Monday, December 10, 2012

A shout out to "The Big Picture" blog

I don't typically promote other peoples blogs, but for this one I'll make an exception. Here is the link, if anyone's interested. I'll try to get it to appear under the "blogs I follow" section later.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elves in Iceland

This article from the wonderful Austin Cline made my day. Cite it next time you debate a Christian!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How many professors believe in the Paranormal?

Want to know? Click here to find out! It's my first entry on the James Randi Educational Foundation fourm! Whenever I add something new, I'll be sure to cross post it!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A response to Gerald O'Collins

In this post, I will respond to the arguments Gerald O'Collins gives against the Hallucination hypothesis from the appendix of his book Believing in the Resurrection: The Meaning and Promise of the Risen Jesus. I have mentioned them before here. Unlike Habermas, O'Collins is actually familiar with the phenomenon of bereavement experiences, and so his critique is much more relevant.

O'Collins starts by summarising Dewi Rees' study of Bereavement experiences in senior widows and widowers:

Rees found that close to half (46.7%) reported contact with their beloved dead at various times during waking hours; dreams were not considered in the study.  The bereaved had “felt the presence of the deceased” (39.2%), “seen” them (14%), “heard” them (13.3%), “spoken” to them (11.6%), and, very occasionally, been “touched” by them (2.7%). Some of the widows and widowers interviewed reported having had more than one type of experience, and in 36.1% of all the cases these experiences of the beloved dead lasted for years.

Than, he pointed out two similarities between Bereavement experiences and the supposed Resurrection appearances of Jesus:

first, the grief experienced by both Rees’ bereaved persons and the disciples after the death and burial of Jesus... A second addition that I now make to the analogy proposed by Rees concerns the unexpected nature of the encounters with the risen Jesus

I agree with him that these are some fairly striking points of similarity. However, despite the shoe fitting finely, O'Collins argues that the parallels end here, and proposes eight areas of dissimilarity between these bereavement experiences and the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. I will review each of them below.

Area's of dissimilarity
The first area of dissimilarity is that Dewi Rees' bereavement study only considered Widows and Widowers: as far as we know, Mary and the disciples were not married to Jesus.

1) By naming “the disciples,” what I had in mind was, first of all, the fact that the Twelve and others, both women (e.g., Mary Magdalene) and men (e.g., Cleopas of Luke 24: 13-35), were disciples and not married partners of Jesus.

He also adds that the disciples made radical claims about Jesus, and that this somehow acts as an additional dissimilarity. This argument is weak, since it ignores the many stories of non widows having supposed encounters with the deceased. Besides, if these bereavement experiences are hallucinations, something which I will argue for in the future, than there is no reason to suppose they would be exclusive to widows. I can imagine widows and widowers being more likely to hallucinate their loved ones, but that's it. The second argument is equally poor:

2)  Jesus died a horrible and utterly shameful death on a public scaffold. In the eyes of his contemporaries, the crucifixion involved being cursed not only by human beings (the religious and political authorities responsible for his execution) but also by God... Rees reports no cases of anything like that among his 293 widows and widowers.

Well, we do live in the 21 century; not very many are cursed and publicly executed. Some of the widows Rees interviewed did have spouses that were killed by accidents, which I think suffice as "violent deaths". O'Collins, however, needs to prove his point, so he declares that only a perfect analogy will do. I think he forgot where the burden of proof lies.

3) A third, enormous difference emerges from the fact that, unlike the disciples of Jesus, none of Rees’s widows and widowers ever alleged that their beloved departed had been raised from the dead

Oh come on! Even Licona acknowledges that this is a poor argument (see the appendix of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical approach). At any rate, there aren't very many people in the modern day that believe in corporeal resurrection, so the lack of modern day analogies shouldn't be surprising. At any rate, modern widows and widowers would probably say their spouse became a ghost or went to heaven, since those are the modern day expectations. The resurrection was an ancient expectation, even if it was supposed to occur at the end of the world.

4) A fourth reason for differentiating between the Easter experiences of the disciples and Rees’s widows and widowers emerges from the New Testament reports about appearances to groups, as well as to individuals

This argument is interesting, since he actually criticizes a lot of the Apparitional literature Allison uses to make his case.

On the question of bereaved people experiencing (or not experiencing) as a group some beloved, deceased person, Allison (who knows and values Rees’ ground-breaking research)  has also taken issue with me. He claims that there are “many firsthand accounts of several people seeing at once the apparition of a person recently deceased.” But he cites no examples and gives no references. Notice that he does not say “bereaved people” having such an experience, and that is the issue. Is he thinking of parapsychology and alleged cases of the spirits of the deceased being brought back from the dead through mediums? But many scholars, including professional psychologists, find only pseudo-science in the works of parapsychologists. In fact, Allison himself observes: “reports of collective apparitions are…prominent in the literature of parapsychology but not in normal psychology.” That silence on the part of professional psychologists might have warned Allison not to introduce, as he does, repeated references to a number of long-discredited parapsychologists.

Allison himself is very forthright about the lack of rigor in many of his cases. As a matetr of fact, he clearly states that he is comparing "like with like" when he uses them, since the Gospels are also equally poor sources. I concede, however, that I don't quite know how to explain the group experiences in naturalistic terms. After all, I don't even know what goes back to the eyewitnesses! Our earliest source, 1 cor 15, gives us three group experiences: one to "the twelve", one to the "five hundred", and one to "all the apostles". By the time we reach the gospels, however, the appearance to"the twelve" is all that remains. How one explains this one naturally depends on how accurate you think the narrative is.

5) A fifth dissimilarity arises when we notice that around 40% of Rees’ widows and widowers continued to experience their deceased spouses for many years. But the appearances of the risen Jesus to individuals or groups took place over a limited period of time and did not continue for years.

How do we know what they would've made of later experiences? Apologists often argue that the initial experiences must of been qualitatively different from later ones, since the early church called them "appearances" instead of visions. However, this still doesn't tell us exactly how they were different? Perhaps the difference between appearances and visions had to do with whom had them, or when they occurred. How could one prove these suggestions wrong? Furthermore, according to Licona, word studies don't help either, as the greek word for "appearance" could mean many things. So, even if the disciples had later experiences, how would we know?

6) “one difference between the Easter experiences and those reported by the widowed…Widowed  people’s experiences of their dead spouses tend to occur weeks  or months after the person’s death; in contrast, Jesus appeared to his friends soon after the crucifixion.

Depends how you define "soon". A few weeks doesn't seem too long to me. At any rate, how do we even know when the disciples started having their experiences? The phrease "the third day" was an idiom that could refer to any short period of time, not just 3 literal days. Another issue is whether the experiences all happened within a short period of time. What if some occurred weeks or months later than others? After all, the creed Paul refers to in 1 Cor 15 includes the appearance to himself, which occurred years after Jesus was crucified. We just don't know how much time passed between appearances.

(7) Prior to Rees’ study, only 27.7 % of the bereaved who experienced their dead spouses had mentioned these experiences to others

This is really weak. Did O'Collins forget the stigma that is associated with hallucinating in the modern day?

