bookmark_borderMy First Book

I’m planning to write my first book this year:
Thinking Critically about the Resurrection of Jesus
Actually, a good portion of the book has already been written, at least in terms of the key ideas and arguments.
The book will have two main purposes:

  1. Critical Analysis and Evaluation of Peter Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus.
  2. Teach and Promote the key concepts, principles, and skills of critical thinking.


The initial outline of the book follows the main premises of Kreeft’s argument:

  1. Introduction to Kreeft’s Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
  2. Introduction to Critical Thinking.
  3. Did Kreeft Refute the Swoon Theory?
  4. Did Kreeft Refute the Conspiracy Theory?
  5. Did Kreeft Refute the Hallucination Theory?
  6. Did Kreeft Refute the Myth Theory?
  7. Are There Only Four Skeptical Theories of the Resurrection of Jesus?
  8. Conclusion

Each chapter will focus on a few key concepts, principles, or skills of critical thinking, based on what is most relevant for the subject and thinking examined in that chapter.
Since Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus is very similar to Josh McDowell’s case,  I might also do some evaluation of McDowell’s case, especially where he has an argument or objection that is different from Kreeft’s on a particular subject (e.g. an objection to the Swoon Theory that Kreeft does not present).

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 8: The VERY PERSONAL Objection (TRF2)

WHERE WE ARE
In the previous seven parts of this series, I have shown that at least six out of the seven objections raised by Josh McDowell in The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF) against the Hallucination Theory FAIL.  So, at least 85% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL:

Given that at least 85% of his objections FAIL, one may reasonably conclude that McDowell has no ability to distinguish between a good solid argument, and a weak and/or defective argument.  So, it should be no surprise that in this current post, I will show that Objection TRF2 (“Very Personal”) also FAILS, and thus that McDowell has a perfect 100% failure rate, that ALL of his objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL, and that McDowell is several fries short of a happy meal.
 
OBJECTION TRF2: VERY PERSONAL
Here is a basic assumption behind Objection TRF2:

Second, hallucinations are linked to an individual’s subconscious and to his particular past experiences, making it very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination.  (TRF, p.84)

The alleged psychological “principle” here is that “hallucinations are linked to an individual’s subconscious and to his particular past experiences”.  This, strictly speaking is an empirical generalization (unlike some of McDowell’s other psychological “principles”).  However, I think that this idea is derived from an obvious CONCEPTUAL claim:

Hallucinations are completely subjective phenomena.

This CONCEPTUAL claim can be clarified as follows:

The contents of an hallucination experienced by person P are completely subjective, being produced purely by the mind of person P.

I have no objection to this CONCEPTUAL claim.  It is a truth based on the meaning of the word “hallucination”, so there is no need for any scientific observations or experiments to confirm this claim.  It is a claim that is known by all competent speakers of the English language who understand the meaning of the word “hallucination”.
McDowell has simply expanded on this CONCEPTUAL truth, by adding to it a plausible empirical assumption:

If an experience of person P is produced purely by the mind of person P, then that experience was produced by the subconscious of person P and by the past experiences of person P.

The concept of “the subconscious” is a rather dubious one, especially given the prominence of this idea in New Age Thought, which is dominated by stupidity, ignorance, and superstition (should be called: New Age Mindlessness).  Nevertheless, although the concept of “the subconscious” is VAGUE, UNCLEAR, and surrounded by confused superstitions, the basic idea that a good portion of our own thinking happens outside of, or on the periphery of, our immediate awareness, seems very reasonable, if not undeniable.
I think for our purposes here, it is probably not necessary that we pin down the precise meaning of “the subconscious”.  So, setting aside my discomfort with the UNCLARITY of that term, I’m willing to accept this empirical assumption made by McDowell, as being at least a reasonable assumption.  This empirical assumption, however, is just one of common sense; it is NOT a well-established scientific claim that is based on careful scientific investigation or experiments.
NOTE: Freud rejected the use of the term “the subconscious” because he thought it was ambiguous and misleading.  So, it is unlikely that “most” psychological experts would endorse McDowell’s empirical assumption or the empirical psychological “principle” that is the basis for Objection TRF2.
 
AN INFERENCE FROM THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE
McDowell draws an inference from his psychological “principle”:

…making it very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination. (TRF, p.84, emphasis added)

I think he meant to say “more than one person” here.   First, McDowell learned this objection from J.N.D. Anderson’s pamphlet The Evidence for the Resurrection, which was published in 1950, more than thirty years before McDowell’s book The Resurrection Factor, and Anderson makes the stronger claim:

No two persons will experience exactly the same phenomenon.

Furthermore, in his more recent defense of the resurrection in Evidence for the Resurrection (hereafter: EFR), McDowell argues against two people having the same hallucination:

…making it very unlikely that two or more persons could have the same hallucination at the same time. (EFR, p.207, emphasis added)

So, McDowell does want to make the stronger claim against two people having the same hallucination, similar to the version of this objection put forward by Anderson in 1950.
Can two people experience the same hallucination?  McDowell FAILS to notice that this question is AMBIGUOUS.  It depends on what one means by “the same hallucination”.
In one sense, it is IMPOSSIBLE for two people to experience “the same hallucination”.  In his more recent book on the resurrection, McDowell quotes the apologist Michael Licona and the psychologist Gary Collins who both make this point:

Michael Licona has observed, “Hallucinations are like dreams.  They are private occurrences.  You could not share an hallucination you were having with someone else…”  (EFR, p.208)

Clinical psychologist Gary Collins explains, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences.  By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. …Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it.” (EFR, p.208)

Both Licona and Collins are making a CONCEPTUAL claim, and they are both correctly asserting an analytic truth.  But McDowell is AGAIN confusing a CONCEPTURAL claim with an EMPIRICAL claim.
You cannot prove or establish an EMPIRICAL claim simply on the basis of a CONCEPTUAL claim.  Empirical claims must be supported by experiences, observations, or experiments.  The CONCEPTUAL claim that Licona and Collins are making is based purely on the meaning of the word “hallucination”; it is NOT based on experiences, observations, or experiments.  Any competent speaker of the English language who understands the meaning of the word “hallucination” knows the analytic truth that Licona and Collins assert.  This is NOT a scientific claim.  Because these quotes by Licona and Collins assert a CONCEPTUAL claim, they do not provide relevant evidence in support of McDowell’s EMPIRICAL claim.
It is clear that McDowell is making an EMPIRICAL claim, because he uses the qualifying expression “very unlikely”:

…making it very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination.  (TRF, p.84)

…making it very unlikely that two or more persons could have the same hallucination at the same time. (EFR, p.207)

If McDowell was asserting a CONCEPTUAL or analytic truth that no two persons can experience the same hallucination, then it makes no sense for him to use the qualification “very unlikely”.
That is like saying it is “very unlikely” that we will see a four-sided triangle today,  or that it is “very unlikely” that we will meet a married bachelor today.  It is logically impossible for a triangle to have four sides, so there is not even a remote chance that we will see a four-sided triangle today.  It is logically impossible for a person to be both a bachelor and to be a married person at the same time, so there is not even a remote chance that we will meet a married bachelor today.  The qualification “very unlikely” thus clearly implies that McDowell has in mind an EMPIRICAL generalization which could, at least in principle, have some exceptions.  The use of the qualification “very unlikely” thus clearly implies that McDowell is NOT asserting a CONCEPTUAL claim or analytic truth.
It might be easiest to first consider the analogous claim made about DREAMS:

Two people cannot experience the same dream.

