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E. W. Kenyon, part 1

D. R. McConnell in A Different Gospel, 1988, and Hank Hanegraff in Christianity in Crisis, 1993, accused E. W. Kenyon of promoting heresies such as those found in New Thought. However, Joe McIntyre in E. W. Kenyon and His Message of Faith: The True Story, 1997 (rev. 2010), documented how Kenyon’s teachings were well within evangelical Christianity. Since Kenyon is considered to have influenced the controversial Word of Faith (or simply Faith) movement, an assessment of this requires a closer look at Kenyon and his teachings. This series of posts will include excerpts from McIntyre’s book and Kenyon’s writings.

McIntyre quotes Kenyon on his seven-fold test for the truth of Christian doctrines (p.33-34):

This danger of being led into false teaching stood at the threshold of every new truth in the early days of my Bible study, and I prayed much that the Lord would give me a real testing tube, scales, weight, and measure, whereby every step could be satisfactorily proved. (May 1916)

All New Testament teaching conforms to Old Testament types, and if all doctrine were built of the units of testimony of the whole Word, much false teaching would be done away with.

Take this sevenfold test. All New Testament doctrines must be found:

1) In Genesis, in germ (or seed) form;
2) In the Law, in type;
3) In Psalms, in sacred song;
4) In the Prophets, as prophecy;
5) In the Gospels, taught by Christ;
6) In Acts, practiced by the Apostles;
7) In the Epistles, as doctrine.

… Every truth, or doctrine taught in the New Testament can be found by the Spirit-taught student in these sevenfold steps. It gives the Christian an entire Bible. Then let us see, if the whole Word sends forth clear tones in perfect harmony with each other as we ascend the scale from Genesis to Revelation. (Oct. 1898)

McIntyre notes (p.35):

All the metaphysical cults, particularly Christian Science and New Thought, handle the Scriptures quite loosely, employing much fanciful interpretation, probably to avoid the implications of the text taken literally. In contrast, unless he was interpreting the types, Kenyon consistently took the text in its most obvious, literal sense. In this he reflected the influence of J. N. Darby and other Brethren authors whom he greatly respected. A little closer to home, we see the influence of A. J. Gordon, A. T. Pierson, R. A. Torrey, and A. B. Simpson, all of whom Kenyon greatly admired.

Regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit (p. 37):

[Kenyon] taught that immediately after one was born again one should ask the Holy Spirit to come and live in his body. Statements of this idea are in almost every book he wrote. What Kenyon did not believe was that the experience of receiving the Holy Spirit was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He believed that the phrase baptism of the Holy Spirit referred to conversion.

Regarding speaking in tongues (p. 37-38):

Kenyon believed that speaking in tongues was a valid experience, but for him the evidence for being filled, or receiving the Holy Spirit, was the promise of Scripture itself. Kenyon wanted people to look to the word of God alone as evidence that they had received the Holy Spirit.

McIntyre points out that in this matter Kenyon was influenced by four Christian teachers: A. J. Gordon, A. T. Pierson, R. A. Torrey, and A. B. Simpson. (p.38ff)

The next post in this series is here.

Modernity and parsimony

I’ve written before about modernity here and parsimony here.

An age begins by repudiating something essential about the previous age. The middle ages started with repudiating the ancient gods and myths (cf. St. Augustine’s City of God). The modern age began with the Reformation, which repudiated the history of the Church and the pagan past of the Gentiles. It continued with scientists repudiating Scholasticism and Aristotle. And it came into its own by starting anew, whether in religion or science or politics.

If modernity starts with breaking free of the past, then what keeps it from flaming out into insignificance? The key for science was parsimony, commonly called simplicity. In contrast with the middle ages, which specialized in ad hoc explanations, the modern age adopted Occam’s razor, the law of parsimony, which privileged the fewest number of assumptions and kinds of entities.

Modernity took the law of parsimony to an extreme. It led to questioning, if not overthrowing, every tradition, every non-empirical entity, every metaphysics. The absolute minimum ontology was considered the best, which turned out to be the physical world.

Even the nature of physical things was questioned as unknowable, until the only nature left was the nature of the physical world. This nature became the idol of modernity, the one thing that could not be questioned. It became Nature, reified as something with a will of its own, something that led to human life, something that substituted for God.