8) In Easter Faith I pointed out an eighth difference: unlike the first followers of Jesus, “none of those whose bereavement experiences are reported by Rees dramatically changed their lifestyle and became missionaries proclaiming to the world their experience and what it implied.”

O'Collins got so desperate for another pot-shot that he re-used the seventh point. Again, in the modern day there is a stigma against having wierd experiences. In ancient times, no such stigma existed. The problem wasn't whether you saw something- it was how you interpreted it. This, if anything, was the problem the disciples would have had.

Well, there you have it. For what it's worth, I'm still offering a copy of the paper to anyone who wants it. Conact me here for it.

Mike Licona's doctoral dissertation

Well, the good part anyways. You can read it here.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A point by point rebuttal of Gary Habermas

I apologize for not posting anything for a while. As a special treat, I wrote a point by point rebuttal to Gary Habermas' essay "Explaining away Jesus' Resurrection: The Recent Revival of Hallucination Theories". The full essay can be found here. Since Habermas is frequently considered the world wide expert on the Resurrection, I figure he'll have the best arguments. The first batch of arguments specifically oppose the idea of group hallucinations.

Group Hallucinations

(1) To begin, the chief examples of "collective hallucinations" provided by Zusne and Jones were group religious experiences such as Marion apparitions. But these citations simply beg the question regarding whether such experiences could possibly be objective, or even supernatural, at least in some sense. 

Why is it okay for Christians to assume that every miracle of every Religion comes from either the Christian God or Satan? Why not from Krishna or the demon king Ravana? This is a classic "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario.

(2) Further, the collective hallucination thesis is unfalsifiable. It could be applied to purely natural, group sightings, simply calling them group hallucinations, too. On this thesis, crucial epistemic criteria seem to be missing. How do we determine normal occurrences from group hallucinations?

Why do we have to be able to tell the difference? The burden is on him to show they aren't group hallucination, not me. At any rate, I assume we could tell whether or not a group shared the same hallucination by interviewing each person and asking them what they saw. The fact that all the witnesses are dead in Jesus' case is his problem, not mine.

(3) Even if it could be established that groups of people witnessed hallucinations, it is critical to note that it does not at all follow that these experiences were therefore collective. If, as most psychologists assert, hallucinations are private, individual events, then how could groups share exactly the same subjective visual perception? Rather, it is much more likely that the phenomena in question are either illusions--perceptual misinterpretations of actual realities -- or individual hallucinations.

As it happens, I also doubt that multiple people can share the exact same hallucination. For the first time, we're in agreement. I also agree that so called cases of group hallucinations are better explained as either individual ones or illusions. Sadly, Habermas never explains how this exactly counters the Hallucination thesis. If anything, it gives us skeptics more ammunition!

(4) For instance, Zusne and Jones argue that "expectation" and "emotional excitement" are "prerequisites" before such group experiences will occur. In fact, expectation "plays the coordinating role." But this scenario contradicts the emotional state of the early witnesses of Jesus' resurrection appearances. Even psychologically, the early believers were confronted face-to-face with the utter realism of the recent and unexpected death of their best friend, whom they had hoped would rescue Israel. As those recent events unfolded in a whirlwind of Jesus' physical beatings, crucifixion, and seeming abandonment, the normal response would be fear, disillusionment, and depression. To suppose that these believers would exhibit "expectation" and "emotional excitement" in the face of these stark circumstances would require of them responses that would scarcely be exhibited at a funeral! All indications are that Jesus' disciples would exhibition the very opposite emotions from what Zusne and Jones convey as the necessary requirement.

As Dale Allison has stated before, this only applies to the first Christophany. Surely Peter or Mary created some excitement and expectation after their initial experience. Furthermore, what if Jesus really did predict his death and resurrection? That would certainly create a lot of expectation.

By comparison, the disciples' experience is totally unlike those in the other cases above where pilgrims expressly traveled long distances, exuberantly gathering with the explicit desire to see something special. There would seem to be very meager grounds of comparison here with Jesus' disciples.

We don't know that. We don't know anything about the original Christophanies or the circumstances leading up to them. Even if we were to take the Gospels at face value, we'd still know nothing about the appearance to "the five hundred" or to "all the apostles". As I pointed out before, we don't even know whether Jesus made any pre-Easter predictions. There's meager grounds for comparison since there's nothing to compare!

Many other crucial problems also plague the thesis of group hallucinations, and we will pursue several more below. But for now we will repeat that Zusne and Jones never attempt to apply their approach to Jesus' resurrection. Rather, they even rather incredibly close their examination with the admission that group hallucinations have a "dubious status" because it is not possible to ascertain whether these individuals were actually even hallucinating!

Re-read my critique of #3. Habermas seriously has no clue where the burden of proof lies. Anyways, the second batch of arguments have to do with conversion disorder. These ones are a bit more persuasive.

Conversion disorder

(1) Initially, only Paul is known to have manifested any such symptoms, so Goulder's inclusion of the others is not factually grounded.

Not surprisingly, he is relying too much on the texts. How do we know what state of mind Peter or Paul was in? We don't, unless we rely on the gospels to give us an accurate psychological analysis. But can we really do this? After all, present expectations shape past memories- and the Gospels are filled with present expectations.

(2) Simply a huge problem is that, from what we know about Paul and James in particular, there were no mitigating grounds to suppose such a disorder. We have no indication that there was the slightest inner conflict, doubt, or guilt concerning their previous rejection of Jesus' teachings. Critics agree that James was an unbeliever during Jesus' earthly ministry (John 7:5; cf. Mark 3:21). Paul's skepticism is even better known, since he persecuted early Christians (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13, 23). But we do not know of any guilt on Paul's part, for he considered his actions to have been both zealous and faultless (Phil. 3:4-6). In short, there is no indication of any desire for conversion by either of these men. To suppose otherwise is groundless. In short, these men are exceptionally poor candidates for this disorder.

This point is valid, but stretched too thin. Yes, James was probably an unbeliever during Jesus' ministry. Does this mean he converted due to a christophany of his brother? Perhaps, but until we find a reliable narrative of the event, we can only speculate. Perhaps he did feel guilty for rejecting his brother? Or maybe he was predisposed to hallucinate simply because Jesus was his brother and he loved him as such. Paul's experience occurred a year or more after the crucifixion, so I can't say much about it. It seems to me that, within a years time, anyone can go from skeptic to believer.

(3) Further, the psychological profile strongly opposes an application to any of these three apostles. Conversion disorder most frequently occurs to women (up to five times more often), adolescents and young adults, less-educated persons, those with low IQ's, low socioeconomic status, or combat personnel.  Not a single characteristic applies to Peter, Paul, or James.

If conversion disorder occurs five times more often in women than men, that means it STILL APPEARS IN MEN!!! What more needs to be said?

(4-5) Further, holding that victims of conversion disorder are strong candidates for both visual and auditory hallucinations is stretching the case a bit. These are uncommon characteristics. Not only are these apostles poor candidates for the disorder in the first place, but even apart from this malady, they were additionally not predisposed to experience hallucinations. And here we even have two separate critiques, due to very different sets of circumstances. There is no indication that either James or Paul, in particular, longed to see Jesus. Their unbelief is a poor basis for producing hallucinations! James the skeptic and Paul the persecutor are exceptionally tough obstacles for the hallucination thesis! Once again, to say otherwise is mere conjecture apart from historical data.

