Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 13: Two Problems with Eyewitness Testimony

WHERE WE ARE
I am currently examining Peter Kreeft’s third objection against the Hallucination Theory.  His first three objections are all concerned with the TESTIMONY of WITNESSES, namely EYEWITNESSES.  The first three objections by Kreeft thus evoke the centuries-old idea of proving the resurrection of Jesus in a court trial.  If we take that idea seriously, though, Kreeft’s first three objections become a pathetic joke.  
Objection #3 is about “Five Hundred Witnesses” who supposedly had an experience of the risen Jesus at the same time and the same place.
In Part 12 of this series, I began taking this idea (of a court trial about the resurrection) seriously, by walking through modern criteria for a careful and proper “initial investigation” of a murder (or other serious crime).  Witnesses in a murder trial are not just randomly grabbed off the street and put on a witness stand.  There is usually an initial investigation, where the crime scene is carefully examined and evidence collected and documented, and where witnesses are usually identified and briefly questioned by a police officer or by a detective, and later there is usually a follow-up investigation where witnesses are interviewed further by a detective.
So, before a witness ever takes the stand, both the prosecution and the defense have access to notes and recordings of previous interviews of the witnesses, sometimes two or three interviews of a witness, and so the lawyers have a good idea of what the witnesses will say when they testify, and they have a good idea of the credibility that the testimony of each witness will have.
Before I continue with a discussion about what a careful and proper “follow-up investigation” involves, and whether any such investigation took place relative to the alleged event where five hundred people had an experience of an alleged appearance of Jesus,  I want to point out two major problems with EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY:

  • Human memory is UNRELIABLE
  • Humans are DISHONEST

 
EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY IS UNRELIABLE BECAUSE HUMAN MEMORY IS UNRELIABLE
Professional detectives have been working at solving murders and other serious crimes since the mid-1800s.  So, why did the Department of Justice think law enforcement needed new guidelines for careful and proper investigation of murders and other serious crimes around 1998?  One big motivation is that many people who were convicted of murder and other serious crimes on the basis of EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY were later proven to be INNOCENT by the use of DNA evidence.  This had become a serious concern by that time:

An excellent article on the unreliability of human memory is Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases by Cara Laney and Elizabeth F. Loftus.  The main conclusion of this article is that eyewitness testimony is NOT reliable:

Notice some of the different ways that eyewitness memory can be corrupted:

a. leading questions
b. misinterpretation of events
c. conversations with co-witnesses
d. the expectations of the witness for what should have happened

 
If an eyewitness is exposed to misinformation after the event (e.g. in a misleading question) that can corrupt the memory of the eyewitness (This is known as the “misinformation effect”):

 
Discussions of an event between eyewitnesses to the event increase the Misinformation Effect:

This article also describes a study in which a group of people is shown a brief video, but because of the use of polarized glasses, they actually are watching two different versions of the video, some in the group see one video, and others see a video that has some significant differences from the first one.  The subjects are asked to answer a dozen memory questions about the movie after discussing those questions with each other, and then to answer another twenty questions on their own.  Four of the dozen questions that the subjects discuss together are about details that differed between the two versions of the video, and eight of the twenty questions that they answered individually are about details that differed between the two versions of the video.  There was a significant impact on the reliability of memory on the questions that were discussed by the group prior to answering those questions:

False memories of events that did not happen can be implanted into a person’s mind fairly easily:

More recent experiments have shown that false memories can be created in a significant portion of the subjects and in some experiments, false memories were created in most of the subjects.  In one study, subjects were exposed to advertisements about Disneyland that featured the cartoon character Bugs Bunny being present at Disneyland.  As a result, some subjects became convinced that they had personally seen the Bugs Bunny character at Disneyland, but that cannot have actually happened, because Bugs Bunny is a Warner Brothers cartoon and has never been a Disney cartoon character nor a character portrayed at Disneyland.
This article also discusses the unreliability of eyewitness identification of culprits.  This is relevant to the claim that hundreds of eyewitnesses experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, because in order for a person to claim to have seen the risen Jesus, that person must have IDENTIFIED a person (or an experienced visual image of a person) as being Jesus of Nazareth.  The evidential value of such testimony is based upon that IDENTIFICATION.  Merely seeing a person in town or in a church service is of no significance to the question at issue if that person was NOT Jesus of Nazareth.  So, the reliability or unreliability of eyewitness IDENTIFICATION of persons is of direct relevance to the claim that hundreds of people experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
There are a number of factors that often lead to UNRELIABLE eyewitness IDENTIFICATIONS:

