Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2022
This article examines the role of historical science in clarifying the causal structure of complex natural processes. I reject the pervasive view that historical science does not uncover natural regularities. To show why, I consider an important methodological distinction in geology between uniformitarianism and actualism; methodological actualism, the preferred method of geologists, often relies on historical reconstructions to test the stability of currently observed processes. I provide several case studies that illustrate this, including one that highlights how historical narratives can improve predictive models.
Tremendous thanks to Richard Alley, for many conversations and insights during the development of this article, and to Elizabeth Dahl for putting us in touch. Additional thanks to Elanor Taylor, Allison Krile Thornton, Jennifer Jhun, Elizabeth Miller, and three anonymous referees, for helpful comments on previous drafts, and to Christine Grandy for her assistance with graphic design.