As we break free of modernity, we can see its limitations and failures more and more. One is the bias of the law of parsimony: it meant qualitative parsimony but not quantitative parsimony. That is, only one or a few kinds of things could exist, but the number of them available for explanatory purposes was unlimited. This bias fit well with the use of mathematics as the language of science.

But mathematics is more than the study of quantity. It is also the study of space, structure, and change. And there is no good reason not to apply parsimony to all of them in finding the best explanation. Once we open up to the possibility of a balanced application of the law of parsimony, we can see some of the weaknesses of modern science.

Deep time was invented in the 18th century and exploited in the 19th and 20th centuries to explain the history of the Earth and the universe. What started with geology expanded to human history, biology, and cosmology.

It is all a matter of time scale. An event that would be unthinkable in a hundred years may be inevitable in a hundred million. Carl Sagan

Time is in fact the hero of the plot. … Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait; time itself performs the miracles. George Wald

The flaw is simple: it’s too easy to “explain” anything. The violation of quantitative parsimony was the Achilles’ heel of modernity. The temptation to explain everything was too much to resist. And so, as with every age, modernity ended in failure. A great failure, but a failure nonetheless.

We can only hope that the current age will learn from the failure of modernity and seek a balanced parsimony.

Knowledge and repetition

Consider the distinction between repeatable events from unrepeatable events. Repeatable events includes events that have repeated or may be repeated at will (as in a laboratory) or may possibly repeat in the future. Unrepeatable events are events that are very unlikely to repeat or are impossible to repeat. It is said that science only studies repeatable events, and it can be argued that history is the study (science) of unrepeatable events – not that it excludes repeatable events but that it focuses on unrepeatable events.

“Nature” could be defined as the realm of repeatable events. Then natural science would be the study of nature or repeatable events. Those events that are unrepeatable would be left to historians but ignored by natural scientists. But could such scientists rightly study the past while ignoring unrepeatable events? Ignorance of unrepeatable events would be a limitation and a defect. We would not expect historians to ignore repeatable events, so why expect scientists to ignore unrepeatable events?

We may well expect events that only involve inanimate nature are repeatable in some way. But are all events with living beings repeatable? The position of naturalism says, Yes. But at some point we need to say, No, at least some living beings have free will (or whatever you want to call it) so that their actions may be unrepeatable, and thus beyond the purview of a science of repeatable events.

Knowledge of repeatable and unrepeatable events may need different methodologies to address both kinds of events but it could not ignore either kind without bias. We need both the study of history, with its unrepeatable events, and the study of science, and its repeatable events, as independent disciplines. The synthesis of science and history would require a different discipline, perhaps called “scihistory” or “histence”, that would balance the input of each discipline with the other.

Textual realism and anti-realism

Anti-realists always begin with reality – and reject it. Because, they argue, it is obscure, misleading, and subject to different interpretations. So anti-realists begin again, this time with an idea of theirs. Even materialists begin with an idea, the idea of materiality. Thus anti-realists substitute their ideas for reality.

In contrast, realists begin with reality and accept it. Because, we argue, it is reality whether we like it or not; it is sufficiently perspicuous; careful observation and reflection can overcome misleading appearances; and interpretations should be based on reality.

All of this applies to writings as well. Anti-realists turn away from the inherent meaning of the text in favor of their interpretations of the text. Realists accept the inherent meaning of the text, yet are also free to discuss its significance and application.

These considerations apply in particular to texts that are foundational for a people, such as scriptures and laws. Consider the Bible, as in these examples:

Dennis Bratcher’s Genesis Bible Study: “the text is primarily theology, telling us about God, humanity, and their relationship”.

“The aim of Theological Interpretation is to read the Bible as Scripture, that is, as somehow God’s transformative address to the Church here in the present. We may contrast this with the past two centuries of biblical scholarship whose interests have been primarily historical: that is, they were aimed at reconstructing the life, religion, and history of ancient Israel and early Christianity.”
https://hermeneutica.wordpress.com/essays/what-is-theological-interpretation/

If the Bible is primarily theological, then it is theologians who determine its meaning. What about the other aspects of the Bible, for example, the historical chronicles? Should ideas about theology replace the inherent meaning of the text as simply history? The anti-realist says, Yes; the realist says, No.

