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Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 2: “Witnesses”

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 2: “Witnesses” July 21, 2021

THE “WITNESSES” OBJECTIONS

In his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA) the first three objections that Peter Kreeft raises against the Hallucination Theory are all about “witnesses”:

Objection #1:  There were too many witnesses(HCA, p.186, emphasis added)

Objection #2: The witnesses were qualified. (HCA, p. 187, emphasis added)

Objection #3: The five hundred [eyewitnesses] saw Christ together at the same time and place. (HCA, p.187 emphasis added)

Before we examine these three objections, I think it would be helpful to do something that Kreeft FAILED TO DO: get a clear idea of the meanings of the key terms “witnesses” and “eyewitnesses”.

Heinrich Buscher as a witness during the Nuremberg Trials.

 

WHAT IS A “WITNESS”?

Here is how my American Heritage College Dictionary (4th edition) defines “witness”:

witness…n.
1a. One who can give a firsthand account of something.
1b. One who furnishes evidence.
2. Something that serves as evidence; a sign.
3. Law a. One who is called on to testify before a court.
3b. One who is called on to attest to what takes place at a transaction.
3c. One who signs one’s name to a document to attest to its authenticity.
4. An attestation to a fact, statement, or event; testimony.
5a. One who publically affirms religious faith.
5b. Witness A member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The first couple of definitions appear to be relevant, so I will keep those in mind.

Kreeft is clearly talking about people, so definition 2 (about “Something”) does not apply here.

Kreeft is not talking about people who “testify before a court”.   However, people can “testify” in other less-formal circumstances too (e.g. to a police officer or detective who is investigating a crime, or to a group of people engaged in an inquiry that is not part of a legal or courtroom process.)  So, I will keep definition 3a for now, with the understanding that it could be stretched beyond a legal or courtroom setting.

The appearances of a risen Jesus are not “transactions”, so definition 3b does not apply here.

Kreeft is not talking about people signing any documents, so definition 3c does not apply here.

Although “attestation” is not a person, it is something that people do, and such attestation seems relevant to what Kreeft is talking about here, so I will keep definition 4 in play.

Although a Christian believer who publically affirmed the religious belief that “Jesus rose from the dead” would constitute a “witness” according to definition 5a, such a “witness” would provide no help to Kreeft’s case for the resurrection or against the Hallucination Theory UNLESS that person could also provide an account of having personally SEEN a risen Jesus.  So, simply affirming the religious belief that “Jesus rose from the dead” does not count as the sort of “witness” that Kreeft is talking about in these first three objections.  Definition 5a does not apply here.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a modern religious phenomenon, and so definition 5b has nothing to do with the “witnesses” that Kreeft is talking about, who are all people who (allegedly) lived in the first century C.E.  We can toss aside definition 5b.

Here are the remaining definitions of “witness” that might help us clarify what Kreeft means by the term “witnesses”:

1a. One who can give a firsthand account of something.
1b. One who furnishes evidence.
3a. One who is called on to testify before a court [or to a person or group who is investigating something].
4. An attestation to a fact, statement, or event; testimony.

There is an interesting and important difference between definition 1a and definition 1b.  “One who can” give a firsthand account of X might, nevertheless, NOT give a firsthand account of X, just as “One who can” beat his elderly mother to death might NOT want to do so, and thus might well NOT beat his elderly mother to death.  The fact that person A can do X does not imply that person A has done X, nor does it imply that person A will do X.  Thus, someone who is a “witness” in accordance with definition 1a might not ever have given a firsthand account of the event in question.

Compare that definition with definition 1b.  One who “furnishes evidence” by giving an account of an event must necessarily give an account of the event.  So, if we are talking about someone “giving a firsthand account” of some event, then definition 1a includes people who CAN do this (including people who DO NOT actually do so), while definition 1b only includes people who ACTUALLY give a firsthand account of the event.  So, there is a BIG difference between definition 1a and definition 1b.  Because Kreeft never bothers to clarify the meaning of the term “witnesses”, he FAILS to make it clear which of these two sorts of “witnesses” he is talking about.

Both definition 3a and definition 4 make reference to “testimony”.  Definition 3a speaks of someone being called on “to testify”, and definition 4 speaks of an “attestation”, and puts the word “testimony” forward as a synonym.  Also note that definition 3a has the same hypothetical character as definition 1a: someone “who is called on to testify” might, nevertheless, decide NOT to testify, or they could die or become mentally incapacitated before they get the chance to testify.  The fact that person A has been “called on to testify” on matter X does not imply that person A has in fact testified on matter X, nor does it imply that person A will testify on matter X.  Being “called on to testify” about some event does NOT mean that the person in question has or will ever testify about the event.

Compare that with definition 4 which talks about an “attestation to a fact, statement, or event”.  If there is “attestation” to an event, then someone necessarily has already testified about that event.  If there is “testimony” about an event, then someone necessarily has already testified about that event.

Thus, the contrast between definition 1a and definition 1b is similar to the contrast between definition 3a and definition 4.  In both cases, the difference is between potentially giving a “firsthand account” (or “testimony”) and actually giving a “firsthand account” (or “testimony”).

There is another interesting and important difference between definition 1a and definition 1b.  While definition 1a talks about a kind of ACTIVITY (i.e. giving a firsthand account of something), definition 1b talks about a PURPOSE for that activity (i.e. furnishing evidence–by giving a firsthand account of something).  So, both definitions leave something outDefinition 1a leaves out a specification of the PURPOSE of giving a firsthand account of some event, and definition 1b leaves out a specification of the sort of ACTIVITY by which the purpose of furnishing evidence is accomplished.