To repeat the point I made in #2, we don't know much about the psychological profile of James. Even if he were a skeptic, it doesn't follow he'd be less likely to hallucinate Jesus. After all, they were family, and family members are the ones who most often experience these bereavement experiences.

(6) Neither does this hypothesis account for what would otherwise be considered delusions of grandeur--in this case the apostles' belief that God had imparted to them a message for the entire world that others must accept. But it is unlikely that there are other delusions involved here, even occurring at precisely the same time, so the case is further weakened.

Christianity isn't the only religion to claim it has a divine message. As a matter of fact, I think the vast majority of supernatural religions make this claim. At any rate, people come to believe weird stuff all the time. Just read this list of people that claimed to be Jesus. You can't just say "this belief is weird, therefore, God did it"- there would be far too many strange, obscure cults to choose between. The last part of Habermas' essay deals with regular, good old fashioned individual hallucinations.

Individual Hallucinations

(1) Even individual hallucinations are questionable for any believers who felt despair at the unexpected death of Jesus just hours before. Their hopes and dreams had suddenly been dashed. Extreme grief, not exuberance, would be the normal response.

As I've pointed out before, the bereaved do occasionally have experiences of their deceased loved ones. Ludemann pointed this out in his book so, unless Habermas never read it, he has taken to ignoring it.

(2) The wide variety of times and places when Jesus appeared, along with the differing mindsets of the witnesses, is simply a huge obstacle. Men and women, hard-headed and soft-hearted alike, all believing that they saw Jesus, both indoors and outdoors, by itself provides an insurmountable barrier for hallucinations. The odds that each person would be in precisely the proper frame of mind to experience a hallucination, even individually, decrease exponentially.

What is this "wide variety of times and places"? Last I checked, 1 Cor. 15 gives us a grand total of six christophanies, one of which occurs a year after the others. Furthermore, it includes an appearance to "five hundred brothers" and to "all the apostles" that are never elaborated on and vanish by the time the Gospels were written. If Habermas knows the insurmountable circumstances these visions occurred in, he should've included them.

(3) Generally, hallucinations do not transform lives. Studies have argued that even those who hallucinate often (or perhaps usually) disavow the experiences when others present have not seen the same thing. Critics acknowledge that Jesus' disciples were transformed even to the point of being quite willing to die for their faith. No early text reports that any of them ever recanted. To believe that this quality of conviction came about through false sensory perceptions without anyone rejecting it later is highly problematic.

We live in the modern day, remember? Visions are no longer culturally acceptable. Rees himself notes the apprehensiveness of his subjects to share their experiences due to a fear of being called crazy. Contrast this with ancient times, where visions where accepted and even encouraged. On a final note, we don't know whether the disciples stuck it out for life.

(4) Of course, if the appearances were hallucinations, then Jesus' body should have been located safely and securely in its grave just outside the city of Jerusalem! That body would undoubtedly be a rather large disclaimer to the disciples' efforts to preach that Jesus was raised! But hallucinations do not even address this, so another naturalistic thesis is required.

So what if another naturalistic explanation is needed? Why couldn't a rival Jewish sect or a necromancer steal the body? If not, than why couldn't the church make it up?

(5) Why did the hallucinations stop after 40 days? Why didn't they continue to spread to other believers, just as the others had? 

Probably because most bereavement experiences only last a set amount of time before disappearing. While it is true that about a third linger for several years, not all follow this pattern.

(6) The resurrection was the disciples' central teaching, and we usually take extra care with what is closest to our hearts. This is what drove Paul to check out the nature of the gospel data with other key disciples on at least two occasions, to make sure he was preaching the truth (Gal. 1:18-19; 2:1-10). He found that they were also speaking of Jesus' appearances to them (1 Cor. 15:11).

Yeah right, tell that to the Mormons who followed Joseph Smith unquestionably, never once asking to see the plates. This is Special pleading.

(7) What about the natural human tendency to touch? Would no one ever discover, even in a single instance, that their best friend, seemingly standing perhaps just a few feet away, was not really there?

Perhaps just a few feet away... what if Jesus was seen several yards away? We'd need reliable accounts of Jesus' resurrection appearances before we can claim that all the disciples saw Jesus simultaneously "just a few feet away".

(8) The resurrection of an individual contradicted general Jewish theology, which held to a corporate event at the end of time. So Jesus' resurrection did not fit normal Jewish expectations.

Neither did Joseph Smith's plates of gold, or a myriad of other wacky religious claims. A persons deviation from the norm can hardly be counted as evidence for anything. However, even if we were to assume the disciples were too dense to invent anything new, it is still possible that Jesus' own teaching were the basis of their wacky belief. It all depends on whether or not you think Jesus really predicted his own death and resurrection. If this is the case, it would be a self fulfilling prophecy.

(9) Lastly, hallucinations of the extended sort required by this naturalistic theory are fairly rare phenomena, chiefly occurring in certain circumstances that militate against Jesus' disciples being the recipients.

What does "extended sort" mean? Is he suggesting that the Gospel accounts are accurate? If so, than how accurate? Accurate enough so determine the length of the experiences? What about the sporadic nature of 1 Cor. 15, as well as other Gospel accounts? Habermas will have to elaborate on what he means by "extended sort".

Well, those are Habermas' arguments against the Hallucination thesis. He has published many books and essays on the Resurrection, but none are as comprehensive as this essay (he references it in every one of his books I've read). If you got anything to add, send me a message!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jesus' own teachings as the basis of the resurrection belief

Rudolf Pesch is an interesting biblical scholar, holding views very similiar to my own. He believes that the unique idea of a premature resurrection, as well as a dying and rising messiah, can be based on jesus' own teaching. You can read more about him and his work here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Would the disciples be old enough to hallucinate?

Here's a very quick thought. 46% of seniors tend to have experiences that they perceive as of a dead spouse, and 14% of these experiences are visual ones (an additional 11.6 of them are interactive, despite not being visual and 2.7 are tacile). The question is, however, what would qualify as a senior back in the day? Considering that people only lived until their 40's, would early or late 30 fall into that category? Would the disciples have fallen into this range? My gut feeling is yes, especially since apologists never bring it up, even when they can (especially in the case of Gerald O'collins, here). However, it would be nice to have an actual answer. Does anybody out there know?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Matt McCormick on Hallucinations

This is a pretty interesting article on the commonality of hallucinatory experiences. Keep this in mind next time you hear an angel story from Moreland or a Ghost story from Habermas.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What makes an Atheist a "New Atheist"

I've been rather antagonistic about the "New Atheist" movement ever since I made this blog. However, I read an interesting post by Chris Hallquist here that criticises my approach, and of which I largely agree with. He argues (rather succinctly) that there is no real difference between a regular Atheist and a "New Atheist", and that therefore the term "new atheist" is meaningless. For instance, is a New Atheist an atheist that is antagonistic to organised Religion? If this is the case, "New Atheism" certainly isn't very new. Does it refer to Atheists that are unknowledgeable of the Religions they critique? Because I cannot envision a world in which everyone knows everything about every Religion. Who the hell has that much time to spare anyways.