Many would agree that the theology is the most important aspect of the Bible, but the theology is related to or built on the history, the geography, and other aspects. Interpretation of these aspects should focus on their significance rather than replace them. The chronicles in the Bible are real chronicles prior to any theological meaning they may also have.

Textualism is realism about legal texts.

Textualism is a method of statutory interpretation whereby the plain text of a statute is used to determine the meaning of the legislation. Instead of attempting to determine statutory purpose or legislative intent, textualists adhere to the objective meaning of the legal text.[1]

Textualism is related to originalism. Originalists seek one of two alternative sources of meaning:

  • The original intent theory, which holds that interpretation of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with what was meant by those who drafted and ratified it. This is currently a minority view among originalists.
  • The original meaning theory, which is closely related to textualism, is the view that interpretation of a written constitution or law should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have understood the ordinary meaning of the text to be. It is this view with which most originalists, such as Justice Scalia, are associated.

Textual realism takes the text seriously as a form of communication, rather than a canvas for spinning interpretations. Without realism about texts, they will lose their significance and be replaced by canonical interpretations – which then become the new texts, and so they never escape the reality of the text.

Combining history and science

In 18th century the sciences started to become more prestigious and influential than the humanities. In the 19th century this led to a realignment of modern thought and society as scientists (a new term then) took the dominant position within the universities and high culture – in the place of clerics, philosophers, jurists, historians, poets, and the rest of the humanities. One result was the realignment of the humanities toward the sciences.

History in particular was thought to need a foundation of science. From Descartes on historical knowledge had been deprecated as mere opinion. A scientific history would fix that. Yet the difference between natural (and later social) science and history could not be denied. Science takes a nomothetic (lawlike) approach and history takes an ideographic (contingent and accident) approach.

Isaiah Berlin:

scientific procedure is directed in the first place to the construction of an ideal model, with which the portion of the real world to be analysed must, as it were, be matched, so that it can be described and analysed in terms of its deviation from the model. But to construct a useful model will only be feasible when it is possible to abstract a sufficient number of sufficiently stable similarities from the things, facts, events, of which the real world – the flow of experience – is composed. Only where such recurrences in the real world are frequent enough, and similar enough to be classifiable as so many deviations from the selfsame model, will the idealised model that is compounded of them – the electron, the gene, the economic man – do its job of making it possible for us to extrapolate from the known to the unknown. It follows from this that the greater the number of similarities that we are able to collect (and the more dissimilarities we are able to ignore) – that is to say the more successfully we abstract – the simpler our model will be, the narrower will be the range of characteristics to which it will apply, and the more precisely it will apply to it; and, conversely, the greater the variety of objects to which we want our model to apply, the less we shall be able to exclude, and consequently the more complex the model will become, and the less precisely it will fit the rich diversity of objects which it is meant to summarise, and so the less of a model, of a master key, it will necessarily be.

When a historian, in attempting to decide what occurred and why, rejects all the infinity of logically open possibilities, the vast majority of which are obviously absurd, and, like a detective, investigates only those possibilities which have at least some initial plausibility, it is this sense of what is plausible – what men, being men, could have done or been – that constitutes the sense of coherence with the patterns of life that I have tried to indicate. Such words as plausibility, likelihood, sense of reality, historical sense, denote typical qualitative categories which distinguish historical studies as opposed to the natural sciences that seek to operate on a quantitative basis. Isaiah Berlin, The Concept of Scientific History

Then what about scientific history or historical science?

J. N. Nielsen:

Now, in actual fact, scientific historians do not limit themselves to a scientific study of documents as physical artifacts; they also read the documents and derive information from the content, as we would expect they would. But if, as an exercise, we take the idea of scientific historiography according to the method of isolation, and consider it ideally as only scientific historiography, shorn from its association with traditional historiographical methods, we would be reduced to an archaeology of the historical period, which would be most unsatisfying.