This statement is ambiguous between a CONCEPTUAL claim (an analytic truth) which has ZERO possible exceptions, and an EMPIRICAL claim which, at least in principle, could have some exceptions.  Think about how we enumerate or count the number of dreams that people are having.  A man has a dream about a cat walking across the foot of his bed.  That is ONE dream.  A woman who is sleeping next to that man also has a dream at the same time.  That is a second dream that is occurring.  We are now talking about TWO dreams; one dream in the mind of the man, and another dream in the mind of the woman.  Because these are two separate dreams, there is a sense in which they are NOT “the same dream”.
However, it could be the case that the woman is also having a dream about a cat walking across the foot of the bed.  In fact, it is possible that they are both dreaming about a full-grown orange tabby cat walking slowly across the foot of the bed.  In this case, there is a sense in which they are both having “the same dream”.
It is possible to compare one person’s dream with another person’s dream, and to note similarities and/or differences between those dreams.  When the description of the contents of one dream closely matches the description of the contents of another dream, we are inclined to say that the two people who experienced those two dreams had “the same dream”.  Such comparisons of dream contents can be the basis for EMPIRICAL claims, such as “John and Mary had the same dream last night”.  It is possible for two people to have “the same dream” in this sense.  Two people can experience dreams that are very similar in content.   Thus, it is possible, at least in principle, for two people to have exactly the same dream, in that it is possible that a very detailed description of each person’s dream reveals no differences between the contents of those dreams.
McDowell has confused the CONCEPTUAL claim that “Two people CANNOT IN PRINCIPLE have the same hallucination” with the EMPIRICAL claim that “Two people are VERY UNLIKELY to have hallucinations with the same content”.  The truth of the CONCEPTUAL claim does NOT show that the EMPIRICAL claim is also true.  So, AGAIN McDowell FAILS to provide relevant evidence in support of this key factual claim in his Objection TRF2.  He basically commits the fallacy of EQUIVOCATION by offering evidence in support of the CONCEPTUAL interpretation of this claim (which requires no evidence), but then asserts and assumes that he has provided evidence in support of the EMPIRICAL interpretation of this claim (which requires experiences, observations, or experiments as confirmation).
The above example of two people dreaming about a full-grown orange tabby cat shows not only that it is possible in principle for two people to have “the same dream”, but that there is a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE of this happening.  There might be a full-grown orange tabby cat living in the house with this couple, and that cat may sometimes walk slowly across the foot of their bed.  In fact, the tabby cat might have slowly walked across the foot of their bed just before they went to sleep on the night in question, and thus it would not be a huge coincidence if both of them happen to dream that night about their cat slowly walking across the foot of their bed.  So, it is not merely possible in principle for two people to have “the same dream”, there is also a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE of this actually happening, from time to time.
Given that there is a significant chance that two people can have “the same dream”, it seems reasonable to infer the same is true of hallucinations.  There is a SIGNIFICANT CHANCE that two people could have “the same hallucination”, in the sense that detailed descriptions of their individual hallucinations could reveal no differences between the contents of those hallucinations.
 
HINTS OF ANOTHER ARGUMENT
Although McDowell offers irrelevant quotations (about a CONCEPTUAL claim) in support of his empirical claim that it is

…very unlikely that two or more persons could have the same hallucination at the same time. (EFR, p.207)

He also provides hints of another more plausible argument:

Christ appeared to many people, and descriptions of the appearances involve great detail…  (TRF, p.84)

Let’s think of this idea in terms of dreams.
Sometimes we dream but don’t remember the contents of our dreams.  Sometimes we remember a dream, but only a brief moment of the dream.  Sometimes we dream and remember a chain of events in, and lots of details of, the dream.  When we do remember the “story” of a dream and lots of details from the dream, we see that dreams are, or can be, fairly complex and full of details.  If all I can remember from a dream is that I saw a cat, and I don’t remember the color of the cat or the type of cat or what the cat was doing, then I probably am not accurately remembering the full dream and all of its details.  If, however, I remember dreaming about a full-grown orange tabby cat walking slowly across the foot of my bed, then I have remembered a fair amount of details of that dream.
With such details, we can imagine a wide variety of dreams that are similar but not the same as that dream.  A slightly different dream would be of a kitten that was an orange tabby cat slowly walking across the foot of my bed.  Or alternatively, a dream could be about a full-grown grey tabby cat slowly walking across the foot of my bed.  Or a full-grown orange tabby cat quickly running across the foot of my bed, or quickly running across a desk, or…  there are many different possible permutations, given this set of details.
For the simple description “a full-grown orange tabby cat slowly walking across the foot of my bed” we can abstract various general categories:

  • AGE (newborn, infant, young, full-grown, old)
  • COLOR (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, gray, black, brown)
  • TYPE/ANIMAL (tabby cat, Shetland pony, pointer dog, rattle snake, Angus cow, etc.)
  • LOCOMOTION (walking, skipping, hopping, running, tumbling, crawling, etc.)
  • SPEED (very slowly, slowly, moderately, quickly, very quickly, at full speed)
  • LOCATION (the foot of, the middle of, the top of, underneath, along the side)
  • OWNERSHIP (my X, your X, Our X, Sam’s X, Mary’s X, etc.)
  • FURNITURE (bed, couch, dresser, table, easy chair, nightstand, bench, shelf, desk, etc.)

Clearly the possible permutations exceed five possibilities for each of eight categories, so the possibilities exceed 5 to the 8th power or 25 to the fourth power or 390,625 different possibilities.  So based on the fairly simple description “a full-grown orange tabby cat slowly walking across the foot of my bed” we can generate similar yet different combinations of descriptions of possible dream contents that number around a half a million alternatives, without breaking a sweat.
This is why, I suspect, that McDowell focused in on the idea of “descriptions” that “involve great detail”.  The more details we have to describe a dream or an hallucination, the more alternative possibilities we can generate based on one such description.  It is easy to provide enough description of the details of a dream or hallucination, so that there will be literally millions or billions of alternative possibilities that are similar to, yet different from, that original description.  Because the contents of dreams and hallucinations seem somewhat random and include a huge range of possibilities, including chains of events that would contradict ordinary experience and the laws of physics (if they happened in real life), it seems reasonable to McDowell to infer that it would be “very unlikely” for two hallucinations to have the same contents, assuming that the hallucinations were described with a fair amount of detail.
 
THE CONTENTS OF DREAMS AND HALLUCINATIONS ARE NOT PURELY RANDOM
The problem with this reasoning, which I suspect is the actual basis for McDowell’s conclusion, is that as with the case of the orange tabby cat, two people can have similar ordinary waking experiences that influence the contents of their dreams, or the contents of their hallucinations.  Just as two people can both physically see an actual  full-grown orange tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of their bed just before they fall asleep, two people can both physically see  a full-grown tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of their bed just before they both take a large dose of LSD and begin to hallucinate.
As McDowell himself states, the contents of a person’s hallucinations are based in large part upon their “particular past experiences” (TRF, p.84).  So, if two people share some of the same or very similar “past experiences”, then those experiences can make it more likely that they will have “the same dream” or “the same hallucination” or very similar hallucinations.
It is true that if we randomly select two hallucinations from the experiences of a large and diverse population of people who have had one or more hallucinations, and if the descriptions of those hallucinations are given in fair detail, it is very unlikely that the contents of those two randomly selected hallucinations will be identical.  However, there is some chance that the hallucinations will be somewhat similar in contents, just because there are lots of experiences that people have in common, and lots of emotional responses to experiences that people have in common.
Furthermore, if we are not dealing with a random selection of hallucinations from the experiences of a large and diverse population of people, the chance that the people in the target group have had many similar experiences ordinary waking experiences and similar emotional responses to those experiences can be significantly increased, thus making it much more likely that two selected hallucinations are “the same” or very similar in content.  For example, what if the target group of people were all devout Jews who lived in Palestine in the first century, and they were all followers of a particular Jewish preacher and faith healer?  These people would have a lot in common in terms of their beliefs, values, practices, and they would have many common experiences and common emotional responses to those common experiences.  They would likely have some similar dreams, and those that experience hallucinations would be likely to have some similar hallucinations.
We are now facing a more interesting empirical  psychological question.  To what degree do people who live in the same country in the same decade and who have the same religion and culture have SIMILAR DREAMS and SIMILAR HALLUCINATIONS?  This is where expert scientific psychologists and their investigations and experiments could be of help.  Unfortunately, McDowell doesn’t have the slightest clue about modern scientific study of dreams and hallucinations.  His psychological “principles” did NOT originate with psychological experts, nor with any peer-reviewed scientific articles and books about hallucinations.  He simply made this shit up, or else borrowed this shit from other scientifically ignorant Christian apologists, like J.N.D. Anderson or Paul Little.
 