Let’s consider the above factors in relation to the claim that hundreds of people experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus:

a. poor vision
b. poor viewing conditions
c. stressful witnessing experiences
d. too little time to view the person who needs to be identified
e. too much delay between witnessing and identifying
f. being asked to identify a person from a race other than the race of the witness

a. Did an objective investigator determine for each one of the alleged eyewitnesses whether he/she had good vision or poor vision?
There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have tracked down hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses and inquired about the quality of their vision.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator checked on the vision of hundreds of witnesses to an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  In any case, we have no information about the quality of the vision of the hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses.
b. Did an objective investigator determine whether the viewing conditions at the time and place of this event were good or bad viewing conditions?
There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the quality of viewing conditions that existed at the time and place of this alleged event.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated the quality of viewing conditions that existed at the time and place of this alleged event.  In any case, we have no information about the viewing conditions at the time and place of this alleged event.
c. Did an objective investigator determine that the circumstances for these hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses during the event were NOT stressful circumstances for them?
There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the circumstances during the event to determine whether they were stressful circumstances for the alleged eyewitnesses.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated the psychological circumstances of the alleged eyewitnesses that existed at the time and place of this alleged event.  In any case, we have no information about the psychological circumstances of the eyewitnesses at the time and place of this alleged event.
Presumably, there was no threat of violence at the time, like there would be in the case of witnessing a murder.  However, if this event took place during a Christian worship service, there might well have been significant emotional factors at the time of this event.  Early Christians often spoke in tongues and “prophesied” and performed faith healings.  Early Christian worship was probably more like Pentacostal worship than the calm and well-ordered worship services in Catholic and mainstream protestant Churches that we see today.  So, if this event took place during a Christian worship service, which seems likely, then there might well have been a great intensity of religious fervor and emotion that would have impacted both the interpretations of the eyewitnesses and their memories of this event.
d. Did an objective investigator determine whether there was enough time or too little time to view the key person who was identified (namely the person who was thought to be the risen Jesus)?
There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the amount of time that each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person who they believed to be the risen Jesus.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated whether there was enough time or too little time to view the person who was thought to be the risen Jesus.
In any case, we have no information about how long each of the hundreds of witnesses “saw” or experienced this alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  It could have lasted for just one second, or just a few seconds, or for a minute, or a few minutes, or for longer.  We just don’t know.
e. Did an objective investigator determine for each alleged eyewitness whether there was too long of a delay between seeing this person (or experiencing an image of a person) and identifying that person as being Jesus of Nazareth?
There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the amount of time between when each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person in question and the time when that witness concluded that this person was  Jesus of Nazareth.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated the amount of time between when each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person in question and the time when they concluded that this person was  Jesus of Nazareth.
In any case, we have no information about the amount of time between when each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person in question and the time when that witness concluded that this person was  Jesus of Nazareth.  Some people might have immediately concluded that the person was Jesus of Nazareth, other people may have drawn this conclusion an hour after the event, some may have drawn the conclusion a day later, a week later, or a month later.  We just don’t know.
There were no photographs or videos or line-ups of suspects to view later.   So, there was NEVER a formal identification in the way that IDENTIFICATION occurs in modern criminal investigations.  There were no pictures of Jesus to show to the alleged eyewitnesses, and there was no physical Jesus of Nazareth available to put into a lineup of similar-looking Jewish peasants.  So, modern standards and processes of IDENTIFICATION could NOT have taken place for this event.
However, some or all of the alleged eyewitnesses might not have identified the person in question as being Jesus of Nazareth immediately, during the event.  If a witness did NOT immediately recognize the person in question as being Jesus of Nazareth, then there was a gap in time between seeing this person (or experiencing an image of a person) and IDENTIFYING that person as being Jesus.  In those cases, it would be important to know HOW LONG that gap of time was between seeing and identifying.  We have no information about whether there was such a gap in time between seeing and identifying, no information about how many witnesses experienced a delay between seeing and identifying, and no information about how long this gap of time was for each of the various hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses.  We just don’t know.
f. Did an objective investigator determine for each of the hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses whether Jesus of Nazareth was from a race other than the race of the witness?
There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated whether Jesus of Nazareth was from a race other than the race of the witness.  This is a concern based on the modern scientific study of problems with eyewitness identificatiton.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated whether Jesus of Nazareth was from a race other than the race of the witness.
In any case, we have no information about the race, or races, of the alleged eyewitnesses.  We just don’t know their race or races.  These alleged eyewitnesses might well have all been Greeks or Romans who had converted to Christianity, and thus none of them would have been Palestinian Jews.  In that case, their identifications of a man as being Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Palestinian Jew, would be suspect.
There is one very important factor that has not been touched on by the article on problems with eyewitness memory: prior familiarity with the person in question.
g. Did an objective investigator determine for each of the hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses whether they had previously seen and met Jesus of Nazareth before he died?
This is the crucial problem with Paul’s testimony about his alleged experience of an appearance of the risen Jesus.  Paul never met the historical Jesus prior to Jesus’ death.   So, Paul was in no position to correctly and reliably IDENTIFY any person as being Jesus of Nazareth.  Paul’s testimony, the only firsthand testimony that we have, of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus is WORTHLESS because Paul did not know what Jesus looked like.
So, an absolutely crucial question about these alleged hundreds of eyewitnesses of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus is whether ANY of them had seen and met Jesus of Nazareth before Jesus died.  If these people did not live in Palestine, then it is unlikely that they had seen and met Jesus of Nazareth before he died.  In that case, their eyewitness IDENTIFICATION of the man who appeared to them in this event as being Jesus of Nazareth would be WORTHLESS, and thus their testimony, like Paul’s testimony, would be WORTHLESS.  The fact that they saw some person who they believed to be Jesus of Nazareth would NOT provide significant evidence that this person was in fact Jesus of Nazareth.
 
