Avoiding a Scientistic Bias in the Study of History

Another excerpt from my history lectures:

The scholar Huston Smith in his book Why Religion Matters talks about a modern tunnel of which “Scientism” is the floor. What he means by scientism is not merely science as a useful tool for understanding the stuff of the world, but science as the standard by which all things are judged and understood; whether we are talking about love or language, hate or heat, crime or crustaceans, energy or economics, we moderns and post-moderns expect a scientific answer.

This again is why I chose Susan Wise Bauer’s history book. She takes seriously the tales and myths of ancient people. She seeks to avoid the prevalent modern pride of so many scholars, and she is suspicious of the move to make history a pure “science.” Note this from my earlier quote:

Since the 18th century (at least), western historians have been suspicious of such tales. Trained in a university system where science was revered as practically infallible, historians too often tried to position themselves as scientists: searching for cold hard facts and dismissing any historical materials which seemed to depart from the realities of Newton’s universe.

I believe if we want to understand the ancients and that great transformative watershed in history of the coming of Jesus Christ and the advent of Christendom, then we must with David Bentley Hart reject:

The modern age’s grand narrative of itself: its story of the triumph of critical reason over “irrational” faith, of the progress of social morality toward greater justice and freedom, of the “tolerance” of the secular state, and of the unquestioned ethical primacy of either individualism or collectivism (as the case may be) (xi).


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