The Complete FAILURE of Peter Kreeft’s Case for the Resurrection – Part 1: Three Serious Problems

The Complete FAILURE of Peter Kreeft’s Case for the Resurrection – Part 1: Three Serious Problems February 18, 2020

FIVE THEORIES ABOUT JESUS’ ALLEGED RESURRECTION

In Chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), Peter Kreeft identifies Five Theories concerned about “what really happened in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday…” :

1. Christianity: “the resurrection really happened”
2. Hallucination: “the apostles were deceived by a hallucination”
3. Myth: “the apostles created a myth, not meaning it literally”
4. Conspiracy: “the apostles were deceivers who conspired to foist on the world the most famous and successful lie in history”
5. Swoon:  “Jesus only swooned and was resuscitated, not resurrected”

(HCA, p.182)

According to Kreeft all he needs to do is to refute the four skeptical theories that are alternatives to the Christian view:

If we can refute all other theories (2-5), we will have proved the truth of the resurrection (1).

(HCA, p.182)

 

TWO SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH KREEFT’S CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION

There are at least two serious problems with Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus that I have previously discussed in my blog posts:

  • Kreeft FAILED to refute the Conspiracy Theory.
  • Kreeft FAILED to refute the Swoon Theory.

Kreeft raises seven objections against the Conspiracy Theory.  I wrote a series of blog posts showing various problems, errors, and weaknesses with Kreeft’s arguments against the Conspiracy Theory, and I concluded that each of those seven objections FAILS to refute the Conspiracy Theory.

Kreeft raises nine objections against the Swoon TheoryI wrote a series of blog posts showing various problems, errors, and weaknesses with Kreeft’s arguments against the Swoon Theory, and I concluded that each of those nine objections FAILS to refute the Swoon Theory.

  • Kreeft’s FAILURE to refute the Conspiracy Theory is sufficient by itself to SINK his case for the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Kreeft’s FAILURE to refute the Swoon Theory is sufficient by itself to SINK his case for the resurrection of Jesus.

Given that Kreeft has FAILED to refute at least two of the four skeptical theories in his list, his case for the resurrection is a complete FAILURE.  Kreeft has FAILED to prove that Jesus rose from the dead.

 

A THIRD SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH KREEFT’S CASE FOR THE RESURRECTION

But there is another serious problem with Kreeft’s case for the resurrection.  His list of skeptical theories is INCOMPLETE:

  • There are OTHER skeptical theories (besides the four that Kreeft lists) that Kreeft has NOT even attempted to refute.

Kreeft uses a bit of logic in order to try to make it appear that the four skeptical theories in his list cover ALL of the logical possibilities.  But if you examine that logic more closely, it becomes clear that there are MANY OTHER skeptical theories that he has neglected to mention or to consider, and this problem is sufficient by itself to SINK Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus.

 

THE INITIAL DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S ANALYSIS OF THE LOGICAL POSSIBILITIES

There is a diagram in Chapter 8 that is an important part of Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus (click on the image below for a clearer view of the diagram):

 

On the left side of the diagram, we see a dilemma between two alternatives:

Jesus died

OR

Jesus didn’t die

There are problems in Kreeft’s logic right away, problems with this initial dilemma.  These two alternatives are VAGUE and in need of clarification.  Taken literally, these alternatives are not relevant to the question about whether Jesus rose from the dead:

Jesus died eventually (at some point in the past).

OR

Jesus didn’t ever die (and is now a human being who is over 2,000 years old).

Those are NOT the two alternatives that Kreeft had in mind.

In relation to the question of whether Jesus rose from the dead, the first alternative can be stated more carefully and precisely:

Jesus died before he was removed from the cross.

OR

Jesus didn’t die before he was removed from the cross.

These alternatives are clearer and are relevant to the question of the resurrection, but this is NOT a true dilemma, because these two alternatives do NOT comprehend ALL logical possibilities.

Both of these statements ASSUME that there was a point in time in which Jesus “was removed from the cross”.  So, both of these statements make the following three assumptions:

  • Jesus was an actual historical person.
  • Jesus was crucified.
  • At some point in time after Jesus was crucified, Jesus was removed from his cross.

The so-called “dilemma” that occurs at the beginning of the chart about alternative theories does NOT encompass ALL logical possibilities.  It excludes, for example, the following three skeptical possibilities:

  • Jesus was NOT an actual historical person.
  • Jesus was an actual historical person, but Jesus was never crucified.
  • Jesus was an actual historical person who was crucified, but his body was never removed from his cross.

These are more extreme skeptical theories, compared to the four skeptical theories that Kreeft considers, but that is no excuse for failing to consider them, and for failing to attempt to refute them.  If Kreeft thinks that these theories are silly or ridiculous, then from that point of view it should be very easy to refute these theories, so Kreeft has no excuse for failing to attempt to refute these three additional skeptical theories, but Kreeft makes no attempt to refute any of those three theories.

