bookmark_borderDefending the Hallucination Theory – Part 9: Clarification of the Hallucination Principle

WHERE WE ARE
In Part 8 of this series, I focused on Peter Kreeft’s VERY UNCLEAR argument constituting his Objection #1 (“Too Many Witnesses”) against the Hallucination Theory.    I argued that this was a brief and UNCLEAR version of Josh McDowell’s “Very Personal” objection against the Hallucination Theory (found in his book The Resurrection Factor, hereafter: TRF).  On that basis, I was able to make sense out of Kreeft’s VERY UNCLEAR argument.
The core argument constituting Kreeft’s Objection #1 in my clarified version of his argument goes as follows:

B. IF on multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time, THEN it is extremely unlikely that those experiences on ALL of those occasions were hallucinations.

3a. On multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time.

THEREFORE:

C. It is extremely unlikely that the experiences on ALL of the occasions when more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time were hallucinations.

This is a modus ponens argument; it has the form:

 IF P, THEN Q.   

 P. 

THEREFORE:

Q.   

So the logic of this core argument is fine (assuming that the meanings of the key terms don’t change between the premises or between the premises and the conclusion).  We only need to evaluate the truth or falsity of the two premises in order to determine whether this argument is a strong and solid argument against the Hallucination Theory (although there is one further inference required to arrive at the ultimate conclusion that it is very likely that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE.)
 
INITIAL EVALUATION OF THE PREMISES
Premise (B) states a principle about hallucinations, particularly about “group” hallucinations.  Initially, this principle seems plausible and reasonable.   So, it is natural to focus on premise (3a), which asserts a historical claim about alleged experiences of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus.  I will argue that Kreeft FAILS to show that premise (3a) is true, and thus that this premise is DUBIOUS.  However, there is still some UNCLARITY in premise (B), and when that premise is further CLARIFIED it will cease to be plausible and reasonable.  So, I expect that in the end, I will argue that both premises of this core argument should be rejected, and thus that Kreeft’s Objection #1 (Too Many Witnesses) FAILS to refute the Hallucination Theory,  just like Josh McDowell’s “Very Personal” objection (upon which Kreeft’s Objection #1 is based) FAILED.
 
UNCLEAR  TERMS IN PREMISE (B)
There are at least three UNCLEAR terms in premise (B):

  • the same experience
  • extremely unlikely
  • hallucination

Because premise (B) contains these UNCLEAR terms, it cannot be rationally evaluated as it stands.  These expressions need to be CLARIFIED before one can rationally evaluate the truth or falsehood of premise (B).
 
WHAT DOES “THE SAME EXPERIENCE” MEAN?
Conceptual vs. Empirical Claims about “the same experience”
First of all, “the same experience” cannot be had by even two people, in the sense that any experience, like a hallucination, is a SUBJECTIVE event.  My experiences are MINE, and your experiences are YOURS, and you CANNOT literally have “the same experience” that I just had.  Josh McDowell confuses this conceptual point about experiences and hallucinations with an empirical claim about experiences and hallucinations.  You CAN have experiences that are similar to mine, in that my DESCRIPTION of my experience can closely match your DESCRIPTION of your experience, and my DESCRIPTION of my hallucination can closely match your DESCRIPTION of your hallucination.
For example, a man can experience a dream and describe the contents of the dream this way: “I saw a full-grown orange tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of my bed.”  If that man’s wife also has a dream, and she describes the contents of her dream this way: “I saw a full-grown orange tabby cat walk slowly across the foot of my bed.”, then we can reasonably conclude that the man and his wife both had “the same dream” or “very similar dreams”.
In other words, I can give detailed descriptions of my own experiences, dreams, and hallucinations, and if those detailed descriptions match up with a detailed description that someone else gives of his/her experience, dream, or hallucination, then we have good reason to conclude that my experience, dream, or hallucination is “the same” or “very similar to” the other person’s experience, dream, or hallucination.  This is so, even though my experience CANNOT be someone else’s experience, because MY experiences occur in MY mind and CANNOT occur in anyone else’s mind.
An Experience vs. a Description of an Experience
A second important point of clarification is that experiences, especially visual experiences, cannot be fully captured in words or DESCRIPTIONS.  At any rate, the old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is actually an extreme UNDERSTATEMENT.
A photographic image on my PC monitor has a resolution of 3840 by 2160.  That means that the color image on my monitor consists of 3,840 pixels across and 2,160 pixels vertically, and thus that this image consists of 8,249,400 individual pixels.  Each pixel can be a different color.  Because my monitor is 4K Ultra High Definition, each subpixel is 10 bits, and each pixel is 30 bits, which means there are over 1 billion different possible colors for each pixel. If we think of the 10 bits per subpixel as a “word” describing the type of RED or GREEN or BLUE that is part of the overall color of one pixel, then three “words” are used to define the color of each pixel.  Based on this analogy, there would need to be 3 “words” to define each of the 8,249,400 pixels = 24,748,200 “words” to define one high-definition color image on my PC monitor.  So, we need about twenty-five million words to fully define one high-definition color image.
But when we see an event, the visual data is more like a video or movie.  We see objects moving through space, changes in shadows, colors, shades, brightness, and shapes.  For a movie to look realistic you need between 30 frames per second and 60 frames per second.  So, ten seconds of a  60-frame-per-second movie would require 600 frames or images.  If each frame or image was of the 4K Ultra High Definition kind (like on my PC monitor), then each frame or image would require about 25 million “words” to define, so a ten-second portion of a 60-frame-per-second movie in Ultra High Definition would require 600 frames times 25 million “words” per frame = 15 billion “words”.  So, a picture, especially a moving picture, is worth a hell of a lot more than just 1,000 words.
Normally, when we DESCRIBE what we saw and experienced during an event, we do NOT use millions or billions of words.  So, the information contained in verbal DESCRIPTIONS of an experience, dream, or hallucination normally captures only a tiny fraction of the information contained in the original experience, dream, or hallucination.
Because when we compare experiences, dreams, or hallucinations between different people, we are actually comparing the DESCRIPTIONS of those experiences, dreams, or hallucinations, and because descriptions are almost always given in dozens of words, or hundreds of words, or in some cases thousands of words, and NOT in millions of words, nor in billions of words, we are comparing only a tiny fraction of the information contained in the original experiences, dreams, or hallucinations.  Therefore, it is virtually impossible to prove that an experience had by person A was “exactly the same” as an experience that was had by person B.  It is, of course, theoretically possible that person A had “exactly the same” experience as person B had, but verbal DESCRIPTIONS of these experiences only give us a high-level summary of the experiences, which does not allow us to compare experiences at the lowest level of details.
Point of View Affects Experiences
There is one more important point about the experiences of two people being “the same”.    Things look different from a different point of view.  The following images are of the same object but from different points of view:

BOWL VIEWED FROM ABOVE

BOWL VIEWED FROM THE FRONT

BOWL VIEWED FROM BETWEEN ABOVE AND THE FRONT

 
The image of the bowl is very different depending on the point of view one has of it.   The same is true of people, plants, animals, and physical objects.  How they look depends on the point of view one has while observing the person or thing in question.
If John is standing behind Jesus, and Peter is standing in front of Jesus, and Thomas is standing to the side of Jesus, on Jesus’ left, then if Jesus is looking straight ahead, John will see the back of Jesus’ head, Peter will see Jesus’ full face, and Thomas will see only the left side of Jesus’ face.  They will all have different visual experiences of Jesus even if they are all looking at a physically present Jesus at the same time.
So, having “the same experience” of Jesus at the same time does NOT mean having the exact same visual experiences of Jesus at the same time.  What it means is that the people in question have visual experiences of Jesus that we would expect them to have IF Jesus was actually and physically present, given their different points of view.   In other words, we understand that in three-dimensional space, different points of view of actual physically present people or objects produce different visual experiences, but the variations between those different visual experiences coordinate with each other in predictable ways.
 
WHAT DOES “EXTREMELY UNLIKELY” MEAN?
At the very least “Extremely Unlikely” means SIGNIFICANTLY MORE UNLIKELY than events that are just “Very Unlikely”.  But what does “Very Unlikely” mean? and exactly how much MORE unlikely does something have to be in order to be SIGNIFICANTLY MORE UNLIKELY?  In short, the expression “Very Unlikely” and the expression “Extremely Unlikely” are both VAGUE.  Furthermore, it makes a big difference what the precise meanings of these terms are because Kreeft is NOT merely trying to show that the Hallucination Theory is somewhat improbable; he is trying to DISPROVE the Hallucination Theory; he is trying to PROVE it to be FALSE.  One might reasonably argue that the qualified conclusion of the clarified version of Kreeft’s argument is TOO WEAK, given that his goal was to DISPROVE or REFUTE the Hallucination Theory:

A1.  It is very likely that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE.

If “very likely” means, for example, that there is an 80% chance that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE, then Kreeft’s argument is TOO WEAK to be considered a REFUTATION because it leaves open a 20% chance (or one chance in five) that the Hallucination Theory is TRUE.  I would take that as a victory for skepticism.  If each of the four skeptical theories that Kreeft attacks have a 20% chance of being TRUE, then the disjunction of those theories could potentially have an 80% chance of being TRUE!  If there is an 80% chance that either the Hallucination Theory or the Conspiracy Theory or the Apparent Death Theory or the Myth Theory is TRUE, then skepticism about the resurrection is clearly the most reasonable position.
This is why Kreeft and other Christian apologists NEED to REFUTE or DISPROVE each one of the various skeptical theories about the resurrection.  There are a number of skeptical theories (actually many more than Kreeft realizes) and if each skeptical theory has some significant chance of being TRUE, then the disjunction of those skeptical theories can potentially be probable, or even “very likely”.
However, it is NAIVE and UNREASONABLE to expect that any historical argument about alleged events in the life of Jesus (or alleged events related to Jesus’ death) could be PROVEN or KNOWN to be TRUE.  Given the nature of ancient history in general, and the generally poor quality and the limited quantity of historical evidence available about the life (and death) of Jesus, we can only reasonably expect to arrive at conclusions that are PROBABLE, not conclusions that are CERTAIN.  So, Kreeft has a very narrow range of probabilities that will allow him to be successful in his apologetic quest.  Showing that a skeptical theory only has a 20% chance of being true is NOT GOOD ENOUGH!  But he has no reasonable hope of showing that a skeptical theory only has a 1% chance of being TRUE (or a 99% chance of being FALSE).
How close to showing that there is a 99% chance that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE does Kreeft need to get in order to be successful?  Would showing that there is a 90% chance that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE be good enough?  That would mean that there might well be a 10% chance that the Hallucination Theory is TRUE.  Once again, if each of the four skeptical theories has a 10% chance of being true, then that leaves open the possibility that the disjunction of the four skeptical theories that Kreeft rejects has a 40% chance of being TRUE.  That hardly amounts to PROVING that the Christian Theory is TRUE, and so this would NOT be good enough for Kreeft to obtain his apologetic goal.
Thus, Kreeft needs to show that the chance of the Hallucination Theory being FALSE is at least 95% (greater than 90% but less than 99%).   There is NO WAY that the weak dubious evidence available on this subject (mostly from the biblical Gospels) will support such a high level of probability.  I don’t think that ANYONE can even show that there is a 95% chance that Jesus actually existed, so showing that there is a 95% chance that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE is a wild fantasy.
In any case, neither McDowell nor Kreeft give us any indication of what they mean by “very unlikely” or “very likely” or “extremely unlikely” or “extremely likely”.  So, in order to evaluate claims in their arguments that use these terms, we need to make educated guesses (like I’m doing here) about what these terms NEED to mean in order for their apologetic arguments to be successful.
 
WHAT DOES “HALLUCINATION” MEAN? 
In his book The Resurrection Factor, Josh McDowell quotes three different definitions of the word “hallucination” and then provides a similar definition of his own:

…a hallucination is an apparent act of vision for which there is no corresponding external object.   (TRF, 1981 edition, p.84)

This is a fairly BROAD definition of “hallucination” and, although McDowell probably did not realize this, it includes DREAMS.  We have visual experiences when we dream, and “there is no corresponding external object” to the visual experiences of people, animals, and objects that we “see” in our dreams.  So, on McDowell’s definition of “hallucination”, every dream anyone experiences (that involves visual experiences) is a hallucination.
But what does “hallucination” mean to Kreeft?  Unfortunately, because Kreeft’s presentation of his objections against the Hallucination Theory is ridiculously brief, Kreeft provides NO DEFINITION of this key term.  However, since Kreeft appears to have borrowed Objection #1 from Josh McDowell, namely from McDowell’s “Very Personal” objection in The Resurrection Factor, it is reasonable to assume that Kreeft accepts McDowell’s broad definition of “hallucination”, and thus that the term “hallucination” correctly applies to DREAM experiences, as well as to other more typical kinds of hallucinatory experiences, like when a person who has taken LSD and “sees” a fire-breathing dragon is sitting in the middle of a freeway.
McDowell’s definition is, however, clearly wrong because many hallucinations do NOT involve vision or visual experiences.  One of the most common sorts of hallucination is audio, hearing sounds or voices that are not actually present.  But we can easily fix this problem with McDowell’s definition so that it includes other senses besides sight:

An apparent sensory experience S that seems to be of a person or object is a hallucination IF AND ONLY IF
there is no corresponding external object or actual person present during apparent sensory experience S.

