Bart Ehrman explains the difficulties miracles (and by extension prophecy) present to historians.

Date
Nov 15, 2013
Type
Website
Source
Bart Ehrman
Non-LDS
Hearsay
Direct
Reference

Bart Ehrman, "Historians and the Problem of Miracle," ehrmanblog.org, accessed on July 17, 2023

Scribe/Publisher
Bart Ehrman
People
Bart Ehrman
Audience
Internet Public
PDF
Transcription

Yesterday I started to talk about why historians cannot demonstrate that a miracle such as the resurrection happened because doing so requires a set of presuppositions that are not generally shared by historians doing their work. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this question, and have tried to explain on several occasions why a “miracle” can never be shown, on historical grounds, to have happened — even if it did. Here is a slightly different way of approaching the matter, as I expressed it in an earlier publication on the historical Jesus:

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People today typically think of miracles as supernatural violations of natural law, divine interventions into the natural course of events. I should emphasize that this popular understanding does not fit particularly well into modern scientific understandings of “nature,” in that scientists today are less confident in the entire category of natural “law” than they were, say, in the nineteenth century. For this reason, it is probably better not to speak of supernatural violations of “laws,” but to think of miracles as events that contradict the normal workings of nature in such a way as to be virtually beyond belief and to require an acknowledgment that supernatural forces have been at work.

This understanding is itself the major stumbling block for historians who want to talk about miracles, since the historian has no access to “supernatural forces” but only to the public record, that is, to events that can be observed and interpreted by any reasonable person, of whatever religious persuasion. If a “miracle” requires a belief in the supernatural realm, and historians by the very nature of their craft can speak only about events of the natural world, events that are accessible to observers of every kind, how can they ever certify that an event outside the natural order — that is, a miracle — occurred?

Still, some people think they have “evidence” of a miracle having happened. But what evidence could there be? Here is where we get into our problem.

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