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 The juxtaposition is now long outdated and adhered to only by the least informed who pronounce on the subject (Dawkins of course comes to mind here but there are many others).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.

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.