It is sometimes said that the resurrection of Jesus should be believed, not because we have extraordinary evidence for it, but because it slots well into a coherent metaphysical and theological system that has been worked out over the course of 2,000 years. That system, of course, is intellectual Christianity, with its highest expressions located among Catholics with the Thomists, and among Protestants with the professional apologists, like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga.
If God exists, after all, such a miracle as the resurrection is not impossible, and if we swallow whole the metaphysical and theological arguments for God’s existence, then the resurrection of Jesus can be, for the believer, not just something that is logically possible, but something that God might plausibly accomplish.
As one believer, who also happens to be a scientist, recently put it: “As long as you merely gnaw cynically at [the resurrection’s] obvious ‘impossibility,’ considered apart from the whole tradition, you’ll miss the whole thing, and will be in no position either convincingly to affirm or to reject it.”
But this is an odd way for a scientist to talk, don’t you think? As the old rabbis used to say, “Have your ears heard what your mouth hath said?” Imagine, for instance, a scientist making such an argument for the multiverse hypothesis, string theory, or the idea that the best explanation for the dimming of light from a distant star is solar megastructures built by aliens.
To put it politely, you would conclude that the scientist was a bit too emotionally stricken with the beauty, coherence, and elegance of her or his theory, defending it with an excess of enthusiasm and insufficient caution (notice that the scientist quoted above calls reasonable doubt “cynical”).
By contrast, wouldn’t one’s response to a scientific colleague expressing belief, for instance, in alien megastructures, be something, rightly and sensibly, like this:
Your idea is wonder generating. What amazing news it would be, if true. And it slots so well into the larger system of ideas that you’ve worked out. But absent extraordinary evidence, I must respectfully withhold judgment. I’m not ‘gnawing cynically’ on your idea, nor treading on your dreams (akin to that line in Yeats’ poem, ‘tread softly, for you tread on my dreams’), I just find any elaborate system of ideas, however beautiful, that hinge on miracles or other extraordinary claims, in need of airtight evidence. We shouldn’t build our intellectual systems on sand; on things we take to be true, but may not be. I’m sorry I can’t share your enthusiasm, but I’m doing you a favor. By resisting your idea, and playing ‘devil’s advocate’ against it, I’m keeping you on your toes, helping you avoid confirmation bias. And you’ve got me thinking as well. That is, unless you break conversation with me because you can’t abide disagreement.