I usually thought of a "New Atheist" as being someone who satisfied a two part criterion; Firstly, they criticise religion without having a sufficient knowledge of that Religion; and secondly, they are unnecessarily antagonistic towards it. However, both these points beg the question. How can one define exactly how much is "enough", anyways? A critique that works for one Religion or sect will clearly not work for another. So, does one have to know everything about all religions in order to be able to critique it? We have the same problem when it comes to defining "unnecessarily". Plus, since when was an ideas truthfulness contingent on how well it was delivered. This reminds me on an ironic quote from Neitzsche:

"We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us"

It seems like the term "New Atheist" is best understood as an "us VS them" term. At least from an apologetic perspective. Of course, there will always be atheists who are crackpots, much like there are Theists like Norman Geisler. But do these individuals really need a special label? Maybe Theists want to make atheists look as potentially irrational as they are. I mean, there are many modern examples of supernatural beliefs causing pain and death, but are there any examples of secular beliefs that can do the same? This whole thing really reminds me of an episode of South Park called "Go God Go", where Atheists fight amongst each other in the future over what to call themselves. Perhaps it's this type of mentality that leads to the "New Atheist" caricatures we see today.

At any rate, I'm going to put less effort on criticising new atheists, and more on actual arguments for the existence of God.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The dark of the moon

In my view, there are three common types of Religious believers. There are those who say "the moon is green and there is nothing you can do to change my mind"; those that say "the moon is green, but it appears white due to a clever magical illusion"; and finally those that say "the moon is green- metaphorically, although in reality it is actually white". The first type of Religious believers will just flat out deny any evidence you give them, like Norman Geisler. The third group, on the other hand, will quite literally be atheists in disguise, like John Dom Crosson. And the second option, which seems most popular amongst Religious people, just looks like compartmentalization to most Atheists. I'm not saying Theism is irrational- but one can see why one might see things that way.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The strangest thing I've seen in a while...

This is just surreal. Bob Larson, the exorcist guy, saying that Magic underwear is superstitous?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New Atheism is not a Cult

You know, I usually don't get myself caught up in the politics of the atheist movement, but this article just pissed me off. Written by the supposedly agnostic Bryan Appleyard, it attacks the New Atheist movement, going as far as to call it a cult. Now, anyone who has read my blog knows my opinion towards Dawkins and co. They are good talkers, but less than impressive Theologians. Furthermore, I have had run-ins with "New Atheist" types before, and their ignorance is staggering. But to call the New Atheism a cult? What does he even mean by a cult anyways? Something like the Jim Jones movement? Because I seriously doubt that New Atheism is ever going to have its own Jonestown.

But enough about that. I agree with him that the New Atheist movement is embarrassing- even if I find it much less embarrassing. Where we differ a lot, however, is in why we find it embarrassing. I find the new atheism embarrassing primarily since it endorses Jesus Mythicism. Many notable New Atheists  hold that mythicism is either true or likely true, like Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and the late Christopher Hitchens. Many of them never even bothered reading respectable secular historians like the ever popular Bart Ehrman. Another thing that irritates me is that the New Atheists criticise Philosophy without even remotely adequate knowledge of it. Now, I am not saying that they have to learn Philosophy in order to be responsible Atheists. That's just absurd. What I am saying, however, is that they should only critique it if they know it. It's like me rating a film one star out of five without even watching it. My rating of the film would be worthless.

Appleyard, on the other hand, just hates the tone of their voice. That's it. He hates them because they are mean and they poo poo the ideas of non New Atheists. I still don't see the resemblance to Jonestown. Sorry, but the New Atheists are not planning to exterminate Religious people. Yes, they want you to convert- but they don't want your bodies in a concentration camp. Besides, its not like their the only group that wants you to join them. Ever heard of the Mormons? The only serious offense the New Atheists committed was sending hate mail and death threats to Alain De Botton for his atheist church idea. And, although I find it embarrassing, I couldn't help but remember that Dawkins gets hatemail as well. In my view, the New Atheism is comparable to an ordinary Religion- but not a cult. And if Appleyard wants to defend the rationality of Religion but irrationality of the New Atheism, he will need to sow how they are actually different.

Oh yeah, and he also goes into a rant over how Communism was Atheisms fault, and how Darwinism is false, and a bunch of other shit nobody takes seriously. The Communism thing is absurd, considering that Communism was based off of Lamarkian Evolution, not Darwinian Evolution. But I'm not even going there. If he wants to bitch about Communism and Evolution, maybe he'd find the likes of Dinnish Desouza interesting. Communism and Evolution are non issues most professional Atheists rarely ever think about. If were gonna complain about the New Atheists, lets at least use real issues, like that they undermine Philosophy and NT Scholarship.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who the bleep does she think she is?

This is JZ Knight. If you watched "What the bleep do we know" like I did, you'll recognize her as "Ramtha".

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Results for the Prosblogion survey

You can see them here. Pretty neat stuff. If I can make a quick criticism though- I'd have to question why Philosophy of Religion is so disproportionally represented in the survey. Sorry, but 33.8 percent of Philosopher's do not practice philosophy of Religion.  Furthermore, I am certain that 40.5% of Philosophers are not Theists. This is understandable, since this survey merely to get a rough approximation. Plus, it couldn't have been easy to get 802 people to do participate in it. What I don't understand, however, is why the author chose to focus on the lack of female Philosophers and not on sampling issues. How many Philosophers of science did she interview, or philosophers of metaphysics? Or, for that matter, cognitive scientists? What if the majority of non-philosophers of religion that participated in this survey were ones that sympathised for religious arguments? Plus, not to be rude, by why was a field as useless as history of Philosophy even considered? Still, I feel as though the results were interesting.

The least surprising outcome would probably be how Theist and Atheist philosophers viewed the problem of evil. I mean, has any other philosophical argument caused so many people to change their minds on God? It deserves its place as the highest rated argument overall. Furthermore, I cannot say I am surprised by the overall low ratings given to the arguments from beauty. Why they even bothered mentioning it here was beyond me. A better argument, in my eyes, was the argument from fine tuning- which they sloppily lopped together with intelligent design arguments as the "argument for design". I say this since I find the former arguments much more persuasive than the latter. I am most surprised, however, at the ratings Theist philosophers gave to the argument from miracles. I mean really, 2.82? Theists consider the argument from miracles better than the argument from inconsistent revelations and the argument from lack of evidence? The argument from miracles isn't a philosophical argument. And speaking of the argument from inconsistent revelations, why did it score lowest? If anything, I thought it would be second highest. Are Christians really that convinced that Satan exists, or that God will do miracles for some people and let them burn in hell forever?

I look forward to reading more on this issue now since I know about it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bayes Theorem and the Resurrection of Jesus

It seems like every few years somebody tries to make a Bayesian argument for the existence of God. Some of them argue for the divinity of Jesus, and some for other Philosophical arguments, like the argument from fine tuning. Richard Swinburne has made many of these arguments, and has now made a Bayesian argument for the Resurrection. So what, is he gonna prove that the odds the resurrection occurred are astonishingly high, like perhaps, Tim and Lydia's estimate of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1?