SOME EMPIRICAL DATA ABOUT DREAMS
=>Dreams Reflect Concerns about Daily Life

 
=>People Often Have Similar Dreams

 

The subjects of the studies by Zadra and Nielsen were STUDENTS.  Note that some of their most common dreams involved common experiences and fears of students:  school, teachers, or studying,  and arriving too late, and failing an examination.  This is a strong indication that the contents of dreams are often related to the sorts of emotions and events that the dreamers have commonly experienced in their waking lives.
A more recent study of dream contents provides a list of the most common types of dreams people have:

Note that one of the more common dream types that people experience is “A person now dead being alive”!!
=>Dreams Are Usually Related to the Waking Experiences of the Dreamer



 
DREAMS AND HALLUCINATIONS
The contents of DREAMS are clearly NOT purely random.  Common experiences shape us so that we tend to dream about similar things and similar events and similar experiences.
I don’t have this sort of data on the contents of hallucinations, but it is reasonable to draw the inference that hallucinations, being produced by the minds of the people who have the hallucinations, are similarly influenced by past experiences, and thus that common experiences will tend to produce common hallucination contents.  It is reasonable to infer that like dreams, hallucinations are NOT purely random.
In any case, McDowell’s reasoning against the likelihood of two people experiencing “the same hallucination” will not work against the likelihood of two people experiencing “the same dream”, so this objection is, at best, a WEAK OBJECTION against the DREAM THEORY. This is especially the case given that 45% of people in one study reported having had a dream in which “A person now dead was alive”!  For this reason alone, Objection TRF2 FAILS.
Assuming that hallucinations are also shaped by past experiences, as McDowell himself asserts, hallucinations can be shaped by common experiences, and thus there could be a significant chance of two people experiencing “the same hallucination”.  This is particularly the case when the two people in question have a lot in common in terms of culture, beliefs, values, and experiences (such as both being devout Jews who live in Palestine in the first century, and who are followers of the same Jewish preacher and faith healer, and who have both recently observed this beloved Jewish preacher being crucified by Roman soldiers).  Thus, Objection TRF2 also appears to be a WEAK OBJECTION against the Hallucination Theory (understood in terms of the narrower sense of “hallucinations”).
 
TO BE CONTINUED…
 
Articles on Dream Contents:
Why People Have Similar Dreams
Typical Dreams: Stability and Gender Differences
Dreaming and waking consciousness: a character recognition study
Characteristics of the memory sources of dreams: A new version of the content-matching paradigm to take mundane and remote memories into account

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 7: The DOESN’T MATCH THE FACTS Objection (TRF7)

WHERE WE ARE
In the previous six posts of this series, I have shown that at least five out of seven (71%) of Josh McDowell’s objections in The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF) against the Hallucination Theory FAIL:
McDowell has at most provided only two solid objections against the Hallucination Theory, NOT seven.  However, in this current post I will show that Objection TRF7 (Doesn’t Match the Facts) also FAILS.  Thus, at least six out of his seven objections FAIL, at least 85% of his objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL.
 
THE “DOESN’T MATCH THE FACTS” OBJECTION (TRF7)
In TRF McDowell states his seventh objection, Objection TRF7, in a single paragraph consisting of only two sentences:

A final principle is that hallucinations have no spectrum of reality–no objective reality whatsoever.  The hallucination theory in no way accounts for the empty tomb, the broken seal, the guard units, and especially the subsequent actions of the high priests.           (TRF, p.86)

First of all, the claim that hallucinations have “no objective reality” is NOT a general psychological principle.  This is NOT an empirical generalization that psychological experts have arrived at on the basis of observations or experiments.
Of course, McDowell NEVER offers ANY actual evidence for ANY of his alleged “psychological principles”, and he has NO CLUE what psychological experts actually know or believe about hallucinations.  But in lumping this idea (that hallucinations lack objective reality) in with his other alleged “psychological principles” he shows that he doesn’t understand what the hell he is talking about.
The idea that hallucinations are subjective and have “no objective reality” is a conceptual claim, not an empirical claim.  If one is a competent speaker of the English language, then one knows that hallucinations are purely subjective in nature; that is part of the MEANING of the word “hallucination”.  No psychological observations or experiments are required to know this.  But McDowell’s head is too far up a dark place for him to notice the difference between this conceptual claim and the dubious empirical generalizations that most of his other objections are based upon.
Given that McDowell presents this objections in only two sentences, it should come as no surprise that this objection is VERY UNCLEAR.  Given that McDowell subtitled the section where he presents Objection TRF7 as “Doesn’t Match the Facts” (TRF, p.86), he implies that the following four items are each “facts”:

1. the empty tomb

2. the broken seal

3. the guard units

4. the subsequent actions of the high priests

Strictly speaking, these are NOT FACTS.  These are phrases.  These are incomplete sentences.
To be CLEAR, McDowell needs to spell out what specific claims he has in mind here, and that requires spelling out several complete sentences representing the various claims that are summarized by these four phrases.  Because he presents this objection in only two sentences, McDowell FAILS to clearly state the key claims upon which Objection TRF7 is based.
Furthermore, McDowell makes NO EFFORT WHATSOEVER to explain HOW or WHY these vaguely hinted at claims are relevant as evidence against the Hallucination Theory.  It is very tempting to conclude that Objection TRF7 FAILS right out of the starting gate because McDowell’s presentation of it is SO UNCLEAR.  However, McDowell discussed these four items earlier in TRF, so with a bit of thought and effort, one might be able to figure out the specific claims that McDowell has in mind here, and at least make educated guesses about HOW or WHY he thinks they constitute significant evidence against the Hallucination Theory.
 
THE PROBLEM OF CONFIRMATION BIAS
Objection TRF7 is at best a WEAK OBJECTION, because it is an example of CONFIRMATION BIAS.  McDowell has selected a few considerations that he believes support his cherished belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and/or that he believes cast doubt on the Hallucination Theory.
Two can play this game!  A skeptic can also come up with a list of considerations that seem to support the Hallucination Theory and/or that cast doubt on the Christian view that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  For example, the alleged doubt and disbelief of Jesus’ disciples about Jesus’ rising from the dead appears to provide a strong reason to doubt credibility of the Gospels, which in turn makes it UNREASONABLE to believe that a person rose physically from the dead on the basis of the Gospel accounts (see the section titled “IF PREMISE (3) IS TRUE, THEN WE SHOULD REJECT THE VIEW THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD” in Part 5 of this series where I spell out this line of reasoning).
Furthermore, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew indicate that the first appearances of the risen Jesus to his male disciples took place in Galilee a week or more after the crucifixion, while the Gospels of Luke and John indicate that the first appearances of the risen Jesus to his male disciples took place in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after Jesus was crucified.  This is a fundamental disagreement between the Gospels that strongly undermines the credibility of the Gospels, and that is specifically related to the credibility of the Gospels on the key issue of the appearances of the risen Jesus.    McDowell doesn’t include THESE FACTS in his list.  Why not?  Because they run contrary to his desired conclusion!  His list is BIASED in favor of his desired conclusion.
Anyone can generate a list of considerations that support their own point of view about Jesus and the resurrection.  But such a list is NOT an objective or complete list of relevant considerations, and such a list is clearly BIASED in favor of the proponent’s beliefs.  To put forward such a BIASED list of considerations and argue that one’s opponent’s view is wrong because he or she is unable to account for those “facts” is UNREASONABLE; this is an unreasonable approach to a controversial question (i.e. “Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?”).  Objection TRF7 is based on a BIASED list of considerations, and so it is a WEAK OBJECTION at best.
 
ELIMINATION OF ITEM #4: THE SUBSEQUENT ACTIONS OF THE HIGH PRIESTS
First of all, McDowell has provided us with a “padded” list.  The fourth item in his list is REDUNDANT with another item in the list.
When McDowell previously discusses “the subsequent actions of the high priests” in TRF, he was discussing the actions of the high priests subsequent to the alleged events of the first Easter Sunday and to the preaching of the resurrection by Jesus’ disciples.  The reactions of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to the events of the first Easter Sunday and to the preaching of the resurrection by Jesus’ disciples is used by McDowell to argue for “the empty tomb”.
For example, according to McDowell the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (allegedly) claimed that Jesus’ disciples stole his body from the tomb, and McDowell argues that this is evidence that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem believed that the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday evening was empty as of Sunday morning. From this he infers that it is certain or nearly certain that Jesus was in fact buried in a stone tomb on Friday evening and that his body was no longer in that tomb as of Sunday morning.
So, we may eliminate Item #4 in McDowell’s list, because its relevance is as evidence for Item #1: “the empty tomb”.  That leaves only three items in his list.
 
