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Luther at 500

October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Phillip Cary’s excellent article in First Things places this in perspective. While the full article is behind a paywall, here are some excerpts:

It all did start with the ninety-five theses, in a sense. Luther probably did not actually nail them to the church door—at least no one at the time tells us so. And if he did, it was not in anger or protest against the church. He was trying to arrange an academic discussion, and evidently that’s where the bulletin board was. What we do know is that he mailed them off to his archbishop, together with a treatise on indulgences and a cover letter dated October 31, 1517, so that is the date remembered as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

What Luther did not know at the time is that the pope and the archbishop were the ones profiting from this merchandise, each claiming half of the take. So it is not surprising that events took a turn he did not anticipate. Within five years, this intensely obedient monk had concluded that obedience to God precluded obedience to the pope, and a schism in the Church followed.

At the starting point in 1517, Luther’s pastoral concern was unfamiliar and hardly Protestant. He thought indulgences made penance seem much too easy, undermining the lifelong work, required of all Christians, of contrition, which he identified with heartfelt self-hatred.

By the end of 1518, he was teaching that Christians hearing the word of absolution in the sacrament of penance (“I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”) should simply believe their sins are absolved.

Faith comes by hearing, says the apostle (Rom. 10:17), and Luther is the greatest and most obsessive theologian of hearing in the Christian tradition. For Luther, everything depends on hearing the Word of God, taking hold of it, clinging to it, and not talking back—not calling God a liar. His treatment of the doctrine of justification always turns on the conviction that “God is true, though every man be a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Everything depends on God being true to his word and keeping his promise, which the deceitfulness of our unworthy hearts cannot overturn.

What happens in 1518 is that Luther’s fierce conviction that we must never talk back against God’s word meets the medieval doctrine of sacramental efficacy, and results in the Protestant conception of the power of the Gospel.

When Luther teaches justification by faith alone, he is not requiring us to put faith in faith. On the contrary, he wants us putting faith in the Gospel alone. Any account of faith that focuses on the experience of faith—any theological turn to subjectivity, such as in liberal theology—has missed Luther’s point. What we experience, for the most part, is our own sin and unbelief. Faith means turning away from our experience to take hold of Christ alone by believing, against all doubt and temptation, that what the Gospel tells us about Christ given for us is really true.

Justification by faith alone is thus justification by Christ alone. This has everything to do with hearing the Gospel spoken aloud in external words, through which Christ claims each of us by saying “you” in a way that includes me.

Luther accepts the traditional metaphysical attributes of God, such as eternity, immutability, omnipresence, and so on, but these are not objects of his devotion. Above all, he has no use for the rich notion of intellectual vision shared by Augustine and Aquinas, going back ultimately to Plato’s metaphor of seeing the supreme Good with the mind’s eye. Luther does not aim to see God’s essence but to hear him speak, for it is in his word that God gives himself to be known.

If God is a person rather than a principle, coming to us in the person of his own Son, isn’t believing what he has to say about himself the deepest and most appropriate way to know who he is?

Most important, Luther’s challenge affects Christian life by freeing Christian love to be love, removing the kind of performance anxiety that makes it about ourselves. If we are justified by faith alone, then works of love serve our neighbors, not our desire to justify ourselves or make ourselves holy. We are holy because Christ claims us as his own through word and sacrament, and Christian love takes root in our hearts because we believe what Christ has done.

How we have always been justified by faith alone is best seen in light of Luther’s distinction between law and Gospel. Both the law of God and the Gospel of Christ are God’s word, but the former only gives us instructions while the latter gives us Christ. For the law tells us what to do, but the Gospel tells us what Christ does. The distinction grows out of Augustine’s insistence, in his great treatise On the Spirit and the Letter, that telling us to obey the law of love does not help us do it from the depths of our hearts; only the grace of Christ can give us such a heart. Luther merely adds: The place to find the grace of Christ is in the Gospel of Christ.

E. W. Kenyon, part 4

The previous post in this series is here. McIntyre next introduces theological defenses of divine healing. in 1881 William Boardman (1810-1886) authored The Great Physician (Jehovah Rophi).

Boardman’s earlier work, The Higher Christian Life (1859) was tremendously influential in bringing the message of sanctification into non-Methodist circles. … Boardman expressed the idea that everything we need is already a reality in Christ, only awaiting the believer’s faith to claim it. … He later came to see healing as a part of our redemption and applied this same premise (that sanctification and everything we need is already true in Christ and awaiting our claiming it by faith) to healing. This is exactly what Kenyon taught. p.85

A. J. Gordon … wrote a book titled, The Ministry of Healing: Miracles of Cure in All Ages, which [Charles] Cullis published in 1882. It was a historical and doctrinal study of faith healing from the early church fathers, the post-Reformation period, and modern ministries of healing. p.86

Kenyon certainly read this book since he quoted from Gordon’s writings more frequently than any other author. p.86

Gordon believed that healing was included in the atonement of Christ. Even the critics of the doctrine acknowledged Gordon’s skillful treatment of the subject. Gordon wrote:

 The yoke of His cross by which He lifted our iniquities took hold also of our diseases; so that it is in some sense true that as God “made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin,” so He made Him to be sick for us who knew no sickness. …

If now it be true that our Redeemer and substitute bore our sicknesses, it would be natural to reason at once that He bore them that we might not bear them.

