Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 4: More Problems with Objection TRF5

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 4: More Problems with Objection TRF5 April 16, 2021

WHERE WE ARE

TRF5 is the fifth objection presented by Josh McDowell against the Hallucination Theory in his book The Resurrection Factor (hereafter: TRF).

The objection TRF5 can be stated in terms of a brief argument:

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

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

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

THEREFORE:

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

In Part 3 of this series, I argued that there were at least three problems with premise (1) of this argument:

PROBLEM #1: McDowell provides ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5.

PROBLEM #2: Other apologists who make this objection also provide ZERO EVIDENCE from any expert in psychology in support of the psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5.

PROBLEM #3: The psychological generalization asserted in objection TRF5 is clearly and obviously FALSE.

Those problems are sufficient to show that TRF5 is a weak and defective objection against the Hallucination Theory, and that it FAILS to refute, or even to seriously damage, the Hallucination Theory.

 

A MODIFICATION OF PREMISE (1)

It appears, however, that McDowell at some point realized that premise (1) of his argument was FALSE, because he modified that premise in the more recent presentation of this objection in his book Evidence for the Resurrection (hereafter: EFR).  McDowell revised the psychological generalization that he bases this objection upon so that it was no longer obviously FALSE:

A fourth principle is that hallucinations usually come to people with an anticipating spirit or hopeful expectancy that causes their wishes to become the stimulus of the hallucinatory illusion. (EFR, p.209, emphasis added)

Now instead of “hopeful expectancy” about a circumstance C being REQUIRED (i.e. being a necessary condition) for the production of an hallucination in which circumstance C occurs or is confirmed, the generalization is significantly weakened to the idea that this is USUALLY the case with hallucinations.  So, the fact that hallucinations are often unpleasant or frightening is no longer a clearcut counterexample to the psychological generalization.

We can modify premise (1) of the above argument to reflect this significant modification of the original psychological “principle” that was stated in TRF:

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

 

PROBLEMS WITH PREMISE (1a)

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

What does “usually” mean?  Because of this qualification, premise (1a) is VAGUE.  Does it mean that such hopeful expectancy precedes an hallucination in “more than 50%” of hallucinations?  or that such hopeful expectancy precedes an hallucination in “more than 60%” of hallucinations? or “more than 70% of hallucinations”? or “more than 80% of hallucinations”? or “more than 90%” of hallucinations?

If the claim is merely that hopeful expectancy precedes an hallucination in “more than 50%” of hallucinations, then this principle is too weak to be of any significance in this context.  If the claim is merely that hopeful expectancy precedes an hallucination in “more than 60%” of hallucinations, then this principle is still too weak to be of significance.

In order for objection TRF5 to be a strong objection against the Hallucination Theory, I would expect the psychological generalization or principle to be at least in the 90% range, so that hopeful expectancy of circumstance C precedes at least 90% of hallucinations in which circumstance C seems to occur in the hallucination (or in which circumstance C seems to be confirmed in the hallucination).  For example, if only about 80% of hallucinations have this character, then that means that about 20% of hallucinations (2 out of 10 hallucinations) LACK this character.  That would make this a fairly WEAK objection to the Hallucination Theory.

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

Because McDowell and his fellow Christian apologists have provided ZERO EVIDENCE from psychological studies or experts in support of his psychological generalization, we have no clue how to interpret the VAGUE term “usually”.    Given that there are no facts provided in support of the claim, the term “usually” might well mean only that “more than 50%” of hallucinations have this character of being preceded by a hopeful expectancy of the circumstance that seems to occur (or be confirmed) in the hallucination.

Furthermore, since it is clear that McDowell and his fellow Christian apologists MADE NO EFFORT to study scientific articles and books about hallucinations authored by recognized psychological experts, McDowell and his fellow Christian apologists had NO FACTUAL DATA in front of them to shape their own understanding of the strength of the term “usually” in the psychological generalization upon which TRF5 is based.  They basically just made this claim up without having any actual facts or data.  This psychological generalization is pure bullshit.  So, they themselves might well have no clue as to how to clarify the meaning of the term “usually” in this context.