ELIMINATION OF ITEM #2 AND ITEM #3: THE GUARD AT THE TOMB
Here are the UNCLEAR phrases that McDowell uses to state the second and third items in his list:

  • the broken seal
  • the guard units

McDowell has previously quoted a story from the Gospel of Matthew about how Pilate orders a unit of soldiers to guard the tomb of Jesus in order to prevent anyone (especially followers of Jesus) from stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb (TRF, pages 54-60, and 64).  In that story, the guards place a seal on the tomb, which was, according to McDowell, a symbol representing the authority of the Roman Empire prohibiting anyone from opening or entering into the tomb, on pain of death by crucifixion.  The seal was allegedly broken when an earthquake took place on Sunday morning that moved the blocking stone from the entrance of Jesus’ tomb, thus allowing the risen Jesus to exit the tomb.
The problem here is simple and straightforward:  These are NOT FACTS!!  They are not even well-supported theories.  These are, rather, very dubious CLAIMS.  Consider this statement by a contemporary scholar about the guard at the tomb story:
If most NT scholars consider the guard at the tomb story in Matthew to be UNHISTORICAL, then Item #2 and Item #3 in McDowell’s list are NOT FACTS, but are very dubious CLAIMS.
Who is this scholar that I quote above?  Is this a liberal or skeptical scholar who rejects miracles and doubts the Christian belief that Jesus rose physically from the dead?  Nope.  This is a quote from a leading Christian apologist, an apologist who specializes in defending the traditional Christian belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead!  This is a quote from Dr. William Lane Craig (see “Questions on the Evidence for the Resurrection” on Craig’s apologetic website).  Given that Craig has a strong bias in favor of the traditional Christian belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead, we have good reason to accept his statement that most NT scholars view the guard at the tomb story as being UNHISTORICAL.
Craig, himself, does not think that the case for this story in Matthew being UNHISTORICAL is conclusive, but he does admit that the evidence casts significant doubt on the historicity of this story:
 
(from “The Guard at the Tomb” by Dr. William Craig)
So, we may eliminate Item #2 and Item #3 in McDowell’s list, because they are NOT FACTS but are DUBIOUS CLAIMS that are rejected or doubted by most NT scholars.  That leaves only ONE item in his list.
 
SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH ITEM#1: THE EMPTY TOMB
It turns out that McDowell does NOT have four considerations in Objection TRF7 that each provide significant evidence against the Hallucination Theory.  It turns out that he has at most just ONE consideration that might provide significant evidence against the Hallucination Theory, namely Item #1: “the empty tomb”.
Recall that this list of considerations is a BIASED list, and so even if “the empty tomb” consideration provides significant evidence against the Hallucination Theory, Objection TRF7 will still be a WEAK OBJECTION, because skeptics can also produced BIASED lists of considerations, some of which provide significant evidence against the Christian view that Jesus physically rose from the dead.
The Meaning of “The Empty Tomb”
The phrase “the empty tomb” requires CLARIFICATION, which McDowell does not bother to provide when he presents Objection TRF7.  However, his previous discussions in TRF related to “the empty tomb” provide information that can be used to infer what he means by this phrase.
McDowell basically tells a STORY about “the empty tomb”, a story that consists of DOZENS of historical claims concerning events that allegedly occurred beginning on Friday when Jesus was crucified, continuing through Sunday night following that Friday, and also (perhaps) including some events that took place weeks later (e.g. the preaching of the apostles about the resurrection of Jesus and the reactions of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to that preaching).  This story told by McDowell is based on his interpretations of various passages from the four Gospels and the book of Acts, plus some additional historical claims and assumptions made by McDowell.
The main problem of clarification is to determine WHICH of the DOZENS of historical claims and assumptions that McDowell makes concerning “the empty tomb” are considered by him to be essential, and which are details that are not essential.  Because McDowell FAILS to provide clarification about the meaning of the phrase “the empty tomb”, I will make an educated guess about which of his many historical claims and assumptions on this subject are essential, and thus constitute the MEANING of this phrase:

  • Joseph of Arimathea was given permission by Pilate to remove the body of Jesus from the cross on Friday afternoon.
  • Joseph of Arimathea removed the body of Jesus from the cross on Friday afternoon, shortly before sunset.
  • Some of the women who were followers of Jesus watched Joseph of Arimathea take the body of Jesus to a nearby stone tomb, and watched Joseph prepare the body for burial, and they watched the body of Jesus being placed in the tomb, and then watched a large blocking stone be moved in place to shut the opening of the tomb, just before sunset on that Friday.
  • On Saturday, Pilate ordered a contingent of soldiers to guard the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed, in order to prevent someone from stealing Jesus’ body.
  • On Saturday, a contingent of soldiers assembled at the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed, in order to place a seal on the tomb and to guard the tomb, in order to prevent someone from stealing Jesus’ body.
  • Early on Sunday morning the blocking stone at the entrance of the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed was moved away from the opening of the tomb, breaking the seal placed on the tomb by the soldiers.
  • Early on Sunday morning, the soldiers who had been assigned to guard the tomb, stopped guarding the tomb, and they left the area where the tomb was located.
  • Early on Sunday morning, a group of women who were followers of Jesus, including some who had watched Jesus’ body being placed into the stone tomb on Friday evening, returned to the tomb.
  • When the group of women arrived at the tomb where Jesus’ body had been placed on Friday, they found the large blocking stone moved away from the opening of the tomb, and they found the tomb to be “empty”, that is, they found that Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb.
  • Some of the women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning went back into Jerusalem and told some of Jesus’ male disciples what they had seen.
  • At least two of Jesus’ male disciples (i.e. Peter and John) went to the tomb that day and saw that the tomb was “empty”, that is, they found that Jesus’ body was no longer present in the tomb.