Suppose, as a thought experiment, scientific historiography were to employ its methods to study what archaeologists call the “material culture” of the historical period, but was on principle denied any information recorded in actual documents and inscriptions. That is to say, suppose our picture of the historical past were exclusively the result of the study of the material culture of the historical past (here employing “history” in the narrow and traditional sense of history recorded in written documents). I think that our the historical past reconstructed on the basis of what scientific historiography could derive from material culture would be quite different from the story that we know of the historical past in virtue of written records. No one that I know of pursues this method of isolation in studying the historical past when documents are also available, though this method of isolation is pursued of necessity in the absence of any documents (or in the absence of a language that can be deciphered). Though this method is not pursued in history, it is important to point to that scientific historiography has its limitations no less than the limitations of critical historiography and its tradition. Big History and Scientific Historiography

As scientific history takes science into account, the historical sciences should take history into account. In the end they both combine history and science. There is genuine dialogue and balance of the two.

On the unique and the uniform

This continues posts on history and science (see here).

Uniformity is the background for history: what everyday life is like, what is constant in a culture. But history focuses on what is unusual or unique because that is the key to differences between people and places and periods. It is the unusual or unique that enable us to discern and explain why different things happen.

The unique aspects of things forms the background for science: the appearance of things, their unique details. But science focuses on what is usual or uniform because that is the key to commonalities between people and places and periods. It is the usual or uniform that allow us to discern and explain why similar things happen.

What is called “historical science” appears to be the science of historical events. But it is basically history, not science, because what is unique is more significant for historical events than what is uniform. Science can inform the background but history is the real focus in order to determine why things went one direction instead of another. This applies to history of nature as to history of humanity.

If there are gaps in historical records, knowledge from science about regularities can provide information about what might have occurred in the past. Such knowledge is valuable for studying cultures lacking written records.

This works the other way, too. If there are gaps in scientific data, knowledge from history about unusual events can provide information about what might have occurred uniquely in the past. Such knowledge is valuable for studying changes that shaped the physical world.

The more we know about uniformities, the more we can find uniform aspects of unique things. This works the other way, too: the more we know about uniqueness in the world, the more we can find unique aspects to things that seemed completely uniform.

A science is a system of the uniformity that is in the extensional universe. A history is a narrative of the uniqueness that is in the intensional universe.

Naturalism and uniformity

I posted a series of selections from Matthew Stanley’s recent book here. This post is about an article he wrote: “The Uniformity of Natural Laws in Victorian Britain: Naturalism, Theism, and Scientific Practice” (Zygon, vol. 46, no. 3, Sept. 2011, pp.536-560). His conclusion in the article is similar to the book: the practice of naturalistic and theistic scientists in the 19th century was the same. Their inspiration and motivation was different but this did not interfere with their common practice. Then the naturalists we able to achieve a position of dominance and deprecate the theists and their theism.

“Uniformity is the claim that the laws of nature are the same everywhere and everywhen in the universe” p. 537.

“Herschel’s position that the essence of science was the search for and study of universal, uniform laws was accepted by every scientist I will discuss here, whether theist of naturalist. Precisely what uniformity meant, and how one should thing about it, was more complicated.” p. 540

“The term ‘scientific naturalism’ was first coined by T. H. Huxley in 1892, but the ideas, methods, and attitude of naturalism became widespread decades before. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, a group of scientists preaching the strict exclusion of religion from scientific matters (for which the uniformity of nature was an important weapon) became influential and rose to prominence in the scientific community. Led by Huxley, John Tyndall, and their allies, these strongly naturalistic scientists portrayed themselves as the vanguard of a truly modern and enlightened science and eventually succeeded in making their visions of a completely naturalistic and areligious science seem obvious and inevitable – precisely how naturalism is presented by scientists today.” p.538

“Scientific naturalism had its most important locus in a group known as the X-Club. This informal network (essentially, a dining club) of young, ambitious scientists sought to professionalize their discipline and increase its social and cultural standing. A critical part of this effort was the exclusion of religion, the supernatural, and the clergy from science: ‘They opposed all suggestions that there were supernatural interventions in the natural order and any attempts to constrain scientific investigation within theologically-determined boundaries’ (Barton, 1990).” p.540

“Its leaders spent a great deal of time and energy discussing the foundations of science and explaining how those foundations excluded the supernatural. And the most important idea supporting that exclusion was uniformity.” p.540