CONCLUSION
It is becoming more and more clear that the analogy with a court trial shows the “eyewitness” evidence for the resurrection of Jesus to be a pathetic joke.   If we compare modern murder investigations by professional detectives and the court trials that depend on those investigations with the evidence offered by Christian apologists, it becomes painfully obvious that the evidence they provide is extremely weak and dubious, nowhere even close to being the sort of strong evidence needed to establish the occurrence of a supernatural event or miracle.
Eyewitnesses in a murder trial are not simply pulled off the street and put onto the witness stand.  The crime scene and witnesses of the crime are initially investigated by a professional police officer and/or homicide detective, and key witnesses are investigated and interviewed again in more depth by a professional detective, and this initial gathering of information and testimony occurs prior to any court trial, prior to any witness being called to testify.  By considering modern criminal investigations and court trials, especially concerning serious crimes like murder, we can clearly see that there is no serious chance that an actual court trial would ever lead to the verdict that Jesus rose from the dead.

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Comments

  1. Interesting. Actually, it could have been a nasty practical joke on Jesus’s followers by somebody who bore a superficial resemblance to Jesus. (Personally, I think the whole tale, or the vast majority of it, was the product of storytellers taking ‘literary license’ to make it sound more impressive but also more plausible. People in ancient times believed all sorts of silly things, after all — hεll, people today believe all sorts of silly things.)

    Regarding the idea that the ‘witnesses’ were non-Jews…I’m not hugely familiar with the whole story, but I thought it was right after his execution that this story was said to have happened. Since there weren’t any gentile converts to Christianity until Paul’s time, which was much later, it doesn’t seem plausible that the putative witnesses would have been of a different race than Jesus unless most were non-Christians.

  2. I’ve had said this before. As a magician I know first hand that that ‘eye witnesses’ are not a reliable source of info. People are A) easily fooled, B) Do NOT accurately remember what they have seen, C) Do not accurately report what they think they have seen, D) will say they have seen stuff KNOWING they were not even there.

    I once read an article about a performance I gave that was written by somebody who was not at the show. It was filled with mistakes. Yet it was published in the local newspaper shortly after the event. Compare that with a ‘show’ given by a ‘jesus’ that was not even written until DECADES later and I’ll take a pass on any accuracy.

  3. Since there weren’t any gentile converts to Christianity until Paul’s time, which was much later, it doesn’t seem plausible that the putative witnesses would have been of a different race than Jesus unless most were non-Christians.

    Cornelius the centurion is thought to be the first gentile to convert to Christianity. In Chapter 10 of Acts, Peter preaches the Gospel to Cornelius and some other gentiles. When the gentiles are “baptized in the spirit” and begin to speak in tongues, Peter decides they are to be baptized as converts to the Christian faith, in spite of the fact they were gentiles and not Jews. It is not clear that Paul was the only evangelist who preached the Christian faith to gentiles:
    “The Christian community at Antioch had been established by Hellenised diaspora Jews living in Jerusalem, who played an important role in reaching a Gentile, Greek audience, notably at Antioch, which had a large Jewish community and significant numbers of Gentile ‘God-fearers’.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle

    Also, Paul converted to Christianity just a couple of years or so after the crucifixion of Jesus, so I wouldn’t say that his preaching to gentiles was “much later” than the preaching of the Christian faith to Jews in Palestine:

    “…he [Paul] founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe from the mid-30s to the mid-50s AD.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_the_Apostle

  4. The whole concept of eye witnesses to anything in any of the diverse and very different, confused and contradictory historically inaccurate and historically unsupported scientifically absurd versions of the myths, legends and fables of the historically invisible character most recently known as “Jesus” is ridiculous since no “eye witness” accounts exist.