It is my educated guess that these are the bare-bones historical claims that Josh McDowell has in mind when he uses the phrase “the empty tomb”.  This is based on both my reading of McDowell’s “story” about “the empty tomb” as well as my own sense of what is most important and essential among the many historical claims and assumptions asserted by McDowell about “the empty tomb”.
“The Empty Tomb” is NOT a Fact
There are a couple of OBVIOUS reasons for rejecting McDowell’s claim that “the empty tomb” is a FACT.  First, I eliminated the Item #4 from McDowell’s list because it was part of the EVIDENCE that McDowell presented in support of “the empty tomb”.   The giving of EVIDENCE in support of “the empty tomb” indicates that “the empty tomb” is the CONCLUSION arrived at on the basis of various reasons and arguments, which implies that “the empty tomb” is NOT a FACT.
One might argue that “the empty tomb” story as presented by McDowell is TRUE or ACCURATE, but if this is a CONCLUSION based on evaluation and consideration of various reasons and arguments, then “the empty tomb” is more of an INFERENCE or THEORY than a FACT.  A FACT should not require evaluation and consideration of various reasons and arguments.   Rather, FACTS are, or should be, the starting points for use in arriving at CONCLUSIONS or for confirming THEORIES.
When we are talking about historical issues, the use of the word “fact” should be limited to two sorts of considerations: (1) raw historical data (e.g. “The Gospel of Mark states that Mary Magdalene and two other women went to the tomb of Jesus very early on Sunday morning.” This is something we can know by direct observation, by simply reading the Gospel of Mark.), and (2) historical claims that are about events that were (allegedly) directly observed (e.g. “On Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene looked inside of Jesus’ tomb and she saw that Jesus’ body was not present in the tomb.”  We who live two thousand years after these events allegedly took place cannot know this to be true on the basis of direct observation, but this is a claim about what Mary Magdalene learned or believed on the basis of direct observation.)
Inferences and theories are fine, and some inferences and theories are TRUE and ACCURATE, and we can sometimes provide very strong and powerful reasons and arguments showing an inference or theory to be TRUE.  But what we know on the basis of direct observation, and what others learn or believe on the basis of direct observation deserve to be given special respect, and this sort of information should be distinguished from inferences and theories.  Direct observations are NOT infallible.  Observations can be mistaken, misleading, or misremembered, and people can LIE about their own alleged direct observations.  Nevertheless, direct observations deserve respect as our best and most sure guides to reality, as our most important way of testing and evaluating inferences and theories.
So, given that McDowell offers various reasons and arguments in support of “the empty tomb” story, and that those reasons and arguments themselves are based on various alleged historical facts, this clearly indicates that “the empty tomb” is NOT a FACT, but is an inference or theory.
Because “the empty tomb” appears to be a somewhat complex story or account that involves several different historical claims covering various events and details over a period of a few days (at least).   This is not an idea that can be easily proven, and this is not an idea that can be evaluated on the basis of our own direct observations.  We need to gather MANY FACTS, and consider various reasons and arguments based on those FACTS in order to evaluate the truth and accuracy of this complex story about events that took place over two thousand years ago.   Thus, it is at best very misleading to say that “the empty tomb” is a FACT.
Furthermore, there are a number of PROBLEMS and REASONABLE DOUBTS concerning the many historical claims listed above that constitute the idea of “the empty tomb”.  Some NT scholars doubt that Joseph of Arimathea was an actual historical person.  As we have already seen MOST NT scholars doubt the historicity of the guard at the tomb story in Matthew, and thus doubt the historical claims about there being soldiers who guarded the tomb of Jesus.  Some NT scholars doubt that Jesus was buried in a tomb.  Some NT scholars doubt the historicity of the stories about a group of women going to the tomb on Sunday morning and finding it to be empty.  There are a whole lot of reasons and arguments to consider, both for and against the various historical claims that constitute the complex idea of “the empty tomb”.
It is NAIVE to view the evaluation of the historicity and accuracy of this account that McDowell has constructed (based on his own understanding and interpretation of the Gospels) as being simple or straightforward.  This is a complex issue, and it is unlikely that a REASONABLE person will end up concluding that ALL of these various historical claims that McDowell views as essential to “the empty tomb” story are clearly true and that ALL of them are completely accurate.  With such a complex set of historical claims, many of which have been doubted or rejected by competent NT scholars, it is likely that some of the claims are FALSE or DUBIOUS, and thus it is a mistake to say that “the empty tomb” is a FACT.
“The Empty Tomb” is NOT Significant Evidence For the Resurrection Theory
Although the various historical claims that constitute “the empty tomb” story do FIT WITH the Christian belief that Jesus rose physically from the dead, these claims, even if completely true and accurate, do not provide strong evidence for this belief.
Other explanations can be given for “the empty tomb”.  The body of Jesus could have been stolen by Jesus’ disciples (i.e. the twelve), or by some subset of them (one of them, two of them, three of them, etc.), or it could have been stolen by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (to prevent veneration of the dead body of Jesus) or by some subset of those Jewish leaders (one of them, two of them, etc.), or by anti-Roman Jewish rebels who respected Jesus or who wanted to use the cruel death of Jesus to promote violent rebellion against the Romans.
Jesus could have survived the crucifixion, revived in the tomb on Saturday, and frightened off the Roman guard by yelling from within the tomb, and the blocking stone at the entrance of the tomb could have been moved by Jesus, by an earthquake, by people who were burying a family member in a nearby tomb who heard Jesus yelling from inside his tomb.  According to “the empty tomb” story as outlined above, the women returned to the same tomb where they saw Jesus body placed on Friday evening.  But if we just tweak that one detail, and suppose the women returned to the wrong tomb, we can accept all the rest of “the empty tomb” story, but conclude that Jesus body remained in the tomb where it had been placed on Friday evening.
McDowell would argue that skeptical theories about the body of Jesus being stolen from the tomb or about the women returning to the wrong tomb are all highly improbable.  But I am familiar with the various objections that Christian apologists raise against such skeptical theories, and those objections are just as weak and defective as we have seen most of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory to be.  I won’t go into discussing all of those objections here, but I have carefully examined those objections and all of them FAIL to refute or to seriously damage the stolen-body theories.
One example of a FAILED objection against the view that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb is the difficulty of the would-be thieves getting past the soldiers who were guarding Jesus’ tomb.  Although the presence of the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb is part of “the empty tomb” story, as McDowell tells it, this specific part of that story is very dubious, because most NT scholars doubt or reject the guard-at-the-tomb story in the Gospel of Matthew as being UNHISTORICAL.  So, if one maintains “empty tomb story” in general but drops one of the most dubious parts of that story as told by McDowell, and sets aside the guard-at-the-tomb claims, then one of the main objections to the stolen-body theories is no longer supported by “the empty tomb” story.  If McDowell insists that the guard-at-the-tomb claims are an essential part of “the empty tomb” story, then we can reject “the empty tomb” story because it contains dubious historical claims, but if we remove the guard-at-the-tomb claims from “the empty tomb” story, then one of the main objections to stolen-body theories goes away.
Furthermore, if we are allow SUPERNATURAL explanations for “the empty tomb” to be given serious consideration, then there are plenty of alternatives to the Christian SUPERNATURAL explanation:

  • Satan moved the body of Jesus to an unmarked grave hundreds of miles away (perhaps in order to deceive the apostles into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead).
  • Satan destroyed the body of Jesus, using fire to turn the corpse into ashes.
  • God moved the body of Jesus to an unmarked grave hundreds of miles away (perhaps to prevent his followers from venerating Jesus’ body).
  • Angels moved the body of Jesus to the top of the mountain where Moses had received the Ten Commandments, in order to provide a more proper burial for a man they believed to be a great prophet.
  • Angels destroyed the body of Jesus, in an effort to prevent Satan from physically raising Jesus from the dead to deceive his disciples into believing Jesus was the divine Son of God.
  • A wizard caused the body of Jesus to vanish into thin air, or caused the body of Jesus to magically instantaneously move to another tomb.
  • An invisible dragon lifted Jesus onto it’s back, and flew the body of Jesus to Australia, in hopes of absorbing some of Jesus’ magical powers during the long flight.

There is no end to possible SUPERNATURAL explanations for “the empty tomb”.  Once we allow SUPERNATURAL explanations for historical events, there are limitless possibilities to consider.
 
“The Empty Tomb” is NOT Significant Evidence Against the Hallucination Theory
A key question at issue is WHETHER and TO WHAT DEGREE the Hallucination Theory FITS WITH “the empty tomb” historical claims.
First, it should be obvious that there is NO CONTRADICTION between “the empty tomb” story and the Hallucination Theory.  Thus, even if “the empty tomb” story/claims are completely accurate and true, this would NOT disprove nor refute the Hallucination Theory.  The body of Jesus could have been buried in a stone tomb on Friday, and been absent from that tomb on Sunday morning, and this would in no way prevent or preclude some of Jesus’ followers from having hallucinations, including hallucinations of a risen Jesus.
Second, “the empty tomb” story, even if completely accurate and true, does NOT make the Hallucination Theory improbable.  Rather, “the empty tomb” story, if true, provides evidence that supports the Hallucination Theory. 
If Jesus’ followers became convinced that Jesus body was buried in a stone tomb on Friday evening, but was absent from that tomb on Sunday morning, this belief would incline them towards the idea that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.  So, if some of Jesus’ followers experienced hallucinations of Jesus being alive again, their belief in “the empty tomb” story would incline them to interpret those hallucination experiences as evidence that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.  Apart from belief in “the empty tomb” story, they might otherwise interpret hallucinations of a living Jesus as being merely “visions” of Jesus in heaven, or as being experiences of Jesus’ ghost or spirit, as opposed to being experiences of a Jesus who had physically risen from the dead in a body, the same body that had been hanging from the cross on Friday afternoon.
Furthermore, McDowell believes that an hallucination of circumstance C occurring is significantly much more likely when the hallucinator has previously had a wish or expectation that circumstance C occur. If this psychological principle is true, and  if Jesus’ disciples believed “the empty tomb” story, this belief would incline them towards wishing that Jesus had risen from the dead, or expecting to meet or see the risen Jesus.  Given this psychological principle that McDowell believes and advocates,  the truth and accuracy of “the empty tomb” claims would make it more likely that some of his disciples would experience hallucinations of a risen Jesus.
So, if we accept the “psychological principle” that McDowell advocates about how hallucinations are usually produced by wishes or expectations, then we should also view the truth of “the empty tomb” claims as providing evidence that supports the Hallucination Theory, evidence that makes it more likely that some of Jesus’ followers experienced hallucinations of a risen Jesus, when there was no actual risen Jesus to see or hear.
The Resurrection Does NOT Explain the Empty Tomb
I think the main idea behind Objection TRF7 (“Doesn’t Match the Facts”) is the belief that the physical resurrection of Jesus explains some “facts” that the Hallucination Theory does not explain, and thus in order to explain those “facts” skeptics must add additional assumptions beyond just the claims made by the Hallucination Theory, and that Christians who believe and defend the view that Jesus physically rose from the dead do not have to add additional assumptions to that view in order to explain those “facts”.  In the case of “the empty tomb”, the idea is thus that belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus explains “the empty tomb”, but the Hallucination Theory does NOT explain “the empty tomb”, so skeptics are forced to accept additional assumptions (e.g. to add assumptions about how the body of Jesus was stolen from the tomb by some person or group) in order to explain “the empty tomb”.
While it is true that the Hallucination Theory does not by itself explain “the empty tomb” claims, it is ALSO the case that the belief that Jesus rose physically from the dead does not by itself explain “the empty tomb” claims.
For example, Jesus coming back to life inside the tomb does NOT explain how the large blocking stone was moved from the entrance of the tomb, so that Jesus could exit the tomb and leave it “empty”.  If one adds the assumption that Jesus was omnipotent and could move the stone with just a thought, then one could explain that the risen Jesus used his omnipotence to make the large stone move away from the entrance of the tomb.  But this is an added assumption to the view that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and this assumption is an extraordinary and highly controversial one.
Alternatively, one could add the assumption that Jesus had a new body that had the supernatural ability to pass through solid objects, and then explain that Jesus was able to leave the tomb by simply passing through the stone with his new supernatural body.  But this adds an additional assumption beyond the view that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and this assumption is an extraordinary and highly controversial one.
Another explanation that could be made is that two angels descended from heaven and caused and earthquake in order to move the stone away from the entrance to the tomb, thus allowing the risen Jesus to simply walk out of the tomb.  But this requires additional assumptions beyond the view that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and these additional assumptions are extraordinary and highly controversial ones.
In short, the view that Jesus rose physically from the dead does NOT by itself explain “the empty tomb” claims, and so it is unclear why we should accept the claim that the view that Jesus rose physically from the dead “Matches the Facts” related to “the empty tomb” but the Hallucination Theory does not.  BOTH theories require additional assumptions in order to explain “the empty tomb”.   Furthermore, it looks like the additional assumptions used by Christians to explain “the empty tomb” are extraordinary and highly controversial, but the additional assumptions used by skeptics who defend the Hallucination Theory are not extraordinary and are only somewhat controversial.
 
