Bart Ehrman Addresses my Questions Regarding Group Hallucinations on his Blog

I do not believe that group hallucinations are possible except in the most general of senses.  Bart Ehrman disagrees.  Who is right?  You can see our discussion here (to see the full discussion become a member of Ehrman’s blog.  It’s pennies a month and all proceeds are donated to charity).  Ehrman refers to two “demurrals” (reader comments) in this post.  The first demurral/comment is mine:

https://ehrmanblog.org/are-group-visions-possible/

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3 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman Addresses my Questions Regarding Group Hallucinations on his Blog

    1. We are still debating the issue, but I will post one of his comments:

      A Final Word (I Think!) on Group Visions

      Bart Ehrman: I am getting some push-back on my discussions of visions. One of the most informed and hard-hitting critiques was this:

      (Gary) I certainly agree that it is within your scope of expertise as a New Testament scholar to use the term “vision” to describe the beliefs of people in Antiquity who used this term to describe certain religious experiences. It is within your scope of expertise to define this term as defined by those ancients. However, with all due respect, as a physician I must point out that it is not within your scope of expertise to use this term to determine what was going on physiologically or psychologically during these experiences. This determination belongs to experts in the field of medicine and psychiatry. That is why I believe you should stop using the terms “veridical vision” and “non-veridical”. Medical experts and psychiatrists/psychologists believe that these ancients experienced one of three things in these “vision” experiences: a dream (a nightdream or a daydream), an illusion, or an hallucination. That’s it. There are no other options. For you to create other categories is to create confusion.

      Bart Ehrman: In response, let me first say something about terminology. This reader is pointing out that psychologists use three terms for such experiences: dream, illusion, and hallucination. Fair enough. The question is whether we think these three things have something in common. The answer, I think, is yes. They all involve someone thinking she has seen something that in fact was not really there. Should we have a category for such an experience broadly (encapsulating all three options)? It seems to me that would be very useful indeed. The category I use is “non-veridical visions.” If you want to call them something else, that is absolutely fine with me. I think not having a catch-all category can lead to confusions, as I’ll explain in a second (briefly: it can lead *precisely* to the kind of psychologizing that this reader wants to prevent. But here let me stress that I really don’t care about the terms, not a bit. I care about the phenomenon.

      Gary: I then left this comment for Dr. Ehrman in response:

      If you intend to continue to use the term “group visions” I would strongly encourage you to REPEATEDLY emphasize to your readers that by this term you are not inferring that groups of people can have the same detailed hallucination—because this is what I fear many of your readers will assume you mean. As I have pointed out previously, medical professionals state that it is impossible for two people to have the same detailed dream or hallucination. If you do not make this point very clear, this is what I am afraid will happen: A former fundamentalist Christian who has become an agnostic or atheist due to the excellent work of people like yourself will misunderstand your position regarding “group visions” and get into a discussion with a knowledgeable Christian apologist regarding the detailed group appearances mentioned in the Gospels. He will tell the Christian, “Those group appearances can be explained by a group hallucination. Bart Ehrman, the famous New Testament scholar, says so.”

      The Christian apologist will eat this budding skeptic alive! The Christian apologist will point out that medical experts state that detailed group hallucinations are impossible and that Bart Ehrman is wrong! The poor skeptic will come out of this debate severely shaken. The point is: No skeptic should be given the impression that the detailed appearances stories in the Gospels can be explained by “group hallucinations”. Your use of “group visions”, if not carefully explained, could lead to that misunderstanding.

      (I will post Dr. Erhman’s response when he responds, if he does.)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. The Christian apologist will eat this budding skeptic alive! The Christian apologist will point out that medical experts state that detailed group hallucinations are impossible and that Bart Ehrman is wrong! The poor skeptic will come out of this debate severely shaken.

    Based on my debates with skeptics, I strongly doubt that will happen, even if the apologist makes the point you mentioned and the Skeptic doesn’t have the related medical information.

    This is because some Protestants and Skeptics imagine that Catholics and South & East Asian sects have group hallucinations, but they still don’t believe the hallucinations, regardless of the medical terms and issues involved.

    I am not saying your point is irrelevant, just that I don’t think that in real life the skeptics are going to come away severely shaken by that issue based on my own experience with skeptics.

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