Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

The Minimal Facts Theory, Proof that Christianity is True?

with 10 comments

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:

  1. Jesus was publicly executed and died on a Roman cross.
  2. Jesus was buried in a tomb.
  3. Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty the Sunday after his burial.
  4. Jesus’ followers had no basis for hoping that he would be raised from the dead.
  5. Women friends of Jesus had experiences of seeing Jesus alive from the dead.
  6. Jesus’ apostles had experience of seeing Jesus alive from the dead.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.)


Written by unitedcats

April 18, 2012 at 7:17 am

10 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Good morning Doug,
    Your orientation regarding religion is already known to me and I have no reason to alter your stance.

    I am not a regular church goer not a bible “thumper”. Yet in the past several years of my long life I have come to a full acceptance of the reality that an actual living man from the ancient past so perfectly identified the ethos of how humans should orient themselves to each other and respect the “unknown” source of life that he was “rewarded” by some kind of death resurrection. My personal belief is that he did not start out as “the son of God” but that as an individual who had surrendered himself to a power beyond himself. He performed this to such a degree that in fact “God” adopted him “as his earthly representative”.

    I do not concern myself with the literal description of what or how a resurrection is achieved. What I have come to understand is a “fact” that is left out of your list of facts: That the appearance of a “resurrected” Jesus to his followers was so convincing to them over many days that ALL of them were energized from a state of helpless fear to that of a lifetime spent in open public discussion of their support for Him and the oral distribution of His teachings. Many of those followers did this in spite of the risk of their own death. Those teachings are very simply that there is a “God” that does in fact love us all. We in turn should attempt the difficult task of actually loving all our fellow neighbors. That our life has joy and also pain. The mystery of why there is suffering in life if there is a “Good God” can not be understood by the existing intellect of our evolved human brain. Therefore, the trust of the love without complaining was “taught” to us via the acceptance by Jesus of His painful and degrading crucifiction.

    Today there is little focus by traditional Christian sects that the “Kingdom of God” can be experienced now and is “spread out before us”. There is too much focus on the “hereafter” and an imagined physical personal reincarnation in the so-called Heaven. Thus this orientation permits our societies to justify endless war and stupid “good and bad lists” of “does and don’ts” with other humans who share this earth with us.

    Bullpasture Smith

    Lincoln Smith

    April 18, 2012 at 8:08 am

  2. sweet zombie Jesus..

    John Galt

    April 18, 2012 at 8:32 am

  3. Aliens sure do fit well, I mean playing god would be the best way to get lesser beings to cooperate with whatever goals, like we did with the indians. I have even thought jesus could be a time traveler with some good medical tech. Why would some all powerfull entity after creating an entire universe, have only one tiny planet with people on it? Perhaps both are true, god or something created aliens, aliens then created us, maybe we will create AI and teach it to worship us as gods ehh? Have a good one Doug!


    April 18, 2012 at 12:22 pm

  4. I question the cherry picking. Even if they were facts, why would they be the most important facts to explain? If we add some other facts which the overwhelming majority of scholars agree upon–such as, dead people stay dead–a different explanation offers a better account.


    April 18, 2012 at 1:16 pm

  5. Who are these “scholars” that they’re willing to accept “facts” for which they have little or no supporting evidence? It doesn’t say much for their scholarship.

    Chris Hunt

    April 18, 2012 at 4:40 pm

  6. […] reading a recent article on Doug’s Darkworld blog about the whether Jesus lived and was resurrected debate, I have a few things to say that are […]

  7. I tried replying to this post, but somehow managed to delete it during posting. :( So, I went back to my own blog to rewrite what turned into far too long of a post to be appropriate to post here. In a nutshell: arguing with fantasy-worshiping fascists isn’t usually fruitful because they’ve taken flight from reason.


    April 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

  8. I am an atheist and I am not fantasy-loving. I believe that spirituality and religion are an individual choice or journey one takes. When religion could not answer some of the questions I had, I took courses in university and researched different types of religion. I do not care what religion someone is, I am happy and content with my beliefs, because it is who I am. Each person on this earth should have their own spirituality and ideas about religion. We are all individuals-all so different, why would we want to believe the same things? I feel that organized religion is control of the masses. To each their own though. Great post Doug, and I did read the post from Bob the Prophet, I enjoy a different perspective from time to time.

    Jennifer Goodyear

    April 20, 2012 at 9:10 am

  9. I don’t think you presented the minimal fact theory accurately. There are actually 12 facts, not seven.

    1. Jesus died by crucifixion.

    2. He was buried.

    3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.

    4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).

    5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).

    6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.

    7. The resurrection was the central message.

    8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.

    9. The Church was born and grew.

    10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.

    11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).

    12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

    The “facts” used in the theory are all based on two biblical books (I Corinthians, in particular Ch. 15) and Galatians, in particular Chs. 1 & 2) that almost all scholars concede were authentically written by Paul the apostle, and that within 25 years of Jesus death, and that Paul sincerely believed these to be facts. These claims by Paul are then confirmed as “common knowledge” by extra-biblical writers whose written reports are also regarded by most scholars as genuinely first and second century in origin. The point is that 1 Corinthians and Galatians are two of six to eight books all accredited critical scholars accept. You can count those who reject them on two hands. Almost all believe Paul is the best source, and 1 Corinthians is one of the most dependable sources. They allow 1 Corinthians and Galatians. Both are on the accepted list. Bart Ehrman says they are the authentic Pauline epistle. So does most everybody else. They indicate Paul’s genuine beliefs. Paul is writing no more than 25 years after the death of Christ. No other founder of a major world religion has miracles reported of him within a generation.

    The facts are called “facts” because almost all qualified in the field of Literary Criticism agree that both these two critically authenticated letters and other external literary sources confirm that these details were commonly accepted by both those in the faith and those outside the faith in the earliest years of Christianity.
    So, the question becomes, given that these are convincingly attested to be “facts” in the eyes of almost all scholars, both pro- and anti-Christian, what is the most reasonable explanation for these facts? The death and bodily resurrection of Christ? or some other theory?

    Paul Thomson.

    Paul Thomson

    December 6, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: