Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 2: Defining the Theory

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 2: Defining the Theory April 7, 2019

Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA) was co-authored by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli.  In HCA, Kreeft attempts to prove that Jesus rose from the dead by disproving four skeptical theories related to the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  One of the skeptical theories that Kreeft attempts to disprove is called “The Conspiracy Theory” (which I will refer to as: TCT).

Before Kreeft can disprove TCT, he must clearly characterize or define that theory.  But Kreeft is too vague and unclear in his thinking to bother providing a clear and well-thought-out description of TCT.  Instead, what we get is at least seven different unclear and poorly-thought-out descriptions/characterizations of TCT.

Kreeft FAILS right out of the starting gate!  He literally does not know what he is talking about.  Since Kreeft fails to clearly define TCT, it is simply not possible for him to refute TCT.  One cannot PROVE a theory to be false when one does not have a clear idea of what that theory asserts and implies.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #1 (based on Kreeft’s Five-Theories chart):

Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus in HCA is reprinted in a series of six posts on the Strange Notions website.  In Part 1 of the series, Kreeft presents a chart with five possible theories, including TCT:

 

Based on this chart, one could reasonably infer that TCT consists of three claims:

1. Jesus died.
2. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.
3. The apostles were deceivers.

This characterization of TCT is clearly mistaken.  The following scenario shows that all three claims could be true, and yet there would be no conspiracy to explain the alleged resurrection of Jesus:

⦁ Jesus drowned in the Sea of Galilee when he tried to walk on water.
⦁ Jesus remained dead after drowning.
⦁ The apostles each had extra-marital affairs and then lied to their wives: each denied ever having had an affair.

Definition #1 FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #2 (based on initial description from Part 1):

In Part 1 of Kreeft’s series of posts, he provides an initial description of TCT:

Theories 2 and 4 constitute a dilemma: if Jesus didn’t rise, then the apostles, who taught that he did, were either deceived (if they thought he did) or deceivers (if they knew he didn’t).

From this characterization one could reasonably infer that TCT consists of these three claims:

1. Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.
2. The apostles taught that Jesus rose from the dead.
3. The apostles knew Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.

But the truth of these three claims is consistent with the MYTH theory, which is a separate theory from TCT.  Suppose the following scenario was the reality:

⦁ Jesus never existed.
⦁ The apostles taught that Jesus existed and rose from the dead.
⦁ The apostles knew that Jesus was a fictional character who never existed.

In this scenario, the three claims ascribed to TCT are all true.  The non-existence of Jesus is one skeptical theory that is contrary to the belief that Jesus rose from the dead, but it is a different theory than TCT, so DEFINITION #2 also FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #3 (based on second description from Part 1):

Kreeft provides another characterization of TCT in Part 1 of his series of posts on the resurrection of Jesus:

…the apostles were deceivers who conspired to foist on the world the most famous and successful lie in history…

Based on this description, one could reasonably infer that TCT consists of just two claims:

1. The apostles were deceivers.
2. The apostles conspired to foist a lie on the world.

This is clearly too vague to constitute a clear definition of TCT.  These two claims would both be true in the following scenario:

⦁ The apostles each had extra-marital affairs and then lied to their wives: each denied ever having had an affair.
⦁ The apostles conspired to foist on the world the false claim that the Jews wanted the Romans to remain in control of Palestine, and they all knew that this claim was false.

However, this has nothing to do with the alleged resurrection of Jesus, so Definition #3 also FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #4 (based on the title of Part 3):

Part 3 of Kreeft’s series of posts is supposed to refute the Conspiracy Theory, so the title of that post could be taken as a characterization of TCT:

Debunking the Conspiracy Theory: 7 Arguments Why Jesus’ Disciples Did Not Lie

This suggests that TCT makes just one single claim:

1. Jesus’ disciples lied.

But we already know that this claim could be true and yet have nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus.  Suppose the following scenario was the case:

⦁ Jesus’ disciples each had extra-marital affairs and then lied to their spouses: each denied ever having had an affair.