This definition is still a broad one that includes DREAMS as being a subset of hallucinations.
As I pointed out when critically evaluating McDowell’s objections against the Hallucination Theory, it is important that “hallucinations” include DREAMS, because if they don’t, then McDowell’s argument for the resurrection of Jesus FAILS.  The same is true of Kreeft’s short and unclear version of McDowell’s “Very Personal” objection.
If “hallucinations” does NOT include DREAMS, then there is a significant skeptical theory that both McDowell and Kreeft have FAILED to address and thus FAILED to refute:  the theory that some disciples of Jesus had a DREAM about Jesus and mistakenly believed that the dream was a real experience of an actually present Jesus who had risen from the dead.  Neither McDowell nor Kreeft explicitly considers such a theory.  So, in order for their cases for the resurrection of Jesus to be successful, their objections against the Hallucination Theory must work against this DREAM theory.
Given that McDowell defined the word “hallucination” in a way that includes DREAMS, his argument ought to apply to the skeptical DREAM theory.  Given that Kreeft presumably accepts McDowell’s definition of “hallucination”, particularly for his “Too Many Witnesses” objection (since that objection was borrowed from McDowell), Kreeft’s Objection #1 (Too Many Witnesses) also ought to apply to the skeptical DREAM theory.
If Kreeft wants to define “hallucination” more narrowly than McDowell, so that it excludes DREAMS, then his case for the resurrection of Jesus will immediately FAIL, because Kreeft has provided no objections against, and thus no refutation of, this skeptical DREAM theory.  So, if Kreeft’s case for the resurrection is to be successful as it stands, then Kreeft NEEDS to define “hallucination” in the broad manner that McDowell did so that DREAMS will count as examples of “hallucinations”.
 
TO BE CONTINUED…
 

bookmark_borderDefending the Hallucination Theory – Part 8: Too Many Witnesses

WHERE WE ARE
In Chapter 8 of his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (co-authored with Ronald Tacelli; hereafter: HCA), Peter Kreeft attempts to disprove the Hallucination Theory, as part of an elimination-of-alternatives argument for the resurrection of Jesus.  Kreeft thinks that by disproving four skeptical theories, he can show that the Christian theory is true, that Jesus actually rose from the dead (see HCA, p.182).  If Kreeft FAILS to disprove the Hallucination Theory, like McDowell FAILED to disprove it (see my series of posts on McDowell’s objections to the Hallucination Theory), then Kreeft’s case for the resurrection of Jesus FAILS.
Kreeft presents fourteen objections against the Hallucination Theory (although his own numbering of the objections ends at Objection #13).  I have divided those objections into five groups, based on key problems or aspects of the objections:

I. The “Witnesses” Objections (Objection #1, #2, and #3)

II.  The Equivocation Objections  (Objection #4 and #5)

III. The Dubious-Hallucination-Principles Objections (Objection #6, #8, #9, and #10)

IV. The Self-Defeating Objections (Objection #7 and #14)

V. The Empty-Tomb Objections (Objection #11, #12, and #13)

I started my critical examination of these objections with the first set, the “Witnesses” Objections, specifically with Objection #2: The Witnesses were Qualified.
In Part 4 of this series of posts, I argued that premise (1a) in the argument constituting Objection #2 is DUBIOUS because it implies 102 historical claims about various people who lived 2,000 years ago, and yet Kreeft provided NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE in support of ANY of those 102 historical claims.
Six of those historical claims are about Mary Magdalene.  Kreeft’s most important claim about Mary Magdalene is that she had an EXPERIENCE of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  In Part 5 of this series of posts, I argued that the available HISTORICAL EVIDENCE not only FAILS to prove or establish this key historical claim about Mary Magdalene but that a careful and critical examination of the relevant HISTORICAL EVIDENCE indicates that this key historical claim is probably FALSE.
In Part 6 of this series of posts, I pointed out that 66 of the 102 historical claims implied by premise (1a) are about “the eleven” disciples and I argued that we know very little about eight of those eleven disciples so that any attempt to prove the truth of the 48 historical claims Kreeft implies about those eight disciples is doomed to FAILURE.  Thus, most of Kreeft’s historical claims about “the eleven” cannot be shown to be true because there is insufficient HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to rationally evaluate 48 historical claims out of the 66 historical claims that he implies about “the eleven” disciples in premise (1a).
In the light of these serious problems, we are fully justified in REJECTING premise (1a) as being DUBIOUS, and unworthy of belief and acceptance.  Objection #2 FAILS because premise (1a) is DUBIOUS.
In Part 7 of this series of posts, I argued that a key inference in the argument constituting Objection #2 is ILLOGICAL.  Clearly, premise (3b) in the argument constituting Objection #2 does NOT FOLLOW from premise (1a), because (1a) only addresses one KIND of reason why the testimony of a person might be UNWORTHY of our confidence.  Premise (1a) only addresses the possibility of the witness being dishonest or deceptive; it only (at most) eliminates the possibility that the witness is a DECEIVER.  Premise (1a) does NOT eliminate the possibility that the witness was DECEIVED or MISTAKEN concerning his/her experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  Simple, honest, and moral people can be DECEIVED or MISTAKEN, and premise (1a) does NOT rule out ANY of the various potential causes of deception or error.
Because Objection #2 is based on a DUBIOUS premise and also relies on an ILLOGICAL inference,  I concluded that we ought to reject Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory.

