Cleland provides a robust defense of the scientific status of historical analyses in geology. However, a defense highlighting the science's supposed reliance on a “smoking gun”—evidence that will provide the causal explanation of a trace beyond reasonable doubt—encounters a number of problems. These become more acute where Cleland maintains that “failure to search for a smoking gun deprives a historical hypothesis of empirical grounding, turning it into a dreaded just-so story” (Cleland, 2001). The problems can best be illustrated by conventional stratigraphic interpretation and reasoning.

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Bed X is interpreted as a turbidite. The smoking gun may in this...

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