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Journal Article

Historiography without God: A Reply to Gregory

Tor Egil Førland
History and Theory
Vol. 47, No. 4 (Dec., 2008), pp. 520-532
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25478793
Page Count: 13
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Historiography without God: A Reply to Gregory
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Abstract

This reply aims both to respond to Gregory and to move forward the debate about God's place in historiography. The first section is devoted to the nature of science and God. Whereas Gregory thinks science is based on metaphysical naturalism with a methodological corollary of critical-realist empiricism, I see critical, empiricist methodology as basic, and naturalism as a consequence. Gregory's exposition of his apophatic theology, in which univocity is eschewed, illustrates the fissure between religious and scientific worldviews - no matter which basic scientific theory one subscribes to. The second section is allotted to miracles. As I do, Gregory thinks no miracle occurred on Fox Lakes in 1652, but he restricts himself to understanding the actors and explaining change over time, and refuses to explain past or contemporary actions and events. Marc Bloch, in his book The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrofula in England and France, is willing to go much further than Gregory. Using his superior medical knowledge to substitute his own explanation of the phenomenon for that of the actors, Bloch dismisses the actors' beliefs that they or others had been miraculously cured, and explains that they believed they saw miraculous healing because they were expecting to see it. In the third section, on historical explanation, I rephrase the question whether historians can accommodate both believers in God and naturalist scientists, asking whether God, acting miraculously or not, can be part of the ideal explanatory text. I reply in the negative, and explicate how the concept of a plural subject suggests how scientists can also be believers. This approach may be compatible with two options presented by Peter Lipton for resolving the tension between religion and science. The first is to see the truth claims of religious texts as untranslatable into scientific language (and vice versa); the other is to immerse oneself in religious texts by accepting them as a guide but not believing in their truth claims when these contradict science.

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