Now, as I have repeatedly said, I am not a philosopher by anyones standards. I can, however, check out his empirical claims, and see if they have merit. After all, a Bayesian argument is only as good as the facts plugged into it, right? For example, in the Mcgrew's essay, they attack the Hallucination hypothesis since there were too many to have occurred naturally. They also attack it because the hallucinations would have to have lasted for very long periods of time. The problem, however, is that this is only true of you accept that the details of the Gospel accounts are accurate, which they do. If you believe that the appearance stories are legendary, than all of a sudden these criticisms disappear. Furthermore, if you actually read the current information of bereavement hallucinations, you'd find that it is not at all improbable that, after Jesus' death, many people claimed to have seen him alive. I have argued this elsewhere, so I will not repeat myself.
So, I will have to pick up his book and see if he challenges naturalistic alternatives like the Mcgrew's do. From what little I've read on Amazon, the book mainly deals with Jesus' divinity, so I doubt there will be much of an attack against the hallucination hypothesis.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pat Robertson says that Twilight is demonic

I know Twilight sucked, but that doesn't mean it's evil.

Interesting survey on Prosblogion

I know I rarely discuss philosophy, but this is too interesting to pass up. I'll have to do a post discussing the results too- although I doubt they will be surprising. I mean, most Philosophers are atheists, remember? Still, it would be interesting to see just how many Theists still put stock in arguments for the existence of God.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

Skeptic magazine defends Hallucination Hypothesis

You can read the article here. I have to admit, I am somewhat envious of this guy for being able to defend the hallucination hypothesis from a psychiatric perspective. I am happy that he avoids speculative group hallucinations, and uses the empty tomb to strengthen his case. Furthermore, I am happy that he decimates the often poor criticism of Evangelicals like Craig and Habermas. The problem with them, as I've stated elsewhere, is that they rely on outdated scholarship that knew next to nothing about hallucinations. Now adays, we know that hallucinations occur commonly to normal, sane people experiencing bereavement.

The thing, however, that impressed me most was his proposal that the disciples may have believed in the physical resurrection theologically and not on the basis of evidence. In other words, the disciples could have believed that Jesus could be touched and seen by many people, without actually having been seen/touched by many people at once. As an example, lets just say that the disciples were all sleeping together. One of them gets up and hallucinates Jesus. Another wakes up and also hallucinates Jesus. When the rest wake up, he disappears. Only two of them see Jesus- yet, only two of them were in a position where they could see him. This could lead an ancient to conclude that, had they all been awake at the same time, they could have all seen Jesus. But it doesn't follow that, because they all could have seen Jesus, they all did. This is an important point which hasn't been properly critiqued, in my opinion anyways.

One thing that did irritate me, however, was the authors denial of William Lane Craig's favorite argument- that there was no precedent to individual resurrection in the ancient world. Although it is true that, according to the gospels, Jesus raised the dead- these were viewed as resuscitation's, not resurrections. The formerly dead would not stay alive forever; Resurrected people, however, would enjoy eternal life. I can't fault this essay too much for this inconvenience, however, since many evangelicals agree with me. Habermas himself admits that he puts little stock in the argument since, according to many, prophecies of a dying and rising messiah can, in fact, be found within the old testiment.

Despite the small flaw, this essay is a very impressive one. I hope that eventually, serious biblical scholars will take notice.

HT to John Loftus

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Andyman409 miracle detective: A real life exorcism!

Here is an interesting little thing I found online a while ago. According to the article, a trained Psychiatrist and a team of Catholic priests and nuns actually witnessed a real life exorcism! That's right- not one of those phony baloney ones done by those protestant nut-cases; but a real, true blue one! Just like the film the exorcist, the team reported several strange phenomena including: Levitation, Super-human strength, clairvoyance, Xenoglossy, and psychokinesis.

Amazing huh. The only problem is... they recorded none of it! That's right- all these crazy things happened, and nobody ever thought, just for a second, to actually use a video camera. Furthermore, the only two news sources I was able to find this incredible story on were "New Oxford review", an exclusively Catholic magazine, and "World Net Daily", a bunch of hyper-conservative right wing Birthers. Beyond these two very questionable news sources, we haven't a shred of evidence that any of this actually happened.

Furthermore, even if we were to use these sources, the pertinent details are severely lacking. They briefly mention some of the supernatural happenings in passing, but that's all. For example, they report that objects "flew off the shelves on their own"- but they never tell us any of the details, like exactly which objects did so, or how they could tell there where no naturalistic alternatives. The worst part, however, is that these articles never even tell us the identity of the woman being possessed. If this case were to have had no paranormal phenomena, than I could imagine her being afraid of accusations to her sanity. But supposedly psycho-kinesis and levitation occurred! Surely any un-justified criticism by pseudo-skeptics would be deflected by eager parapsychologists. Super-naturalist friendly America would have embraced her- not ridiculed her. But, once again, the biggest problem with this case isn't the lack of evidence per se, but the fact that, had this event actually occurred, we should expect the evidence to be a lot better. The fact that the details are so sorely lacking is either the result of very poor scholarship- or very deviant fraud. Or perhaps both.

After all, naturalistic explanations can be applied to several of the purported "supernatural occurrences". Tricksters have been known to move objects in order to deceive others- which is the cause of many poltergeist cases. Furthermore, Pseudo seizures sometimes produce violent movements that can be confused for levitation (a short discussion on this can be found here). Furthermore, the intense emotional stress these types of events generate often lead to mass hysteria, in which strange collective delusions can form. Michael Cuneo, a skeptical sociologist, sat in on over 50 exorcisms while he was writing his book "American exorcism- Driving out demons in the land of plenty". During the events, many strange things would be reported, such as levitation. Cuneo, however, would be unable to see the phenomena, even though others present could (see here and here).

So in conclusion, I think we can safely say that, even if exorcism does work and demons do exist, we simply have no way of finding out until more serious research is done. It's just a shame that it will most likely end up yielding no results.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Resurrection Sundays: Scholarly rejection of naturalistic hypothesis

I am proud to declare that Resurrection Sundays are returning! Hooray! However, they are not going to be weekly events, as they were originally. I will release new segments on Sundays- but not always once a week. I plan to focus the bulk of my energy on other subjects, such as sociology. With that said, let me return to the post.

Apologists like William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas like to rub in that contemporary scholarship still snuffs naturalistic alternatives to the resurrection. Here is a quote from the former illustrating my point:

"Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars."
Indeed Craig is right- no naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars. However, what really irritates me is the part about these hypothesis being universally rejected by contemporary scholars. As these apologists point out- even skeptics tend to avoid defending any particular hypothesis. The same point is brought up in Habermas' article "The Late Twentieth century resurgence of naturalistic responses to Jesus resurrection".