 

A TRUE INITIAL DILEMMA FOR THE ANALYSIS OF THE LOGICAL POSSIBILITIES

In order to begin the logical breakdown with a true dilemma, we need to consider the following alternatives:

Jesus was an actual historical person.

OR

It is NOT the case that Jesus was an actual historical person.

The second alternative above reflects at least one skeptical theory, or one category of skeptical theories.  Kreeft makes no effort to disprove the skeptical theory that Jesus was a legend or fictional character.  So, if we add this skeptical theory to the four that Kreeft has identified, there are at least FIVE skeptical theories that need to be refuted in order for Kreeft’s case for the resurrection to be successful.

 

A SECOND NEW DILEMMA

The first alternative above (Jesus was an actual historical person) needs to be divided by another true dilemma:

Jesus was crucified.

OR

It is NOT the case that Jesus was crucified.

Again the second alternative here reflects at least one more skeptical theory, or one category of skeptical theories.  One example of such a theory is this:

There was a case of mistaken identity and someone who looked like Jesus was arrested and crucified by Roman soldiers because they thought this person was Jesus of Nazareth.  Some of the followers of Jesus saw this man crucified, and they too believed that the crucified man was Jesus.  Jesus had left Jerusalem about the same time that this other man who looked like Jesus was crucified, so when Jesus’ disciples heard that Jesus had been arrested, crucified, and buried, they believed that Jesus had in fact been arrested, crucified, and buried.  Later, when they met up with Jesus again, they sincerely but mistakenly inferred that Jesus must have risen from the dead.

This is a significant skeptical theory that Kreeft never mentions, and that Kreeft made no effort to disprove.  So, we now see that there are at least SIX skeptical theories that need to be refuted in order for Kreeft’s case for the resurrection to be successful. But Kreeft only attempted to refute FOUR skeptical theories, and he FAILED to refute at least TWO of those theories.

 

A THIRD DILEMMA, SIMILAR TO THE FIRST DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S ANALYSIS

The first alternative (Jesus was crucified) needs to be divided into two possibilities by another dilemma:

Jesus was dead when his body was removed from the cross.

OR

It is NOT the case that Jesus was dead when his body was removed from the cross.

This is similar to the original dilemma that Kreeft used to begin his analysis:

Jesus died

OR

Jesus didn’t die

But the 3rd Dilemma that I’m proposing in this revised analysis is clearer and is relevant to the issue of the resurrection.

The most obvious skeptical theory related to the second alternative of the 3rd dilemma (It is NOT the case that Jesus was dead when his body was removed from the cross) is, as Kreeft’s diagram indicates, the Swoon Theory.

However, other skeptical theories could also be related to the second alternative of the 3rd dilemma.  In Part 1 of my series “Defending the Swoon Theory”, I show that the Swoon Theory involves a claim or assumption about WHY the Roman soldiers allowed Jesus’ body to be removed from the cross (Jesus Appeared to be Dead):

(JAD) Jesus had swooned (or was unconscious) and he appeared to be dead, so the Roman soldiers mistakenly believed that he was already dead, and for that reason they allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross, even though Jesus was actually still alive.

But there are MANY different possible explanations for WHY the Roman soldiers might have allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross, even though he was still alive.

Here are six alternatives to (JAD), which would, if we define the Swoon Theory in terms of (JAD), mean that these possibilities represent SIX MORE skeptical theories in addition to the Swoon Theory:

  • The Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive because they were bribed to do so.
  • The Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive because they were threatened to make them do this.
  • The Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive because they got drunk and fell asleep.
  • The Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive because they were followers of Jesus and wanted to help Jesus to survive.
  • The Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive because they were ordered by a superior officer to do so.
  • The Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive because they were overpowered and killed by some anti-Roman Jewish Zealots who were angered by the crucifixion of Jesus.

So, if “the Swoon Theory” is understood as asserting (JAD), then it follows logically that there are at least SIX more alternative skeptical theories to add to our collection of SIX skeptical theories, meaning that at least TWELVE different skeptical theories would need to be refuted in order for Kreeft’s case for the resurrection to be successful.  But Kreeft has only attempted to refute FOUR skeptical theories, and he FAILED to refute at least TWO of those theories.

 

A FOURTH DILEMMA, VERY SIMILAR TO THE SECOND DILEMMA IN KREEFT’S ANALYSIS

The first alternative (Jesus was dead when his body was removed from the cross) needs to be divided into two possibilities by another dilemma.  We can use a dilemma that is basically the same as one used in Kreeft’s analysis:

Jesus rose from the dead.

OR

It is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead.

Kreeft identifies the first alternative with “Christianity” or the Christian theory.  But there are also skeptical theories that are associated with this first alternative:

  • The devil raised Jesus from the dead.
  • A demon raised Jesus from the dead.
  • An angel raised Jesus from the dead (on his own initiative, without God’s approval).
  • A witch or wizard used magic to raise Jesus from the dead.
  • A finite deity (like Zeus or Venus) raised Jesus from the dead.
  • A fairy raised Jesus from the dead.
  • Jesus rose from the dead by the power of a philosopher’s stone.