    In fact no tangible, authentic and original first century originated historical evidence of the existence of the historically invisible character most recently known as “Jesus” exists.

    The oldest prototype christian bibles were cobbled together in the late 4th century and they are very significantly different from those in circulation today.

    The diverse and contradictory fables within all human authored bibles read like fiction because they are fiction.

    Eye witness accounts are notoriously unreliable and can only be verified by other tangible evidence. In the case of the biblical myths, there are no contemporary accounts of any kind and no texts, inscriptions, artefacts or even graffito mentions “Jesus” or the events and activities that are written into fiction long, long after the time in which the fables are merely set.

  5. Mr. Bowen, I find your critical examination of Peter Kreeft’s objections against the Hallucination Theory educational and objective.

    Out of the various alternatives to the Resurrection Hypothesis I have encountered thus far, I consider the Hallucination Theory as the most appealing. My main concern about it has to do with claims made by apologists – such as Craig, Habermas and Licona – regarding the existence of a consensus of NT scholars according to which the disciples had group experiences they interpreted as the resurrected Jesus appearing to them. Below is an example of what apologists are saying, from a debate between Mike Licona and Greg Cavin on the resurrection of Jesus. Licona is basically pointing out that the following claims can be considered as historical facts because there is scholarly consensus about them:

    1. Shortly after Jesus’ death, a number of his disciples had experiences they interpreted as the risen Jesus appearing to them. 2. Appearances were experienced by individuals and groups. 3. A skeptic/persecutor of the Church named Paul had such an experience and interpreted it as the risen Jesus appearing to him. 4. The nature of these experiences was such that the percipients believed Jesus had been raised physically in a resurrection body.

    One of the things that stand out when appeals to the consensus of NT scholars are made by defenders of the Resurrection Hypothesis is that the alleged facts don’t include many details (for instance they don’t specify how big were the groups having the experience or how many group experiences there were). In light of this, the Hallucination Theory can be formulated so as to avoid contradicting the consensus, but on a couple of occasions I have come across attempts by skeptics to show that the scholarly consensus is unreliable. They don’t deny that there is consensus regarding the four claims I outlined above (and regarding other claims), but they think that a large number of NT scholars are biased.

    Please tell what you think about the four claims presented as facts by Licona. Do you think they should be regarded as facts? And what about the reliability of the scholarly consensus? Do you think it is reliable?

    Thank you.

  6. Over the last several decades, hundreds of convictions have been overturned as the result of DNA testing that was not available at the time of trial. Many of those convictions were obtained with eyewitness testimony. The bottom line is that courts do not accept eyewitness testimony when it contradicts science.

  7. Excellent questions.

    I will just make a few off the cuff comments about the four claims, for now.

    1. Shortly after Jesus’ death, a number of his disciples had experiences they interpreted as the risen Jesus appearing to them.

    This claim is VAGUE, especially “a number of his disciples”.

    Jesus supposedly had an inner circle of 12 disciples, and one supposedly betrayed him (Judas Iscariot).
    Does the word “disciples” here refer to the 11 remaining disciples?

    If so, it is unclear how many of the 11 “had experiences they interpreted as the risen Jesus…”
    Whatever NT scholars may say, the Jerusalem appearance stories in Luke and John are probably fictional, based on the Gospel of Mark and to a lesser degree the Gospel of Matthew, as I have argued.

    Mark and Matthew imply that some of the 11 disciples “had experiences they interpreted as the risen Jesus” in Galilee a week or more after Jesus was crucified, but it is not clear in Mark how many of them had this experience. Matthew chapter 28 indicates that all 11 had this experience:

    16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
    17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

    But the Gospel of Matthew, like the other Gospels, was NOT written by an eyewitness of the events described in that Gospel. Furthermore, the crucifixion and burial and resurrection stories in Matthew are clearly corrupted with fictional dramatic and theologically-based elements, so this statement by the author of Matthew is dubious.

    Futhermore, we know almost nothing about the lives and activities of most of the 11 disciples, especially after the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus, so there is very little evidence to confirm or disconfirm the Gospel of Matthew’s claim.