CONCLUSION
We can eliminate Item #4 from McDowell’s list of “FACTS” with which the Hallucination Theory allegedly does not “MATCH”, because that item is redundant with Item #1 (the empty tomb).  We can also eliminate Item #2 ( the broken seal) and Item #3 (the guard units), because these items are clearly NOT FACTS.  That leaves us with only ONE item: Item #1: “the empty tomb” story, which is a complex set of several historical claims.
I argued that “the empty tomb” story is NOT a FACT, that it does NOT provide strong evidence for Christian view that Jesus rose physically from the dead, and that the “empty tomb story” not only FAILS to refute or disprove the Hallucination Theory, but that it FAILS to make the Hallucination Theory improbable, and in fact provides additional support for the Hallucination Theory. Also, the Christian theory that Jesus physically rose from the dead does NOT by itself explain “the empty tomb”, but like the Hallucination Theory, requires some additional assumptions, which in the case of the Christian theory are both extraordinary and highly controversial assumptions.
Finally, even if “the empty tomb” story did provide significant evidence AGAINST the Hallucination Theory, Objection TRF7 would still FAIL to be a strong and solid objection, because of the problem of CONFIRMATION BIAS.  Skeptics can play the same game as McDowell and come up with a list of considerations that cast doubt on the Christian view that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and at least some of those considerations will provide significant evidence AGAINST the Christian belief that Jesus physically rose from the dead.
I conclude that Objection TRF7 FAILS, and thus that at least six out of seven of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL, and thus at least 85% of his objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL.

At best, only ONE of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory is a good and solid objection (TRF2: Very Personal).  I will take a closer look at Objection TRF2 in the next part of this series of posts.
 

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 6: The NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES Objection (TRF4)

WHERE WE ARE
In the previous five posts of this series, I have shown that the best case scenario (for Christian apologetics) is that MOST of Josh McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory in his book The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF) are WORTHLESS CRAP:

One problem that I pointed out with Objection TRF5 (No Expectancy) is that the word “usually” in the revised and improved version of that objection is VAGUE.  My use of the word “MOST” is similarly vague, but I can quantify my point in a fairly precise way.  At least four out of seven of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP, which means that at least 57% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP.
Furthermore, (***SPOILER ALERT***) after taking a few minutes to read and think about Objection TRF4 (No Favorable Circumstances), I realized that this objection was also a stinking pile of WORTHLESS CRAP.  So, now I am confident that at least five out of seven of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP.  That means that at least 71% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP!
It is tempting to conclude that ALL of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP.  However, I intentionally saved his best objections for last.  The final two objections raised by McDowell are not as clearly and obviously mistaken as the previous objections, at least in my view.  So, it is still possible that McDowell has one or two solid objections against the Hallucination Theory.  But neither of the remaining two objections strike me as strong or solid objections, so I won’t be surprised if, on closer examination, they also turn out to be WORTHLESS CRAP.
In any case, if I am correct at least 71% of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory are WORTHLESS CRAP,  it appears that he is about as bad at identifying good arguments as are the apologists Peter Kreeft and Norman Geisler.  These three Christian apologists have almost NO ABILITY to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one (or else they simply don’t care about the quality of their arguments).
I suspect that their inability to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one is largely the result of decades of experience preaching to the choir.  White Evangelical Christians are, in general, dumber than a sack of hammers, and have little intellectual ability or objectivity.  The audience that these apologists write for, and speak to, will gladly accept ANY arguments for Christian beliefs, no matter how crappy and pathetic those arguments might be.  Because their audience is without intellectual ability or integrity, these apologists never needed to learn how to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one.  The Evangelicals that they preach to are just as happy with crappy and defective arguments for their beliefs as they are with solid and logical arguments for those beliefs.
 
PROBLEM #1 WITH TRF4 (NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES): VAGUENESS & UNCLARITY
McDowell’s general approach in his attempt to refute the Hallucination Theory is to make use of a psychological principle or an empirical generalization concerning hallucinations and then argue that the circumstances of the “appearances” of the risen Jesus don’t fit the conditions/requirements described by one of those psychological principles:

Why is the hallucination theory so weak? 
First, it contradicts various conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must  be present to have a hallucination. (TRF, p.84)

Objection TRF4 fits this general strategy adopted by McDowell.  Here is how he describes the psychological principle used in this “No Favorable Circumstances” objection:

Another principle of hallucinations is that they usually are restricted as to when and where they can happen. In the New Testament situations, favorable circumstances are missing. …

…Indeed, the variety of times and places of Christ’s appearances defies the hypothesis that they were mere visions.                                    (TRF, p.85)

This alleged “psychological principle” is so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that McDowell’s claim that it represents “conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must be present to have a hallucination” is clearly and obviously pure BULLSHIT.
I doubt that any psychological expert on hallucinations would ever publish a scientific article in a peer-reviewed journal or book that contained such a VAGUE and UNCLEAR “psychological principle”, but I’m absolutely certain that such a VAGUE and UNCLEAR statement would never in a million years be accepted by “most psychiatrists and psychologists”.  This alleged “psychological principle” is an idea that only an audience of brain-dead White Evangelical Christians would find reasonable.
There are actually two VAGUE principles asserted by McDowell above:

Restricted Times Principle:  Hallucinations usually are restricted as to when they can happen.

Restricted Places Principle:  Hallucinations usually are restricted as to where they can happen.

