bookmark_borderDefending the Swoon Theory – Part 3: The Deadliness of Roman Crucifixion

In this series of posts I will defend the Survival Theory (TST) against the nine objections that Peter Kreeft puts forward in Chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA).   Kreeft’s nine objections to TST can also be found in an online article at the Strange Notions website.
(NOTE: Kreeft mistakenly takes aim at the Swoon Theory, but in Part 1 of this series, I argue that he must take on the more general skeptical theory that Jesus SURVIVED crucifixion.)
 
KREEFT’S FAILED JUSTIFICATION OF HIS USE OF GOSPEL TEXTS
In Part 2 of this series, I argued that seven out of Kreeft’s nine objections against TST are problematic because they are based on the questionable assumption that the Gospels are historically reliable (or that various passages in the Gospels are historically reliable).  Kreeft recognizes that his use of Gospel passages as proof of his historical claims is problematic and he makes an attempt to defend his use of those Gospel passages.
Kreeft makes two points in defense of his reliance on Gospel passages.  The first point is this:

But the swoon theory does not challenge the truths in the texts which we refer to as data…

In Part 2, I argue that this point is IRRELEVANT to the question of whether Kreeft should use various Gospel passages as proof of his historical claims.
Kreeft’s second point is AMBIGUOUS between two different statements:

(1) TST is a THEORY that assumes or implies the historical claims that Kreeft uses in his objections against TST.

(2) Some of the ARGUMENTS for TST assume or imply the historical claims that Kreeft uses in his objections against TST.

In Part 2, I argued that (1) is clearly FALSE, that (2) appears to also be FALSE, and that (2) is insignificant even if true.  Thus, on either interpretation, this second point fails to justify his use of various dubious Gospel passages as proof of his historical claims.  So, right off the bat, we can see that seven out of Kreeft’s nine objections are dubious, because they are based on historical claims that are questionable because they are supported by dubious Gospel passages.
 
OBJECTION #1: THE DEADLINESS OF ROMAN CRUCIFIXION
In future posts, I will go into more details about the problems with the seven objections that are based on dubious Gospel passages, but for now, let’s focus on one of the two objections that are NOT based on dubious Gospel passages: Objection #1.
Kreeft’s first objection against TST does not rest on dubious Gospel passages:

Jesus could not have survived crucifixion. Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate that possibility. Roman law even laid the death penalty on any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including bungling a crucifixion. It was never done.  (HCA, p.183)

The Gospels do not specify “Roman procedures” for executions or crucifixions.  The Gospels do not specify what punishment was given to Roman soldiers who let a capital prisoner escape or who bungle a crucifixion.  The Gospels do not assert generalizations about the deadliness of Roman crucifixion or about how Roman crucifixion ALWAYS resulted in the death of a crucified person.  None of Kreeft’s historical claims in Objection #1 are based on a dubious Gospel passage.
The first sentence states the conclusion of the objection:

Jesus could not have survived crucifixion.

Kreeft has in mind specifically crucifixion as practiced by the Roman military.  The other sentences state historical claims that are reasons for believing the conclusion:

  • Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate that possibility.
  • Roman law even laid the death penalty on any soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including bungling a crucifixion.
  • It was never done.

Let’s clarify the historical claims that Kreeft asserts in this argument (clarifications in blue font):

1. Roman procedures were very careful to eliminate the possibility of a person surviving crucifixion.

2. Roman law even laid the death penalty on any Roman soldier who let a capital prisoner escape in any way, including bungling a crucifixion.

3. No Roman soldier ever let a capital prisoner escape or ever bungled a crucifixion.

THEREFORE:

4. Jesus could not have survived Roman crucifixion.

There is some AMBIGUITY in the logic of Kreeft’s argument.   Premise (3) is sufficient all by itself to imply the conclusion (4).  So, it is not clear whether premises (1) and (2) are supposed to provide independent support for (4) or whether they are supposed to provide evidence in support of premise (3), while premise (3) provides the main reason in support of (4).
Premises (1) and (2) appear to work together, in that they concern the related concepts of “willing” and “able”.  Premise (1) about procedures for Roman crucifixion supports the idea that Roman soldiers were ABLE to consistently bring about the deaths of victims of crucifixion, because they had excellent procedures to follow.  Premise (2) about the death penalty for bungling a crucifixion supports the idea that the Roman solders were WILLING to do a careful and thorough job of crucifying people who had been condemned to be crucified, because they had the motivation of avoiding the death penalty for bungling a crucifixion.
There are at least two different ways to diagram the logic of this argument.  First, we could take the first two premises to be an argument supporting the third premise, and the third premise to be the main reason supporting the conclusion:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alternatively, we could take the first two premises to provide one reason supporting the conclusion, and the third premise to provide an additional reason for the conclusion:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Let’s consider the first interpretation of the logical structure first.  Premises (1) and (2) do work together to provide some support for premise (3), so this interpretation of the logical structure of the argument has some initial plausibility.  However, the combination of (1) and (2) provide only weak support for (3).
Even if we assume that (1) and (2) are true, there is still a significant chance that premise (3) is FALSE.  Suppose that the crucifixion “procedures” of the Roman military were excellent procedures, so that following those procedures would virtually guarantee that a person who was crucified would die before being removed from the cross.  In that case, premise (1) would be true.  Suppose that it was the case that any bungling of an execution by a Roman soldier, such that the condemned person was still alive after the supposed execution, would result in the death penalty for that Roman soldier.  This would mean that premise (2) was true.  The death penalty would provide a significant motivation for Roman soldiers to follow the excellent procedures of the Roman military for crucifixions (when crucifixion was the means used to execute the condemned person).  Does premise (3) follow from these assumptions?

3. No Roman soldier ever let a capital prisoner escape or ever bungled a crucifixion.

There are at least three different ways that (3) could FAIL to be the case, even if (1) and (2) were true.
First, even if a soldier is strongly motivated to follow the crucifixion procedures of the Roman military, the soldier might unintentionally FAIL to follow those procedures.  If the soldier was drunk, hungover, or physically exhausted, the soldier might fail to accurately remember some of the crucifixion procedures, even if he made a determined effort to follow the procedures correctly.  If the soldier had been poorly trained in the crucifixion procedures, then he might fail to follow some of the Roman crucifixion procedures, because of the poor training.  If the soldier was inexperienced in crucifixion, and his training in Roman crucifixion procedures took place a year or more prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, the soldier might fail to accurately remember some of the crucifixion procedures.  If the Roman soldier was very poor at learning military procedures, the soldier might fail to accurately remember some of the crucifixion procedures, even if the soldier had been fully and properly trained on those procedures.  There are MANY possible reasons why a Roman soldier might unintentionally FAIL to correctly follow some of the procedures for crucifixion, even if the soldier was strongly motivated to follow them.
Second, if a soldier was strongly motivated by the threat of the death penalty for letting a capital prisoner escape death, that could actually lead the soldier to intentionally FAIL to correctly follow some of the standard procedures for crucifixion.  A soldier might mistakenly believe that some of the standard procedures for crucifixion were faulty and that following those faulty procedures could result in failure to kill off the victim.  Because the law, according to Kreeft, is that the death penalty would be incurred for failure to kill the person who was condemned to crucifixion and NOT for failure to correctly follow standard crucifixion procedures, a mistaken belief of a soldier that some of the procedures were faulty would lead a soldier who was strongly motivated to avoid the death penalty to ignore or modify some of the procedures in an attempt to ensure the death of the person condemned to crucifixion, and thus to avoid the death penalty for failing to kill off the condemned person.
Third, the threat of the death penalty is NOT a guarantee that EVERY person will be strongly motivated to comply with the law in question.  If the death penalty could guarantee that EVERY person would comply with the law, then there would be no murders in states and countries that imposed the death penalty for murder.  But there are plenty of murders in states and countries that impose the death penalty for murder.  It is unclear whether the death penalty deters murder, and if it does deter murder, the deterrent effect is fairly small and minimal; it does NOT eliminate murder, nor does it cause a huge and obvious reduction in murder rates.  So, even if we assume that the death penalty was imposed on Roman soldiers for any bungling of a crucifixion, and even if we assume that every Roman soldier was aware of this being the case, it does not follow that Roman soldiers always carefully followed the Roman procedures for crucifixion.  There are always foolish people or people who are careless about their own lives, who will disobey laws even when the death penalty is the punishment for disobedience to the law.
It is worth noting that Roman soldiers are thought of as being tough and brave, like how we think about the Marines.  But if Roman soldiers were generally tough and brave, then they were not the sort of people who would be fearful of death.  If so, then the threat of capital punishment would NOT be as strong of a motivation for Roman soldiers as it would be for you and me.  If Roman soldiers often bravely stared death in the face, then threatening them with capital punishment would not necessarily provide a strong motivation to Roman soldiers to carefully follow the procedures for crucifixion.
It is clear that although premises (1) and (2) provide some support for premise (3), they do NOT provide strong support for (3), but provide only weak support.  Even if we assume (1) and (2) to be true, there is still a very good chance that (3) could be FALSE.  In my view (1) and (2) do not even make (3) probable.  Thus, on the first interpretation of the logical structure of Objection #1, this objection FAILS, because it provides only weak support for the premise (3), which is the key premise supporting the conclusion (4).
What about the second interpretation of the logical structure of Objection #1?  The same sorts of considerations about the first interpretation apply to this interpretation as well.   Premises (1) and (2) leave open various possibilities where a Roman soldier might unintentionally, or even intentionally, FAIL to correctly follow Roman military procedures for crucifixion, and they also leave open the possibility that some Roman soldiers might not be strongly motivated by the threat of the death penalty to carefully and correctly follow Roman military procedures for crucifixion.  Given the various ways in which (1) and (2) could be true, and yet some Roman soldiers might FAIL to carefully and correctly follow crucifixion procedures that (allegedly) would virtually guarantee the death of a person condemned to crucifixion, the combination of premises (1) and (2) does NOT provide strong support for the conclusion (4), but only provides weak support for the conclusion.
What about premise (3) as a separate reason in support of (4)?  Taken literally, premise (3) begs the question.  It begs the question in the same way that the claim “Miracles cannot ever happen” begs the question against the resurrection of Jesus.  In order to know that “Miracles cannot ever happen”  one must first know that the belief that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is FALSE.  So, to assert that “Miracles cannot ever happen” requires the assumption that belief in the resurrection of Jesus is mistaken, which begs the question at issue.  Similarly, in order to know that “No Roman soldier ever let a capital prisoner escape or ever bungled a crucifixion.”  one must first know that the belief that “Jesus survived his crucifixion” is mistaken, which begs the question at issue.
But we can interpret (3) in such a way that it does NOT beg the question:

3a. Setting aside the specific case of the crucifixion of Jesus, no Roman soldier ever let a capital prisoner escape or ever bungled a crucifixion.

This slightly modified version of (3) provides a strong inductive reason for believing that Jesus did NOT survive his crucifixion.  However, like (3) this is a very broad historical generalization, and it is hard to see how one could possibly know this claim to be true.
First of all, Kreeft has provided NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE whatsoever in support of premise (3) or (3a).  Thus, as it stands, Objection #1 is a FAILURE, because it is based on a strong historical claim for which we are given ZERO historical evidence.
Second, the Romans used crucifixion for centuries and they used it at least tens of thousands of times, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times.  Is there some ancient Roman catalog that has details about tens of thousands of crucifixions, including the end results of those crucifixions?  Even if there were, and this catalog specified that the victims died in each and every case, why should we believe this catalog to be completely accurate?  Who would be the source of the information in this catalog? Wouldn’t Roman military officers (the most likely source of such information) be reluctant to officially report that some victims of crucifixion had survived or escaped?  If the death penalty was prescribed for such failures, it seems obvious that Roman officers and soldiers would have a strong motivation to LIE and cover up any failures to bring about the deaths of persons condemned to crucifixion.
I’m fairly confident that there is no ancient catalog of thousands of Roman crucifixions that took place over hundreds of years.  If there were such a document, I would expect Kreeft or other Christian apologists to be familiar with that document and to reference it constantly.  But then, what sort of historical evidence could there be that would provide strong support for Kreeft’s very strong historical claim? I believe that Kreeft and other Christian apologists have no solid historical evidence to back up this very strong claim.  This is just Christian apologetics based on wishful thinking and bullshit.
Furthermore, why would there be a law that imposes the death penalty on Roman soldiers who FAIL to bring about the death of a person condemned to crucifixion?  The very existence of such a law implies that this was a problem or concern.  In other words, the effort to write and pass this law was probably based on some concern that Roman soldiers would sometimes FAIL to bring about the death of a person condemned to crucifixion, and that concern was probably based on the occurrence of multiple instances where Roman soldiers did in fact FAIL to bring about the death of a person condemned to crucifixion.  If there had been ZERO instances of this problem, then it is unlikely that such a law would ever be formulated and passed.
 
OBJECTION #1 FAILS
In conclusion, Objection #1 FAILS, because the combination of premises (1) and (2) provide only a weak reason in support of (3) and in support of (4), and because premise (3) taken literally begs the question at issue, and because (3) when interpreted to make the non-question begging claim (3a) is still a very strong historical claim for which Kreeft has provided ZERO historical evidence, an historical claim which is very dubious and likely to be FALSE.
It should also be noted that Kreeft has provided ZERO historical evidence in support of premises (1) and (2).  I suspect that (1) is FALSE, because I doubt that there were standard procedures for Roman crucifixions (specific military procedures used across the Roman empire and across the centuries in which the empire existed).  Were victims of crucifixion always nailed to crosses? Nope. Most were probably tied to their crosses. Were victims of crucifixion always hung on crosses made of lumber? Nope. Some were hung on trees.  Some were hung on upright stakes.  Did Roman soldiers ALWAYS break the legs of victims of crucifixion?  Nope.  Not according to the Gospel of John.  Were victims of crucifixion always positioned upright with their arms outstretched?  Nope.  Some were crucified upside down.  There appears to be a wide variety in how Roman soldiers crucified people, so it seems doubtful that they consistently followed a set of specific procedures when crucifying people.
I suspect that (2) is TRUE or partially true. But I would like to read the specific law in question, and have information about when that law was created, and information about whether the law was actually applied and how often the death penalty was actually carried out on Roman soldiers for failure to bring about the death of a condemned person.  Kreeft provides no such historical details. There is a bit of a dilemma for Kreeft here: if no Roman soldier was ever executed for failure to successfully carry out a crucifixion, then that would have significantly reduced the perceived threat of this death penalty, but if Roman soldiers were from time to time executed for failure to successfully carry out a crucifixion, then that would be strong evidence that (3) and (3a) were FALSE.

bookmark_borderThe Resurrection of Dr. Sean George – Part 5: Evaluation of Premise (A4)

WHERE WE ARE AT
In Part 4 of this series I argued that premise (1c) of Dr. Sean George’s argument is FALSE:

1c. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for 1 hour and 25 minutes and then he came back to life without any neurological problems. (factual claim)

The data that George provided only shows that he was clinically dead for at least 75 minutes or 1 hour and 15 minutes, but we can revise this premise and his argument to avoid this objection:

1d. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes and then he came back to life without any neurological problems. (factual claim)

A4. Only God can cause a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems. (metaphysical claim)

THEREFORE:

2d. Dr. Sean George was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes and then God caused him to come back to life without any neurological problems. (miracle claim)

With this minor change to his argument, the only potential problem with this clarified and revised version of George’s argument would be premise (A4).  So, I will now try to determine whether this premise is true or false.
 
GEORGE’S ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (A4)
Dr. Sean George makes a comment that suggests an argument in support of premise (A4):

There aren’t many well documented cases of patients being clinically dead for so long, returning to life with their memory perfectly intact and without any neurological problems at all. Medically this is impossible; it could only be done by God.  (from: “The day God raised me from the Dead” by Dr. Sean George)

Here is the argument in standard form:

3.  It is medically impossible for a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems.

4. IF it is medically impossible for a person a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems, THEN only God can cause a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems.

THEREFORE:

A4. Only God can cause a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems.

As I pointed out in Part 2 of this series, there is nothing miraculous about someone being clinically dead for over an hour and then reviving and surviving this serious medical event.  In some cases the use of CPR has resulted in people who have been clinically dead for over two hours reviving and surviving.  So, it is NOT medically impossible for someone to be clinically dead for an hour and fifteen minutes, and yet to revive and survive.
Dr. Sean George’s claim, however, is that it is the COMBINATION of surviving after being clinically dead for an hour and fifteen minutes  AND being “without any neurological problems” that constitutes a miracle, and that such an outcome is “medically impossible” in those circumstances.  But there is a basic flaw in his thinking here.  It is SURVIVAL that is the biggest hurdle, NOT avoiding neurological problems.
There is a LOW PROBABILITY of survival for cardiac arrest in general, and there is an even LOWER PROBABILITY of survival after being clinically dead for over an hour, but IF one survives cardiac arrest, then the probability of having a good neurological outcome is fairly HIGH.  Thus, the additional factor of Dr. Sean George being “without any neurological problems” after recovering from being in cardiac arrest for over an hour, only reduces the probability of this outcome by a modest amount.  This additional factor does NOT transform the LOW PROBABILITY of his survival into something that is so improbable that his outcome should be considered “medically impossible”.
Because there are MILLIONS of instances of cardiac arrest around the world each year (about 8 million),  even outcomes that occur only once in ten million instances of cardiac arrest are LIKELY to occur over the course of just a few years, and outcomes that occur only once in a million instances of cardiac arrest are LIKELY to occur just about every year (see Part 2 of this series, where I discuss Littlewood’s Law).  Thus, even if the probability of a cardiac arrest where someone revives and survives after over an hour of CPR and ends up without any neurological problems is very small (equal to one chance in ten million), such an event would NOT constitute a miracle, and should NOT be considered to be a “medically impossible” outcome.
 
STATISTICS ON SURVIVAL VS. SURVIVAL WITH A GOOD NEUROLOGICAL OUTCOME
In cases of in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA), the chances of survival (in the USA) are about one in four (or, more precisely: 25.6% survive to discharge).  Of those survivors, 85.9% have good neurological outcomes:

Similarly, in cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), the chances of survival (in EMS-treated non-traumatic cardiac arrests in the USA) are only about one in ten (or, more precisely: 10.4% survive to discharge).  But of those who do survive, about 80.8% have good neurological outcomes:

These statistics on IHCA and OHCA are from the latest annual report by the American Heart Association (“Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2019 Update”, see the data in Table 17-2 at the end of Chapter 17).
So, we see that with cardiac arrest it is survival that has a LOW probability, but for those who do survive, the probability is HIGH that the survivor will have a good neurological outcome.  Thus, the additional factor of having a good neurological outcome only reduces the overall probability (of the conjunction of the outcome of surviving with the outcome of having good neurological function) a modest amount.  Dr. Sean George is mistaken in thinking that it is improbable for survivors of cardiac arrest to have good neurological function; the opposite is the case: for those who do survive cardiac arrest it is PROBABLE that they will end up with good neurological function.
 
CASE STUDIES OF PROLONGED CPR
Dr. Sean George would likely protest at this point that both his survival and his ending up without any neurological problems is virtually impossible, because of the long period of time that he remained in cardiac arrest: at least 1 hour and 15 minutes.
It is true that being in a state of cardiac arrest for over an hour greatly reduces the probability of survival; however, it is NOT true that this greatly reduces the probability of a good neurological outcome, in cases where such a person does survive.  It appears that the probability of having a good neurological outcome (given that a person survives the cardiac arrest) does NOT decline rapidly with each additional minute of CPR or cardiac arrest in the way that the probability of survival declines rapidly during with each additional minute of CPR or cardiac arrest.
In a study of medical reports about specific cases of prolonged CPR, it was determined that there was “full neurological recovery” reported in 92.6% of those who survived for at least one year after prolonged CPR (68 survived and 63 had full neurological recovery):

 
This data is from the article “Review and Outcome of Prolonged
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation” in Critical Care Research and Practice (Volume 2016, Article ID 7384649).
But this evidence is anecdotal, and it seems likely that it is a biased sample, because a medical doctor is more likely to write up a report on a case of prolonged CPR with a positive outcome (like survival and like full neurological recovery) than to do so on a case with a negative outcome (like death or survival with significant neurological impairment).  Similarly, a reviewer or editor is more likely to favor publication of a report of a case of prolonged CPR with a positive outcome than a  case with a negative outcome.
 
GENERAL STUDIES OF PROLONGED CPR
But there are other studies about prolonged CPR that do not involve such apparent bias in their collection of data.  A study of pediatric in-hospital cardiac arrest showed that the majority of survivors had good neurological function, and there was only a ten percent difference in the portion of survivors who had good neurological function between those who were revived after less than 15 minutes of CPR compared with those who were revived after over 35 minutes of CPR:

 
This data is from the article “Duration of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Illness Category Impact Survival and Neurological Outcomes for In-hospital Pediatric Cardiac Arrests” (Circulation. 2013; 127: 442-451.)
Another study of cardiac arrests in adults arrived at a similar conclusion.  While 81.2% of cardiac arrest survivors who revived after less than 15 minutes of CPR had good neurological outcomes, 78.4% of  cardiac arrest survivors who revived after over 30 minutes of CPR also had good neurological outcomes:

 
This data is from the  article “Duration of Resuscitation Efforts and Survival After In-Hospital Cardiac Arrest: An Observational Study” (Lancet 2012; 380: 1473-81.)
So, both in pediatric and adult cases of cardiac arrest, MOST survivors have good neurological outcomes even in cases of prolonged CPR.   The duration of CPR does NOT greatly reduce the percentage of survivors who will have good neurological outcomes.  If a person survives cardiac arrest, then he or she will PROBABLY end up with good neurological function.
 
PREMISE (3) IS FALSE
Based on the above data about good neurological outcomes after cardiac arrest, it is clear that premise (3) of George’s reasoning is FALSE:

3.  It is medically impossible for a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems.

Because George’s argument for (A4) is based on this FALSE assumption, George has provided no good reason to believe that (A4) is true:

A4. Only God can cause a person who was clinically dead for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to come back to life without any neurological problems.

Furthermore, because it is clear that the use of CPR sometimes results in people reviving and surviving who had been clinically dead for over one hour and 15 minutes, and because MOST survivors of prolonged CPR have good neurological outcomes, it appears to be the case that (A4) itself is FALSE.  That means that Dr. Sean George’s argument for his claim that God raised him from the dead is an UNSOUND argument, and that he has failed to provide us with a good reason to believe his miracle claim.

bookmark_borderDefending the Swoon Theory – Part 2: Use of Biblical Texts

WHERE WE ARE AT
In Part 1 of this series of posts, I argued that Peter Kreeft’s definition of “the Swoon Theory” should be rejected, because if we accept his definition, then his case for the resurrection of Jesus immediately FAILS.
Kreeft’s definition of “the Swoon Theory”asserts a specific explanation for the behavior of the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus:

(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.  So, if “the Swoon Theory” is defined as asserting (JAD), then it follows logically that there are MANY alternative skeptical theories which Kreeft has failed to take into account in his case for the resurrection of Jesus.
So, to help Kreeft escape from his own logically inept self-destruction, we must provide a BROADER definition of “the Swoon Theory”.  I propose that we understand this theory to assert the following three claims, and NOT to assert or imply (JAD):

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

(JAR) Jesus of Nazareth was still alive when he was removed from the cross, and he survived for at least a few days or a few weeks after he was removed from the cross.

(SJA) Most of the twelve apostles became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead because at least some of the twelve apostles actually saw Jesus of Nazareth alive at some point after he was crucified and removed from the cross.

Because this BROADER definition makes no reference to Jesus swooning, nor to him being unconscious, nor to Jesus appearing to be dead, it is MISLEADING to call this theory “the Swoon Theory” or “the Apparent Death Theory”.  A more accurate name for this skeptical theory would be: the Survival Theory (hereafter: TST).
The “the Swoon Theory” (understood in the narrow sense that Kreeft specifies) is merely one of MANY particular versions of the Survival Theory (TST), where the survival theory is modified by the additional assertion of  a specific explanation of the behavior of the Roman soldiers, namely: (JAD).  But whenever Kreeft refers to “the Swoon Theory”, I will very generously take this to be a reference to the Survival Theory (TST), so that his case for the resurrection of Jesus does not immediately FAIL.
 
MOST OF KREEFT’S OBJECTIONS ARE BASED ON BIBLICAL TEXTS
It is important to note that MOST of Kreeft’s objections against the Survival Theory (TST) are based on the assumption that one or more biblical texts assert TRUE historical claims:

  • Objection #2 assumes that John 19:31-33 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #3 assumes that John 19:34-35 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #4 assumes that John 19:36-42 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #5 assumes that John 20:19-29 asserts TRUE historical claims.
  • Objection #6 assumes that some unspecified Gospel text(s) about some Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus assert TRUE historical claims (such passages are found only in the Gospel of Matthew).
  • Objection #7 assumes that some unspecified Gospel text(s) about a stone sealing off the tomb of Jesus assert TRUE historical claims, and it also assumes that some unspecified Gospel text(s) about some Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus assert TRUE historical claims (passages about soldiers at the tomb are found only in the Gospel of Matthew).
  • Objection #9 assumes that some unspecified New Testament text(s) describing what “the disciples” (i.e. the twelve apostles) preached about Jesus assert TRUE historical claims (about their preaching).


The only objections presented by Kreeft against TST that do not assume that a biblical text asserts TRUE historical claims, are Objection #1, and Objection #8.  So, seven out of nine (78%) of his objections against TST are based on assuming the historical reliability and accuracy of one or more biblical passages, mostly passages from the Gospels, especially the historically dubious Gospel of John.
This appears to violate one of Kreeft’s own self-imposed groundrules for his attempt to PROVE the resurrection of Jesus:

To prove this [that God raised Jesus from the dead], we do not need to presuppose anything controversial (e.g., that miracles happen).  But the skeptic must also not presuppose anything (e.g., that they do not).  We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired, or even true.  We do not need to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded.  We need to presuppose only two things, both of which are hard data, empirical data, which no one denies: the existence of the New Testament texts as we have them, and the existence (but not necessarily the truth) of the Christian religion as we find it today.  (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.181-182)

Kreeft has clearly violated his own groundrule to NOT “presuppose anything controversial”, because the Gospel of John is widely viewed by NT scholars as being historically unreliable, and because the passages that he uses from the Gospel of John are themselves viewed as being historically dubious by many NT scholars.
The same is true of his apparent use of passages from the Gospel of Matthew about Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus.  Those passages are widely viewed by NT scholars as being historically dubious.  Kreeft has made use of several Gospel texts that are clearly controversial, in terms of the assumption that those texts assert TRUE historical claims.
It is also clear that Kreeft has violated his own groundrule to NOT “presuppose that the New Testament is…true”, because he is clearly assuming that various NT texts, especially from the Gospel of John and from the Gospel of Matthew, assert TRUE historical claims.
Kreeft also appears “to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded.”, thus violating another of his self-imposed groundrules.  For example, Objection #5 asserts this:

The postresurrection appearances convinced the disciples, even “doubting Thomas,” that Jesus was gloriously alive (Jn 20:19-29). (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p.183)

How can we take this point seriously unless we assume that “there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded.”?
 
KREEFT DEFENDS HIS USE OF BIBLICAL TEXTS
Kreeft recognizes that his use of biblical texts to disprove TST appears to violate his own self-imposed groundrules, so he attempts to defend his use of biblical texts:

It may seem that these nine arguments have violated our initial principle about not presupposing the truth of the Gospel texts, since we have argued from data in the texts.  But the swoon theory does not challenge the truths in the texts which we refer to as data; it uses them and explains them (by swoon rather than by resurrection).  Thus we use them too.  We argue from our opponent’s own premises. (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 184)

Kreeft’s first point is IRRELEVANT:

But the swoon theory does not challenge the truths in the texts which we refer to as data…

First of all, the fact that TST does not CONTRADICT “the truths in the texts”  which Kreeft uses against TST does NOT make it reasonable for Kreeft to make use of controversial or dubious NT texts in his arguments against TST.
Historical theories do not specify what sort of evidence is acceptable and reasonable and what sort of evidence is NOT acceptable or reasonable.  That is for historians  to determine (and for non-historians who have an interest in a particular historical issue to determine), based on principles of critical thinking and of historical investigation.  Theories don’t usually spell out the criteria for evaluation of theories, with the possible exception of epistemological theories (theories about what constitutes knowledge).
Kreeft, it seems to me, is violating principles of critical thinking and of historical investigation by simply ASSUMING (without any analysis or justification) that various biblical texts, which are viewed as dubious or as historically unreliable by many NT scholars, assert TRUE historical claims.  The fact that TST does not spell out rational criteria that prohibit this use of biblical texts is IRRELEVANT.  The principles of critical thinking and of historical investigation exist independently of TST, and should be followed, no matter what TST asserts.
TST does not specifically rule out the existence of UNICORNS, but it does not follow from the silence of TST on UNICORNS, that it would be reasonable for Kreeft to present an objection against TST that is based on the assumption that UNICORNS exist.   The existence of UNICORNS is controversial and highly questionable, so it is unreasonable to simply ASSUME that UNICORNS exist, and to use this assumption in an argument against TST, or in an argument against anything else.  This is unreasonable even though there is nothing in the content of TST that asserts or implies that UNICORNS do not exist.  In short, the constraints on what one can reasonably use as a premise in an argument have a basis that exists outside of, and beyond, the contents of any specific claim or theory.
Second, if Kreeft means that the people who ADVOCATE TST “do not challenge the truths in the texts” which Kreeft uses against TST, then that too does NOT make it reasonable for Kreeft to make use of controversial or dubious NT texts in his argument against TST.
The people who ADVOCATE TST might just happen to be ignorant about some principles of critical thinking or of historical investigation, and thus they might FAIL to notice that Kreeft’s arguments violate one or more of those principles.  The ignorance of a group of people about principles of critical thinking or historical investigation is NO EXCUSE for Kreeft violating those principles.  In order to be a good and rational thinker, one must follow the principles of critical thinking and the principles of relevant disciplines no matter what, even if one’s opponents in a debate or argument happen to be ignorant about those principles.
Suppose that the people who ADVOCATE TST do not deny the existence of UNICORNS.  Would it then be reasonable for Kreeft to simply assume that UNICORNS EXIST and use this in an objection against TST?  No!  The fact that people who ADVOCATE TST don’t bother to challenge belief in UNICORNS, does not make it reasonable for Kreeft or anyone else to simply assume that UNICORNS EXIST, or to use that assumption in an argument.
Furthermore, even if the people who ADVOCATE TST all firmly believe that UNICORNS EXIST, this would still not make it reasonable for Kreeft to simply assume that UNICORNS EXIST or to use that assumption in an argument against TST, or in an argument against anything.  The fact that some group of people believe that UNICORNS EXIST does NOT make it TRUE that UNICORNS EXIST, and does NOT make it reasonable to use that belief as the premise of an argument.
Third, it is doubtful that most people who ADVOCATE TST are ignorant about the relevant principles of critical thinking or historical investigation, and it is almost certainly false that ALL of the people who ADVOCATE TST are ignorant of the relevant principles of critical thinking and historical investigation.  I, for example, am aware of relevant principles of critical thinking and historical investigation that Kreeft appears to be violating in many of his objections against TST, and I am an ADVOCATE of TST, since I am arguing that Kreeft’s objections against TST are weak and/or mistaken.
Kreeft’s second point seems to be more relevant to justifying his use of biblical texts in objections to TST:

…it [the Swoon Theory] uses them [“the truths in the texts which we refer to as data”] and explains them (by swoon rather than by resurrection).  Thus we use them too.  We argue from our opponent’s own premises.

Kreeft is unclear as to whether he is talking about the CONTENT of TST itself (“it uses them”) or about the evidence used in ARGUMENTS for TST (“our opponent’s own premises”).  So, we need to disambiguate Kreeft’s statement above, and consider two different claims:

(1) TST is a THEORY that assumes or implies the historical claims that Kreeft uses in his objections against TST.

(2) Some of the ARGUMENTS for TST assume or imply the historical claims that Kreeft uses in his objections against TST.

Claim (1) is FALSE.  Just consider the three statements that TST asserts (see the opening section of this post).  Those statements make NO MENTION of Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus, for example.  The statements that constitute the CONTENT of TST do NOT “assume or imply the historical claims” that Kreeft makes about Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus in his objections against TST.  Claim (1) is CLEARLY FALSE.
CLAIM (2) appears to be FALSE, and it is INSIGNIFICANT even if true.  I am not aware of any ARGUMENT for TST that assumes or implies that there were Roman soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb.  So, claim (2) appears to be FALSE.
However, let’s assume that there is such an ARGUMENT somewhere made by some advocate of TST.  There is no reason to believe that this ARGUMENT is essential to the case for TST.  There are other arguments that could be used to support TST.  So, the fact that somebody somewhere at sometime used an ARGUMENT for TST that assumed or implied there were Roman soldiers at the tomb of Jesus does NOT mean that Kreeft is free to use that historical claim in his objections against TST.  He is only free (to a degree) to use that historical claim when he is arguing with an advocate of TST who uses an argument for TST that makes that assumption (i.e. that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus).
Suppose that EVERY advocate of TST made use of an argument for TST that assumed or implied that there were Romans soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus.  Furthermore, suppose that this was the ONLY argument that had ever been used by advocates of TST.  Does that make it the case that Kreeft can DISPROVE TST by objections that make use of this historical claim?  NO!
Kreeft could make the objection that the argument being used by advocates of TST was a self-defeating argument, because it made use of an assumption that could also be used against TST.  But showing that the advocates of TST use a BAD ARGUMENT to support TST does NOT amount to DISPROVING TST.  All that would show is that TST remains UNPROVEN.   It would NOT show that TST is FALSE.
The use of the assumption that there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus in an ARGUMENT for TST does NOT show that this assumption is in fact TRUE.  It is possible that an ARGUMENT used to support TST makes use of a FALSE assumption.  But in order to DISPROVE TST, Kreeft’s objections need to be based on TRUE historical claims.
Thus, claim (2) not only appears to be FALSE, but it is INSIGNIFICANT even if TRUE.
Neither interpretation of Kreeft’s second point works as a defense of his use of biblical texts.  So, his second point FAILS, just like his first point FAILED.
Both of Kreeft’s two points in defense of his use of biblical texts FAIL, so his defense of his use of biblical texts FAILS.
 
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderDefending the Swoon Theory – Part 1: What is the Swoon Theory?

In Chapter 8 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (co-authored with Ronald Tacelli), Peter Kreeft attempts to disprove the Swoon Theory as part of an elimination-of-alternatives argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  Kreeft thinks that by disproving four skeptical theories, he can show that the Christian theory is true, that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Kreeft believes there are only five possible theories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and the Swoon Theory is one of those theories:

 
 


In order to prove the Christian view that Jesus actually rose from the dead, Kreeft attempts to disprove these four skeptical theories: Hallucination, Myth, Conspiracy, and Swoon.
In another series of posts I have argued that Kreeft’s attempt to disprove the Conspiracy Theory was a miserable FAILURE.
I plan in future posts to defend the Swoon Theory against the nine objections that Kreeft puts forward in Chapter 8 of Handbook of Christian Apologetics.   Kreeft’s nine objections to the Swoon Theory can also be found in an online article at the Strange Notions website.



WHAT IS THE SWOON THEORY?
Kreeft provides a very brief characterization of the swoon theory:

…we’ll examine what’s often called the “swoon theory,” which suggests that Jesus never really died on the cross—he simply fainted, or swooned, and was presumed dead.

However, this definition will NOT work, at least not if Kreeft wants his case for the resurrection to have any hope of being successful!  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s walk through the basic elements of the Swoon Theory.
The Swoon Theory accepts some key parts of the Christian story about the alleged death and resurrection of Jesus:

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

But there is an important part of the Christian story about Jesus that is rejected by the Swoon Theory:

(DOC)  Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross the same day that he was crucified.

Instead of (DOC), proponents of the Swoon Theory assert the following alternative view:

(JAR) Jesus of Nazareth was still alive when he was removed from the cross, and he survived for at least a few days or a few weeks after he was removed from the cross.

Now this alternative view raises an immediate challenging question:

Why would the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus allow Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive?

The “standard” skeptical response to this question asserts a specific explanation for this alleged behavior of the Roman soldiers:

(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.