So, why do most scholars, including the skeptical ones, avoid using these hypothesis. My guess is that it's because all the traditional ones really are terible! The swoon theory is one I've never found persuasive at all- although not for the same reason most apologists do. Most apologists like Craig don't find it persuasive since they question how a half dead Jesus could be glorified to the status of a God. Personally- I think the biggest problem with it is that Jesus would have eventually died anyways. Another thoery I find no weight in is the wrong tomb theory. I don't know- I just find it hard to believe that, after Jesus' body dissapeared, the disciples never once thought to ask Joseph of Arimethea about it. I admit that the conspiracy theory is at least possible- although I'm not exactly a fan of theories that are un-provable and un-falsifyable.

As you should all know, the only theory I put stock in is the subjective vision theory. According to it, Jesus stayed dead- shortly afterwards, his disciples hallucinated him alive. Sadly, this theory is equally rejected by most scholars. However, there is one version of this theory which hasn't been totally rejected by scholars... this being the bereavement experience. First created by Gerd Ludemann, this theory relies not on ordinary hallucinations, but on bereavement hallucinations. There big difference. Although regular hallucinations require certain emotional and physiological conditions to occur (such as lack of sleep or food), bereavement hallucination dont seem to require anything (other than, of course, bereavement).

Fortunatley, it is very easy to show that, after Jesus' death, Peter and "the twelve" (and possibly Mary) where most likely in a state of grief. Furthermore, it is possible that James was also in this state. Although it is universally conceded that James was at some point a skeptic, it is impossible to know how long he was a skeptic for, or when he actually converted. So, if we make the mild concession that James was a disciple before his vision, we already have half of the appearances covered in terms of emotional precedent. When it comes to the twelve- we can speculate an appearance to some of the disciples (perhaps late at night), in which several of them hallucinated at the same time. The ones that didn't see Jesus perhaps went along with them- or they were in a different room. In the end, it was decided that the appearance was objective since the few disciples capable of seeing Jesus saw him. We do have precident for these sorts of appearances- at least in the apparitional literature Allison so fequently cites.

Furthermore, it doesn't seem like a stratch to assume that the vision to the "500" was a later occurrance, perhaps an elvis sighting/mass delusion, that happened a signifigant amount of time after the first three. Perhaps the vision to the "rest of the disciples" was of the same nature. Neither of these appearances appear anywhere else, so I can't say much about there historicity. Finally, a year or so later, one can argue that the appearance to Paul, was due to either temporal lobe epilespy, a conversion disorder or even some sort of guilt complex a la Ludemann. See- we pretty much have all the appearances covered! It's not as good an explanation as the resurrection hypothesis, but hey- it's something.

However, the problem is that, misfortunatley, most scholars aren't aware of the fundamental differences between the bereavement hallucination theory and the regular hallucination theory. As Habermas points out, the hallucination theory was considered to be refuted in the 19th century- a time when bereavement hallucinations weren't even known to exist! Dewi Rees started his research into bereavement hallucinations in 1971. Furthermore Gerd Ludemann was the first biblical scholar to actually recognize them over 20 years later! So as we can see, it isn't a surprise that this theory hasn't gotten a fair hearing from the majority of scholars- it's only been in existence for about ten years!

So what does this mean for the future of the Hallucination hypothesis in biblical studies? For the time being, not much. However, I like to imagine that, after Dale Allison released "Resurrecting Jesus", the hallucination hypothesis, gained a little more credibility. I mean, even Gary Habermas admitted afterwards that naturalistic explainations were at least possible.

"Perhaps due to this, my perspective is from the angle of the affirmative case, even though, like Allison, I am well aware of the inability to close the door completely against alternative suggestions"

Coming from Habermas, a quote like this does mean a lot. Craig similiarly responds in his response to Allison. I can only hope that, in the future, this theory gets a more fair hearing than it has in recent years.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Was Jesus the only dying and rising Messiah?

Here's a fascinating article which mentions that the idea of a dying and rising messiah may have existed before Jesus. Interestingly enough, in is written by Gary Habermas.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gone fishing

This is just a brief announcement that for the next few days I'll be very busy- so dont expect any substantive posts. I won't give away any of the details of my plans (as they are somewhat personal), but they involve applying to a "continuing education" program, editing a short film, fixing my sleeping schedule and reuniting with some old college buddies. Anyways, I'll try to keep the posts interesting, so don't miss out on them. Upcoming posts include a review of E.O. Wilson's "Sociobiology", an analysis of Philip Weibe's critiques of Altered states of Consciousness, and finally a response to a paranormal claim from none other than Mike Licona himself.

Oh, and I'd like to apologise in advance to Chris Halliquist for not making that banner. Sorry, but I didn't think I'd be so busy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sociology, Psychology and Religion

As many of my readers know, I spent a good portion of my time blogging about Miracle claims and the Paranormal. I wont lie- it has been an exciting topic to post about. However, it got boring relatively fast. It seems like all Paranormal claims fall into three categories: the things that happened but where mispercieved (hallucinations), the things that happened but where exaggerated (false memories), and the things that never happened at all (legends). Once and a while, something really impressive comes up. But, from my readings, these events are few and far between. And BTW, I visited many Paranormal blogs and forums, so it's not like I only looked at the popular cases. In the future, I will post on the Paranormal under the title "Andyman409: Miracle Detective"- but for now, I will put significantly less emphasis on it. It's high time this blog did something different, so from this post onward I'm gonna study the Sociology and Psychology of Religion.

Seem random? Well, I've been interested in these subjects for a while now. Really, I have. Anything that has to do with what and how people think is fascinating to me. It's just a pity that I never thought about actually seriously studying them until now. I guess my research in Miracles and the Resurrection distracted me. But, since that chapter is over, I have the time needed to seriously look into this field.

I think I'm gonna begin my odyssey by reviewing E.O. Wilson's magnum opus "Sociobiology". Yes, it seems like an odd book to review, I know- but bear with me, it is an important book. Plus, I just so happen to own a copy, so reviewing it will be that much easier. My review is primarily going to focus on the last chapter of the book, which is on Human nature. This short chapter was quite controversial at the time the book was released, and still is today. However, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have it's insights. I look forward to  posting my review of this legendary book in the future.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Visions of Jesus" Review

Yes, here is the review of Philip Wiebe's book "Visions of Jesus". For anyone who doesn't already know, "Visions of Jesus" is a book about contemporary visionary experiences with Jesus. One can really say it is a two part book. In the first part, the author, thru the use of magazine ads, fan letters, etc collects 30 stories in which individuals of all Genders, ages and  (nominal, conservative, etc) and theological opinions claim to have seen Jesus. Than, he goes thru church history, and cites a few more "Christic Apparitions" that have supposedly occurred. However, as Ken Pulliam briliantly reminds us in his own review of the book, there are far, far more Marian apparitions than Christic apparitions. The second part of the book is a critical analysis of psychological and neurological theories on hallucinations, and why Wiebe feels that they alone cannot account for certain details in the accounts. Misfortunatley for me, Wiebe's grasp of cognitive science and Psychology is far above my own, so I will not be commenting on this part of the book much. However, I will comment about the first part.

