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Uniformity of Nature and Historical Study

SNP1
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2/1/2016 4:45:42 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
When dealing with historical studies, should the Principal of Uniformity of Nature be applied as it is in science?

Principal of Uniformity of Nature- The principal that natural laws do not change over time. The natural laws we observe today are the same natural laws that existed at every time in the past.

Some historians have argued that if we do not use the Principal of Uniformity of Nature when doing historical studies that we cannot do any historical studies. Any claim from any document is just as likely as any other claim.

Other historians have argued that by accepting the Principal of Uniformity of Nature that historical studies presupposes Historical Naturalism, and that Historical Naturalism is detrimental to historical studies.

Historical Naturalism- The only thing that can be claimed in historical studies is that which is part of the natural world. Supernatural events cannot be claimed to have happened, supernatural objects cannot be claimed to exist, etc.

One of the big areas that this topic gets brought up is when discussing religious topics (events from the Old Testament, New Testament, Qur'an, etc.), where some historians argue that the Principal is just biased. Other historians say that the supernatural aspects of events could not have happened due to them breaking natural laws.

Do you think that the Principal of Uniformity of Nature should be a key part to historical studies? Do you think that it does lead to bias?

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I, personally, think that the Principal is a must. Without it, it is near impossible to actually deduce what happened in the past.
The only real objection to including the Principal in Historical Studies is that it helps entail Historical Naturalism, but I feel that Historical Naturalism is already, indirectly, entailed by other aspects of historical studies.

Part of history is the use of inductive reasoning. As natural events happen more often than supernatural ones, it means that natural explanations tend to be more correct than supernatural ones. This would also apply in Historical Studies.

Furthermore, when one looks at Ancient History (where the first point isn't always enough due to less documentation), adding fiction to fact is how things were written (even by historians at the time). As most claims of supernaturalism tend to be false, most of the supernatural aspects of ancient documents are probably part of the fictional part of them.

Lastly, a point made by Dr. Robert M Price, psychology would support naturalism as well.
Following the above, as well as the fact that people's memory is horrible, it becomes really unlikely that what is written is 100% accurate to what they observed. Furthermore, studies have been done where a group of people observed the same event and then immediately had to report what they saw, and some got it wrong. This means that even if the document was written right after the author observed what he is writing about, he will probably get things wrong. With the above points, it becomes more likely that any supernatural reportings are part of the shoddy memory. I will try and find the video where Robert M Price explains this as he explains it better than I do.


Since Historical Naturalism is pretty much entailed naturally in Historical Studies, the main objection to having the Principal of Uniformity of Nature being a part of Historical Studies is m00t, and the benefits of having it are numerous enough that I think that it is a must.
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Skepsikyma
Posts: 8,280
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2/1/2016 5:42:03 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/1/2016 4:45:42 PM, SNP1 wrote:

I agree that historical naturalism ought to be assumed. Even great historians and political scientists who believed in the supernatural and studied religious societies (Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, Dawson, Montgomery Watt, etc.) worked from that assumption because they realized that is was the only feasible starting ground for a detached examination of historical accounts. The only people who object tend to be deeply religious people with little training in historiography and an axe to grind.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -
SNP1
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2/1/2016 6:11:07 PM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/1/2016 5:42:03 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 2/1/2016 4:45:42 PM, SNP1 wrote:


I agree that historical naturalism ought to be assumed.

I don't think it should necessarily be assumed, but that it just naturally is entailed.
I think that if it is simply assumed that a case can be made for bias within historical studies (though, the argument would be weak). While I do think that historical naturalism is a must for any serious historian, assuming it instead of showing how it is entailed can end up making the layman look at historical studies in a less serious manner. Historical study already is underrated by the layman, and we don't need anything else to lead the laypeople to dismiss it.

Even great historians and political scientists who believed in the supernatural and studied religious societies (Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, Dawson, Montgomery Watt, etc.) worked from that assumption because they realized that is was the only feasible starting ground for a detached examination of historical accounts. The only people who object tend to be deeply religious people with little training in historiography and an axe to grind.

I do agree with this. It ends up mostly being theologians that try different approaches. The problem is that many laypeople think the theologians are just as qualified as historians, and with cognitive bias, it leads to people believing ridiculous things while thinking it is justified.
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Skepsikyma
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2/4/2016 12:57:42 AM
Posted: 10 months ago
At 2/1/2016 6:11:07 PM, SNP1 wrote:
At 2/1/2016 5:42:03 PM, Skepsikyma wrote:
At 2/1/2016 4:45:42 PM, SNP1 wrote:


I agree that historical naturalism ought to be assumed.

I don't think it should necessarily be assumed, but that it just naturally is entailed. I think that if it is simply assumed that a case can be made for bias within historical studies (though, the argument would be weak). While I do think that historical naturalism is a must for any serious historian, assuming it instead of showing how it is entailed can end up making the layman look at historical studies in a less serious manner. Historical study already is underrated by the layman, and we don't need anything else to lead the laypeople to dismiss it.

Eh, I disagree here, because treating as an assumption allows religious people access to historical discussions. Also, whether or not supernatural intervention has happened isn't even really an important historical question; it won't change the fact that people clearly believed that it did, and acted accordingly. The resolution of that question belongs to the theological and philosophical arenas.

I also think that not treating is an assumption will turn a huge amount of lay people off, because any person of faith will need to surrender their beliefs in the supernatural events to adopt the narrative being pushed.
"The Collectivist experiment is thoroughly suited (in appearance at least) to the Capitalist society which it proposes to replace. It works with the existing machinery of Capitalism, talks and thinks in the existing terms of Capitalism, appeals to just those appetites which Capitalism has aroused, and ridicules as fantastic and unheard-of just those things in society the memory of which Capitalism has killed among men wherever the blight of it has spread."
- Hilaire Belloc -