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!

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