Thomas Kuhn, History, and Theology

At the suggestion of Carl Trueman, I’ve been reading David Hackett Fischer’s Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought.  Each chapter outlines a set of fallacies pertaining to historical method.  At the end of each chapter, Fischer presents some positive principles.  I’ve been skimming the fallacies and reading the positive principles more carefully.  In chapter 5, he appeals to Thomas Kuhn’s work on the history of science.  Kuhn, as is well-known by now, conceptualized change and continuity in the history of science by postulating a series of paradigms.  This method was later taken over into theology by Hans Kung, and then into the more specific field of missiology by David Bosch (Transforming Mission).

Unfortunately, I’ve not come across much critical analysis of this method.  Fischer certainly isn’t critical.  Bosch’s application of Kuhn in missiology was, it seems, almost universally applauded.  In my doctoral research I could only find one obscure review that might have been critical.  I could find a reference to the review, but the journal was so obscure that I couldn’t actually get my hands on the review itself.

In his Collected Writings on Scripture, Don Carson briefly mentions Kuhn’s paradigmatic view of the development of science.  It comes in a discussion of Bruce Vawter’s appropriation of Kuhn’s method in hermeneutics.  Carson identifies his reliance on Kuhn as a weakness.  Then there is a footnote to support this:

The paradigmatic approach to the history of science was put on a respectable and influential footing by Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962, 1970); but the theory has suffered a rather devastating attack in Frederick Suppe, ed., The Structure of Scientific Theories, 2d ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977); Galy Gutting, ed., Paradigms and Revolutions: Applications and Appraisals of Thomas Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980).

I have not read the books of Suppe and Gutting, but I think I will.  They could be helpful, especially in evaluating David Bosch.

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

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