OBJECTION #1: TOO MANY WITNESSES
Kreeft states his first objection against the Hallucination Theory in one paragraph:

(1) There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the disciples minus Thomas, to the disciples including Thomas, to the two disciples at Emmaus, to the fishermen on the shore, to James (his “brother” or cousin), and even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8).  Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry; over five hundred is about as public as you can wish.  And Paul says in this passage (v. 6) that most of the five hundred are still alive, inviting any reader to check the truth of the story by questioning the eyewitnesses—he could never have done this and gotten away with it, given the power, resources and numbers of his enemies, if it were not true.   (HCA, p. 186-187)

I have used strikethrough text to indicate parts of this paragraph that are concerned with an alleged group of five hundred witnesses of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  Kreeft has a separate objection concerning those alleged five hundred witnesses (Objection #3: Five Hundred Witnesses), so he is attempting to use that objection TWICE, which is unfair and unreasonable.  I will consider Objection #3 later, but for now, we should ignore Kreeft’s attempt to insert his third objection as part of presenting his first objection.  The strikethrough text should be considered to be part of his presentation of Objection #3, not part of his presentation of  Objection #1.
Because Objection #2 references the “witnesses” previously mentioned in Objection #1, in my analysis and evaluation of Objection #2 I have previously (in Part 4 of this series) spelled out the people that Kreeft is talking about in Objection #1.  I won’t repeat those lists of names here, because we need to clarify Kreeft’s argument first, and later when we evaluate premises about the “witnesses” we will need to spell out who those people were.
 
KREEFT’S ARGUMENT CONSTITUTING OBJECTION #1
Here are some key claims in Kreeft’s argument that constitutes his first objection against the Hallucination Theory:

1. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective.

THEREFORE:

2. Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry.

3. There were too many witnesses.

THEREFORE:

A. The Hallucination Theory is FALSE.

As with Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #2,  I have provided the conclusion, based on the context.  This is an objection raised against the Hallucination Theory in order to REFUTE the Hallucination Theory, so the context strongly suggests that the UNSTATED conclusion is that “The Hallucination Theory is FALSE.”
Premise (1) makes three general claims about hallucinations.
Premise (2) asserts a general principle concerning situations where there are at least “three different witnesses” of an alleged event.
Premise (3) asserts a factual or historical claim about the quantity of witnesses who allegedly had an experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
Also, as with Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #2, this argument is ridiculously brief and VERY UNCLEAR.  What does “psychological trigonometry” mean?  Kreeft does not bother to explain or clarify that idea.  Why are there “too many” witnesses?  What constitutes “too many” and why?  How does the subjectivity of hallucinations support premise (2) about “psychological trigonometry”?  Kreeft makes no effort to explain or clarify this messy and confusing argument.
However, I was able to clarify Kreeft’s VERY UNCLEAR argument constituting Objection #2 by referencing the likely source of that objection: a defense of the resurrection of Jesus by Humphrey Ditton, so I will once again identify the likely source of Kreeft’s Objection #1.  That way we can try to make some sense of Kreeft’s VERY UNCLEAR argument above.
It seems fairly clear to me that Kreeft borrowed his Objection #1 from Josh McDowell.  McDowell presents seven objections against the Hallucination Theory in his book The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF) which was originally published by Here’s Life Publishers in 1981, thirteen years before Kreeft published his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Intervarsity Press, 1994).
McDowell’s second objection against the Hallucination Theory is the “Very Personal” objection, and that objection references all three of the concepts in premise (1) of Kreeft’s argument above.  Here is Kreeft’s claim:

1. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective.

Here are similar statements made by McDowell in presenting his “Very Personal” objection:

…hallucinations are linked to an individual’s subconscious and to his particular past experiences(TRF, p.84, emphasis added)

A “hallucination” is a very private event — a purely subjective experience… (TRF, p.85, emphasis added)

The third premise of Kreeft’s argument is also very similar to statements McDowell makes in his “Very Personal” objection.  Here is Kreeft’s third premise:

3. There were too many witnesses.

Here are similar statements made by McDowell in presenting his “Very Personal” objection:

Christ appeared to many people(TRF, p.84, emphasis added)

The many claimed hallucinations would be a far greater miracle than the miracle of the resurrection. (TRF, p.85, emphasis added)

Premise (2) of Kreeft’s argument focuses on the idea of “three different witnesses” having an experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, and this can be explained in relation to a key statement that McDowell makes in presenting his “Very Personal” objection.  Here is Kreeft’s second premise:

2. Even three different witnesses are enough for a kind of psychological trigonometry.

Here is a key claim McDowell makes in his “Very Personal” objection that is closely related to Kreeft’s second premise:

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

Kreeft has focused on the idea of “three different witnesses” experiencing an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time because that is “more than two persons” having such an experience at the same time, which according to McDowell would be “very unlikely” to occur if these experiences were hallucinations.  Kreeft’s UNCLEAR premise (2) thus appears to be BASED UPON McDowell’s clearer principle concerning hallucinations.
ALL THREE of the key claims in Kreeft’s argument constituting his Objection #1 correspond with statements made by McDowell in the presentation of his “Very Personal” objection against the Hallucination Theory, and  McDowell’s book The Resurrection Factor was published 13 years before Kreeft published Handbook of Christian Apologetics, so it is reasonable to conclude that Kreeft borrowed this objection from McDowell.
 
 
CLARIFICATION OF KREEFT’S ARGUMENT CONSTITUTING OBJECTION #1
If we assume that Kreeft’s Objection #1 is basically a shortened and less clear version of McDowell’s “Very Personal” objection against the Hallucination Theory, then we can make sense out of Kreeft’s VERY UNCLEAR argument:

1. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective.

THEREFORE:

2a. It is very unlikely that more than two persons could have the same hallucination at the same time.

THEREFORE:

B. IF on multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time, THEN it is extremely unlikely that those experiences on ALL of those occasions were hallucinations.

3a. On multiple occasions more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time.

THEREFORE:

C. It is extremely unlikely that the experiences on ALL of the occasions when more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time were hallucinations.

D. IF it is extremely unlikely that the experiences on ALL of the occasions when more than two persons had the same experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus at the same time were hallucinations, THEN it is very likely that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE.

THEREFORE:

A1.  It is very likely that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE.

Premise (1) is Kreeft’s summary of three key claims made by McDowell in McDowell’s  “Very Personal” objection.
Premise (2a) is McDowell’s claim that apparently was the BASIS for Kreeft’s UNCLEAR premise (2).  So, we can clarify Kreeft’s argument by replacing his UNCLEAR second premise with the clearer related claim from McDowell’s statement of this objection.  Premise (2a) provides the specific “principle” about hallucinations that is essential to this argument.
Premise (B) is an inference from McDowell’s principle to a principle that applies to the circumstances Kreeft has in mind, namely that there are MULTIPLE instances when more than two people had the same experience of an alleged appearance of Jesus at the same time.
Premise (3a) is a significant revision and clarification of Kreeft’s VAGUE and UNCLEAR premise (3), and this clarification is needed so that this key historical premise logically connects with the clarified principle about hallucinations that is asserted in premise (B).  The principle about hallucinations must closely correspond to the historical claim about witnesses to alleged appearances of the risen Jesus so that the logic of the argument will work.
The UNSTATED sub-conclusion (C) is a logical inference from (B) and (3a), and the UNSTATED assumption (D) allows us to infer the desired conclusion (A1), which is a qualified version of our initial interpretation of Kreeft’s UNSTATED conclusion.
Here is a diagram of the logical structure of this argument:

 
 
 
TO BE CONTINUED…
 

bookmark_borderDefending the Hallucination Theory – Part 7: More Problems with Objection #2

WHERE WE ARE
Here is my clarified version of Peter Kreeft’s argument constituting his Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory:

1a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus were simple, honest, moral people.

2a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

THEREFORE:

3b . The testimony of the witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus is credible.

B1. IF the testimony of the witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus is credible, THEN the Hallucination Theory is false.

THEREFORE:

A. The Hallucination Theory is false.

In Part 4 of this series of posts, I argued that premise (1a) is DUBIOUS because it implies 102 historical claims about various people who lived 2,000 years ago and yet Kreeft provided NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE in support of ANY of those 102 historical claims.
Six of those historical claims are about Mary Magdalene.  Kreeft’s most important claim about Mary Magdalene is that she had an EXPERIENCE of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  In Part 5 of this series of posts, I argued that the available HISTORICAL EVIDENCE not only FAILS to prove or establish this key historical claim about Mary Magdalene but that a careful and critical examination of the relevant HISTORICAL EVIDENCE indicates that this key historical claim is probably FALSE.
In Part 6 of this series of posts, I pointed out that 66 of the 102 historical claims implied by premise (1a) are about “the eleven” disciples and I argued that we know very little about eight of those eleven disciples so that any attempt to prove the truth of the 48 historical claims Kreeft implies about those eight disciples is doomed to FAILURE.  Thus, most of Kreeft’s historical claims about “the eleven” cannot be shown to be true because there is insufficient HISTORICAL EVIDENCE to rationally evaluate 48 historical claims out of the 66 historical claims that he implies about “the eleven” disciples in premise (1a).
In the light of these serious problems, we are fully justified in REJECTING premise (1a) as being DUBIOUS, and unworthy of belief and acceptance.  Objection #2 FAILS because premise (1a) is DUBIOUS.
 
PREMISE (2a) IS REDUNDANT
Premise (2a) of Kreeft’s argument constituting his Objection #2 goes like this:

2a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

If someone was a “witness” that implies (in this context) that he or she had an EXPERIENCE of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
Anyone who had such an EXPERIENCE would clearly have “firsthand knowledge of the facts”.  That is to say, such a person would be in a position to provide an accurate description of what his or her EXPERIENCE of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus was like, and would be in a position to provide an accurate description of his or her circumstances at the time that this EXPERIENCE took place.
Thus premise (2a) merely spells out explicitly an implication of premise (1a), and it does not ADD any further information beyond what premise (1a) already contains.  The truth of premise (1a) would logically imply the truth of premise (2a), so we don’t need to consider the question of whether premise (2a) is true or false.  We only need to evaluate the truth or falsehood of premise (1a).
 
 THE INFERENCE FROM PREMISE (1a) to PREMISE (3b)
So, the main question to consider next is whether (1a) logically implies that sub-conclusion (3b) is TRUE (or whether (1a) provides a strong reason that makes (3b) highly probable):

1a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus were simple, honest, moral people.

THEREFORE:

3b . The testimony of the witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus is credible.

 
Although I have made a significant effort to clarify the third premise of Kreeft’s argument, it would be helpful to clarify what is now the most important term in this premise: “credible”.
The first and most basic point to note about “credible” testimony, is that it can be FALSE.  In other words, “credible testimony” does NOT MEAN “true testimony”.
What does it MEAN for testimony to be “credible”?    We should try to answer this question BEFORE we attempt to evaluate the inference from (1a) to (3b).
 
WHAT DOES “CREDIBLE TESTIMONY” MEAN?
My American Heritage College Dictionary (4th edition) gives two definitions of the word “credible”:

credible…adj. 1. Capable of being believed; plausible. …2. Worthy of confidence; reliable.

The first definition seems more descriptive than evaluative, and the second definition is clearly evaluative.
Obviously, the Christian movement grew in the second and third centuries, so MANY people in fact believed the claim that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that some of his original followers experienced a living and embodied Jesus in the days and weeks following his crucifixion.   So, the alleged “testimony” of some of Jesus’ followers was clearly “Capable of being believed”.   The main problem with this descriptive definition of “credible” is that MANY PEOPLE ARE FOOLS, especially uneducated religious believers living in Palestine in the 1st Century, especially when it comes to SUPERNATURAL or MIRACLE claims.  It is no surprise, for example, that MANY people in that time and place believed that demons were a cause of various sorts of diseases.
Educated people in the 21st century believe that diseases have physical causes, like parasites, microscopic organisms, injuries, toxins, and genetic mutations.  Most of us do not accept SUPERNATURAL explanations of diseases.   The MIRACLE claim that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is something that uneducated religious Jews living in superstitious and pre-scientific age would be inclined to accept without any firm factual evidence.  Therefore, the fact that this MIRACLE claim was “Capable of being believed” by MANY uneducated superstitious religious believers in the 1st Century does NOT help to make the case for the truth of this MIRACLE claim.  If we interpret the word “credible” in terms of the first definition above, then premise (3b) will not help Kreeft to make his case against the Hallucination Theory.
The second definition, which is clearly a positive evaluation, would be more useful for Kreeft’s case.  If the alleged testimony of some of Jesus’ original followers asserted that they saw and spoke with a living and embodied Jesus in the days or weeks following his crucifixion and if that testimony was “Worthy of confidence”, then that testimony might well give us a good reason to think that Jesus had in fact risen physically from the dead.  So, in order for Kreeft’s argument to have any chance of success, we need to interpret the word “credible” in premise (3b) in terms of the evaluative definition, the second definition given above:

The testimony T of person P is credible IF AND ONLY IF  the testimony T of person P is worthy of confidence.