As we previously saw with the revised first premise of Objection TRF5 (No Expectancy), the term “usually” is very VAGUE.  Does this mean “more than 50% of hallucinations” or “more than 60% of hallucinations” or “more than 70% of hallucinations” or “more than 80% of hallucinations” or “more than 90% of hallucinations”?  There is  a huge difference between “more than 50% of hallucinations” being restricted to certain times, as compared with “more than 90% of hallucinations” being restricted to certain times.  Furthermore, even if we are talking about 70% or 80% of hallucinations being restricted to certain times, this objection would be weak, because that means that 2 or 3 out of 10 hallucinations could occur outside of those certain times, without there being ANY conflict with this supposed “principle”!
Next, the phrase “restricted as to when they can happen” is itself very VAGUE and UNCLEAR.  Is McDowell talking about time of day? (e.g. morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime) or time of the month? (e.g. early in the month, middle of the month, last week of the month) or time of the year? (e.g. winter, spring, summer, fall)?  Or is he talking about the cycle of daily events? (e.g. while eating breakfast, while taking a shower, while getting dressed,  while driving to work, while at work, while driving home, while eating supper, while getting ready for bed, while going to sleep, etc.)
Although McDowell does not specify this, it seems that he had in mind restrictions as to the time of day (e.g. morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime), because he mentions that there was one “early morning appearance” of the risen Jesus, and that there were a couple of appearances “in broad daylight” (TRF, p.85).  Assuming this is what he had in mind, McDowell doesn’t bother to tell us what the “proper” times are for hallucinations to occur.
Do hallucinations usually happen in the “early morning”?  If so, then why mention the examples of appearances of Jesus in the morning?  Do hallucinations usually happen in the afternoon?  If so, then why mention examples of appearances of Jesus “in broad daylight” (suggesting late morning or afternoon).  Because he FAILS to specify the time of day (or times of day) when hallucinations “usually” happen, his alleged “psychological principle” is WORTHLESS for use in evaluation of the Hallucination Theory.
McDowell’s Restricted Places Principle is also very VAGUE and UNCLEAR, and thus WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory:

Restricted Places Principle:  Hallucinations usually are restricted as to where they can happen.

What sort of restriction does McDowell have in mind here?  He does not say.  Does he think hallucinations usually occur in California but not in Florida or Texas?  That is absurd and obviously false. Does he think that hallucinations usually occur in grocery stores and restaurants but not in department stores or gas stations?  That is equally ridiculous.  Does he think hallucinations usually occur in dining rooms and living rooms but not in kitchens or bathrooms?  Does he think that hallucinations usually occur on land but not at sea and not on lakes or rivers?  Does he think that hallucinations usually occur in valleys but not on hills or mountains?  What the HELL are the “restrictions” on the location where hallucinations occur?  Why would hallucinations be impacted by location or geography anyway?  This “psychological principle” is so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that it is WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory. 
So, both of the “psychological principles” that are the foundation of Objection TRF4 are WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory, and therefore this objection FAILS.
 
PROBLEM #2 WITH TRF4 (NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES): ZERO EVIDENCE
The extreme VAGUENESS and UNCLARITY of McDowell’s two “psychological principles” upon which Objection TRF4 are based, strongly indicates that his claim that these principles describe “conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must be present to have a hallucination” is pure BULLSHIT.
In order to provide actual EVIDENCE that these two alleged “psychological principles” are widely accepted by psychological experts (or that these principles are true), McDowell would need to provide several quotations from peer-reviewed scientific articles and/or books written by various psychological experts who have specific knowledge about hallucinations and the causes of hallucinations.

  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in The Resurrection Factor ZERO! 
  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in Evidence that Demands a Verdict? ZERO!
  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in Evidence for the Resurrection? ZERO!
  • How many psychological experts does McDowell quote in support of these two “psychological principles” in The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict? ZERO!

In short, McDowell makes no effort whatsoever to provide any actual EVIDENCE to support these two key factual claims upon which Objection TRF4 is based. Given that these claims are so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that it is practically certain that they do NOT describe “conditions which most psychiatrists and psychologists agree must be present to have a hallucination”, the complete and total lack of relevant EVIDENCE is more than enough reason to seriously doubt and reject the two alleged “psychological principles” behind Objection TRF4, and therefore this objection FAILS.
 
PROBLEM #3 WITH TRF4 (NO FAVORABLE CIRCUMSTANCES):  CLARIFICATION RESULTS IN FAILURE
McDowell did not originate Objection TRF4.  He learned this objection from another Christian apologist named J.N.D. Anderson.  In Evidence that Demands a Verdict, when McDowell presents Objection TRF4, he cites a long essay written by Anderson called The Evidence for the Resurrection, which was first published in 1950, more than twenty years prior to publication of Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and more than thirty years prior to publication of The Resurrection Factor.
In fact, five out of the seven objections that McDowell raises against the Hallucination Theory came from Anderson’s long essay (TRF1, TRF2, TRF4, TRF5, and TRF6).  The contents of the objections by Anderson not only closely parallel the objections as stated by McDowell in TRF, but they occur in nearly same order in Anderson’s essay on the resurrection as in McDowell’s The Resurrection Factor. (NOTE: the same five objections are also found in Know Why You Believe by Paul Little and they also occur in nearly the same order as in Anderson’s essay, but Know Why You Believe was first published in 1967, so Anderson’s essay was probably the original source of these objections for both McDowell and Little.)
I read Anderson’s presentation of Objection TRF4 (No Favorable Circumstances) to see if it shed any light on the VAGUE and UNCLEAR “psychological principles” that this objection is based upon.  Anderson’s discussion and use of the Restricted Times Principle is quite revealing:

In this context, the phrase “psychic experiences” refers to hallucinations.  Unlike McDowell, Anderson actually SPECIFIES EXAMPLES of times when hallucinations “usually occur”: (a) evening, (b) night, and (c) early morning.  The problem here is that these periods of time account for a significant portion of the hours in a day.  What is left out is late morning and early afternoon.  But Anderson FAILS to explicitly state that it is unusual for hallucinations to occur in late morning or in the early afternoon.  He only provides us with some examples of periods of time when hallucinations (allegedly) “usually occur”.  But what we really need to know is the times of day when hallucinations usually DO NOT occur!
Furthermore, most of the examples of appearances of Jesus that Anderson provides as evidence against the Hallucination Theory are appearances that occurred during the very times of day that Anderson tells us are when hallucinations “usually occur”!  He mentions an appearance of the risen Jesus in “an upper room at evening”, but evening is one of the times of day when Anderson says hallucinations “usually occur”.  He mentions an appearance of the risen Jesus at “the tomb in the early morning”, but early morning is one of the times of day when he says hallucinations “usually occur”.  He mentions an appearance of the risen Jesus during “a morning’s fishing on the lake”, but he says that early morning is one of the times of day when hallucinations “usually occur”.  Anderson mentions only ONE appearance of the risen Jesus that does not occur during one of the times of day that he stated as being when hallucinations “usually occur”: an appearance that happened during “an afternoon’s walk in the country”.  Anderson does NOT state that it is unusual or uncommon for hallucinations to occur in the afternoon.
But even if Anderson intended to claim that MOST hallucinations occur in the evening, night, or early morning, and that it is uncommon for hallucinations to occur in the afternoon, the examples of appearances of the risen Jesus that are given by Anderson FIT THAT PROFILE!  Most of his examples are appearances that occurred in the evening, night, or early morning. Only one example that he gives is an appearance that took place in the afternoon.  So, the examples that Anderson provides UNDERMINE his own objection; the examples of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus conform to the Restricted Times Principle  that Anderson uses in his presentation of Objection TRF4.
So, we can either stick with McDowell’s version of the Restricted Times Principle and  conclude that  Objection TRF4 FAILS because it is so VAGUE and UNCLEAR that it is WORTHLESS for use in evaluating the Hallucination Theory, or else we can go back to the original presentation of Objection TRF4 in Anderson’s essay (The Evidence for the Resurrection), which presents a clearer and somewhat more useful version of the Restricted Times Principle, and then reasonably conclude that the Hallucination Theory is NOT contrary to this principle, and thus that Objection TRF4 FAILS.  Either way, the objection FAILS.
 