Now to begin, I'd like to challenge Weibe's claim that cases like these may be under reported since many of them came from his home province of BC, and some live near him (Pg 40). This is true, but one also has to keep in mind that he sent magazine ads to Religious magazines in Canada, America, Britain and Australia, as opposed to trying to stay within a geological boundary. So, it seems to me that he merely cherry picked cases that were impressive, and ignored ones that weren't. Also, considering that there were only 30 cases included, I think it's more coincidental that many stories come from BC and places near him than that they are significantly under reported. If there were 1000 cases studied, than this would be good evidence- but not 30.

Anyways, after reading the thirty modern cases he documents, I couldn't help but notice the interesting qualities they exhibit. For instance, in one of the cases, Jesus was seen and felt, and temporarily replaced a piece of furniture the visionary was currently leaning on. In another case, the Visionary could see Jesus, regardless of whether her eyes where open or closed. In most of the appearances, Jesus appeared as a solid figure, much like Apparitions supposedly do. Many cases also included him talking- sometimes without his lips in sync with the dialogue! In a few visions, Jesus could also be touched- feeling "warm". All these features remind me (and Wiebe) of the New Testament visions of Jesus in which he was supposedly solid and capable of communication and touch. And if that isn't enough, one case (Case #4) featured someone who supposedly "hated God" having an experience of Jesus himself after quietly one night admitting that Christianity might be true. Sounds like a possible candidate for Paul?

Wiebe, however, argues that these cases prove that Jesus was resurrected, and still appears to his followers today. I see them as evidence for the contrary. Anyways, despite Wiebe's argumentation in the later chapters, I still found one glaring problem with the accounts- one that makes me fairly sure that these are just hallucinations- and that's that they are all extremely Private occurrences. Of all 30 cases he brings to the table, only one features a collective apparition. And even that sole case is extremely dubious, to say the least. Furthermore, some of these cases occur in public, with many people present- yet, only one person can ever see them. Of all the cases I read, there are only five cases in which the Christic apparition leaves some sort of a trace on the environment:

Case #1. The recipient fell unconscious at church and had a vision of a heavenly city with Jesus, who offered her wine. When she woke up, she appeared to be drunk, and other church members claimed that they could smell wine coming from her mouth.

Case #2. The recipient battled an evil creature while in a state of being half awake/half asleep. Jesus occasionally appeared to him to help him, but was rejected, until the demon got too powerful and he finally accepted Jesus' help. During the "battle", his hysteric wife claims to have seen him levitate. Strangely enough, the wife never sees Jesus or the demon, and the man never noticed that he was levitating. The pets and children slept thru the whole thing.

Case #25. The recipient has a vision of Jesus in 18" deep snow. The spot where Jesus stood, about 3' in diameter, was bare ground, with no tracks leading to it or away from it. The visionary was unsure whether Jesus was transparent or not.

Case #26. The recipient had a skiing accident, in which he injured his neck vertebrae. He saw Jesus in the hospital and made a miraculous recovery. Jesus appeared somewhat transparent.

Case #27. The recipient saw Jesus standing over the bed of a sick friend, but looking at him. The recipient tried to touch Jesus, but he disappeared, touching the sick friend as he left. The sick friend jumps up, healed, and reports that he felt something touch him when it happened.

The cases are rather interesting. But, as I said before, we have no good reason to think that these coincidences are of divine origin. For all I know the rain gutter could've released a bunch of water that made the spot in the snow. And the little girl in church may have drank grape juice before the event, leading some to think it was wine. After all, the church she went to wasn't allowed to drink wine, remember? How would they know what it smelled like. Furthermore, Wiebe himself admitted that he could not verify the details of each account. And we all know how bad memory can be.

Anyways, there was one case that was very impressive. Apparently, according to Case #28, an entire congregation and a Pastor all saw Jesus appear in the middle of a sermon. And if that isn't enough for you, the apparition was filmed! Although this case may seem impressive now- the entire case looks far more like deliberate deception when you look at it more closely. Ken Pulliam had a very good response to this case (here) which I will not spoil for you. Another fierce critique of this case comes from, strangely enough, a Christian  apologist (here).

As I've said before, the second part of the book is far too complex for me to critique. What I do know, however, and what Pulliam points out quite rightly is that Cognitive scientists are learning more and more every day- so we shouldn't feel bad just because we don't have an answer now. Perhaps in the future, when we understand how the brain works better, will we be able to come up with a more complete theory that accounts for the types of experiences honest people like these have. After all, most Psychologists are atheists.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I'm gonna review "Visions of Jesus"

After reading Chris Halliquists review of Craig Keener's "Miracles", I decided that I should probably get around to doing a book review. So what better book to review than Visions of Jesus from Philip Wiebe. I first heard of this book from a reader, Chris W. Later, I discovered that it had been quoted by Dale Allison, Maurice Casey, Gerald O'Collins, as well as several other scholars in various other books. When I think back, I wonder why it has taken me so long to review this book. So I went on my computer and started reading parts of the book thru Google books. Yes, that's how I read books in which I have no plans to buy. However, after reading a few samples of the book, I was impressed enough to go and get my own copy of it, so I could read it in it's entirety.

So, I'll do a proper review of the book when I get a copy and finish reading it. As a heads up, I doubt I'll be able to interact much with the material, especially his in-debth criticisms of psychological and Neurological explanations for apparitions, since I lack the scientific expertise needed. For the time being, I suppose you can all wet your appetite on the late Ken Pulliams critiques of this book on his blog. They are very good.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Biola University Center for Christian thought- what is Christian thought?

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Biola University was just given 3 million dollars to set up a "Center for Christian thought". Jeff Lowder asks why; I ask what. What exactly is this "Christian thought"? I recall Alvin Plantinga mentioning something about there being no conflict between Religion and Science and, if anything, there being a serious conflict between Naturalism and Science! So, if that's true, than good secular science should give use biblically friendly results, right? Well, I guess according to the Templeton foundation we need even more Theologians to analyse the findings of science.

I always thought that the Templeton foundation upheld a sort of "Non Overlapping Magesteria", like I and many Atheists do. I mean, in all honesty, can one really prove that the Universe wasn't "created" ex nihlo, or that it doesn't have a "purpose"? Of course, one does not need to do so in order to be an Atheist- but I understand that, in order for science and Religion to be in conflict, Religion has to make claims that can be tested and proven false. And Religion, for better or worse, likes to discredit the claims proven false and relish in the claims that are unproveable. So, with that said, I don't see why the Templeton foundation decided to throw three million dollars at this non-problem. And just so you know, that's a three with six zero's!

I'm not completely heartless. I can understand Christian universities hosting Theology programs which, more or less, reconcile science with faith. Fair enough. These organisations also study the nature of the soul, the trinity, etc, so it's not like it's the only thing they do. Plus, being the biggest Religion in the world, I'm sure many wealthy Christians care about whether their faith can be intellectually justified or not. But six million dollars for one aspect of Theology which isn't even considered an issue anymore? In my old Catholic high school, they liked to remind us about how a few cents could feed an entire family in africa. Why does the John Templeton foundation feel the need to set up this program, because I haven't a clue.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Gerald O'collins on Dale Allison, Part 2

I asked Gerald O'collins for a copy of his essay criticising Dale Allison, and much to my surprise he immediately sent me a copy. I have to admit, despite remaining totally unconvinced by his arguments, I was nonetheless very impressed by his level of scholarship. Now, I agree with him that ordinary Bereavement experiences are not enough to account for the resurrection belief- However, where we part ways is in how useful we think they are. I think there are enough parallels so that, combined with pre-easter prophecies and an empty tomb, the disciples would have concluded he was resurrected. O'Collin's, on the other hand, does not think there are enough parallels with these kinds of experiences.

After reading his essay, I only felt two of his arguments were convincing. The first one is that bereavement experiences tend to occur weeks after the persons death, not within days. The second argument is that 40% of bereavement experiences last for several years. To the first argument, I can only point out that, although many don't start this early, some do, such as Allison's own case (as recounted in Resurrecting Jesus). Furthermore, positing that the disciples had bereavement visions a few weeks (perhaps two) after the crucifixion just doesn't seem like a big stretch to me. For all we know, they could've have pushed the appearances back a little to make it seem more convincing.

The latter criticism of the two is a hard one to solve. I think, as Allison does, that a good explanation may be the fact that there was some expectation. Jesus declared that he would be resurrected. So, the disciples would have classified certain visions as resurrection appearances, and other ones as mere visions. O'Collins foresees this objection, but responds to it by appealing to the lack of Jesus visions in later material, such as the book of acts. Sorry, but I just don't feel like this criticism is particularly good. There may have been many postmortem visions of Jesus that simply were never recorded. I know it's an argument from silence, but it's still a strong possibility. Another possibility is that, as many scholars have suggested, the visions ending after "forty days", is allegorical, and really means "a long time".

I just want to conclude by saying that, although studying bereavement experiences in the modern world can be very useful, I am skeptical of how far they can really take us in terms of understanding the Resurrection. In the cases documented by Dewi Rees, only widows and widowers were interviewed. The disciples, as O'Collins rightly points out, are very different than widows and widowers. The disciples had not only a lot of grief, but a lot of messianic expectations and possibly even an empty tomb to account for. Furthermore, they lived in a different time with a different mindset. For example, Rees' study showed that the bereaved rarely ever talk about their experiences. However, in ancient times, these sorts of experiences were well understood; as a matter of fact, the gospel writers went thru great pains to emphasize that Jesus was not one!

So, despite himself, O'Collins is right- just for the wrong reason. We have no precedent for what the disciples went thru, so we shouldn't be surprised if their testimony seems a little bit different than what we see in these kinds of modern surveys. And as a final note, O'Collins reassured me that his criticism of Bereavement experiences was so far the only one done by a professional scholar. So, if you want a copy of O'Collins essay, just send me an email.


O'Collins didn't send me his essay from the Irish Theological quarterly, but his arguments from the appendex of his new book, Believing in the Resurrection: The Meaning and Promise of the Risen Jesus. Nonetheless, the document still contains all the arguments from his earlier essay, as well as some new ones.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Garald O'Collins on Dale Allison

Theologian Gerald O'Collins has very recently written a critique of Dale Allison's hypothesis that the visionary experiences of the disciples could be explained away as typical bereavement visions. In his paper, he claims that the similarities between bereavement visions/apparitions and the resurrection appearances are too few to be significant, and are therefore useless in explaining away the resurrection appearances. Misfortunatley, Gerald's essay is unavailable on the web (unless you pay a fee), so I cannot comment on it or it's arguments. If you know of any of his arguments, comment on this post immediatley!

Fortunately, Mike Licona's (Pg's 623-641) and JP Holding's (Pg's 317-318) books on the resurrection briefly mention a few of O'Collin's criticisms of Allisons theory. Misfortunatley, the issues they bring up are quite easy to rebut. For instance, in Holdings book, Jonathan Kendall asserts (Pg 318) that in order for the Apparition theory to be viable, the visions would have had to have stopped immediately after 40 days. This criticism is exceptionally weak when we look at cases in "Resurrecting Jesus"- especially in Allison's own case in which:

"Of the reports I received of apparitions of my late father, half came during the week immediately following his death, and all came during the following months; and nothing has happened since"
So, at least we know that in some cases, people have apparitional experiences within the first week of the persons death. Isn't that enough? As Allison suggests in his essay- The disciples could have easily interpreted early Apparitions as "appearances" and later ones as "visions from heaven". I see no reason why conservative Christians can't at least acknowldge this scenario as a possibility. Also, Licona states in his book that, according to O'Collins, Apparitional experiences would not be a good explaination since they never cause their recepients to start a new Religion (Pg 636). To this criticism I am shocked. Who's saying that visions alone changed the disciples lives? Let us not forget the empty tomb and pre-easter expectations, which I thick would certainly get them exited. I don't think I need more examples to prove my point.

On a final note, in another essay  "Doubt and the resurrection of Jesus" (which can also be found here), the author claims that Gerald isn't the only person who has critically evaluated Allison's Apparition theory.
"There has been a concerted effort recently to show the similarities between postdeath apparition experiences and Jesus' resurrection appearances"
Misfortunatley, the snipit that I aquired had little information on exactly how much interest has gone into this, or how many scholars have actually listened to it. Considering the poor responses from Habermas and Craig, I doubt that these critiques of Allison have garnered much popularity. Still, a part of me wants to know what kind of critiques these are, and how serious they are to Allisons theory. After all, if I am wrong about the Resurrection, I would certainly like to know about it. So, once again, if any of my readers knows anything about this, I would be very grateful.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

God dreams

Rather recently, John Loftus shared with us a blog post titled: The Power of the Delusion is Maddening. Experience Reigns Even Over Former Skeptics. The post is about an Atheist (herien refered to as A) who converted to Christianity after having an experience I refer to as a "God Dream". To put it bluntly, God Dreams are dreams in which the dreamer suddenly feels as though they are "experiencing God". The dreamer will see a white that is "brighter than white" and will feel a sense of powerfulness and pleasure beyond anything they have ever felt before.

I first started taking interest in the phenomena of God dreams about six months ago, on one dark and stormy night. If you haven't guessed it already, the reason why I'm into them is because I myself had one of these dreams. My God dream was very similiar to A's- except that I had no feeling of physical pain afterwards. I did, however, have a lingering feeling of awe for several minutes after the dream. Hell, I think it took me about week to finally forget about it entirely. Much like the aformentioned case, I considered converting to Christianity during that week. Unlike A, however, I did not convert.

I did, however, grow interested in why it may of happened. So I sent out emails to a few Psychologists and laymen alike, and was surprised by how little I got back. Finally, I decided to start from the ground up and use google. Anyways, after a short and lousy set of results, I found another guy who, like me, was an atheist  who experienced a "God dream" here (although I haven't been able to find the article since).

Anyways, since I couldn't find much of value on the web in terms of "God dreams", I instead decided to look into regular dreams. My brother (which I mention far too many times on this blog), has done some research into dreaming, and I intend to check it out. I wish I could give you a comprehensive debunking of the phenomena- but at this current point in time I simply do not know enough to. I hope to be able to provide a follow up on this post in a few days/weeks.