Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Gospels, Historians, and Presuppositions

A number of times I have been asked if I would be willing to accept the consensus of the "majority of historians" when it comes to various conclusions about the biblical gospels, including the time of their writing and their claims about the miracles of Jesus. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable request. After all, aren't historians the experts when it comes to understanding history? Shouldn't we accept their conclusions?

When it comes to most subjects of science, I accept the consensus of the majority of scientists. As a scientist myself, I am well aware that the scientific method provides a reliable method for determining the truth about nature. For instance, it is clear from the evidence that the climate on the earth is changing and becoming overall warmer. There are disagreements about the extent to which this is occurring and the role that human activity has contributed to climate change, but the evidence that the climate is changing and warming is strong, accepted by the majority of climate scientists, and accepted by me as a scientist.

Both scientists and historians have ground rules on which the practice of their discipline is based. One of the ground rules that most historians hold to is that miracles cannot be affirmed as historical events. In the lecture series "The Historical Jesus," the historian Bart Ehrman states, "Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred."1 In a debate with William Lane Craig in 2006, Ehrman said, "Historians cannot establish [a] miracle as the most probable occurrence because miracles, by their very nature are the least probable occurrence."2