This post is part of a series entitled “Resurrection: Answering the Skeptics”, which includes a number of scientists and scholars responding to common questions about science, biblical faith, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Is belief in the Resurrection unscientific? What would you say to someone who challenges your scientific credentials because you believe that a dead man walked out of the grave?
Gregg Davidson, professor of geology, University of Mississippi (member of BioLogos Voices)
There is a considerable irony in the claim that belief in the Resurrection, or indeed any miracle at all, is unscientific. A good scientist is trained not to draw conclusions that go beyond the available data, or to make pronouncements about a phenomenon for which no objective measurements have been made. The tools of science, being confined within the bounds of time and space, are well equipped for measurements within the natural realm, but are inadequate for measuring or probing phenomena that are not equally constrained. To employ these tools to draw conclusions rejecting the existence or action of God, requires a presuppositional belief that the natural realm is a closed system, and that scientific tools are sufficient to measure all materials, forces, or energy that may act upon or within that system. Adherence to such a position is the antithesis of science, for it goes far beyond the data. It relies on the untested (and untestable) assumption that all that is real is testable by natural means, therefore science can be used to determine that only that which is deemed natural is real. This is dogma, not science.
Kathryn Applegate, Resources Editor, BioLogos (member of BioLogos Voices)
Yes, belief in the Resurrection is unscientific. Or, to be more precise, I don’t accept or reject the Resurrection on the basis of science. I accept it on the basis of eyewitness accounts of historical events, and the interpretation of those events, as recorded in the Bible. Is it a problem that I don’t have a scientific defense of how a person could be raised from the dead? I don’t think so. Each of us believes many things that are not grounded in science. I can’t empirically prove that I exist, or that my husband loves me, or that it is morally wrong to torture animals. I sincerely believe all of these are true statements, though they take faith to affirm. It’s the same with the Resurrection. The claim is reasonable, but it takes faith to affirm.
The Bible reveals a God who created an orderly world, where most things happen in regular ways that don’t violate normal cause and effect relationships. But a God powerful enough to make such an orderly world is not bound by time and natural law. Such a God might, for a good reason—like, say, redeeming a people by his own sacrificial death—choose to operate in extraordinary, highly irregular ways. Those irregularities, what we call miracles, were getting people’s attention long before science became the supposed artibiter of what is possible or not.
Denis Alexander, Emeritus Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St. Edmund’s College
People knew in first century Palestine as well as we know today that dead people don’t come back to life again. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that. In fact they knew that better than we do, because in the culture of the time it was customary for the family to prepare the dead body for burial. They knew all about dead bodies. Which is just the point.
The philosopher David Hume famously argued that miracles do not happen because certain events invariably happen together and no-one has ever seen them not happening together. For example, death is invariably followed by a dead body rotting in the grave. The problem with that argument, is that this is not how science works. The mere accumulation of further instances that things generally happen in the same way is no guarantee that they will not happen differently in the future under different circumstances and in a different context. One convincing well-attested counter-example, can bring crashing to the ground a scientific theory built, until that moment, on an impressive edifice of “uniform human experience.”
Scientists—of all people—should be open to evidence. The scientist should be both cautious and skeptical concerning miraculous claims, but keep an open mind about such matters and examine the evidence on its own merits, not eliminate it by appeals to prior metaphysical presuppositions. There should be an openness to the way the world actually is, rather than an attitude which already knows the answer before the investigation has even begun.