CONCLUSION
Objection TRF4  (No Favorable Circumstances) is the fourth objection against the Hallucination Theory presented by Josh McDowell in The Resurrection Factor, and it is the fifth objection from McDowell that I have examined so far.  I have given three good reasons showing that this objection FAILS.
First, the alleged “psychological principles” upon which this objection is based are very VAGUE and UNCLEAR, making those principles WORTHLESS for an evaluation of the Hallucination Theory.  Second, McDowell provides ZERO evidence in support of his two key “psychological principles”.  Third, this objection originated (for McDowell) with the 1950 essay The Evidence for the Resurrection by J.N.D. Anderson, and that essay provides a somewhat clearer and more useful version of one of McDowell’s “psychological principles” (i.e. the Restricted Times Principle).  But Anderson’s application of that clarified principle reveals (contrary to what Anderson believed) that the alleged appearances of the risen Jesus are NOT contrary to, or in conflict with, that supposed psychological principle.  So, if we clarify that key psychological principle according to how this objection was originally presented by Anderson, then the objection still FAILS.
I conclude that Objection TRF4  (No Favorable Circumstances) FAILS.  In Part 1 through Part 6 of this series, I have now shown that five out of seven (or at least 71%) of McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory FAIL:

That leaves us with only Objection TRF2 and Objection TRF7.  Although there is still a chance that one or both of those objections is a good and solid objection to the Hallucination Theory, the fact that five out of seven of McDowell’s objections have FAILED is a clear indication that McDowell has little or no ability to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one (or else that he just doesn’t give a damn about the quality of his arguments).
Also, given that no other Christian apologists who present similar objections against the Hallucination Theory provide any relevant EVIDENCE to support the alleged “psychological principles” upon which these objections are based, we can also reasonably conclude that many (most?) Christian apologists either lack the ability to distinguish between a good argument and a bad one or else they just don’t give a damn about the quality of their arguments.

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 5: The Failure of NO EXPECTANCY Objection (TRF5)

WHERE WE ARE
TRF5 is the fifth objection presented by Josh McDowell against the Hallucination Theory in his book The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF).
The objection TRF5 can be stated in terms of a brief argument:

1. Hallucinations REQUIRE that a person who has an hallucination of circumstance C previously had a hopeful expectation or wish that circumstance C would occur, to which the hallucination provides an imaginary fulfilment (since circumstance C only seems to occur but does not actually occur).

2. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples had experiences of what seemed to be a living Jesus who had risen from the dead.

3. After Jesus’ crucifixion and prior to Jesus’ disciples having experiences of what seemed to be a living Jesus who had risen from the dead, his disciples did NOT have a hopeful expectation or wish that Jesus would rise from the dead and be alive again.

THEREFORE:

4. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the experiences of Jesus’ disciples of what seemed to be a living Jesus who had risen from the dead were NOT hallucinations. 

This argument is UNSOUND because premise (1) is clearly FALSE, as I argued in Part 3 of this series.  So TRF5 as presented in TRF, is a complete FAILURE.
However, in a more recent book called Evidence for the Resurrection (hereafter: EFR), McDowell significantly modifies his psychological generalization about hallucinations, making it less vulnerable to obvious counterexamples.  Here is the relevant modification of premise (1):

1a. It is USUALLY the case that when a person has an hallucination that seems to be of circumstance C (or that seems to confirm circumstance C), that person has previously had a hopeful expectation or wish that circumstance C would occur, so that the hallucination provides an imaginary fulfilment of that wish (since circumstance C only seems to occur but does not actually occur).

In Part 4 of this series, I pointed out four problems with this modified premise:

PROBLEM #1: The qualified version of this psychological generalization in EFR is VAGUE.

PROBLEM #2: Because ZERO EVIDENCE was provided to support this psychological generalization, we have no reasonable basis for clarifying the meaning of the VAGUE term “usually”.

PROBLEM #3: It is OBVIOUS that a significant portion of hallucinations are NOT based upon “hopeful expectancy” and “wishes”, so the qualifier “usually” cannot be stronger than something like “about 70 percent of hallucinations” are based upon hopeful expectancy and wishes.

PROBLEM #4: Given that we should interpret “usually” as meaning something no stronger than “about 70% of hallucinations” are based upon hopeful expectancy or wishes, the conclusion of objection PF5 must be seriously revised to make a much weaker claim.

There is a fifth problem with premise (1a) that is similar to my main complaint about Objection TRF1 (Only Certain People).  McDowell is assuming a fairly narrow definition of “hallucination” here, but in order for his case for the resurrection to work, he needs to refute explanations that are based on experiences that are similar to hallucinations, but that are not considered to be “hallucinations” in the narrower sense of this term.
Specifically, McDowell needs to refute DREAM experiences as a skeptical explanation for the resurrection “appearances” of Jesus.  The above argument, at best, only works against skeptical theories that focus exclusively on “hallucinations” understood in a narrow way (like the sort of non-veridical experiences that occur only with serious mental illness or with use of hallucinogenic drugs).  Premise (1a) doesn’t work, if we substitute “dream” for “hallucination” in that premise:

1b. It is USUALLY the case that when a person has a dream that seems to be of circumstance C (or that seems to confirm circumstance C), that person has previously had a hopeful expectation or wish that circumstance C would occur, so that the dream provides an imaginary fulfilment of that wish (since circumstance C only seems to occur but does not actually occur).

In addition to our ordinary experiences of dreams, we have scientific data that shows that a significant portion of dreams are bad dreams, and thus do NOT constitute the results of a hopeful expectation or wish for the circumstance that appears to occur in the dream (see Part 4 of this series for details).
We have good reason to believe that LESS THAN 60% of dreams are the result of a hopeful expectation or wish for a particular circumstance.  About 40% of dreams are bad dreams, and about 60% are not bad dreams.  Just because a dream is NOT bad, does not mean that it was produced by a hopeful expectation or wish for the circumstance represented in the dream.  So, in terms of dreams, the most one could plausibly claim is that a little more than half of dreams are good dreams that were produced by a previous hopeful expectation or wish.  But that is clearly too weak a claim to provide any sort of serious objection against the skeptical theory that dream experiences of a risen Jesus had by some of Jesus’s followers after his crucifixion resulted in the early Christian belief that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.
So, the revised argument for Objection TRF5 FAILS, because of serious problems with the revised premise (1a).
In Part 4 of this series , I briefly argued that premise (2) of the argument for Objection TRF5 is dubious.
Premise (3) of the argument for Objection TRF5 is also dubious, for the same reasons that I gave concerning premise (2).
 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, c. 1602

John 20:24-25, New Revised Standard Version

 
IF PREMISE (3) IS TRUE, THEN WE SHOULD REJECT THE VIEW THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD
Finally, if we grant the questionable claim in premise (3) that Jesus’ “disciples did NOT have a hopeful expectation or wish that Jesus would rise from the dead and be alive again”, then this provides a powerful reason to reject the Christian claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Luke 24:1-11, New Revised Standard Version

If Jesus’ disciples had no wish or expectation that he would literally rise from the dead, then that implies that his disciples were NOT eyewitnesses of the many amazing miracles that are described in the four Gospels, including events where Jesus allegedly raised people from the dead.  It is highly implausible that devoted followers of Jesus who witnessed Jesus walk on water, turn water into wine, feed thousands of people with a few fishes and loaves of bread, instantly calm a raging storm with a shouted command, heal blind and deaf people, and even raise the dead, would completely disbelieve Jesus’ promise that he would rise from the dead, and have no wish or expectation that he would in fact rise from the dead.
Matthew 28:1-8 and 16-17, New Revised Standard Version

So, if premise (3) were TRUE, then we would have a very powerful reason to believe that the Gospel accounts that describe several amazing miracles being performed by Jesus and witnessed by his disciples are FICTIONAL stories.  But if the Gospel accounts are filled with such FICTIONAL stories about Jesus performing miracles, then the Gospel accounts have ZERO CREDIBILTY, or at least fall far short of the degree of credibility required to provide reasonable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  If premise (3) were TRUE, then we must conclude that the Gospel stories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus are largely or entirely FICTIONAL, and that no such event took place.
Note: I owe this objection against premise (3) to The Atheist Debater’s Handbook (see page 120).
 
CONCLUSION 
Objection TRF5 FAILS to refute the Hallucination Theory.  Objection TRF5 can be summarized in terms of an argument consisting of three premises and a conclusion.  The original version of Objection TRF5 given in The Resurrection Factor FAILS completely, because premise (1) is clearly and obviously FALSE.
This premise is significantly modified in the version of Objection TRF5 given in the later book Evidence for the Resurrection.  However, all three premises of the modified version of Objection TRF5 are DUBIOUS, and if we interpret premise (1a) so that the psychological generalization in it has some degree of plausibility, the generalization becomes so weak that it is no longer capable of providing a serious objection against the Hallucination Theory.  Finally, if we assume, for the sake of argument, that a key assumption of premise (3) is TRUE, then this provides a powerful reason for rejecting the Christian view that Jesus actually rose from the dead.