Wolfgang asked an interesting question: "Do you think that two intellectually honest people can arrive at contradictory conclusions?"
Of course it is possible to honestly reach different conclusions if the evidence is inconclusive, but the interesting question is whether it's possible when the evidence strongly supports a particular conclusion. I think it is possible when people start with presuppositions.
For example, Answers in Genesis (AIG) presupposes that the Bible clearly teaches a recent creation and they therefore interpret scientific evidence in a way that supports that conclusion. (However, many Christians, including St. Augustine who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, reject that presupposition and hold that the Bible says nothing about the age of the earth.) AIG maintains that everyone has presuppositions, and that there is nothing intellectually dishonest about them.
Is it intellectually honest to have presuppositions? Well, it is a form of question-begging because the presupposition itself determines our conclusion. So if the highest level of intellectual honesty is an honest search for truth, then any presuppositional bias undermines it. However, I would not say that presuppositions are necessarily a sign of intellectual dishonesty because they are so common. As Winston Churchill said, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened." But although presuppositions are common, they keep us from engaging honestly with the evidence.
Skeptical Bible scholars tend to presuppose that the supernatural is impossible. And if a Bible scholar starts out with the presupposition that nature is all that exists, then of course it follows that it would be impossible for God to raise Jesus from the dead because that would be a supernatural act. Any natural explanation, no matter how tenuous, would then be preferable.
For example, atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann maintains a priori rejection of the supernatural and yet he says, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus's death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." Although he accepts the historical evidence he concludes that the best explanation for it is that everybody who thought they saw the resurrected Jesus actually hallucinated. Peter hallucinated because he was overcome by grief for denying Jesus, Paul hallucinated on the road to Damascus, James the skeptical brother of Jesus hallucinated, and all the five hundred who saw Jesus at one time hallucinated.
As I'll discuss in a future post, this hypothesis betrays a lack of understanding of hallucinations, but the question is whether, based on my limited mind-reading abilities, I think that conclusion is intellectually dishonest. Although I disagree with Lüdemann's presuppositional bias, I think that his inability to believe in the supernatural is sincere. He started out as a liberal theologian who didn't accept the supernatural, and he became an atheist when he concluded that it is not possible to be a Christian and not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and I think that decision was an honest one. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, the resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of Christianity, and if it didn't happen, our faith is in vain.
But I think it would have been even more honest to question the presupposition that the supernatural is impossible, because there is no logical reason to conclude that. We only assume that a person cannot rise from the dead because we have never heard of a medically documented case. Dead people stay dead--at least if they've been dead for over two days.
However, that is an empirical conclusion, not a logical one. The fact that the laws of nature are predictable tells us nothing about whether anything exists beyond nature. We are like the primitive person from a tropical climate who doesn't believe that it is possible for a lake to be solid. And of course it is impossible in a tropical climate, but not in parts of the world where the temperature drops below freezing. The conclusion that water can never be solid is an empirical one that only holds true if the temperature never drops below freezing. Sub-zero weather adds a contingency that negates the conclusion that water is never solid.
In the same way, what is true within our space-time is not necessarily true beyond it. Lüdemann objects to miracles because they're unscientific, and since science depends on the predictability of nature, it is certainly true that miracles are unscientific. But since science cannot explain why the natural laws on which it depends exist in the first place, this doesn't mean that miracles are logically impossible--it means that the explanatory power of science is limited.
But if we left it at that, we could just as easily believe in pink unicorns; there is no reason to believe something just because it's logically possible. However, it is rational to believe something if it is the best explanation for the evidence given the context, particularly if there is no viable alternative explanation.
And what is the context? John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The Greek word translated "Word" is "Logos," which means "reason," "rationality," "order," or "word." John tells us that Jesus is the transcendent, creative Mind that became flesh. He existed in the beginning, and everything came into being through Him.
The laws of physics break down at the Big Bang singularity, so speculation as to what caused it goes beyond the reach of science into metaphysics. The predictability on which the scientific method depends comes to an abrupt end at the beginning of time. We know nothing of a beyond, so a naturalistic cause is not inherently more parsimonious than a supernatural First Cause.
If anything, an eternal, immaterial, transcendent, and all powerful Mind is the simplest explanation that explains the scientific evidence without the need for further assumptions. If this universe consists of all nature, then the Creator would be supernatural; if the Big Bang marked the beginning of time, then the Creator would be eternal; and if the universe is all matter, then the Creator is immaterial. This fits what we know about the universe and explains what we don't know. Unless we assume as a premise that nothing exists beyond nature, it is the most parsimonious explanation.
So in the context of this Grand Miracle--an ordered universe emerging from nothing--we ask ourselves whether it is reasonable to conclude that the power behind this universe also has power over death. And if that power is a Mind, then He certainly does.
But we don't have to accept anything on blind faith; we just have to examine the historical evidence carefully and reach an honest conclusion. In the next posts, I will examine facts that have been widely accepted by historians, and I believe the best explanation for those facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.