But we still need to figure out what makes a given instance of testimony “worthy of confidence”.
 
TWO WAYS TESTIMONY CAN BE UNWORTHY OF CONFIDENCE
It seems easier to start with the opposite idea: testimony that is UNWORTHY of our confidence.  Christian apologists have traditionally focused on two different ways that the testimony of a person can be UNWORTHY of our confidence:

  • DECEIVER
  • DECEIVED

Christian apologists argue that the eleven disciples who were members of “the twelve”, his inner circle of followers, were neither DECEIVERS nor were they DECEIVED.  Clearly, these are two different ways that the testimony of an original follower of Jesus about an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus might reasonably be set aside as being UNWORTHY of our confidence.  If we have reason to believe that a person is a DECEIVER on the subject at hand, then the credibility of his/her testimony is damaged or destroyed.  If we have reason to believe that a person is DECEIVED on the subject at hand, then the credibility of his/her testimony is damaged or destroyed.
Why might a follower of Jesus intentionally give FALSE testimony about an alleged experience of an appearance of the risen Jesus?  What motivation could someone have for doing this?  Here are some possible motivations for intentionally giving FALSE testimony about such an experience:
DECEIVER

  • PEER PRESSURE
  • THREATS/BRIBES
  • ATTENTION/ADMIRATION
  • SOCIAL STATUS/AUTHORITY
  • LOVE/FRIENDSHIP
  • FOOD /MONEY /PROPERTY

People who give FALSE or INACCURATE testimony about an event have different motivations for doing this.  One thing we do to determine whether the testimony of T by person P is worthy of our confidence is to examine their interests and possible motivations that might influence them to give a FALSE or INACCURATE account of the event in question.
Another way in which testimony can be UNWORTHY of our confidence is if we have reason to believe that the person giving the testimony was DECEIVED concerning the subject about which they are testifying.  There are different possible causes of deception or error in the case of testimony about an experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus:
DECEIVED

  • FOOLED/MISLED/GULLIBLE/SUPERSTITIOUS
  • INTOXICATED/DRUGGED
  • MISTAKEN IDENTITY
  • POOR EYESIGHT/POOR HEARING
  • UNRELIABLE MEMORY/FALSE OR DISTORTED MEMORY
  • HALLUCINATION/DREAM
  • MENTAL ILLNESS/PHYSICAL STRESS/EMOTIONAL STRESS

People who give FALSE or INACCURATE testimony about an event sometimes honestly and sincerely believe that their testimony is TRUE and ACCURATE, but they are mistaken.  One thing we do to determine whether the testimony of T by person P is worthy of our confidence is to examine their behavior and character and their circumstances and state of mind at the time of the event in question to see if there is reason to believe that one of these possible causes of deception or error was operative in his/or her case, reason to believe he/she was DECEIVED or mistaken in relation to the subject of the testimony.
If a person’s motivations do NOT appear to push them towards giving a FALSE or INACCURATE description of the event in question, and if that person’s motivations appear to push them towards giving a TRUE and ACCURATE description of the event in question, then that gives us reason to view his/her testimony about that event to be worthy of our confidence.  If a person’s behavior, character, and circumstances do NOT appear to provide a cause for their being DECEIVED or mistaken about the event in question and appear to indicate that their sincere and honest beliefs about the event are TRUE and ACCURATE, then that gives us reason to view his/her testimony about that event to be worthy of our confidence.
I don’t intend to investigate the behavior, character, and circumstances of each of the eleven disciples (of whom Kreeft claims that they all testified about having had an experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus) to determine whether alleged testimony by any of these disciples is worthy of our confidence.  I have argued previously that we have little or no knowledge about eight of the eleven, so we are clearly in no position to make a reasonable evaluation of any alleged testimony by most of the eleven disciples concerning experiences of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  There is simply not enough INFORMATION to make any sort of confident judgment about whether they might have been DECEIVERS or might have been DECEIVED.  For all we know they were all DECEIVERS, or all DECEIVED, or some were DECEIVERS and others were DECEIVED.
Most importantly, however, we don’t actually have TESTIMONY about their supposed experiences of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus.  The only first-hand account of an alleged appearance of Jesus that we have is from Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament.  But Paul was not one of the eleven, nor was Paul a disciple of Jesus, nor did Paul know Jesus when Jesus was a preacher and faith healer in Palestine.   Because Paul never met the historical Jesus, Paul would not be in a position to IDENTIFY anyone as being the historical Jesus.  So, the only first-hand account of an experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus was written by a person who was in no position to IDENTIFY anyone as being Jesus.
 
THE MAIN PROBLEM WITH THE INFERENCE FROM (1a) to (3b)
 
Here again, is the inference from (1a) to (3b) in Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory:
 

1a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus were simple, honest, moral people.

THEREFORE:

3b . The testimony of the witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus is credible.

 
Suppose that (1a) were true (even though there is good reason to doubt this), would premise (3b) follow from that assumption? Clearly, (3b) does NOT FOLLOW from (1a), because (1a) only addresses one KIND of reason why the testimony of a person might be UNWORTHY of our confidence.  Premise (1a) only addresses the possibility of the witness being dishonest or deceptive; it only (at most) eliminates the possibility that the witness is a DECEIVER.  Premise (1a) does NOT eliminate the possibility that the witness was DECEIVED or MISTAKEN concerning his/her experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  Simple, honest, and moral people can be DECEIVED or MISTAKEN, and premise (1a) does NOT rule out ANY of the various potential causes of deception or error listed above.

Furthermore, just as we have insufficient evidence to conclude that all of “the eleven” disciples were “simple, honest, moral people”, so we also have insufficient evidence to conclude that all of “the eleven” disciples were free from any of the potential causes of deception or error  INCLUDING HALLUCINATIONS.  Because of our IGNORANCE about most of “the eleven” we simply don’t have enough information to make a reasonable evaluation about whether they were subject to being DECEIVED or MISTAKEN, just as our IGNORANCE about most of “the eleven” means that we don’t have enough information to make a reasonable evaluation about their honesty and moral character.
 
