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The Domain and Function of Epistemological Humility in Historical Jesus Studies

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The epistemological humility proper to methodological naturalism is the suspension of belief in divine causation, and by entailment, of the belief that events that violate the laws of nature sometimes occur. Epistemological humility does not, however, require the suspension of knowledge of how the world works, i.e., of the laws of nature. Methodological naturalism, therefore, requires us to reject the literal truth of reports in ancient texts of events that we know to be physically impossible, regardless of whether a text attributes such events to divine causality. Reports about the deeds of Jesus are not exempt from this methodological restriction. Methodological naturalism, and the epistemological humility it subsumes, therefore, requires that historians deny, for example, that the historical Jesus (the human Jesus as reconstructed by critical historiography) literally walked on water. Since epistemological humility does not require the suspension of knowledge about how the world works, but only of belief in divine causation, it therefore does not require that one hold open the possibility that the historical Jesus walked on water, since that possibility is incompatible with naturalism (both ontological and methodological).

Affiliations: 1: Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, USA,


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