms. This helps to understand how animals of giant sizes or with a completely different locomotory musculature were able to walk and to take a look at the forces, which were exerted on the joints during locomotion/mating/standing up etc.

So you see... Paleontology uses so many different natural sciences disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics, that practicing it becomes a natural science itself. Can you say the same thing for history?

My list could have been much longer... There are so many sub-disciplines in paleontology that it would habe taken too long to mention them all.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .