Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hallucinations and the Resurrection of Jesus

I've been doing more thinking about the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus recently, especially after a video call with a world expert on this, Mike Licona.

An aspect of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, that I hadn't thought about in detail until recently, is how feasible the theory of hallucinations are as an explanation for the "resurrection appearances" presented in the gospels.

Previously my main consideration was that the empty tomb and other aspects need to be explained, which hallucinations don't deal with. But are hallucinations useful, or even the best explanations for the records of Jesus' disciples accounts of seeing (and talking to) a "Resurrected Jesus".

Since the video call with Mike Licona, I have bought his book "The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach". Written primarily at an academic level and at 700 or so pages, I haven't managed to read all of it. He does consider in detail, and pass through a 5 fold test a number of hypotheses, some of which include hallucinations and/or delusions (and similar) to account for some of the historical bedrock, the "historical facts that are regarded as virtual indisputable".

I won't give an overview of the book here - that would be a large enough task - though I may some time (once I have read all of it!). But recently I came across an article by John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, who asks the question: "Eliminating the Impossible: Can a Scientist believe the Resurrection?" Lennox also engages "hallucination theories", and provides a number of more succinct points against them.

Firstly he deals with the number of appearances, and the variety of occasions :
But it is not only the number of eyewitnesses who actually saw the risen Christ that is significant. It is also the widely divergent character of those eyewitnesses, and the different places and situations in which Christ appeared to them. For instance, some were in a group of eleven in a room, one was by herself in a garden, a group of fishermen were by the sea, two were travelling along a road, others on a mountain. It is this variety of character and place that refutes the so-called hallucination theories.
Also what we can know from various studies on hallucinations goes against it:
Psychological medicine itself witnesses against these explanations. Hallucinations usually occur to people of a certain temperament, with a vivid imagination. But Matthew was a hard-headed, shrewd tax-collector; Peter and some of the others, tough fishermen; Thomas, a born sceptic; and so on. They were not the sort of people one normally associates with susceptibility to hallucinations.

Again, hallucinations tend to be of expected events. But none of the disciples was expecting to meet Jesus again. The expectation of Jesus's resurrection was not in their minds at all. Instead, there was fear, doubt and uncertainty - exactly the wrong psychological preconditions for a hallucination.

Hallucinations usually recur over a relatively long period, either increasing or decreasing. But the appearances of Christ occurred frequently, over a period of forty days, and then abruptly ceased. Hallucinations, moreover, do not occur to groups and yet Paul claims 500 people saw Jesus at once.
Another similar aspect that Mike Licona raises, is that hallucinations tend to only be in one form of media, e.g. visual or aural, but not multiple. And visual ones don't go away when you turn "away". The disciples on various occasions saw Jesus, talked with him (and heard him), and also touched him and ate with him.

One significant aspect that Lennox doesn't highlight, but but Mike Licona did in the video phone call to a bunch of us in Melbourne. If pieces of evidence are  "cards" in your hand of differing value, then Paul is an "Ace" compared with some other aspects which he regards as 10's or Jack's. Paul, who while he was called Saul and persecuting the early Church, was the last person you would expect to hallucinate about a Risen Jesus. Jesus was the last person he wanted (or expected) to see.

Also Paul gives a very early written account, which he had received much earlier from the apostles in the form of a of a summary statement of accounts of witnesses to Jesus Resurrection- but this one, being significant in itself is one for another post.

I'm looking forward to hearing John Lennox, when he visits Melbourne in August, though his topic will be more about Science and God, rather then Christianity explicitly. See here for the main Melbourne event.

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