Since they have NO FACTUAL DATA to support their psychological generalization, they have no justification for making even the very weak claim that “more than 50%” of hallucinations have the character that they claim.

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

Because we are all aware that hallucinations are often unpleasant or frightening, it is VERY UNLIKELY that the strong claim that “more than 90%” of hallucinations are the result of a hopeful expectation of circumstances that the hallucination appears to manifest or confirm.  At most, it might be the case that the term “usually” can be interpreted as meaning that “about 70%” of hallucinations have this character.  But in that case objection TRF5 is a rather WEAK objection, since it allows that about 3 out of 10 hallucinations LACK this specified character.

Furthermore, since McDowell and his fellow apologists have no facts or data to support even the much weaker claim that “more than 50%” of hallucinations were the result of previous “hopeful expectancy” or “wishes” in the mind of the person who has the hallucination, the claim that “about 70%” of hallucinations have this character is very dubious.  So, if we clarify “usually” to mean that “about 70%” of hallucinations have this character, then objection TRF5 has at least two different dubious aspects: (1) the assumption that this psychological generalization is true, and (2) even if it were true it is too weak to constitute a strong objection against the Hallucination Theory.

I have not been able to find data about what proportion of hallucinations are unpleasant or frightening.  But clearly even if most hallucinations are pleasant and NOT frightening, “bad trips” occur often when people use hallucinogenic drugs, so we can reasonably infer that a significant portion of drug-induced hallucinations are unpleasant or frightening.

I have, however, found some data on the prevalence of bad dreams, which supports the view that a significant portion of hallucinations are unpleasant or frightening.  Dreams and hallucinations are different phenomena, but in both of these phenomena our minds and imaginations appear to draw upon our previous experiences and feelings to generate visual and emotional experiences that seem real but that are purely subjective.  If a significant portion of our dreams are unpleasant or frightening, then it is reasonable to infer that a significant portion of hallucinations are probably unpleasant or frightening, especially given that we already know that “bad trips” or unpleasant or frightening hallucinations often occur when people take hallucinogenic drugs.

NIGHTMARES ARE COMMON

Psychologists usually distinguish between “nightmares” and “bad dreams”.  Nightmares are basically bad dreams that result in the dreamer waking up. Nightmares are a fairly common experience, especially for children.  One out of four children have nightmares more than once a week:

Children ages 8 to 14 report having had 11 nightmares (on average) in the previous year:

 

But nightmares are also common for college students:

College students report having had 9 nightmares (on average) in the past year:

So, both children (ages 8 to 14) and college students report that they had roughly 10 nightmares in the past year.  However, when children (aged 8 to 14) kept daily journals of their dreams, they recorded an average of about 1 nightmare in two weeks, and when college students kept daily journals of their dreams, they too recorded an average of about 1 nightmare in two weeks.  That means that both children and college students seriously under report the number of nightmares they had for the past year.  Based on daily dream journals, both children and college students have about two dozen nightmares a year, on average:

Adults aged 40 and above report having far fewer nightmares a year than what children and college students report:

However, given that both children and college students seriously under report the number of nightmares they had in the past year, adults 40 and older probably also under report the number of nightmares they had in the past year.  In any case, up to 85% of adults report having had at least one nightmare in the past year, and between 8% and 29% report having monthly nightmares, and between 2% and 6% of adults report having weekly nightmares:

A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF DREAMS ARE BAD DREAMS

Nightmares are fairly common, but since all nightmares are bad dreams, but some bad dreams are NOT nightmares (because some bad dreams don’t result in the dreamer waking up), it follows that there are more bad dreams than nightmares, and thus that bad dreams are even more common than nightmares.