There are many other such skeptical theories that are possible.   Skeptics often reject belief in supernatural beings and forces, so most skeptics would not endorse such supernatural theories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  However, there are many people who do believe in supernatural beings or forces who are not Christians, and who might well challenge the Christian theory about Jesus’ death and alleged resurrection.  They might not call themselves “skeptics”, but they are nevertheless skeptical about the Christian theory.

Kreeft has not considered any such skeptical theories, nor has Kreeft made any attempt to refute such theories.  There are at least SEVEN such theories, and we have previously identified at least TWELVE skeptical theories, so there are at least NINETEEN skeptical theories that need to be refuted in order for Kreeft’s case for the resurrection to be successful.  But Kreeft only attempted to refute FOUR skeptical theories, and he FAILED to refute at least TWO of those theories.

 

THE FAILURE OF KREEFT’S TRILEMMA

Most of the skeptical theories that Kreeft does consider are related to the second alternative above (It is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead).  Kreeft divides this possibility into a “trilemma”, into three different categories, each of which corresponds to one skeptical theory:

The apostles were deceived—-> Hallucination Theory

OR

The apostles were myth-makers—-> Myth Theory

OR

The apostles were deceivers—-> Conspiracy Theory

But this is NOT a true trilemma, because this logical analysis FAILS to encompass ALL of the skeptical theories that are associated with the second alternative above (It is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead, and Jesus was dead when his body was removed from the cross).

For example, the stories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus could have developed AFTER “the apostles” (i.e. the inner-circle of disciples of Jesus) had all died.  The “deceivers” or “myth-makers” could have been the next generation of followers of Jesus (i.e. the disciples of the eleven disciples).  [This skeptical theory was mentioned in a comment by “Carstonio” in response to my Defending the Swoon Theory – INDEX post.]  There may be some significant problems with this theory, but it is clearly a skeptical theory that does NOT FIT under any of the above three categories.  Therefore, it is clear that those three categories FAIL to encompass ALL of the skeptical theories that are associated with the second alternative above (It is NOT the case that Jesus rose from the dead, and Jesus was dead when his body was removed from the cross).

This new skeptical theory means that there are now at least TWENTY different skeptical theories that Kreeft needs to refute in order for his case for the resurrection to be successful.  But Kreeft only attempted to refute FOUR skeptical theories, and he FAILED to refute at least TWO of those theories.

 

A FIFTH DILEMMA, BASED ON A LEMMA FROM KREEFT’S FAILED TRILEMMA

The existence of this added skeptical theory also means that we should revise and improve Kreeft’s logical analysis of possible theories.  I suggest we stick to using dilemmas, to make sure that we cover ALL possible theories.  Let’s start with the first lemma that Kreeft used in his FAILED trilemma:

the apostles were deceived

I prefer the clearer designation “the eleven disciples of Jesus” instead of unclear phrase “the apostles”, and we also need to be more specific about the deception involved here:

The eleven disciples of Jesus were deceived into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead

OR

It is NOT the case that the eleven disciples of Jesus were deceived into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead

Kreeft associates the first alternative with the Hallucination theory.  Experiencing hallucinations of Jesus would indeed be a way that the eleven disciples of Jesus could have been DECEIVED into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.  But there are clearly OTHER WAYS that they could have been deceived into accepting this belief:

  • Vivid dreams – of seeing, and talking to, Jesus
  • Mistaken Identity – seeing a person who happened to look and act like Jesus
  • Intentionally Fooled – by an actor wearing make-up and/or disguised to look like Jesus
  • Intentionally Fooled – by a person who naturally (without make-up or disguise) looked like Jesus
  • False Memories – implanted by hypnosis or suggestion, of having seen, or spoken with, the risen Jesus
  • False Memories – implanted by the Devil, of having seen, or spoken with, the risen Jesus
  • Visions of Jesus in heaven – leading to the mistaken belief that Jesus had a new resurrected body

There are at least SEVEN other ways that the disciples could have been DECEIVED into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead, so if we add those skeptical theories to our existing pile of TWENTY skeptical theories, it follows that there are at least TWENTY-SEVEN skeptical theories that need to be refuted in order for Kreeft’s case for the resurrection to be successful.  But Kreeft only attempted to refute FOUR skeptical theories, and he FAILED to refute at least TWO of those theories.

I have not completed my revision of Peter Kreeft’s analysis of the logical possibilities concerning alternative skeptical theories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus, but so far I have identified a number of gaps and problems with Kreeft’s analysis, and I have shown that there are at least TWENTY-SEVEN alternative skeptical theories, which means that Kreeft needs to refute at least TWENTY-SEVEN skeptical theories, not just the FOUR skeptical theories that he attempted to refute in his Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

 

 


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