“Huxley referred to the order of nature in almost every essay or lecture, and explicitly opposed it to theology.” p.541

“Huxley’s friend and ally John Tyndall also spoke vigorously of the power of uniformity to banish God” p.541

“The subtexts of these claims was that uniformity not only restricts religion from entering science, but that uniformity can only be justified in a world without divine intervention.” p.542

“The claims of Huxley and Tyndall that uniformity demanded a completely areligious science did not drive the theists to secularism. And yet, these theistic scientists (in Britain, almost all Protestants of various flavors) were in total agreement with the naturalists that uniformity was critical to the advance of science. How could they embrace the naturalistic methods but not the naturalistic conclusions?” p.542

“The answer is that the theists saw uniformity as their impregnable position, not Tyndall’s. The consistency of natural laws over time and space was a sign pointing toward God, not warding him off.” p.543

“Natural laws were seen as instances of divine fiat, and they were constant because God is consistent in his actions.” p.543

“Without an ordering force (i.e., God) one would expect the universe to be a mishmash of chaotic events. The only guarantee for constancy of the laws of nature was the intent of the lawgiver.” p.547

“Within the general rubric of uniformity, there are two specific topics that are thought commonly to be exemplars of how uniformity allows no room for religion: miracles, and the origin of the universe.” p.547

“There was widespread agreement among theistic scientists that apparent violations of natural law were illusory.” p.548

“If scientists had total knowledge of all natural laws, then nothing would ever appear supernatural.” p.549

“Some critics of this position claimed it restricted God’s action, saying that a God who could not intervene in special circumstances was no God at all. But, again, it was uniformity, not interruptions of it, that truly showed us the nature of things” p.549

“There is nothing in Religion incompatible with the belief that all exercises of God’s power, whether ordinary or extraordinary, are effected through the instrumentality of means – that is to say, by the instrumentality of natural laws brought out, as it were, and used for a Divine purpose” (Duke of Argyll, 1867) p.549

“So, this move would essentially remove the category of formal miracles and subsume all divine actions under special providence.” p.550

“Lord Kelvin, considering the implications of the laws of thermodynamics, said that science must stop at the point in the past where matter and energy were created” p.550

“Why Did the Naturalists Win?” The X-Club “was able to have an enormous impact on the future of science by focusing on science education.” p.552

“Huxley designed his teaching to stand for what Adrian Desmond calls a ‘distinct ideological faction’ that clearly marked off acceptable (naturalistic) from unacceptable (theistic) ways of thinking about science.” p.553

“A side effect of this is that once the scientific naturalists gained dominance in the scientific community, they were able to rewrite the history of their discipline to erase the long tradition of theistic science.” p.553

“Concepts like uniformity, which were both theistic and naturalistic in practice, became recast as only naturalistic.” p.554

“Our modern understanding of the uniformity of natural laws as being purely naturalistic, then, is contingent and not inevitable, and a close historical examination of the issues shows that uniformity can be, and was, a tool used both for and against religion. The victory of the scientific naturalists in removing theism from the expectations and parlance of the scientific community had little to do with how science was done (despite their claims to the contrary) and much more to do with attempting to secure better access to professional positions, resources, and cultural authority.” p.555

Miracles and uniformity

The week before Christmas is a good time of year to write about miracles because it’s a time to be reminded of the meaningfulness of miracles. But what about their truth? Doesn’t the uniformity of nature make miracles impossible?

Thomas Aquinas said a miracle is ‘beyond the order commonly observed in nature’ (Summa Contra Gentiles III), but David Hume went further and defined a miracle as ‘a violation of the laws of nature’ (Of Miracles, 1748). Hume also claimed that scientific induction required the uniformity of nature, so on his telling, miracles undermined science.

However, Hume failed to establish the uniformity of nature on rational grounds. The future does not necessarily resemble the past. The most he could say was that the uniformity of nature is a matter of custom and habit. (There’s a convenient summary of his argument here: Probable reasoning has no rational basis.)

Others have also been unable to establish the uniformity of nature on rational grounds. This failure led to Karl Popper’s argument that induction is merely not untrue, and that one counterexample can falsify any induction. However, the history of science shows an unwillingness to abandon well-accepted science because of one or a few anomalies.

