Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 3: Improved Definition

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part 3: Improved Definition April 13, 2019

In Part 2 of this series, I argued that Peter Kreeft suggested at least seven different definitions of “The Conspiracy Theory” (herafter: TCT), each of which was WRONG.  In order to refute TCT, Kreeft must clearly characterize or define TCT, so his refutation FAILS right out of the starting gate.

But in order to evaluate Kreeft’s objections to TCT, we need some sort of definition of TCT that is clearer than what Kreeft provided, and that has some plausibility.  So, I’m going to review the various FAILED attempts of Kreeft to define this theory, and see if I can construct a definition that is clearer and more plausible than any of his attempts, but that borrows elements from his attempts and that builds upon his attempts, so that I am not foisting upon Kreeft a definition of TCT that is a complete departure from his thinking and understanding of TCT.

Three out of seven of Kreeft’s definitions include the statement that “Jesus died” (Definitions #1, #5, and #6).  This is problematic because it is VAGUE.  As I repeatedly pointed out in Part 2,  Jesus could have died by drowning in the Sea of Galilee when he tried to walk on water.  But that scenario would NOT comply with TCT.  So, we need to clarify this vague statement.  Since I have done a good deal of thinking and writing about the alleged resurrection of Jesus, I have a couple of statements of historical claims already at hand, that I can loan to Kreeft for the purpose of fixing his vague criterion:

JWC:  Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem around 30 CE.

DOC: Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.

Jesus’s death on the same day he was crucified is an important detail for the Christian view, but it is not essential to the skeptical view of someone who advocates TCT, so (DOC) should be modified a bit:

Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross.

There are many details provided in the Gospels about the trials and crucifixion of Jesus, but we don’t want to saddle TCT with affirmation of every little detail in those Gospel accounts about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, nor do we want to saddle the Christian theory with every little detail in those Gospel accounts.  The Christian belief in the resurrection could be true even if some of the details in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion were false.

It seems to me that (JWC) and (DOC) get at the crucial and basic historical claims involved in the Christian view of the alleged resurrection of Jesus.

Furthermore, although TCT accepts these aspects of the Christian view or theory, those who advocate TCT reject the bottom line of the Christian theory:

JRD: Jesus rose from the dead.

Furthermore,  TCT supports the rejection of (JRD) by supporting the rejection of another claim that is part of the Christian theory:

JAW:  Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after he was crucified.

If Jesus had died on the cross, and if Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after his crucifixion, then that, according to Kreeft and other Christian believers, would explain why the apostles claimed to have seen and spoken with the risen Jesus (i.e. they actually did see and speak to the risen Jesus), and why the apostles became devout and dedicated Christian believers who preached about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and thus it would explain why the apostles were willing and able to persuade hundreds or thousands of people to become Christian believers, and to believe that Jesus had died on the cross for their sins, and that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

But if (JAW) is false, then how can skeptics account for the witness of the apostles who preached about the death and resurrection of Jesus, and thus explain how belief in Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead would spread to hundreds or thousands of people in the second half of the first century? TCT provides a skeptic with a way to reject (JAW) and yet have a plausible explanation for early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

The conspiracy theory, at least according to Kreeft, involves the claim that: “The apostles were deceivers.” (Definitions #1 and #3) or that “Jesus’ disciples lied.” (Defintion #4).  This part of Kreeft’s definition (just like “Jesus died”) is VAGUE, and needs further clarification.  As I repeatedly pointed out in Part 2, this VAGUE criterion would be satisfied if the apostles were all having affairs and they all lied to their wives, each claiming to never have had an affair.

In this case some of Kreeft’s attempted definitions provide a bit more clarity about this vague claim:

  • The apostles knew Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. (from Definition #2)
  • The apostles conspired to foist a lie on the world. (from Definition #3)
  • Jesus’ disciples made up the whole story about Jesus’ resurrection. (from Definition #5)
  • After Jesus died, the twelve Apostles met and conspired to say that Jesus had risen from the dead. (from Definition #6)
  • The whole story of the resurrection of Jesus was a lie, a deliberate deception. (from Definition #7)

The phrase “Jesus’ disciples” is too vague, but the phrase “the twelve Apostles” seems too specific.  Judas was one of “the twelve apostles” but Judas supposedly killed himself before the other apostles did much preaching about the resurrection of Jesus, so neither the Christian theory nor The Conspiracy Theory holds that ALL of “the twelve Apostles” preached the resurrection of Jesus.

I think there are three different elements to Kreeft’s VAGUE TCT statement “the apostles were deceivers”:

  • The twelve apostles KNEW that they did not physically see or speak with the risen Jesus after Jesus died on the cross.
  • MOST of the twelve apostles met after the crucifixion of Jesus and agreed that they would preach that Jesus had physically risen from the dead and that they had physically seen and spoken with the risen Jesus after Jesus died on the cross.
  • MANY of the twelve apostles preached that Jesus had physically risen from the dead and that they had physically seen and spoken with the risen Jesus after Jesus died on the cross.

