Saturday, October 27, 2007

Habermas and Licona on "Minimal Facts"

Habermas and Licona are calling the thrust of their argument in their book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” the minimal facts approach. That is, they consider certain facts agreed upon by the vast majority of scholars (including critical scholarship apparently) and they then consider what those facts imply about the resurrection. These include:

1-Jesus died by crucifixion
2-The disciples sincerely believed Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them
3-The church persecutor Paul converted to Christianity
4-The skeptic James converted to Christianity
5-The tomb was empty

Licona and Habermas do present arguments in favor of the claims. But heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that scholars accept these claims.

I have a couple of problems with this approach. The first is simply that majority opinion does not determine truth. This is something that was drilled into me as a Christian by my apologetic mentors and the Christian authors I read. The majority of biologists believe that man evolved from lower life forms. That doesn’t make it right. The majority of geologists do not believe that a flood occurred which caused the waters to rise higher than the tallest mountains. That’s OK. Truth is not determined by majority opinion.

The next major problem I have with this is that Habermas and Licona seem to only focus on those facts accepted by the majority of scholarship that benefit the Christian apologetic argument. I haven’t done a survey, but I strongly suspect that the majority of scholars do not believe that the apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter. I strongly suspect that the majority of scholars believe that Jesus made erroneous predictions about his own imminent return (even C.S. Lewis agreed). What would happen if we took these things as brute, unassailable facts and worked out what they implied? I don’t think the apologist would be happy with the conclusions that we drew.

Finally, I have my doubts about just how “critical” these scholars really are. Habermas admits in an interview here that of these scholars that are part of his survey, a majority actually believe that Jesus was in fact resurrected! If these type of scholars qualify as critical scholars, then critical scholarship is in a pretty sad state.

What matters is not the number of people that agree with you. What matters is the validity of the arguments. I’ll be considering some of those in subsequent posts.