Does scientific induction really require the uniformity of nature? No, that is a misunderstanding of science that goes back to Scholasticism, which was revived in the 19th century by Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill. See John P. McCaskey’s writings on The History of Induction.

Induction is based on classification, not a principle of uniformity. Observation and experiment lead to the definition of a class by a uniformity. Then by definition other objects or events in the same class possess the same uniformity, whether in the past, present, or future. As I wrote here, science studies uniformity but that is far from requiring uniformity everywhere at all times.

It is better to define a miracle by what it is – unique – rather than what it is not – uniform. A miracle is a highly unique event or result, especially one attributed to divine agency. Since science studies uniformity, not uniqueness, it doesn’t have much to contribute about miracles. But uniqueness is studied by other disciplines such as history, philosophy, theology, and literature – that is, the humanities, not the sciences.

Miracles are by their nature very unique and significant. They fall outside of uniformity but since there is no valid principle of uniformity, that is not a problem.

Fourfold history and cosmology

As a generalist I tend to think of the big picture and push global conceptions, which can get speculative, but should provide insight in some way. There are many ways of slicing up history that show a pattern, but we crave meaning and so expect patterns. For example, it is helpful to adopt a rather conventional division of history into periods of primeval, ancient, medieval, modern, and post-modern (for lack of a better term). At least this gives us something to start with and modify or clarify later on.

I have written before briefly about the fourfold Church. Here is a division of Christian history and cosmology that corresponds to the fourfold Gospel and the fourfold Church:

Patristic period – ca. first through fifth century, which is championed by the (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the seven ecumenical councils. This corresponds to a cosmology of the seven celestial bodies visible to the naked eye (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn).

Medieval period – ca. fifth through fifteenth centuries, which is championed by the (Roman) Catholic Church. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and that of the Magisterium centered in Rome. This corresponds to a geocentric cosmology in which space and time are absolute.

Modern period – ca. fifteenth through twentieth centuries, which is championed by the churches of the Reformation. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the various confessions or statements of faith. This corresponds to a heliocentric cosmology in which time is absolute.

Post-modern period – ca. from the twentieth century, which is championed by the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the writings of the various spirit-led teachers. This corresponds to a relativistic cosmology in which space and time are relative.

When we learn about history, we should learn the importance of the change from a geocentric to a heliocentric cosmology. Changes in cosmology go beyond theories of physics or astronomy. They correspond to spiritual changes as well.

History and science once again

I’ve written about history and science before (here, here, here, and here)  because I think it’s important to understand their differences and relationship.

History and science are complementary, which means they are in some way opposite but they fit together to make a whole. It also means they cannot be merged into one another, but have a separate identity even as they work together.

History is about particulars. Science is about universals. They are similar in that they contain both particulars and universals, but their focus is different. The goal of history is to establish particulars. The goal of science is to establish universals.

Science is about what can or must happen. History is about what actually happened. The particulars of an experiment are the history of what actually happened. The universals of an experiment are the science of what could or must have happened. The particulars of a series of events are the history of what actually happened. The universals of a series of events are the science of what could or must have happened.

History has the final say on what actually happened because its goal is to establish the particulars of what actually happened. Science has the final say on what could or must have happened because its goal is to establish what could or must have happened. Science cannot annul history. Scientists cannot say, for example, that the French Revolution never happened because their theories don’t allow it. Historians cannot say, for example, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is false because their histories don’t include it.

What if there’s a conflict between history and science? What if history determines that something actually happened that science says is not possible? As far as the particulars of what actually happened, history has the lead and so the position of history is final. As far as the universals of what actually happened, science has the lead and so the position of science is final.

This would be a paradox but not a contradiction. Science and history would not be talking about the same things in the same the way. A particular that actually happened but does not fit the universals of science would be an example of the incompleteness of science. A universal that was more narrow than the particulars of history would be an example of the inconsistency of history.

Science is incomplete, not only in the sense that the limits of a theory are not known until the theory is superseded, but also in the sense that science must be consistent and so reject anything that doesn’t fit its universals. History is inconsistent, not only in the sense that the sources of history conflict with one another, but also in the sense that history must incorporate particular changes that actually happened.