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

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Part 5: The Failure of NO EXPECTANCY Objection (TRF5) May 2, 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. 

This argument is UNSOUND because premise (1) is clearly FALSE, as I argued in Part 3 of this series.  So TRF5 as presented in TRF, is a complete FAILURE.

However, in a more recent book called Evidence for the Resurrection (hereafter: EFR), McDowell significantly modifies his psychological generalization about hallucinations, making it less vulnerable to obvious counterexamples.  Here is the relevant modification of premise (1):

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a fifth problem with premise (1a) that is similar to my main complaint about Objection TRF1 (Only Certain People).  McDowell is assuming a fairly narrow definition of “hallucination” here, but in order for his case for the resurrection to work, he needs to refute explanations that are based on experiences that are similar to hallucinations, but that are not considered to be “hallucinations” in the narrower sense of this term.

Specifically, McDowell needs to refute DREAM experiences as a skeptical explanation for the resurrection “appearances” of Jesus.  The above argument, at best, only works against skeptical theories that focus exclusively on “hallucinations” understood in a narrow way (like the sort of non-veridical experiences that occur only with serious mental illness or with use of hallucinogenic drugs).  Premise (1a) doesn’t work, if we substitute “dream” for “hallucination” in that premise:

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

In addition to our ordinary experiences of dreams, we have scientific data that shows that a significant portion of dreams are bad dreams, and thus do NOT constitute the results of a hopeful expectation or wish for the circumstance that appears to occur in the dream (see Part 4 of this series for details).

We have good reason to believe that LESS THAN 60% of dreams are the result of a hopeful expectation or wish for a particular circumstance.  About 40% of dreams are bad dreams, and about 60% are not bad dreams.  Just because a dream is NOT bad, does not mean that it was produced by a hopeful expectation or wish for the circumstance represented in the dream.  So, in terms of dreams, the most one could plausibly claim is that a little more than half of dreams are good dreams that were produced by a previous hopeful expectation or wish.  But that is clearly too weak a claim to provide any sort of serious objection against the skeptical theory that dream experiences of a risen Jesus had by some of Jesus’s followers after his crucifixion resulted in the early Christian belief that Jesus had physically risen from the dead.

So, the revised argument for Objection TRF5 FAILS, because of serious problems with the revised premise (1a).

In Part 4 of this series , I briefly argued that premise (2) of the argument for Objection TRF5 is dubious.

Premise (3) of the argument for Objection TRF5 is also dubious, for the same reasons that I gave concerning premise (2).

 

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, c. 1602
John 20:24-25, New Revised Standard Version

 

IF PREMISE (3) IS TRUE, THEN WE SHOULD REJECT THE VIEW THAT JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD

Finally, if we grant the questionable claim in premise (3) that Jesus’ “disciples did NOT have a hopeful expectation or wish that Jesus would rise from the dead and be alive again”, then this provides a powerful reason to reject the Christian claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

Luke 24:1-11, New Revised Standard Version

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

Matthew 28:1-8 and 16-17, New Revised Standard Version

So, if premise (3) were TRUE, then we would have a very powerful reason to believe that the Gospel accounts that describe several amazing miracles being performed by Jesus and witnessed by his disciples are FICTIONAL stories.  But if the Gospel accounts are filled with such FICTIONAL stories about Jesus performing miracles, then the Gospel accounts have ZERO CREDIBILTY, or at least fall far short of the degree of credibility required to provide reasonable evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  If premise (3) were TRUE, then we must conclude that the Gospel stories about the alleged resurrection of Jesus are largely or entirely FICTIONAL, and that no such event took place.

Note: I owe this objection against premise (3) to The Atheist Debater’s Handbook (see page 120).

 

CONCLUSION 

Objection TRF5 FAILS to refute the Hallucination Theory.  Objection TRF5 can be summarized in terms of an argument consisting of three premises and a conclusion.  The original version of Objection TRF5 given in The Resurrection Factor FAILS completely, because premise (1) is clearly and obviously FALSE.

This premise is significantly modified in the version of Objection TRF5 given in the later book Evidence for the Resurrection.  However, all three premises of the modified version of Objection TRF5 are DUBIOUS, and if we interpret premise (1a) so that the psychological generalization in it has some degree of plausibility, the generalization becomes so weak that it is no longer capable of providing a serious objection against the Hallucination Theory.  Finally, if we assume, for the sake of argument, that a key assumption of premise (3) is TRUE, then this provides a powerful reason for rejecting the Christian view that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

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