One thing anyone who has spent time on YouTube, watching Illuminati videos, of conspiracy theories of 9-11, fake moon landings, Presidential assassinations and convoluted explanations of how Russians can somehow hack an election, and whatever else comes to mind, is that in each case there is something factual to be made sense of, something which needs explaining. This is what some might call, “The Problem of History.” Not all explanations are as ad hoc as others, and many theories–even incorrect ones, certainly make sense of the available data. How does one decide between two competing theories of history, such as “why do my socks keep disappearing in the wash?” or when accident investigators try to make sense of how a car ended up in the ditch? Passers by may automatically assume the driver was distracted, or drunk, but do not have direct access to the prior events, such as an animal or child they swerved to miss. Let us say the car in the ditch is the effect of a prior series of causes. The effect is a scenario which is compatible with many causal scenarios, but determining which one is true is what is difficult, because many are possible, but not all are true. Certain causes can certainly be ruled out based on certain bodies of evidence. In the case of a car accident, a blood test can determine the condition of a driver, or an injured/dead deer nearby, with skid marks, can suggest that the driver attempted to avoid an animal strike prior to the accident. Without having direct access to history, we can make inferences to the best explanation, without being firsthand witnesses to the events, even though history is not open to examination, in the sense it is not happening over and over. A general inferential rule of thumb, called Occam’s Razor, states that “all things being equal, one should default to the simplest explanation.” Now, this rule isn’t logically binding, and is more of a statistical rule, but it is true that simplest explanations often turn out to be preferable over complex, especially convoluted, ones.
In Cold Case Christianity, Wallace notes a set of criteria which should be met, not just simplicity, which one can use to choose between competing theories of truth.
FEASIBILITY – In trying to explain damage done to a vehicle, in a hit and run case, one does not look to the nearby cat cleaning its fur, as being the force behind the damage. Hopefully, investigators look for another vehicle proportionate to the damage done to the other vehicle.
STRAIGHTFORWARD – As mentioned earlier, simplicity is an explanatory virtue.
EXHAUSTIVE – Explanatory depth. There are multiple pieces of evidence, the hypothesis which covers the most points, alongside other explanatory virtues, is a preferable explanation.
LOGICAL – Of course a hypothesis should be logical, it should possess explanatory consistency.
SUPERIORITY – When one hypothesis accounts for the most evidence, and is the least ad hoc, or contrived, that is more than likely the correct hypothesis.
One might simplify the above by asking which explanation has the least amount of moving parts. An explanation with many moving parts required that more has to go right, and that there is little room for breakdown in the causal chain to explain the state of affairs. This is often why conspiracy theories break down.
Wallace uses this very line of reasoning in attempting to explain the resurrection of Jesus. He, like Gary Habermas, appeal to a set of minimal facts. Why do they appeal to the minimal facts? By appealing to the minimal facts, there are fewer points to disagree on by Biblical critics and as John Warwick Montgomery argued,
” To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.”
In essence, Montgomery was stating that the criteria by which scholars hold to the validity of other ancient documents in the classics, also holds up the Bible. To be skeptical of the Biblical texts results in other documents being questioned just as much. The minimal facts method of argumentation allows for there to be as little controversy as possible, while still being able to defend a thesis.
What are these minimal facts? Wallace outlines these in chapter 2, of Cold Case Christianity.
1. Jesus died on the cross and was buried.
2. Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body.
3. Jesus’ disciples believed that they saw Jesus resurrected from the dead.
4. Jesus’ disciples were transformed following their alleged resurrection observations.
Applying forensic logic, here in the minimal facts we have an undeniable scenario which needs explaining and the critics of the Bible are not short on attempts to explain the empty tomb, not that it was empty, but why it was empty.
Wallace points to hallucination theories, but being a cop he is familiar with group parties where many people are on the same hallucinogen and how the hallucination is not shared by people, but is unique to each individual person. So the hallucination hypothesis does not make sense out of point 3, or 4, since the disciples would have eventually given their heads a shake and come to terms with Jesus’ death.
Discussing the swoon theory, that the disciples were simply wrong about Jesus’ death. Wallace makes an excellent point. Many books on the resurrection point to the fact that Jesus’ side was pierced by the guard and water came out, but unknown to the writers of this time, if Jesus truly was dead on the cross and suffering from “pericardial effusion” that no blood would have come from His side, due to the lack of blood flow to the organs. This was a medical concept unknown to the Biblical writers, which shows the writers were recording events as they saw them.
Wallace brings his forensic experience to this book in a unique way and shows how even though we lack material evidence, there is still eyewitness testimony which can easily be examined alongside competing theories for the absence of a body in the tomb. It was this evidence that shocked him out of his strong atheism, because given how he had seen so much fruitfulness in solving crimes using this very method, the gospel accounts also satisfied this method of discovering truth and could be examined in the same way.