The first element is needed in order for the preaching of the apostles to be a “lie” or “deception”; they had to know that their claim to have seen and spoken with the risen Jesus was FALSE.  The second element is needed in order for the preaching of the apostles to be legitimately called a “conspiracy”.  The third element is needed in order for TCT to be able to account for the existence of early Christian belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus; a mere agreement among apostles to preach a lie does not mean that the preaching of the lie actually happened, but the preaching must actually happen in order for many others to be persuaded to adopt the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now we can provide a clearer definition of TCT that is at least somewhat plausible.  TCT asserts the following five claims:

1. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem around 30 CE.

2. Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross.

3. None of the twelve apostles physically saw or spoke with the risen Jesus after Jesus died on the cross.

4. Most of the twelve apostles met after the crucifixion of Jesus and agreed that they would preach that Jesus had physically risen from the dead and that they would preach that they had physically seen and spoken with the risen Jesus after Jesus died on the cross.

5. Many of the twelve apostles preached that Jesus had physically risen from the dead and that they had physically seen and spoken with the risen Jesus after Jesus died on the cross.

The whole point of this theory is to support skepticism about the resurrection of Jesus, so those who advocate TCT do so in support of the following skeptical claims:

  • It is NOT the case that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after he was crucified.
  • It is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead.

But one does not have to prove these two skeptical claims in order to prove the truth of TCT.  In fact, the truth of TCT is logically compatible with it being the case that Jesus rose from the dead.  The disciples could have conspired to lie about Jesus rising from the dead even if Jesus had in fact risen from the dead.  The point of TCT is NOT to prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead, but rather to offer a plausible natural explanation for Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, an explanation that does not involve or require the actual physical resurrection of Jesus.

===================

LOGIC NOTE  4/14/2019

===================

The table of five theories presented by Peter Kreeft appears to imply that TCT asserts “Jesus didn’t rise”:

 

 

 

 

 

I have, however, defined TCT in a way that it does NOT assert “Jesus didn’t rise”.  My motivation was, in part, to avoid begging the question.  The purpose of TCT, it seems to me, is to provide SUPPORT for the skeptical view that “Jesus didn’t rise”.  In order for TCT to provide support for this skeptical view, TCT cannot assert that “Jesus didn’t rise”; otherwise, an inference from TCT to the conclusion “Jesus didn’t rise” would commit the fallacy of begging the question.

In thinking about this apparent “modification” that I was making to Kreeft’s characterization of TCT, it occurred to me that the LOGIC of his argument suggests, or is at least compatible with, my understanding and characterization of TCT.  At the highest level, Kreeft’s argument involves a dilemma:

EITHER Jesus rose from the dead OR it is not the case that Jesus rose from the dead.

Kreeft then analyzes the second horn of the dilemma into four theories:

IF it is not the case that Jesus rose from the dead, THEN either:
(a) the swoon theory is true, or
(b) the deception theory is true, or
(c) the myth theory is true, or
(d) the hallucination theory is true.

Kreeft then attempts to refute each one of these four skeptical theories.

Let’s abbreviate by assigning a letter for each of the four skeptical theories:

S: The swoon theory is true.

D: The deception theory is true.

M: The myth theory is true.

H: The hallucination theory is true.

We can also use an abbriviation for the Christian theory:

R: Jesus rose from the dead.

Now we can symbolize the argument:

  1. R  v  ~R
  2. ~R  É  (S v D v M v H)
  3. ~S
  4. ~D
  5. ~M
  6. ~H

THEREFORE:

7. R

Note that in premise (2) the skeptical claim ~R implies that one of the four skeptical theories is true.  Logical implication goes in one direction.  Thus, even if one could prove that one of the four skeptical theories was true, that would NOT logically imply that ~R was the case, at least not based on what premise (2) asserts.

To infer the skeptical claim ~R from the truth of the disjunction  of the four skeptical theories would be to commit the fallacy of AFFIRMING THE CONSEQUENT.  Thus, the following inference is logically invalid:

  1. ~R  É  (S v D v M v H)
  2. (S v D v M v H)

THEREFORE:

3. ~R

In other words, we cannot validly infer the truth of the skeptical claim ~R from the truth of one of the skeptical theories, at least not based on premise (2) of Kreeft’s argument.

This is OK from a skeptical point of view, because the purpose of these skeptical theories is to provide SUPPORT for the skeptical claim ~R, and they can provide such support in a non-question-begging manner ONLY IF they do not assume or logically imply ~R to be the case.  So, the elimination of alternatives logic that Kreeft’s argument uses, suggests that we ought NOT define any of the skeptical theories as including the assertion that “It is not the case that Jesus rose from the dead”.  Since TCT is one of the skeptical theories, we ought NOT define it as including the skeptical assertion that “It is not the case that Jesus rose from the dead”.

"Good points.Currently, I consider myself to be a "Jesus Agnostic", meaning that I believe that ..."

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part ..."
"Yes, very good points indeed.Also, a fascinating journal of science was published today:https://www.bbc.com/news/he...https://www.nature.com/arti..."These findings demonstrate ..."

The Resurrection of Dr. Sean George ..."
"First if all, the 4 gospel accounts and Acts are so contradictory they cannot be ..."

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part ..."
"Myth has been used as a derogatory dismissive term by many religious folk like Kreeft ..."

Defending the Conspiracy Theory – Part ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment