A redated post.
A response to some discussion on Debunking Christianity.
A lot of biblical criticism is done by people who either accept Hume's essay on miracles, or are influenced by people who accept Hume's essay. This goes all the way back to David F. Strauss in the 19th Century. This poses a profound question as to whether the biblical-critical dog is wagging the philosophical tail, or whether the philosophical tail is wagging the biblical-critical dog. This was the point that Lewis was making when he wrote his book Miracles; A Preliminary Study. Preliminary to what? Preliminary to the actual study of the biblical documents. If you are coming to those documents thinking that miracles are maximally improbable, then you get one set of results. Bultmann was the representative figure of a scholar of that persuasion. All Bultmann said was you couldn't live in the modern world and consistently believe in the New Testament miracles. Bart Ehrman is another example of present-day vintage, as are the scholars of the Jesus Seminar.
Now if I want to know whether the New Testament miracles have occurred or did not occur, having the testimony of some expert who has claimed to have "discovered" that they didn't might be a tad suspicious unless I know that this is a scholar who would have accepted the miracle claims had the evidence been there. If we know, in advance, that miracles cannot occur, then perhaps the scholar is applying Sherlock Holmes' maxim: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." However, if the scholar is entering the field thinking that the miraculous is not the impossible, then we are likely to get different results.
In 1990, when I was a junior fellow at Notre Dame's Center for Philosophy of Religion, I attended a conference in which a number of biblical scholars got into it with some Christian philosophers, and there it seemed to me that the biblical scholars were on the whole more skeptical than the philosophers, and that they were largely unconscious of the philosophical presuppositions underlying their own work.
I took Critical Introduction to the Bible from two professors at the liberal Candler School of Theology in the mid-1970s. The New Testament professor was Dr. Arthur Wainwright, and his overall conclusion was that you can bring anti-miraculous presuppositions into biblical scholarship and end up like Bultmann, or you can go in thinking miracles possible, in which case you end up believing in the central Christian miracles, as Dr. Wainwright in fact did.
Nothing I have read in biblical studies since has altered the perspective I took from Dr. Wainwright's course.