Jesus’ resurrection: was Paul hallucinating?

I really want to be done with my post series on William Lane Craig, but after putting up yesterday’s post, I realized I really need to say more about the possibility that Paul and other people who claimed to have seen Jesus after his death were hallucinating (or otherwise deluded).

First of all, we know that hallucinations, false memories, and so on seem to be an important source of religious and paranormal beliefs. This is something I pointed out in my first book, focusing on the example of “alien abductees.” The short of it is that there are many people in the US today who, as far as anyone can tell, sincerely believe they have been abducted by space aliens. They aren’t all lone psychiatric patients; there are organizations for these people.

Biblical scholar Dale Allison makes a similar point in his book Resurrecting Jesus. Allison brings together a huge number of reports of visions and apparitions to show that the reports of Jesus’ post-mortem appearances aren’t terribly unique. I mention Allison in large part because he’s another person Craig has lied about. Here’s what Craig has said:

Allison’s familiarity with the literature is daunting. Pages 279-82 of his essay contain only 16 lines of text and nearly 200 fine lines of references! But his very strength as a bibliographer becomes a weakness, since he tends to accept all reports uncritically, lumping together serious studies in journals of psychology with New Age popular books and publications in parapsychology. Most of the so-called veridical visions of deceased persons are gathered from parapsychological literature of the late nineteenth century. What is wanting is a careful sifting of the evidence and a differentiated discussion of the same. Allison’s discussion reminded me of literature I’ve read on UFO sightings, in which the serious is mixed with the ridiculous, leaving one in great uncertainty about what to make of such experiences.

Craig insinuates that Allison is just like the UFOlogists, but there’s an important difference: Allison doesn’t “accept” all the reports in the sense of thinking the stories really happened. He’s just pointing out the parallels between reports. I suppose if challenged on this, Craig would claim by “accepts” he means “includes in the footnotes,” but that’s not what the word means and it’s not what people who read only Craig’s side of the story will think.

There are two other bad arguments Craig makes here that I think are worth pointing out here. First, he sometimes falls into citing the details of the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ resurrection as a refutation of the hallucination hypothesis (Reasonable Faith p. 385). This is a bad argument, because even assuming some people really believed they had seen Jesus after his death, that doesn’t mean all the details of the Bible stories are true.

It’s also a dishonest argument, given that Craig claims to only use “facts” generally agreed on by Biblical scholars. Many Biblical scholars, including Gerd Ludemann (who Craig cites often a skeptic who supports his views) think some people really believed they had seen Jesus after his death, but don’t think the Bible’s accounts of those experiences are at all accurate.

Craig also criticizes the possibility of hallucinations on the grounds that it requires “psychoanalysis” of Jesus’ early followers. Um, no. If you found a letter from a pagan saying a pagan god had appeared to him, would you need “psychoanalysis” to suspect the author had hallucinated? Of course not, and the same applies to Jesus’ followers.

Okay, there. Now I’m done writing about Craig’s arguments.

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