Review of “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Habermas and Licona, Chapter 6, Part A: Hallucinations!

Gary:  Did the disciples of Jesus—sitting around in the Upper Room, standing on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius, and gathered as the Five Hundred—have group hallucinations in which they all imagined, at the same time, that they “saw” the exact same resurrected body of Jesus appear to them and all imagined they heard him speak the same exact words to them?

Well that is how conservative Christians think we skeptics explain the group appearance claims found in the Gospels and in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15:  Group hallucinations.  And that is why conservative Christians howl with laughter that we skeptics would believe that groups of people could simultaneously experience the same hallucination.

“Although the hallucination theory enjoyed some popularity over a hundred years ago, and still has a few adherents, it suffers from a number of problems. First, today, we know that hallucinations are private occurrences, which occur in the mind of an individual.  They are not collective experiences.”  —Habermas and Licona, p. 106

Gary:  Habermas and Licona then go on to give several examples of how silly it would be to imagine two or more people having the same dream or hallucination at the same time.

“Honey, I just had a dream that we were in Hawaii.  Come back to sleep and join me in my dream and we’ll enjoy a free vacation together.”  Likewise, an hallucination cannot be shared.  p. 106

I agree!  Any skeptic who claims that the disciples were having the same exact hallucination to explain the very detailed group appearance claims in the Gospels is being ridiculous.  No two people could share the same hallucination that Jesus appeared in the Upper Room, spoke the same words, and then ate broiled fish.  Or the exact same hallucination of Jesus’ detailed conversation on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius while cooking a fish breakfast for the disciples.  These detailed group appearance claims cannot be explained by a group hallucination.  It is medically impossible.

“The disciples of Jesus claimed that as a group they saw the risen Jesus.”  —Habermas and Licona, p. 107

Gary: The Greek word used in the Early Creed for “to appear” can mean to appear in a vision.  (See here ) Paul says that Jesus “appeared” to him in his “heavenly vision” in the same manner that he appeared to the others in the Creed.  The author of the Book of Acts tell us that all Paul saw was a bright light.  Therefore, for all we know, the discples of Jesus, in a group, all saw a bright light and believed it was Jesus.  I believe that the detailed resurrection stories in the Gospels are later (decades later) literary inventions.  So yes, Christians, you are right, groups of people would not have had the same detailed hallucination of Thomas sticking his finger in Jesus wounds, but it is very probable that this event never happened.  It is a literary invention.  The real group “appearances” mentioned in the Early Creed were most likely of bright lights or other misperceptions of reality.

“Second, hallucinations do not account for the empty tomb.”  —Habermas and Licona, p. 107

Gary:  The empty tomb is not an established historical fact.  It is a disputed event.  But even if it is historical, an empty tomb does not prove the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.  There are many natural, non-supernatural explanations for an empty tomb.

“Third, hallucinations do not account for the conversion of the church persecutor Paul.  Even if hallucinations could account for the appearances to the disciples, how do we account for the life-changing appearance to Paul?”  —Habermas and Licona, p. 107

Gary:  Let me count the ways…  There are several possible natural, non-supernatural explanations for why Paul might have converted to Christianity other than a supernatural cause.  First, human beings have been known to make very odd, radical, self-destructive life decisions all throughout history.  I personally think that the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity is more surprising than the conversion of a devout, vision-prone Jewish Pharisee to an apocalyptic Jewish sect.  There is also the possibility that Paul was mentally ill.  Paul could of had his own hallucination.

“Fourth, hallucinations do not account for the conversion of the skeptic James.   …there is no indication that James was stricken by grief over his brother’s death.”  —Habermas and Licona, p. 107

Gary:  How in the world would we know this?  First of all, we don’t even have James’ own testimony of an appearance from Jesus.  There is no mention of such an appearance in the Gospels nor in the Book of Acts.  James’ alleged appearance experience is only stated in the Early Creed, a Creed “handed on” to Paul from unknown persons.  We have no idea if James really did claim to have received an appearance.  So how would  H and L know that James was or was not grief stricken over the death of his brother?  This is the problem with the entire Christian Resurrection claim.  There are so many pieces of this patched together claim based on assumptions and conjecture.

“Likewise, individuals and groups, friends as well as foes saw Jesus not once but many times over a period of forty days.  We are told that these numbers included both men and women, hardheaded Peter and softhearted Mary Magdalene, indoors and outdoors, and so on.  Not all these persons would be in the same state of mind.  It pushes credulity beyond reason to regard every last one of these appearances as hallucinations.”  —Habermas and Licona, p. 108

Gary:  This statement assumes that the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are historical facts.  If these stories are literary inventions, then we don’t need all these persons having an hallucination to start the Resurrection belief we only need a couple…or just one.

If Simon Peter could convince a small group of devout Jews that they no longer needed to keep kosher due to a midday trance in which he saw a floating sheet of unclean animals, then I’m sure it is also possible he could convince the same small group of Jews that he had seen the resurrected messiah due to another midday trance.


2 thoughts on “Review of “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Habermas and Licona, Chapter 6, Part A: Hallucinations!

  1. ‘The disciples of Jesus claimed that as a group they saw the risen Jesus.’ — Habermas and Licona, p. 107

    Where? Where do the disciples claim this? The gospel writers claim it for them 40+ years later, but that’s far from being the same thing. Apart from Paul’s, there are no first-hand ‘claims’ that anyone else had visions, collectively or individually, of the risen Jesus. What we have is hearsay only.

    But how could Christianity have gotten off the ground without visions of the risen Christ? It could and it did. It had gotten started when the Q source was written (around 40CE?) and, from the evidence in Matthew and Luke, that contains no passion or resurrection sayings of Jesus at all. How strange if the resurrection was what it was all about.


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