On the “science of history”

there are times you just can’t help stupidity… mythicism falls into this category, but…

So Bahumuth, one blessed with a special kind of mythicism, tweeted this regarding my use of the phrase “science of history.”

The “science of history”? I don’t know about you, but I studied history when I got my M.A., not my B.S.

Well.. ha ha… boy, that’s really got me there. Whew-who. Man do I have egg on my face.


Guess he does have a special sort of b.s. as well.

Remember, what is here are links with a variety of resources, including some responses against the idea. If you can’t understand the use of a multitude of sources… oh wait… some do not even get the idea of sources.

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13 Replies to “On the “science of history””

  1. I have checked each one of the links listed in this post, Joel. You may be interested in finding out the facts about each one of them.

  2. Joel,

    Knowing the recent unpleasantness that transpired in due course out of this post of yours, Neil really should have taken your reply to him which inserted the words checking and blog in scare quotes as a threat.

      1. I’m convinces you know full well what scare quotes mean and what I meant. But for the education of the (edited), I will explain.

        Scare quotes are “Quotation marks used around a word or phrase not to indicate a direct quotation but to suggest that the expression is somehow inappropriate or misleading.

        “Scare quotes are often used to express skepticism, disapproval, or derision, and writers are advised to use them sparingly.”

        – Ricahrd Nordquist, http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/Scare-Quotes.htm

        So you obviously disapproved of Neil Godfrey’s blog and deemed his checking inappropriate by calling both “worthless”. And we know why you deemed his checking inappropriate — he copied your entire post which he had every right to do, so long as he didn’t misrepresent it or fail to attribute it to you, and so long as his use was transformative… which it was.

        In short, I am 100% convinced you had already decided to do something about Neil’s critique of the above blogpost other than the normal way normal bloggers do… by writing a response on your own blog or commenting at his blog (which latter you should have, per Automattic’s DMCA rules and guidelines).

        1. Whew, Ed, that’s some logic you got there.

          A few things… first, I edited your comment. I do not like nor approve of the use of the ‘r’ word.

          Second, I never said I didn’t know what scare quotes were. I simply said to explain yourself, as in your logic.

          Now that you have attempted to do whatever it is you think you’ve done, I can only suggest the ‘self-convinced,’ as you are, are those who are unable to discourse with facts.

          You are “100% convinced,” which like other fundanuts, makes communication completely impossible.

          Good luck with that.

  3. You cite Hayden White in support of the idea that history is science? Are you kidding me? White is one of the most influential thinkers on philosophy of history of the last fifty years, your apparent lack of familiarity with his significant body of work leaves me dumbfounded.

    Now White’s a theorist writing for theorists. And I get that. He’s difficult to plow through unless you’re a theorist, which most historians aren’t. I get that too. But there are tons of books that provide a more approachable discussion (eg Curthoys and Docker, Is History Fiction?).

    In all seriousness, there is absolutely no way any history you write can be informed by contemporary theory if you haven’t at least read a discussion of White. Far from coming with the voice of authority on a complex topic of theory, you’ve just exposed a colossal deficit. There is no excuse not to repair that post haste.

    1. Rick, I’m not sure the point of your comment. I listed several sources to plow through with an attempt to put some that might suggest history was something than less than a science. Surely you realize the value of discussing the opposing views and thus finding out that someone thinks differently?

      If you look at the origin of the post, one person asserted his “epistemic privilege” that history was not a science, basing this on what he received as a degree. Thus, I provided evidence to point out that people disagree with him, that history can be scientific. We can use scientific tools to “do” history.

      If this link is up there, it should be: http://www.ianmortimer.com/essays/hist_sp_art.pdf

      Also, for good counter,


      I realize this does nothing for you, given your stated position of the dilettante exegete and newly refined mythicist, but surely you find value in arguing over the value of a position rather than dismissing another’s position based on what letters a college assigned to your degree.

      1. I don’t recall commenting in any capacity on the letters on a degree. I reject the idea that history is a science, but find it a thoroughly fascinating subject. The titular question of the book I referenced–Is History Fiction?–is, to me, perhaps the most interesting question in all of academia. I just took issue with the misrepresentation of White, and am in general taken aback by how many historians seem to be ignorant of him–he’s been incredibly influential in discussions of theory, but historians in general don’t bother to read theory. In part that’s the fault of the philosopher, because they write for each other, not for the discipline they inform. In greater part it’s the fault of the historian. And I find it appalling.

        “You read White and now you’re a mythicist. Gotcha.”

        Not quite that simple, but White’s discussion of the problems of narrative on historiography were powerful motivators. I’m not a mythicist in the sense it’s generally used though. I come from a perspective (informed in no small part by White) on the limits of history generally. I don’t think a positive case for mythicism works either, for the same reason. There is too little evidence for the narrative the historian constructs to reliably mirror reality in any meaningful sense. They can only mirror our assumptions of reality–we have no touchstone, essentially. So I’m not a mythicist in the Earl Doherty or Richard Carrier sense, but I am in the Thomas Thompson sense–there may be an historical Jesus, but he isn’t necessary to explain our evidence, which means that it can’t reliably be taken as evidence of historicity.

        Just to clarify, because some people take this as endorsing a relativistic free-for-all, it’s not. There are not unlimited alternatives all equally likely. But there are a set of alternatives with no objective means of differentiating.

        Essentially, because of the problems of historical narrative, I have grave misgivings about creating a narrative when earlier narrative is our only material.

        1. Rick, it is clearly you do not know the origin of this post, which is clearly stated at the beginning of this post.

          I understand White, but it’s like taking everything Kristeva has said as the sole authority on literary (post-structuralism) criticism. Therefore, I can disagree with him. But, by including him in the list, it allows for a balance to show that there is a movement (even when he is criticizing it, or better, especially through his criticisms of it) recognizing history as a science.

          I agree with your second paragraph, for the most part — although I say that with some rights reserved. As a side note here, I do not believe the Historical Jesus can be fully recovered, but I do believe that he is required for the genesis the movement Paul moved in to.

          My point in the science of history, or history as a science, is that it does contain a body of knowledge, but we must move away from the narrative and get to what can be tested and proved. There are auxiliary sciences to help with this, and I hope the parts add to the whole.

          1. If your intention was to illustrate that the position exists through White’s criticisms, then I retract my criticism, it just looked an awful lot like you were citing White as supporting it, which he quite emphatically does not. Though I’m afraid I don’t share your optimism for historical positivism (for wont of a better term).

            As an aside, it’s interesting to me that both here and on McGrath’s blog, despite my self-admitted status as being functionally a mythicist, dialogue is always civil. Similarly, I’ve disagreed–vehemently–with Neil and have likewise always enjoyed civil discourse.

          2. I have yet to see anything civil on Neil’s blog, as you can see (although a friend vouches for the sanity of TW).

            I realize this is so last (or so) century, but I do like to see most situations as a thesis-antithesis-synthesis. By presenting White, my intention is not to slight him, but to use him to counter my biases, but so too, to bring it to a general middle ground.

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