    2. Appearances were experienced by individuals and groups.

    This is NOT a fact, whatever NT scholars may say.

    The stories of groups of people having an experience that they took to be an experience of the risen Jesus are all DUBIOUS.
    I argued that the group experiences in Jerusalem found in Luke and John are fictional.
    Mark implies that some of the disciples had such an experience in Galilee a week or more after the crucifixion, but that does not tell us how many of the 11 disciples had such an experience, nor whether they had this experience individually or in a group.
    Matthew briefly asserts that the 11 had this experience as a group in Galilee on a mountain top, but provides few details, and there is no corroboration of this event from any other Gospel. As I just pointed out the Gospel of Matthew contains a number of dubious elements especially about the trial, crucifixion, burial, and alleged resurrection of Jesus. So, the brief claim by Matthew about the 11 having this experience is dubious at best.
    Paul’s claim about 500 witnesses seeing the risen Jesus at the same time and place is also very dubious, as I am currently arguing in this series of posts.

    3. A skeptic/persecutor of the Church named Paul had such an experience and interpreted it as the risen Jesus appearing to him.

    Paul does claim to have had this experience, but because Paul had never met the historical Jesus, Paul was in no position to IDENTIFY anyone as being Jesus of Nazareth, so Paul’s experience is WORTHLESS as evidence for the resurrection.

    4. The nature of these experiences was such that the percipients believed Jesus had been raised physically in a resurrection body.

    Paul is the ONLY person who provides us with a firsthand account of such an experience, and he does NOT elaborate on it, including whether “the nature of” that experience was the BASIS for his belief that “Jesus had been raised physically in a resurrection body”. Paul, as a Pharisee was already committed to the belief that an afterlife would involve RESURRECTION of the body, so Paul had strong theological basis and bias for inferring that Jesus MUST HAVE come back to life “physically in a resurrection body”.

    We have no details from anyone else who claims to have had an alleged experience of the risen Jesus and whether it was the “nature of these experiences” that was the reason or basis for their belief that “Jesus had been raised physically in a resurrection body”.

    Furthermore, since there is very little information in the NT about most of the 11 disciples and what they said and did after Jesus death and alleged resurrection, we have no direct evidence for most of them, that they in fact believed that “Jesus had been raised physically in a resurrection body”. There might well have been a diversity of views on the nature of “the risen Jesus” among the 11 disciples, and the belief that “Jesus had been raised physically in a resurrection body” may have become dominant a decade or two after Jesus was crucified, and then this dominant view was retroactively projected back on the 11 disciples.

  8. It’s worth noting that “eye witness accounts” must be spoken and subsequently written at or very shortly after the incident to which the “eye witness” claims to have personally seen with their own eyes.

    There is not one single authentic and original first century originated item of evidence of the existence of the historically invisible character most recently known as “Jesus” or any of the events written in the basis confused and internally contradictory historically inaccurate and historically unsupported scientifically absurd prototype christian bibles that first appeared in the 4th century or the very significantly different from those prototypes that have been written by later living men and circulate today.

    There are no authentic and original first century originated “eye witness accounts” of the existence of “Jesus” or any part f the diverse and very different myths and legends that were written centuries after the time in which they are merely set..

    Myths and legends can never be considered evidence of the validity of the same myths and legends.

  9. I am no longer able to create blog posts here.
    However, I will continue to create and publish posts on my own blog site, including continuation of this series of posts “Defending the Hallucination Theory…”.

    Here is the site where I will be publishing new posts:

    https://tcaict.blogspot.com/

  10. On my own blog site I have published four more posts in the series on “Defending the Hallucination Theory…”

    In Part 18 I analyze and evaluate Kreeft’s Objection #4 (A Long-Lasting Hallucination), and I show that this objection FAILS:

    https://tcaict.blogspot.com/2021/12/defending-hallucination-theory-part-18.html

    In Part 19 I clarify and analyze Kreeft’s Objection #5 (Returned Many Times), showing that the core of this argument consists entirely of UNSTATED premises and an UNSTATED conclusion:

    https://tcaict.blogspot.com/2021/12/defending-hallucination-theory-part-19.html

    In Part 20, I evaluate one of the key premises in Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #5, and I show that not only did Kreeft FAIL to establish that this key premise is true, but that the premise is in fact FALSE:

    https://tcaict.blogspot.com/2021/12/defending-hallucination-theory-part-20.html

    In Part 21, I complete my evaluation of Objection #5:

    https://tcaict.blogspot.com/2021/12/defending-hallucination-theory-part-21.html

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