The very brief characterization of the swoon theory that Kreeft provides implies that (JAD) is a claim that constitutes a key element of the swoon theory.
But if (JAD) is considered to be an element of the swoon theory, then Kreeft’s case for the resurrection immediately FAILS.
This way of defining the swoon theory implies that there are many OTHER skeptical theories that are similar to the swoon theory but which reject (JAD).  But Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus depends crucially upon his assumption that there are only FOUR skeptical theories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus (i.e. Hallucination, Myth, Conspiracy, and Swoon).  In making (JAD) a key element of the Swoon Theory, Kreeft unintentionally refutes and rejects a basic premise of his own case for the resurrection of Jesus.
Here are three alternatives to (JAD), which would, if we define the Swoon Theory in terms of (JAD), mean that these possibilities represent three MORE skeptical theories in addition to the four skeptical theories (that Kreeft claims exhaust all of the skeptical possibilities):

  • 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.

Now we are up to SEVEN different skeptical theories, and I am just starting to get warmed up.  Here are some more alternative explanations of the alleged behavior of the Roman soldiers:

  • 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.

Now we are at TEN skeptical theories, and I could just keep on generating more possible explanations of the behavior of the Roman soldiers, explanations that differ from the explanation put forward by (JAD).
Thus, if Kreeft wants to have any hope of his case for the resurrection being successful, he will have to give up the idea of defining the swoon theory in a way that specifies (JAD) as the correct explanation for the alleged behavior of the Roman soldiers (in allowing Jesus to be removed from the cross while he was still alive).
Because defining the Swoon Theory as asserting or implying (JAD) would immediately destroy Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus, Kreeft is forced to accept a BROADER definition of the Swoon Theory, one that does NOT specify an explanation for WHY the Roman soldiers allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross when Jesus was still alive.  Therefore, I propose that we understand the swoon theory to consist of the following two claims, which do NOT include (JAD):

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

(JAR) Jesus of Nazareth was still alive when he was removed from the cross, and he survived for at least a few days or a few weeks after he was removed from the cross.

There might be one further claim that could reasonably be considered to be a part of the Swoon Theory:

(SJA) Most of the twelve apostles became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead because at least some of the twelve apostles actually saw Jesus of Nazareth alive at some point after he was crucified and removed from the cross.

A basic idea of the Swoon Theory is that at least some of the apostles did see Jesus alive after his crucifixion, because Jesus survived his crucifixion.

bookmark_borderDefending the Conspiracy Theory – INDEX

Dr. Peter Kreeft believes there are only five possible theories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and the Conspiracy Theory (hereafter: TCT) is one of those theories:



In Chapter 8 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (co-authored with Ronald Tacelli), Peter Kreeft attempts to disprove the Conspiracy Theory (TCT), as part of an elimination-of-alternatives argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  Kreeft thinks that by disproving four skeptical theories, he can show that the Christian theory is true, that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Kreeft raises seven objections against The Conspiracy Theory (hereafter: TCT) in an attempt to disprove that theory.  In a series of posts here at The Secular Outpost, I have argued that each of those seven objections is a miserable FAILURE:

  • In Part #4, Part #5, Part #6, and Part #7 I argued that Kreeft’s Objection #1 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #8  I argued that his Objection #2 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #9  I argued that his Objection #3 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #10  I argued that his Objection #4 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #11  I argued that his Objection #5 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #12  I argued that his Objection #6 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.
  • In Part #13 and Part#14  I argued that his Objection #7 against TCT was a miserable FAILURE.

CONCLUSION:

Thus, Kreeft’s case against The Conspiracy Theory is totally and completely a miserable FAILURE.


The first three posts in this series provide an INTRODUCTION to this topic:

  • In Part #1 I explain that my interest in working on this subject arose from a debate at the NW Miracles Conference.
  • In Part #2 I point out problems with various definitions of “the Conspiracy Theory” by Kreeft.
  • In Part #3 I propose an improved definition of “the Conspiracy Theory”.

Background From Part #1:
At the NW Miracles Conference, I discussed the question “Is it ever reasonable to believe miracle claims?” with Christian thinker Hans Vodder, who has graduate degrees in both philosophy and theology. We were, however, just the warm-up act for the big closing event of the conference: a debate between Michael Shermer and Luuk van de Weghe about the miracles of Jesus.
Luuk used the very old (ancient?) apologetic argument for the resurrection of Jesus: the apostles were neither deceived nor deceivers. Shermer made a number of good skeptical points in the debate, but he never touched on the main objection that I would have raised against Luuk’s argument: the historical assumptions about the twelve disciples/apostles have no solid basis in historical facts. We know very little about the twelve disciples during the ministry of Jesus, and we know almost nothing about them after the crucifixion of Jesus. Luuk’s apologetic argument rests upon very shaky historical claims.
So, although I would not argue that we KNOW the twelve disciples of Jesus to be deceivers, I think that Luuk and Christian apologists in general, have no solid grounds for a “refutation” of the Conspiracy Theory.  Luuk and other apologists argue that the twelve disciples would not have boldly proclaimed that they had personally witnessed the resurrected Jesus if this were not true, because they suffered martyrdom for preaching this claim.
In order to raise my favored objection against Luuk’s apologetic argument, I plan in future posts to defend the Conspiracy Theory against various objections, namely objections that have been put forward by Peter Kreeft in his Handbook of Christian ApologeticsKreeft’s objections to the Conspiracy Theory can be found at the Strange Notions website.