But, it is asked, if the privilege and promise in this matter are so clear, how is it that the cases of recovery through the prayer of faith are so rare? Probably because the prayer of faith itself is so rare, and especially because when found it receives almost no support in the church as a whole. p.86-87

Healing in the atonement became widely regarded as the basis for claiming healing as the believer’s covenant privilege. p.87

R. L. Stanton and R. Kelso Carter also wrote books defending divine healing in the atonement.

Kenyon would later state his belief about deliverance from sin and sickness being included in the finished work of Christ in his book, Jesus the Healer. p.89

Kenyon, like most of the voices in the Faith-Cure movement, saw in the work of Christ at Calvary a basis for holy living and healing and health. Claiming the provisions of Christ’s work by faith and confessing them before men was common practice among them. Acting on the promise without any apparent change was also regularly encouraged. p.89

McIntyre covers much more but let’s skip to the controversy that ensued.

Anyone teaching divine healing in the latter part of the nineteenth-century faced the inevitable comparison with Christian Science and the other metaphysical cults. Unfortunately, many leaders in the orthodox church who were opposed to healing in general failed to distinguish any significant difference between the two approaches to healing. p.239

In this climate, divine healing teachers had to be able to show the differences between biblical healing and metaphysical healing. p. 240

McIntyre then documents the following points:

  • The Faith-Cure movement predated the metaphysical cults by a number of years.
  • The practices of the Faith-Cure movement were established before the metaphysical cults were visible as distinct movements.
  • The Faith-Cure movement, which was rooted in the evangelical church, had distinctly different teachings than the cults.
  • E. W. Kenyon’s teachings are in the Faith-Cure tradition.

I will end this brief introduction to McIntyre’s book with this quote from Kenyon about affirmations:

You see the vast difference between an affirmation based upon your own will or philosophy and an affirmation backed up by God Himself.

The affirmations based upon sense knowledge philosophy have no more value or ability to make good than is in the will and mind of the maker of the affirmation. But the affirmation that is based upon the living Word has God back of it to make it good. p.259

E. W. Kenyon, part 3

The previous post in this series is here. McIntyre next turns to the Faith-Cure movement.

This revival of healing, known as the Faith-Cure movement[,] lasted from around 1873 until its teachings were absorbed into the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s. Its earliest advocates began teaching divine healing by faith as early as 1846. p.64

It is only because so few today are aware of this revival that Kenyon’s critics have been as influential as they have been. A review of its teachers and teaching reveals a great similarity between the Faith-Cure movement and the [Word of] Faith movement. p.64-65

Kenyon helped bridge the gap between the two movements. Others who bridged the gap included F. F. Bosworth, John G. Lake, and Carrie Judd Montgomery. p.65

Kenyon was influenced by the three most prominent leaders of the Faith-Cure movement—A. B. Simpson, Charles Cullis, and John Alexander Dowie. p.65

McIntyre points out that Kenyon and his wife Evva were initially reluctant to pray for the sick. Kenyon later wrote:

Before this I had always been suspicious of anyone who claimed their prayers were answered along the line of healing. I felt we had doctors and surgeons and sanitariums for that purpose. p.66

But sick people asked Kenyon to pray for them, and when he started to do so, people were healed.

From that day on healings came—not many, for not many people asked to be prayed for. … One day I discovered the use of the name of Jesus. Then miracles became a daily occurrence. p.67

Kenyon cautiously introduced divine healing to [his] new nondenominational church, called the Tabernacle. p.67

McIntyre describes leaders of the Faith-Cure movement, A. B. Simpson (the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance), Charles Cullis, and John A. Dowie.

[A. B.] Simpson, like so many of those involved in the Faith-Cure movement, advocated testimony and actions of faith before the healing was manifested. p.70

[Charles] Cullis shared his discovery of divine healing with many leaders in the Holiness movement who also embraced the doctrine. p.72

Arguably the most gifted—and the most tragic—character in the Faith-Cure movement was John Alexander Dowie. Used mightily of God for a season, Dowie came to believe in his latter years (from 1901 until his death in 1907) that he was Elijah the Restorer, the great end-time prophet. p.72

In one of his books, Kenyon referred again to the power of God in Dowie’s ministry. He wrote, “You and God and linked together. You become invincible. We see a glimpse of this in Luther’s ministry. We saw it in John Alexander Dowie’s ministry. We have seen it in individuals here and there—God and man linked together, doing the impossible. p.73

McIntyre notes there was debate about the role of doctors in divine healing.

