D The Illusion of Objectivity

As already indicated, a further weakness of Troeltsch's analysis of historical method is that Troeltsch was still a child of the nineteenth-century scientific paradigm, which continued to perceive reality in terms of a closed system in which all laws would eventually be discovered and all causes and effects could be measured. So long as the scientific method as understood in the nineteenth century provided the model for the historical method, the idea of historical facts as objective artefacts, and the goal of historical objectivity could be held up as a viable aim.29 But the twentieth century's recognition of indeterminacy in explanation and of complementary and conflicting explanations possible at both micro-cosmic and macrocosmic level has confirmed that Troeltsch's perception of reality was too restricted. Consequently the definition of historical method expressed in terms of such a restricted world view is itself too restricted; or rather, the

26. Thiselton appositely cites A. B. Gibson's striking comment that 'on the basis of a Humean epistemology or a thoroughly empiricist world-view "anything that happens for the first time is to be discredited"' (Two Horizons 79). See further Thiselton's critique of Troeltsch (69-84). Troeltsch's attempt to deal with the problem he had posed, in The Absoluteness of Christianity and the History ofReligions (1901; ET Louisville: John Knox, 1971), is characteristic of European Liberalism in its personalistic individualism, evolutionary optimism, and religious imperialism.

27. 'For a critical history of Jesus, the principle of analogy is invoked on the basis that Jesus was a man; it has nothing to say about his being "a mere man'" (Meyer, Aims 17-18).

28. To return to the inverse parallel of Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum takes Schweitzer's Quest as the model for his review of the many attempts to explain Hitler, noting the unwillingness of many to accept that Hitler's evil may not be understandable, that it may at the end of the day simply not be capable of rational explanation (Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil [London: Macmillan, 1999] xxiv, xxviii-xxix, xli).

29. '. . . purely objective causal explanation . . . constitutes the distinctive character of history as a pure theoretical science' (Troeltsch, 'Historiography' 720a). As already noted, Troeltsch's conception of the 'unique' is held within his conception of scientific causality, albeit as 'the product of individual causes in their infinite complexity' (720a).

claims made for the historical-critical method in such circumstances are unavoidably excessive, as pretending to pronounce on what, as has since become clearer, it is not capable of comprehending. The idea of what a hermeneutic of scientific inquiry might mean has had to change, though the corollary is still too little acknowledged.

Bultmann fell into the same trap. Even though the scientific paradigm shift occasioned by Einstein's theory of relativity was well under way,30 he still continued to assert (1957) that 'the historical method includes the presupposition that history is a unity in the sense of a closed continuum of effects in which individual events are connected by the succession of cause and effect'.31 It was the objectivity which the scientific method assumed as possible of achievement against which he so fiercely reacted in his demythologizing programme.32 But as Paul Ricoeur points out in his 'Preface to Bultmann', Bultmann was thereby in effect ignoring the objectifying character of all language, the language of faith as well as the language of myth.33 Ironically, Bultmann's existentialism was a way of avoiding the problem of objectifying language rather than a way of dealing with it. Here again Gadamer appositely cites Edmund Husserl:

The naivete of talk of 'objectivity' which completely ignores experiencing, knowing subjectivity, subjectivity which performs real, concrete achievements, the naivete of the scientist concerned with nature, with the world in general, who is blind to the fact that all the truths that he acquires as objective, and the objective world itself that is the substratum in his formulas is his own life construct that has grown within him, is, of course, no longer possible, when life comes on the scene.

None of this is to deny the importance of the otherness of the past above), or that historical data have a recognizable objectivity. It is, however, to recognize that the movement from data to fact above) is a good deal more refer particularly to Heisenberg's 'uncertainty principle' and Niels Bohr on the indeterminacy of quantum physics.

31. R. Bultmann, 'Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?', Existence and Faith (ET 1961; London: Collins, 1964) 342-51 (here 345).

32. See, e.g., Keck, Future 50-52; J. D. G. Dunn, 'Demythologizing — The Problem of Myth in the New Testament', in I. H. Marshall, ed., New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods (Exeter: Paternoster, 1977) 285-307.

33. P. Ricoeur, 'Preface to Bultmann' (i.e., to the French edition of Jesus and the Word and Jesus Christ and Mythology, 1968), Essays on Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 49-72: 'Bultmann seems to believe that a language which is no longer "objectifying" is innocent. But in what sense is it still a language? And what does it signify?' (65-67).

34. Gadamer, Truth 249 (Husserl was writing with regard to Hume); see also 261.

complex than is usually appreciated. Where it involves language (description of an artefact, a written document) we need to be aware that language has differing degrees of referentiality.35 More to the present point, it involves interpretation, involves the interpreter, so that even if the observation of data can be likened in some measure to the old ideal of scientific research, the act and process of interpretation cannot.36 Alternatively expressed, historicism (historical positivism) could think in terms of 'brute facts' in abstraction from interpretation. But the facts37 that matter in history, the facts that carry history forward, are never 'bare facts', empty of significance. Facts, other than the merely ephemeral, are always experienced as significant, facts-in-their-significance,38 a 'fact' ignored by questers who, desirous of academic respectability for their work, continue to appeal to the Enlightenment paradigm of scientific objectivity.39 The same point is inescapable when we recognize the role of analogy in historical method above). Here too, to acknowledge that historical method depends on analogy is not at all to deny the objectivity of that which is known but simply to underline the inevitable subjectivity in the knowing which is known, whether past or present.

35. G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible (London: Duckworth, 1980) ch. 12 ('Language and History').

36. Curiously, in one of the most illuminating treatments of 'the challenge of poetics to (normal) historical practice', R. Berkhofer (in Jenkins, ed., Postmodern History 139-55) regards the movement from 'evidence' to 'facts' to 'synthesis' as firm lines (empirically based) still linking the frames of representation and referentiality (148). G. Himmelfarb, 'Telling It as You Like It: Postmodernist History and the Flight from Fact' (Jenkins, ed., Postmodern History 158-74) protests with some justification that modernist history is not so uncritically positivist as postmodernists often imply: 'the frailty, fallibility and relativity of the historical enterprise ... are not the great discoveries of postmodernism' (159, see also 160, 165-66).

37. 'Fact' is here being used in its popular sense. My own preferred formulation would speak in terms of events and data (§6.3b above); 'facts' as I use the term are interpreted data.

38. Cf. Collingwood, Idea ofHistory 131-33; Thiselton, Two Horizons 80-81, referring to Pannenberg.

39. Crossan, despite the otherwise revolutionary character of his approach, bases his analysis of the Jesus tradition on a surprisingly 'objective' stratification of that tradition; H. Childs, The Myth of the Historical Jesus and the Evolution of Consciousness (SBLDS; Atlanta: SBL, 2000) criticises Crossan for 'a subtle and unwitting positivism' (ch. 2, here 55). And Wright's concern to avoid 'having loose ends . . . flapping around all over the place' (Jesus 367) is surprisingly modernist in character. Even Meier, who recognizes that 'the quest for objectivity' is unrealistic (Marginal Jew 1.4-6), retains the ideal of an exegete using 'purely historical-critical methods' (1.197; also 'Present State of the "Third Quest'" 463-64). See further the shrewd critique of A. G. Padgett, 'Advice for Religious Historians: On the Myth of a Purely Historical Jesus', in S. T. Davis, etal., eds., The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University, 1997) 287-307.

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