One scientific experiment about bad dreams involved waking several subjects up several times each night and then asking them if they remember dreaming and if so whether they experienced fear in the dream.  The results of this experiment showed that a significant portion of the remembered dreams were “bad dreams” in that the dreamer felt fear in the dream.  Here is an excerpt from the article describing some results of that experiment:

In this experiment there was a total of 66 dream reports where the subject remembered the content of his/her dream. In 26 of those dream reports the subject reports the experience of fear in the dream (in about 39% of dreams), and in 40 of the dream reports, the subject reports not having fear (in about 61% of dreams).  So, in this experiment about 4 out of 10 dreams involved the experience of fear, and about 6 out of 10 dreams did NOT involve the experience of fear.  Since the experience of fear in a dream generally correlates with having a “bad dream”, about 4 out of 10 dreams in this experiment were bad dreams.

Because this experiment only involved a small number of subjects, we cannot confidently infer that in general 4 out of 10 dreams that people have are bad dreams.  However, this scientific data does confirm what was already a plausible hypothesis based on ordinary experience: people often have bad dreams, and it is reasonable to infer that a significant portion of our dreams are bad dreams, are dreams that are unpleasant or frightening.

Given that people who take hallucinogenic drugs often have “bad trips”, we can reasonably infer that a significant portion of drug-induced hallucinations are unpleasant or frightening.  And given the additional assumption that a significant portion of dreams are “bad dreams” (i.e. involve unpleasant or frightening experiences), we have very good reason to suspect that a significant portion of hallucinations in general are of an unpleasant or frightening character.  Thus, we have very good reason to suspect that a significant portion of hallucinations in general are NOT the result of “hopeful expectancy” or “wishes” on the part of the person who had the hallucination, even if it were true that MOST hallucinations (i.e. more than 50% of them) are the result of “hopeful expectancy” or “wishes” on the part of the person who had the hallucination.

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

The psychological generalization that “about 70% of hallucinations” are based on hopeful expectancy or wishes, means that as much as 30% or three out of ten hallucinations are NOT based on hopeful expectancy or wishes.  But if three out of ten hallucinations are NOT based on hopeful expectancy or wishes, then  objection PF5 is very weak and not only FAILS to “refute” the Hallucination Theory, but also FAILS to show it to be highly improbable.

 

 

PROBLEMS WITH PREMISE (2)

Premise (2) is a general historical claim that must be shown to be TRUE in order for objection TRF5 to be a strong objection:

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

Premise (2) summarizes many beliefs that Christians have about who among Jesus’ disciples had experiences that seemed to them to be of a living, physical, risen Jesus, and when and where those experiences occurred, and about the specific content of those alleged experiences.  I myself do not accept any of those beliefs as being FACTS.  Every one of those beliefs is a conclusion that is based on passages from the gospels or from some other NT writings.

I do NOT view the gospels or the writings of the NT to be historically reliable documents.  They are sketchy and unreliable documents.  So, all of these conclusions about the ALLEGED experiences of Jesus’ disciples that allegedly seemed to be of a living, physical, risen Jesus are based on sketchy and dubious evidence, in my view.  There are many such beliefs that Christians have, so carefully reviewing all of the relevant claims or beliefs and discussing the NT evidence and the reasoning upon which they are based would be a rather long and time-consuming task.

I will not attempt to perform that task here and now.  However, the burden of proof rests on Christian apologists here.  It is NOT sufficient to merely point to some Gospel passage, and conclude that the events described in that passage are actual historical events that are accurately described in that Gospel passage.  As the Christian apologist William Craig once said,

Far from being easy, historical apologetics, if done right, is every bit as difficult as philosophical apologetics.  The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier is because they do it superficially.  (Reasonable Faith, revised edition, p. 253)

Premise (2) requires a lot of clarification, in terms of the specific historical claims behind it, concerning specific people allegedly having specific experiences at specific times and places, and these various specific claims each needs to be carefully supported with extensive evidence and arguments.  Nothing like that is provided in any of the works of apologetics that make use of objection TRF5.  So, as far as I am concerned premise (2) remains both VAGUE and DUBIOUS.  There is no good reason to believe premise (2) is true, at least not in the works of apologetics that I have mentioned here as works that make use of TRF5.

To Be Continued…

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