An aspect of healing ministry that is still debated today is the use of medical treatment. The abysmal state of medicine was probably one of the underlying reasons why some Faith-Cure healers rejected medical treatment. p.73

It was common in both the Holiness movement and the early Pentecostal movement to trust God alone for physical health and healing. p.74

McIntyre then tells of other leaders of the Faith-Cure movement, starting with Ethan O. Allen.

Ethan O. Allen [1813-1903], known as the father of divine in the United States, was the first American known to have a full-time traveling ministry focused on healing. For fifty years he traveled throughout the Eastern United States praying for the sick and teaching divine healing. Allen was also a frequent guest at A. B. Simpson’s conferences. p.77

Kenyon’s teaching is strikingly similar to Allen’s. … Let’s review the steps Allen took. He claimed the promise of God by faith and stated that the “evidence” of his healing “was very clear.” The “evidence was the witness of the Holy Spirit that his prayer was heard and that God had given the healing to him by faith. Note that he said, “I have got the evidence, pain or no pain.” p.78

Allen applied the Methodist understanding of faith for receiving sanctification to receiving healing. He spoke out of the witness of the Spirit rather than his physical condition. Some people today call this “sensory denial;” the Methodists and Faith-Cure people called it faith in God and His Word. p.78-79

Allen, also in the Methodist tradition, stressed the need for confession that a healing is received. p.79

McIntyre points out that this principle was in line with Phoebe Palmer and “older Methodists such as Hester Ann Rogers and John Fletcher” who “taught that sanctification was kept by continual public confession. This idea was normative in Methodism as early as 1846.” (p.79)

McIntyre gives other examples of this teaching: Elizabeth Mix, Carrie Judd Montgomery, and, surprisingly, Andrew Murray.

Having lost his voice and reportedly finished his career as a preacher, Murray sought out the truth of divine healing. Eventually he went to London to the divine healing home established by William Boardman called Bethshan. He was so completely healed he was never troubled again by any weakness of the throat or voice. … In 1884 Murray wrote the Dutch version of his book on divine healing called Jesus, The Physician of the Sick. It was published in English in 1900. Concerning faith and healing Murray wrote:

Prayer without faith is powerless… If you have already asked for healing from the Lord, or if others have asked it for you, you must, before you are conscious of any change, be able to say with faith, “On the authority of God’s Word, I have the assurance that He hears me, and that I am healed.”

Here another respected leader whose devotional writings are still popular today, expressed himself in terms that Kenyon could easily have used. p.83

The next post in this series is here.

E. W. Kenyon, part 2

This post continues the previous post here. McIntyre’s book provides more 19th century history and shows how E. W. Kenyon’s teachings reflected his background in the Holiness movement.

The Holiness movement in America was rooted in the Methodist church, which was the largest Protestant denomination during the nineteenth century. John Wesley had taught the doctrine of Christian perfection in earlier years, and many voices were calling the church, within and without Methodism, back to a “higher Christian life.” p.46

The most distinctive doctrine of the Holiness movement was what was known as the second work of grace. At conversion the believer’s sins were forgiven. He was justified. Then the convert was to seek an experience known as entire sanctification. This was the “second work of grace.” It consisted of an instantaneous crisis of consecration, or total abandonment to the Lord, believed to remove the sin nature which was not affected by conversion. After this crisis the believer was able to live without sinning. This experience was often referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. p.46-47

We can easily establish that Kenyon was exposed to these teachings. Kenyon was converted in a Methodist church. He spent his first years with the Lord attending a Methodist church and other Holiness meetings. He also attended services with The Salvation Army (who were among the second-work-of-grace Holiness advocates). p.46

Kenyon was, for the most part, a Holiness preacher when he pastored the Free Will Baptist church in Springville, New York (1894–1897). p.47-48

Personally, and as a pastor, Kenyon attempted to enter into an experience of entire sanctification. “In a church of which I was pastor we used to have consecration services from one to three times a week. I cannot tell you how many times I personally tried to do this,” the mourned. p.48

McIntyre then describes the teachings of the influential Phoebe Palmer (1807–1874) and others:

Palmer advocated what she called the “shorter way” into the experience of holiness. She taught that holiness was available, like justification, on the basis of faith alone. The necessary thing was to meet the conditions set forth in the Scriptures and then to believe the promises, accepting the Word of God alone as the evidence. p.50

The Free Will Baptists, with whom Kenyon was aligned at the time, were one of the denominations that embraced this teaching on holiness by faith. p.51