EVALUATION OF OBJECTION #2
We have good reason to REJECT Objection #2, because premise (1a) is clearly DUBIOUS, and because premise (3b)  clearly DOES NOT FOLLOW from the premise (1a).  Premise (1a) only deals with the potential issue of the witnesses being DECEIVERS but does not deal with the equally important potential issue of the witnesses being DECEIVED or MISTAKEN.  Because Objection #2 is based on a DUBIOUS premise and also relies on an ILLOGICAL inference, we ought to reject Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory.
NOTE: The inference from (1a) to (3b) could (theoretically) be repaired by the addition of further factual premises.  However, in order for this inference to be solid, those additional factual premises would have to rule out HALLUCINATION as a potential source of ERROR in each testimony by each relevant witness.  But in that case, Kreeft would be REFUTING the Hallucination Theory in order to make this inference work.  But the point of the inference is to be the first step towards a refutation of the Hallucination Theory.  In other words, it appears to me that the argument that constitutes Objection #2 BEGS THE QUESTION, and does so unavoidably.  Before Kreeft, or any other Christian apologist can fix this argument, they will have to FIRST REFUTE the Hallucination Theory!  But the purpose of the argument is to do just that.  So, this argument CANNOT BE FIXED even with the addition of more factual premises.  In other words, to make the inference in this argument work, one must eliminate the possibility that the witnesses were DECEIVED or MISTAKEN, but in order to do this one must FIRST show that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE.

bookmark_borderRalph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes

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NOTE: This post was contributed by Gregory S. Paul, who is an occasional contributor to Free Inquiry, and who published an important article called “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”.  Here is how Michael Shermer summarized that article:

Is religion a necessary component of social health? The data are conflicting. On the one hand, in a 2005 study published in the Journal of Religion & Society–“Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”–independent scholar Gregory S. Paul found an inverse correlation between religiosity (measured by belief in God, biblical literalism, and frequency of prayer and service attendance) and societal health (measured by rates of homicide, childhood mortality, life expectancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen abortions and pregnancies) in 18 developed democracies. “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD [sexually transmitted disease] infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies,” Paul found. Indeed, the U.S. scores the highest in religiosity and the highest (by far) in homicides, STDs, abortions and teen pregnancies.

from “Bowling for God” by Michael Shermer
in Scientific American on December 1, 2006

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Ralph Reed Tries to Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes About the Popularity of Prayer and Religion in America on Bill Maher’s Real Time

I was watching Bill Maher’s Real Time on 8/27 when I realized that prominent hard right-wing evangelical political operative Ralph (Christian Coalition) Reed, who Maher seems to like, was trying to profoundly mislead viewers about the level of religious practice in this country. I am not sure how prevalent his misuse of survey data is among theoconservatives – a web search did not find anything – but he managed to slip a bogus item of information out to the few million who see Real Time every week. So I am sending this out in an effort to try to nip this theocon anti-fact in the bud. Plus this scientist is annoyed by the slick pol’s brazen yet sly misuse of statistics.
 
Reed used the classic tactic of lying by telling the truth while leaving out the pile of contrary data that shows he is lying. First, he acknowledged that rates of nonreligion are indeed rapidly expanding in these United States as church membership and attendance decline with amazing speed – after a slow decline from the 1950s Gallup has recorded a membership decline of about 70% at the turn of the century to under 50% these days (https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx), in line with other surveys as well as reports of closing churches. The seemingly reasonable Reed then offered the logical explanation that the general societal detachment of people from social groups, driven in part by digital media, has something to do with that. Reed then began his verge off into misinformation land when he said all that did not matter all that much because rates of belief in and worship of God remain persistently high because people are becoming increasingly private about it.
 
Here is where being truthful can be a lie. Reed correctly claimed that in 1990 Gallup asked respondents if they pray often, sometimes, hardly ever, or only in times of crisis, or never.
 
Before proceeding, we need a digression about the statistical and other requirements of competent polling. Particularly regarding longitudinal surveys that track levels of and changes in opinions and practices over time. First, such polls must be sufficiently quantitative to give meaningful results that can be compared over the years. In the 1990 poll Gallup blew it – the only quantitatively reasonably useful possible answers were “hardly ever” or “never.” As for “often” and “sometimes” those values are pretty much useless. How often is often? How sometimes is sometimes? Each respondent would have a different notion on that, and will inevitably respond in inconsistent ways. Gallup should have known better and never posed such an ambiguous query. And to track changes the same questions need to be asked every one or a few years to generate an opinion level timeline. It’s basic stuff.
 
In 1990 half of respondents told Gallup they pray often. Which other than telling us what we already know that lots of Americans are religious has no scientific value. What they should have asked was something along the lines of do you pray multiple times a day, once a day, a few times a week, once a week, once a month or so — you get the statistical drift. I mean really, what were they thinking over at Gallup? Demographic dolts. Fortunately, Gallup then did not repeat the query, possibly and hopefully because they did a demographic dope slap and realized their error and good statistical riddance, since asking it again would risk giving misleading longitudinal results.
 
Alas, apparently inspired by the pandemic, in 2020 a Gallup that again should have known better did ask the same dam bogus query. And lo and behold now 55% say they pray often. Reed used this one pair of statistically valueless figures to try to sell Maher and his audience a demographic bill of goods that Amerotheism is not really in decline after all. Bill, and his other guest, understandably not being up on the minutia of recent Gallup results, were not able to perceive or counter Reed’s clever deception (I had to look it up and see what was really going down myself, even though this is an area of my research – for an extensive 2019 analysis of the subject discussed here and beyond see http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf).
 
The degree to which Reed was being deliberately deceptive by selectively picking Gallup data, or did not realize or understand the critical caveats and contra stats, I do not know for certain but am very suspicious. In any case, he was grossly misinforming Real Timewatchers one way or another.
 
First, Gallup itself admits that their little trend line on prayer is not statistically meaningful (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/309638/update-virtual-worship-during-covid.aspx), which Reed did not mention — saying that would have negated his claim right there on the air. Obviously.
 
And here is what Reed did not offer up because it directly disproves his propaganda line that American God belief and worship is not in decline. In a location where Gallup offers up the useless prayer result they also present a number of more properly posed and frequently repeated polls they have been executing and posting for decades. Ones that do a much better job telling us what is really happening in this country a/theism wise (https://news.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx). So how about let’s check those fascinating and very telling stats out —
 
Those who say that religion is very important in their life went from, well let’s see here, ~60 in the 1990s to under 50% these days in a nice, fairly steady downslope (as also is true of the rest of the results). Meanwhile, those who say theism is not very important rose greatly from 10-15% to a quarter (see below discussion on why levels of rationalism measured in polls are probably on the low side). Gosh, Ralph, you did not bring up that one on Real Time. Because you are too lazy and ill-informed to know it — which seems a stretch since it is right there on the web? Or because you knew it would blow your superficially clever lie out of the water?
 
