The Problem of Missing Examples

In their presentations of the case for the resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and Michael Licona generally use two parts: a set of supposedly widely accepted basic facts, and a process of historical methodology. The historical methodology itself has three separate elements: methods for determining the basic set of facts, methods for using those facts as evidence to support a hypothesis that explains the set of facts, and then methods for evaluating the hypothesis to judge whether it is the best explanation for the set of facts.

The methods for determining the basic set of facts include various techniques used in New Testament studies and for evaluating other historical documents, such as the “criteria of authenticity,” which include multiple attestation, the criterion of embarrassment, the criterion of dissimilarity, etc. The method for using the facts to support a hypothesis is often described as “inference to the best explanation,” and the method for evaluating the adequacy of the hypothesis involves applying a set of criteria such as the ones developed by C. Behan McCullagh, which include having greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses, having greater explanatory power, not being ad hoc, being plausible, etc.

This whole process is presented by the apologists as being based on generally accepted techniques of performing historical research. The basic idea is that, if you reject their methodology and facts, you’re rejecting standard ways of knowing about history. If you reject their case for the resurrection, you’re implicitly rejecting the possibility of historical knowledge in general, since their case for the historicity of the resurrection is at least as good as the case for other, widely accepted historical events.

The problem is that they never supply adequate, fully-developed examples and case studies to demonstrate that their process of reasoning as a whole, and some parts of it, are truly widely accepted or actively used by other historians who are researching historical events other than the resurrection of Jesus. They will provide examples for individual parts of their set of techniques, or show how some specific alleged historical event (such as the resurrection of Apollonius of Tyana) fails to be as well-supported by the evidence as the resurrection because of some inadequacy. But I have not yet seen a fully developed case study that identifies a set of minimal facts, creates a hypothesis to explain them, and then evaluates it for an event other than the resurrection. Also, the examples used by apologists like Licona to illustrate various elements of their arguments usually seem to somehow be stacked or slanted or not really analogous to the case of the resurrection.

I think part of the problem can be seen if you simply ask a question like, “What are the minimal facts that would be used as evidence to decide whether JFK was killed by a conspiracy?,” or “How would you apply inference to the best explanation to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8, 2014?” There instantly seems to be a lot of difficulties or possible limitations for applying the methods used by the apologists to a wide assortment of contested issues.

I think this problem of the missing examples presents a path for understanding and evaluating the case for the resurrection presented by Habermas, Craig, and Licona. The entry point includes evaluating the examples that they actually give as well as trying to construct or find other examples of their methods being applied to real-world events.