Conversation Transplant… Minimal Facts Discussion

Well, it seems I’ve been ousted from a blog for the first time, ostensibly because I didn’t talk enough about facts. Though for the life of me, I would say it was more because I challenged a few sacred cows than anything else.

In any case, I have found a few belated comments in response to my remarks on the same thread. They were thoughtful and cogent, so I think they deserve a response. No need for good discussion to die.

Sadly, I don’t really have a great deal of my own initial comments. But – *trumpeting heralds* – one of my interlocutors was good enough to copy/paste most of what I said. Those comments will be below, and then I’ll respond in additional comment bubbles following.





    Matt: One point right off the top would be the claim of the empty tomb. The fact of an empty tomb does not mean as much as we would hope in any case, but the question of whether it is fact is an interesting illustration of the problem of apologetic slant. I am reminded of the debate between WLC and Ehrman. WLC said that a majority of scholars agree that the tomb was found empty, and that we have very strong evidence for it. Ehrman’s redirect has never (that I have found) been convincingly answered: a majority of NT scholars may consider that a fact, but a majority of *historians* do not consider it nearly so solid.

    Reply: But a historian also can focus on only one area usually of history. If they don’t specialize in NT history, then they are less informed on that regards, although more informed than the average layman. Also, I’d like to see Ehrman’s data on this. Who are these historians? What is their area of study and credentials?

    Matt: -As a statistics guy, here is the issue with consensus and majority – you have to correct for ideology. This is uniformly ignored by the apologetics community, and it undercuts the minimal-facts case, right to the bone.

    Reply: This is a common misconception. Most NT scholars believe it or not are agnostic, liberal, or some other belief. They might call themselves Christians, but they are not orthodox Christians at all. Go to SBL and survey the scholars there and see if I’m right.

    Matt: Survey Qu’ran scholars – is the Qu’ran reliable and accurate? How much would you be willing to wager against the a priori conclusion that, gee, a majority of Qu’ran scholars agree that the Qu’ran is reliable, divinely received, and historically accurate?

    Reply: Here’s what you do. See how many non-Muslim scholars will admit certain facts about the Qu’ran that lead to its authenticity. I have non-Christian scholars that agree to several facts about Jesus. What do you have for the Qu’ran?

    Matt: The problem is obvious: the people being surveyed have a theological precommitment to the texts.

    REply: Wow. John Dominic Crossan, Gerd Ludemann, Bart Ehrman, and others have a theological precommitment to the text?

    Matt: Do a majority of historians agree that the Qu’ran is accurate in its historical claims? No. What about the Book of Mormon? No. Does that mean that such scholars should be exclude from the discussion? No.

    Reply: Once again, the same problem emerges. Find me what non-Muslim scholars will grant about the Qu’ran and what non-Mormon scholars will grant about the BOM.

    Matt: No, the correct approach is to include all the scholars, and to also include the ideological commitments of the scholars in the equation. You have to include that variable. Is this being done by WLC? No. Habbermas? No, not clearly. He supposedly is including this in his ‘database’, but his collection methods are anything but well informed.

    Reply: I happen to know Dr. Habermas. Would you care to back this idea that his collection methods are not well-informed? Do you happen to even know what his collection methods are?

    Matt: The established facts are a smoke screen. Ehrman is correct – we do not have a consensus among disinterested historians that the tomb was found empty… unless you have a source that I’ve never seen on this.

    REply: There’s part of your problem. There’s no such thing as a disinterested source in ancient history. In fact, a disinterested source would not have been seen as reliable. You wrote about what you had a passion about. Most of our great information about great teachers comes from their students. Why should we expect anything different from Jesus?

    Matt: It took a good long while to ferret this out, and I was pissed when I finally realized the source of the massive disconnect between the skeptic and faith communities. Its the obfuscation that I hate, and its an obfuscation that is being sustained even under direct confrontation.

    Reply: You know, many of us here spend much time reading these non-Christian scholars and frankly, we’re not convinced they have a case. I walk away more convinced by the resurrection since the ultimate questions are not answered.

    Matt: The minimal facts argument is stymied before ever achieving liftoff. When you dig, you find the martyr-type problem underlying everything.

