At the Feet of Clio: History Versus Science?


A great deal of discussion has been devoted to needless contrasting of science versus religion, as if the two were in competition, which they are not. The juxtaposition is now long outdated and adhered to only by the least informed who pronounce on the subject (Dawkins of course comes to mind here but there are many others). I’d like to pose a different question: What about history versus science?

I am just completing famed historian John Lukacs’s interesting little book, The Future of History. In it Lukacs asks the following:

Consider that science is a portion of history but not the reverse: first came nature, then came man, and then the science of nature. No scientists, no science — though applications of science will remain. No historians, no history? Well, not only much of the past but much of the knowledge of the past will remain.

Now this is hardly to suggest that history is in any sense "superior" to science, but it does indicate a certain priority. That is to say that science always exists within a historical context. Thus, to understand what has happened to science one must understand its history. More poetically perhaps, Science sits at the feet of Clio.

Image: Clio, by Pierre Mignard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.