In that case Jesus’ disciples would have lied, but there is no conspiracy here and no skeptical explanation of the alleged resurrection.  Definition #4 obviously FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #5 (based on an initial description by Kreeft in Part 3):

In Part 3 of Kreeft’s series of posts on the resurrection, he provides a brief characterization of TCT:

But supposing he [Jesus] did actually die, why couldn’t the disciples have made up the whole story about his resurrection?

From this comment one could reasonably infer that TCT consisted of the following two claims:

1. Jesus died.
2. Jesus’ disciples made up the whole story about Jesus’ resurrection.

This is, once again, inadequate as a characterization of TCT.  Both of these claims would be true if the following scenario were the case:

⦁ Jesus drowned in the Sea of Galilee when he tried to walk on water.
⦁ Jesus’ disciples co-authored a fictional story about Jesus rising from the dead, but they never presented the story as anything but fiction.

Merely inventing a fictional story is NOT the same as persuading others to believe that story to be factual and an accurate description of historical events.  Definition #5 FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #6 (based on quote from Pascal in Part 3):

In Part 3 of Kreeft’s series of posts, he includes a quote from Pascal, which contains a characterization of TCT:

The hypothesis that the Apostles were knaves is quite absurd. Follow it out to the end, and imagine these twelve men meeting after Jesus’ death and conspiring to say that he has risen from the dead.

Based on the quote from Pascal, one could reasonably infer that TCT consists of the following two claims:

1. Jesus died.
2. After Jesus died, the twelve Apostles met and conspired to say that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But these claims could both be true without there being any skeptical explanation of the resurrection. Suppose the following scenario was what happened:

⦁ Jesus drowned in the Sea of Galilee when he tried to walk on water.
⦁ After Jesus died, the twelve Apostles met and conspired to say that Jesus had risen from the dead.
⦁ But before the Apostles left that meeting, they were surrounded by a contingent of Roman soldiers and they were all beaten to death by the soldiers, right then and there.

An agreement between the twelve apostles to proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead does not by itself provide an explanation for how belief in that story spread during the first and second centuries.  Definition #6 FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY DEFINITION #7 (based on second characterization by Kreeft in Part 3):

In Part 3 of Kreeft’s series of posts on the resurrection, he provides another brief characterization of TCT:

…no one…ever confessed, freely or under pressure, bribe or even torture, that the whole story of the resurrection was a fake, a lie, a deliberate deception.

Based on this comment one could reasonably infer that TCT consisted of just one single claim:

1. The whole story of the resurrection of Jesus was a lie, a deliberate deception.

This, however, is clearly inadequate as a definition of TCT.  For one thing, the apostles could have had nothing to do with the story of Jesus’ resurrection.  Suppose the following scenario was the case:

⦁ The whole story of the resurrection was a lie, a deliberate deception invented by the authors of the Gospels (none of whom were apostles) AFTER the twelve Apostles had all died.

Also, the MYTH theory could fit this definition.  Suppose the following scenario was what happened:

⦁ Jesus never existed.
⦁ The apostles taught that Jesus existed and rose from the dead.
⦁ The apostles knew that Jesus was a fictional character who never existed.

While this scenario fits with the MYTH theory, and is contrary to the Christian view, it does NOT fit with the Conspiracy Theory, so definition #7 also FAILS to correctly characterize TCT.

 

CONCLUSION

In baseball you get THREE strikes, then you are out.  Kreeft has had SEVEN strikes now; he made seven different attempts to characterize The Conspiracy Theory and he FAILED each and every time.

Kreeft literally does not know what he is talking about, so he simply cannot PROVE that The Conspiracy Theory is FALSE.  He FAILS at the starting gate, because he has not clearly and carefully defined what The Conspiracy Theory means, what it asserts and implies.  That should have been the very first step in his attempt to disprove TCT.  Unclarity, vagueness, incompleteness, and general intellectual sloppiness prevent Kreeft from making it out of the starting gate.

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