One could give a firsthand account of an event for the PURPOSE of entertaining people.  People like to tell stories about events they have personally experienced.  When one tells such a story, one is giving a firsthand account of the event, but the PURPOSE of giving that account is NOT to furnish evidence to the audience who is listening to that account.  But entertaining people with a story about an event that one personally experienced does NOT make one into a “witness”.  To be a witness, one must have a particular PURPOSE for giving a firsthand account, namely: furnishing evidence.  I, therefore, recommend that these two elements be combined to provide a fuller definition of “witness”:

6. One who furnishes evidence by giving a firsthand account of something. 

But we must still keep in mind the important distinction between someone POTENTIALLY doing this, and someone ACTUALLY doing this, so I will divide my proposed definition into two alternative definitions:

6a. One who can potentially furnish evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.

6b. One who actually furnishes evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.  

There is a third important distinction that is suggested by the definition 1a.  The phrase “a firsthand account” suggests that there could also be “a secondhand account” or a “thirdhand account” of an event.  In our legal system, there are significant constraints on “hearsay” testimony.  A person who is called on “to testify before a court” is usually a person who is believed to have been present during a relevant event and who observed or experienced that event.  Such a “witness” can furnish evidence by giving a “firsthand account” of that event.  But there are exceptions to this general rule, so in some instances, a “witness” can be called upon to provide “hearsay” testimony, an account of what someone else said about an event:

Hearsay evidence, in a legal forum, is testimony from a witness under oath who is reciting an out-of-court statement, content of which is being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. In most courts, hearsay evidence is inadmissible (the “hearsay evidence rule”) unless an exception to the hearsay rule applies.

For example, to prove that Tom was in town, a witness testifies, “Susan told me that Tom was in town.” Since the witness’s evidence relies on an out-of-court statement that Susan made, if Susan is unavailable for cross-examination, the answer is hearsay. A justification for the objection is that the person who made the statement is not in court and thus is insulated from cross-examination.  (from the article Hearsay in Wikipedia)

Although there may be some exceptions to the general rejection of hearsay evidence from a witness, hearsay evidence is a weak and substandard sort of evidence.  There can be a “witness” who furnishes evidence by giving a SECONDHAND account of something; however, such witnesses will not help Kreeft make his case for the resurrection of Jesus, because in order to show that a miracle has occurred, one needs to provide strong and solid evidence, and a witness who gives only a SECONDHAND or THIRDHAND account of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus will not be furnishing the strong and solid kind of evidence that is required to prove a miracle.  Although the term “witness” can in some cases be applied to a person who gives a SECONHAND account of an event, this use of the term “witness” does not apply to Kreeft’s attempt to prove the resurrection of Jesus.  Therefore, we can use definition 6a and definition 6b as potential interpretations of Kreeft’s use of the term “witness” even though those definitions exclude people who give only a SECONDHAND account of an event.

What about definition 3a and definition 4?  Both of those definitions focus on testimony.   Definition 3a talks about testifying “before a court”, but I pointed out that less formal and even non-legal situations can involve a “witness” who “testifies” about his or her experience of an event.  So, being a “witness” in a court trial is a paradigm case of a “witness” who “testifies” about an event, but these words are used beyond that particular sort of situation.  Definition 4 is very close to definition 3a, but definition 3a talks about “One” who is called to testify, whereas definition 4 talks about “testimony” which is basically the content or information provided by a “witness” who “testifies” either in a courtroom or in a more informal setting.  Because the term “witness” as used by Kreeft refers primarily to PEOPLE, definition 3a is better than definition 4 for interpreting what Kreeft means, and since definition 3a captures the idea of “testimony” in terms of the action “to testify”, it is reasonable to set definition 4 aside.

I think we may also set aside definition 3a, because the action “to testify” is already captured in my proposed definitions.  To “furnish evidence by giving a firsthand account of something” is “to testify”.  So, definition 3a is redundant in relation to definition 6a and definition 6b.  So, it seems to me that we have two clear and useful definitions of “witness” that are sufficient to help us clarify the key concept of “witness” in Kreeft’s first three objections:

6a. One who can potentially furnish evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.

6b. One who actually furnishes evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.  

 

WHAT IS AN “EYEWITNESS”?

According to my American Heritage Dictionary, an “eyewitness” is:

A person who has seen someone or something and can bear witness to the fact.

This seems a bit too narrow.  A blind person, for example, can be an “eyewitness”, even though a blind person cannot SEE someone or SEE something.  A blind person can HEAR someone or HEAR something, and can “bear witness to the fact” about what he or she heard.  Although seeing someone or something might provide more detailed information than hearing that someone or hearing that something, sometimes the words a person says or the sounds a person makes on a particular occasion are very important information for a criminal trial, and a blind person can have firsthand knowledge or information about such sounds.

The point here is that seeing someone or something is a kind of firsthand experience that provides a good amount of detailed information about that person or thing at the time when they were being seen.  But there are other senses besides vision that can provide firsthand experiences of people, things, and events.  So, I suggest revising this definition to make it a bit broader:

A person who has on a particular occasion seen, or had some firsthand sensory experience of, someone or something and can bear witness to what he or she experienced on that occasion.

Given that this is a clear and accurate definition of the term “eyewitness”,  the term “eyewitness” means basically the same as “witness” in the senses that I have defined above.   Remember, definition 6a and definition 6b both require that a “witness” give (or be able to give) a “firsthand account of something”, so in order to be a “witness” in the senses I have defined, one MUST be an “eyewitness”, one MUST be able to give a “firsthand account” of something.

 

CONCLUSION

As we examine Peter Kreeft’s first three objections against the Hallucination Theory, it will probably be useful to keep in mind the following two alternative definitions of the term “witness”:

6a. One who can potentially furnish evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.

6b. One who actually furnishes evidence by giving a firsthand account of something.  

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