The Minimal Facts Theory, Proof that Christianity is True?
In my increasingly less frequent ramblings through atheist/Christian discussion boards, I came across the Minimal Facts Theory as an argument that Christianity is based on true events. The argument is based on the idea that there is a set of “minimal facts” about Jesus and his ministry that the vast majority of scholars believe are true. This is the list complied by Professor Gary Habermas, the person who originated the theory:
- Jesus was publicly executed and died on a Roman cross.
- Jesus was buried in a tomb.
- Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty the Sunday after his burial.
- Jesus’ followers had no basis for hoping that he would be raised from the dead.
- Women friends of Jesus had experiences of seeing Jesus alive from the dead.
- Jesus’ apostles had experience of seeing Jesus alive from the dead.
- The first Christians proclaimed in Jerusalem just weeks after Jesus’ death that he had literally risen from the dead (and these Jews made Sunday the first day of the week).
- Paul, a persecutor of the Christians, converted to faith in Christ after an experience of seeing Jesus alive from the dead.
Basically 90% of scholars had to agree in order to make the list. The good professor then concludes that given this set of facts, that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most logical explanation for them. The idea then being that if Jesus really did rise from the dead, he must have been the real deal. Sigh. Reality defined by consensus. While I appreciate the effort to manipulate a limited data set in such a way as to get new information about it or otherwise understand it better, I’m not terribly impressed with this theory.
My first problem would be with the idea that these are facts. The life and ministry of Jesus is very poorly documented historically. That is to say the contemporary records of him are just a few debatable fragments, the facts above were all derived from the gospels, all of which were written decades after Jesus died, and all of which have provenance issues of their own. In and of itself I think this reduces the “minimal facts” theory to GIGO. For the less computer illiterate, that means garbage in, garbage out. If the data entered into a program is faulty, any results the program generates are faulty.
So let’s ignore all that, and agree that these facts are indeed facts. Why then, these facts indeed show that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. Um, anyone see the problem with this line of reasoning? We are agreeing that one set of facts are facts to prove that another fact is indeed a fact. Wouldn’t it be simpler to simply agree that the resurrection of Jesus was a fact, and avoid the circular reasoning? As far as I can see the minimal facts argument is just that, a sophisticated example of circular reasoning.
And then there’s the little problem of the indisputable fact that other people have indeed shown up at their own funerals. It happens. By accident, or by fakery, it’s not all that unusual for people to turn up alive after their supposed death. I’m not suggesting Jesus faked his own death, I’m just saying that there is no particular reason that a supposed resurrection has to have a supernatural explanation. This was not exactly an era of autopsies and death certificates, and considering the aforementioned lack of historical evidence, anything is possible.
Lastly, even if Jesus was resurrected somehow, this doesn’t “prove” that his teachings were true. Maybe advanced aliens were messing with our minds. “I know, let’s reanimate this dead nut’s corpse to freak out the natives.” Unlikely? Of course. No less likely than in invisible supernatural being creating the universe though. Heck, the alien theory requires far fewer assumptions when it comes right down to it. I’m quite certain that at least 90% of scientists would agree with the facts behind the alien Jesus resurrection theory, so by the logic of the minimal facts theory, Jesus being resurrected by aliens is far more likely than a supernatural explanation.
And on the gripping hand, who cares? Whether Jesus was the real deal or not has utterly no relevance to the crimes that organized religion perpetrates. This is a point the rigidly faithful might have a little trouble with.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. Credit and copyright: Reuters/BBC. It’s a reconstruction of the face of a first century skull found in the Holy Land and is a modern guess of what Jesus may have actually looked like. There’s no real agreement on the issue, but he almost certainly was a lot darker and swarthier than traditional depictions.)