How about this one. Back in the 1990s, almost two-thirds told the fine folks at Gallup that religion can answer all or most of today’s problems. Now it is heading toward and below half. The rationalists who think religion is largely old-fashioned and out of date? Rose like yeast dough from one-fifth to over a third of the respondents (check out season 1, episode 25 of I Love Lucy for a classic laugh on that bread baking item).
 
Here’s a good one that shows that the days in which the hardcore devout religious right that Reed is a leading fellow traveler of was doing pretty good, while it was the mealy mushy mainline faiths that were taking it on the demographic chin, are no longer operative. In the 2000s those saying they were born-again or evangelical were in the broad area of the lower 40s percentage-wise (which was a little above the values observed in the 1990s). Now is in the mid-30s, hello Ralph. Might you mention that next time you are on the telly?
 
Next up is an oldie but goodie. In the 70s one in four thought the Bible is literally true. Now it’s a quarter or so. So are those who are of the opinion that the Bible is supernaturalistic fantasy mixed with some history, which is impressive because those good people were a mere one in ten back when Jimmy and Ronnie were POTUS. And while support for the creation of humans by God has been slipping, support for evolutionary science is on the way up. Sorry Ken Ham, Philip Johnson, and Michael Behe.
Time for the BIGGIE. One Mr. Reed somehow again failed to chat about as he misled Bill on his own show. Convinced God exists? In 2005 80%. In 2017 64%. A decline of a sixth of the national population in a dozen years. How about God probably does not exist or convinced there is not one. Doubled from 7% in 2005 to 13% in 2017.  And if the fast-shifting trendlines have continued since then, probably still lower for the first and higher for the second here in 2021. But wait, there are more godly Gallup longitudinal deity queries. From 2001 to 2016 God belief sank from nine in ten to eight in ten, those who don’t opt for the supernatural rose to over one in ten. Gallup’s venerable simplistic yes or no on God belief question got virtually all to say yes in the 1950s and 60s, and after a yawning data gap has shown no results similar to the above surveys in the last decade. This is a good place to explain that it is well documented that persons are often reluctant to say they hold an unpopular opinion even when doing so privately by phone or online. A technical effort to use standard sociodemographic techniques to correct for this factor estimates that American atheists as broadly defined make up a quarter of the population (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170516143411.htm), matching or outnumbering a number of major religious sects. Likewise, other studies indicate actual church attendance is about half that claimed to Gallup (and other pollsters). It follows that all the Gallup (and other pollsters’) results for not praying, thinking religion is not societally important, attending church, are not Born-Again, thinking the Bible is not the word of God, understanding we are big-brained apes, are nonreligious, etc., are very probably markedly higher than Gallup, Pew, Harris, GSS, WVS, et al. results seem to indicate.
Gallup points out something interesting. One of their queries indicates that the number of Americans who think religion is having a major influence on America is currently on the high side. But they point out that is directly contrary to their own measures showing the opposite is true
(https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/310397/religion-paradox.aspx). So what gives? Although the query has its uses, it is not a direct measure of how much influence religion is actually having on America, which is not practical to measure, one would think, but what people think it is having. Which may well not be the same thing. That is why, unlike most longitudinal questions, over time the results for this query have fluctuated wildly. Apparently, the rise of the hard right under the aegis of secular hedonist Trump, which has had a strong evangelical component to it, has caused many to presume that religion has revived as a major influencer. Which it has not because even among Republicans theism is on the decline (https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace).
 
So. Only one very unreliable Gallup result that the organization itself does not take all that seriously seems to support political operator Ralph Reed’s patently absurd pretension that polls show that Americans are remaining privately as Godly as ever over time, despite fleeing institutionalized religion. That when all of the more scientifically constructed and frequently asked Gallup queries show that while organized Christianity is declining faster than personal theism, the latter is going down fast too. One can and probably should presume that a data cherry-picking Reed knew that. Such is common among theists – it’s called lying for the church (or mosque or whatever; a young Muslim initially pretending to be uncertain about his beliefs showed up at a local atheist meetup not long ago and proceeded to try to convince the women to convert by quoting inane Quran lines ad nauseam). And if per chance he did not he has not the slightest excuse for not knowing the real and easy to find facts. Ergo, Godly, Born-Again evangelical Reed profoundly lied either deliberately or out of gross negligence and ignorance to a national audience.
 
The dire demographic reality is a big factor behind the push by many theoconservatives to rule this republic via minority votes at the presidential and Senate and state levels, and by packing the Supreme Court. What they should do is use persuasion via free speech to try to get the American majority to go along with their conservative supernaturalistic ways. But that effort has been failing big time for decades with no realistic hope for success. So they are trying to capture the government by electoral hook and crook and use sheer political power to remake America into the kind of right-wing Christian land this nation was back when the government was a bastion of traditionalist values. Remember Comstock Laws? They bemoan the onset of the unprecedented cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1900s that are helping drive the withering of theism. And that’s why the right continues to embrace a chronically dishonest and irreligious Trump who in turn depends on the religious right for the political success he has enjoyed. That makes twisted electoral sense since Trump lost the electoral college by just 45,000 votes in three states – interestingly, I have not found evidence that Reed has either supported or rejected the claim that Trump did not lose in 2020, seems he is trying to avoid entirely ruining his credibility with either side.
 
So how about it Ralph? Will you publicly and prominently retract your claims and acknowledge that Americans have become markedly less Godly over recent decades? And apologize to the host of the show you with your boyish grin tried to snooker?
 
Got to say, I am not holding my breath on that.
 
But you should.
 
Now, being a data-following scientist who really does my best to be objective — which is why I am not a theist – I note that the PRRI has released new results that while confirming the broader trends of recent decades, suggest that the deChristianization of the US may be plateauing out (https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion). That is possible, but looking at their rather internally contradictory data I am not convinced. All the more so because the PRRI results do not look to be in line with those of other organizations. So we shall have to see over the coming years what the assorted surveys turn up and go from there.
 
And Bill. When you have Reed, and others of his ilk, on your program in the future and they make one of those that sounds kinda dubious claims, do one of your classic yeah like I (don’t) believe that one looks, and warn your audience to take what they just heard with a large load of salt. Really large.
 
You have to watch out for those theocons. They can be sneaky.