A positive confession of receiving the grace of sanctification was widely taught and practiced in the Holiness movement. … Palmer wrote in 1848, many years before Christian Science or New Thought developed:

But do not forget that believing with the heart, and confessing with the mouth, stand closely connected, and “what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” To the degree that you rely on the faithfulness of God, O hasten to make confession with the mouth of your confidence; and to the degree you honor God, by reposing on His faithfulness, will God honor you, by conferring on you the graces of His Holy Spirit in their rich plenitude. p.51-52

Other influential teachers, including Kenyon, later reflected Palmer’s ideas of faith as a law and an unchanging principle of the kingdom [of God]. … The “law of faith” was not some rigid demand that caused God to bow to the believer’s whim, but rather a principle by which the believer met the conditions of God’s covenant promises and God performed His promise for them every time (Rom. 3:27) P.52-53

[Hannah Whitall] Smith (1832-1911) is a respected and well-known author still today. Her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is still quite widely read. … Smith’s book and its teachings on faith and consecration are a great representation of the teaching of the Higher Life movement, as it was often called. The idea of confession is not missing from her teaching either. She encouraged her readers:

To begin at once to reckon that you are His, that He has taken you, and that He is working in you to will and to do His good pleasure. And keep on reckoning this. You will find it a great help to put your reckoning into words, and say over and over to yourself and to your God, “Lord, I am Thine; I do yield myself up entirely to Thee, and I believe that Thou dost take me. p.58-59

Kenyon, like many other Christians of his day, had a crisis of consecration and wrote his own statement of consecration. He referred to this experience a number of times, mostly in his unpublished articles, so this event in his life is not widely known. p.60

Kenyon, while struggling with the issue of Christ’s Lordship or the necessity of total consecration of his life to God, faced … a number of what he described as “life-threatening” illnesses. He surrendered to the best of his ability to Jesus. He was dramatically healed as a result of this surrender and of the prayer of an unknown brother. … In this episode of Kenyon’s life we see both the influence of the Holiness movement and a definite experience with divine healing. p.62, 63

The next post in this series is here.

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.

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.

Clock race

This post continues previous ones contrasting ancient and modern space and time, such as here.
Nordic Sun Chariot in Bronze
The above bronze-age depiction of the Sun on a chariot shows a common image from antiquity: the Sun crossing the heavens daily. The path of the Sun was also described as traversing a celestial circle (or sphere) and going around a racecourse. These images show that the clock of the Sun was considered as covering more than one dimension, in contrast to the modern concept of scalar duration.

Psalm 19
1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

These are more examples of the interchange of travel distance with travel time that occurred in the transition from ancient to modern thinking. We can undo this interchange and find an alternative way of conceiving motion.

Schools of thought

A school of thought is an approach to a discipline by a group of people, especially one that develops its own vocabulary and intellectual tradition. There are many schools of thought in the humanities and soft sciences, including historical sciences. There are fewer schools of thought in the hard sciences, but they exist there, too (e.g., Bayesianism and Frequentism in statistics).

Examples of major schools of thought:

Biology: Creationism, Evolutionism

Economics: Classical, Keynesian, Marxism, Monetarism, Rational Expectations

Geology: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism

History (historiography): Cyclical, Christian, Marxism, Historicism, Progressivism, Postmodernism

Literary Criticism: Pragmatism, Formalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Post-modernism, Post-Structuralism, Post-colonialism, Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, New Historicism, Cultural Studies, Reader Response

Philosophy: Idealism, Materialism/Pragmatism, Postmodernism, Realism

Psychology: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Functionalism, Humanistic/Gestalt, Psychoanalytic, Systems psychology

Sociology: Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, Symbolic Interactionism, Feminist Theory

Statistics: Bayesianism, Frequentism

Theology (Christian): Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism.

Schools of thought can and do co-exist. As their traditions develop over decades and centuries, it can be more difficult for inter-school dialogue because their terminology and concepts are different.

It’s often not appreciated that creationism and evolutionism are schools of thought. They have their own terms, concepts, and intellectual traditions. They deal with historical events, which makes them soft sciences. And all science is still a branch of philosophy, in which schools of thought abound.

Creationism and evolutionism have been mainstream modern science at different times: creationism up to the late 19th century, evolutionism since the late 19th century. Evolutionism began development while it was a minority view in the 18th and 19th centuries. Creationism has continued development while it is a minority view. Among the best-known evolutionists are Charles Darwin, Thomas H Huxley, and Alfred R Wallace. Among the best-known creationists are Carolus Linnaeus, Gregor Mendel, and Louis Pasteur.

Creationism and evolutionism can and should be taught as two schools of thought. Teaching them in universities should be no more controversial than teaching Marxist, feminist, or post-modernist schools of thought, which have been taught in universities for years.

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.