    Reply: Actually, NT scholars like Licona and Habermas would tell you that we don’t have the best information for the martyrs. We don’t build our case on them anyway.

    Matt: Finally, a challenge: provide a criterion by which we accept Christian eyewitness testimony, textual legitimacy, and miracle claims, but by which we can still – with a level table – reject the same type of evidence from Mormon and Islamic sources. I’m not interested in case-building. I’m interested in a legitimate fraud-detection criterion that
    actually works.

    Reply: Charles Leslie did that a few centuries ago. Have you not been paying attention? Note also that I’m fine with miracles occurring in Muslim and Mormon communities. I just want to see the evidence in each case.

    As Chesterton said, the theist believes in a miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves in a miracle, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.


  2. COMMENT FROM WorldGoneCrazy:

    Just wanted to add one relevant (IMO) quote to Apologianick’s thorough reply:

    “… for while multiple attestation and dissimilarity are positive evidence for authenticity, single attestation and similarity to Christian beliefs are not evidence of inauthenticity – unless, once more, one is assuming that the Gospels are inauthentic until they are proven to be authentic on some point.” — William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith.”

    Craig makes this remark during his reply to Ehrman’s consideration of the historical Jesus (Chapter 7, “The Self-Understanding of Jesus”, page 295), but I believe the quote is also relevant to this discussion as it pertains to knowledge bias and / or historical revelation.


  3. Responses pending… off to watch Ham vs Nye. Does it bother anyone else that both their names have essentially the minimum letter count?


  4. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Ark and I were thrown off one too, it’s like a rite of passage, and an indication that you’re doing something right.


  5. This must have been at WK’s site. Why he wants people to buy the resurrection BS on minimal facts is beyond. Is it that there is no case and they want to hang on a loose thread, just like a drowning man holds onto grass hoping it will save him.


  6. Interesting that this conversation led to the boot. I thought you were very respectful.

    I don’t understand why, if one is truly trying to understand and gain objectivity on the death of JC, both the Bible and the Qur’an aren’t taken into consideration together. Aren’t they just two different versions of the man Jesus? If a scholar is to claim that the Bible is valid, wouldn’t she consider at all the relevant documentation? Otherwise, the scholar is nothing more than an adherent or disciple of a certain faith.


    • Thanks Deborah. I thought I was respectful too, but its hard to tell. The oddest part is that I was expunged for the purported crime of not talking about evidence or about anything relevant. I think that, in the end, I was just challenging sacred cows. Wish I had the other posts that I put on that site; too much time in the waste bin.

      But surely you wouldn’t expect us to take *non-canonical* writings about JC seriously!? They don’t have the right halo and ethereal music surrounding them, LOL.


  7. Response still pending, BTW. Distracted by the Nye/Ham debate, and in need of a little down-time. Draft in the works, however.


  8. This blog comment (from BKMiller1970) may shed some (additional) doubt on the quick removal of the body from the cross, and perhaps even the burial itself. I have no idea of the veracity of his claims, though–and he doesn’t cite sources.


    • This is consistent with some of my other readings, though I can’t think of a good scholarly source at the moment. Most of the dynamics between Jew/Roman seem contrived in the gospel accounts. I come back again to the whole representation of Pilate – he wasn’t a pushover, he was a brutal oppressor. We have good reason to doubt that he was (1) concerned with justice for one small-time messianic pretender, (2) likely to be pushed around by a demanding group of subjects, or (3) likely to be swayed by pleas to take the body down and away. Besides, the demands make no sense from the Jews either – they would know that the body would stay up for a long time, so why demand it just before Sabbath when it had to be taken down? They had to know the odds were that the body would be up for quite a long time.

      Again, doesn’t make much sense on any dimension.


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        ‘ey, Paisano! I didn’ta know your lasta name!

        Bodies like that were normally unceremoniously dumped into Gehenna, the city dump just outside Jerusalem, where the city’s stray dogs came for lunch, often referred to in the NT and mistaken for Hell, because fires of burning trash smoldered there for years (and I’ve actually seen this at American city dumps, and have spoken to workers there – they fires pose no threat, so nobody puts them out).


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