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Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 3: The Witnesses Were Qualified

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 3: The Witnesses Were Qualified August 8, 2021

WHERE WE ARE

Peter Kreeft’s first three objections against the Hallucination Theory in his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter HCA) can be summarized this way:

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)

In Part 2 of this series, I argued that we should understand the term “witness” in terms of one or the other of the following two 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.  

I think Objection #1 is going to take a fair amount of time and effort to critically examine, so I will get us started with Objection #2, which I think I can dispatch more quickly and more easily.

 

OBJECTION #2: THE WITNESSES WERE QUALIFIED

Here are the entire contents of Kreeft’s Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory:

Here is Kreeft’s argument in standard form:

1. The witnesses were simple, honest, moral people.

2. The witnesses had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

THEREFORE:

3. The witnesses were qualified.

The most obvious problem with this argument is that it says NOTHING about the Hallucination Theory!   In order for this argument to be RELEVANT to the question at issue, it must say something about the Hallucination Theory (duh!), namely that the Hallucination Theory is FALSE.  So, if this objection is RELEVANT to the question at issue, then the logic of Objection #2 goes like this:

1. The witnesses were simple, honest, moral people.

2. The witnesses had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

THEREFORE:

3. The witnesses were qualified.

THEREFORE:

A. The Hallucination Theory is false.

On the face of it, this appears to be a non sequitur.  The conclusion (A) DOES NOT FOLLOW from premise (3).

However, we can repair this logically broken argument by adding an additional premise:

1. The witnesses were simple, honest, moral people.

2. The witnesses had firsthand knowledge of the facts.

THEREFORE:

3. The witnesses were qualified.

B. IF the witnesses were qualified, THEN the Hallucination Theory is false.

THEREFORE:

A. The Hallucination Theory is false.

Now the argument is more logical and is RELEVANT to the question at issue.  However, the additional premise (B) seems rather dubious, but I’m going to hold off on evaluating the argument until I have clarified it further.

Premise (3) is UNCLEAR because the subject of (3) is UNCLEAR and the predicate of (3) is UNCLEAR.  Before we can evaluate the sub-argument for premise (3), we need to understand what (3) means, and in order to understand what (3) means, we need to CLARIFY the subject of (3) and CLARIFY the predicate of (3):

  • Subject: “The witnesses”
  • Predicate: “were qualified”

 

THE MEANING OF THE PHRASE “THE WITNESSES” IN PREMISE (3)

The SUBJECT of premise (3) is “The Witnesses” and we can clarify WHO this expression is talking about based on the fact that this expression refers to “the witnesses” previously mentioned in Objection #1, and also based on the NT passages relevant to specific alleged appearances of the risen Jesus mentioned in Objection #1 (see the ADDENDUM at the bottom of this post for the details):

INDIVIDUALS

  • Mary Magdalene
  • James (the “brother” or cousin of Jesus)

GROUPS

  • the disciples minus Thomas
    • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
    • Andrew (Peter’s brother)
    • James (son of Zebedee)
    • John (son of Zebedee)
    • Philip
    • Bartholomew
    • Matthew
    • James (son of Alphaeus)
    • Simon (called the Zealot)
    • Judas (son of James)
  • the disciples including Thomas
    • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
    • Andrew (Peter’s brother)
    • James (son of Zebedee)
    • John (son of Zebedee)
    • Philip
    • Bartholomew
    • Matthew
    • Thomas
    • James (son of Alphaeus)
    • Simon (called the Zealot)
    • Judas (son of James)
  • two disciples at Emmaus
    • Cleopas
    • an unnamed disciple at Emmaus
  • the fishermen on the shore
    • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
    • James (son of Zebedee)
    • John (son of Zebedee)
    • Thomas
    • Nathanael (= Bartholomew?)
    • the beloved disciple (not one of “the twelve” disciples)
    • a second unnamed disciple by the Sea of Tiberias
  • five hundred people
    • unnamed males and females in an unknown location and with unknown religious and cultural backgrounds

 

In referring to these people as “The witnesses” Kreeft implies that each of these people was a “witness”, meaning that he is claiming that each of these people satisfies one of the following definitions of a “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.

What is the “something” about which these people can allegedly give a firsthand account?   To say that these people can give a firsthand account of an interaction with a physically resurrected Jesus would BEG THE QUESTION.  One cannot “give a firsthand account of an interaction with a physically resurrected Jesus” if Jesus remained dead and the experiences of these people were just hallucinations about Jesus.  Kreeft cannot ASSUME that the Hallucination Theory is false, and that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact, because that is precisely the issue that skeptics and Christians disagree about here.

The “something” that some people might be able to give a firsthand account about in this context is an experience had by one or more people which SEEMED to them to be an experience of a physical, living, and conscious Jesus.  Whether it is reasonable to accept this interpretation of such an experience is a separate question from whether such experiences were had by particular people in particular places at particular times.

An important question here is whether Kreeft is using the term “witnesses” in the sense of someone who could POTENTIALLY furnish evidence, sense (6a), or in the sense of someone who ACTUALLY furnished evidence, sense (6b).  This distinction makes a big difference in terms of whether Kreeft has any ACTUAL EVIDENCE against the Hallucination Theory.

 

THE MEANING OF THE PHRASE “WERE QUALIFIED” IN PREMISE (3)

The predicate of premise (3) is also UNCLEAR:  “were qualified”.  What the hell does that mean?  Presenting an argument to disprove the Hallucination Theory in just two brief sentences is IDIOTIC.  But it is even more IDIOTIC to assert as your main premise a statement that has such a VAGUE and UNCLEAR predicate as “were qualified”, and then provide ZERO explanation of what this means.

Presumably, Kreeft wants us to take these “witnesses” seriously; he wants us to believe the TESTIMONY of these witnesses, to BELIEVE what they have to say about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus.  So, my initial guess is that the term “qualified” is just a rather STUPID substitute for the clearer notion of credibility:

3a. The testimony of the witnesses is credible.

However,  I have noticed that William Craig, another Christian philosopher (who specializes in defending the beliefs that Jesus rose from the dead and that God raised Jesus from the dead), also uses the UNCLEAR term “qualified” in relation to “the witnesses” of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus:

Humphrey Ditton in his Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1712) argues that the apostles could not have been mistaken about the resurrection.    In the first place, the witnesses to the appearances were well qualified.  There were a great many witnesses, and they had personal knowledge of the facts over an extended period of forty days.      (Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, p.237)

Craig, like Kreeft, FAILS to define or clarify what the term “qualified” means here.  But Craig is just summarizing the reasoning of the Christian apologist Humphrey Ditton, so it appears that the use of the term “qualified” to characterize the various people who were “the witnesses” of alleged appearances of the risen Jesus goes back at least to early in the 18th century when Ditton published his case for the resurrection of Jesus.

 

DITTON AND THE MEANING OF THE UNCLEAR PHRASE “WERE QUALIFIED”

It is likely that premise (3) of Kreeft’s argument can be traced back to Ditton’s case for the resurrection, so we should look at how Ditton used the word “qualified” and see if his use of this word is any clearer than the UNCLEAR use of it by both Kreeft and Craig.

In looking over passages where Ditton uses the terms “qualifications” and “qualified” (actually “qualify’d” in Ditton’s 18th century English), it is clear that he was in fact talking about the CREDIBILITY of the TESTIMONY of witnesses.  Consider, for example, pages 162 through 164 of Ditton’s Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ On page 162, Ditton uses the phrase “credibility of testimony” three times, and uses the term “credible” to describe “testimony” three times:

On the very next page, Ditton uses the phrase “Qualifications and Conditions” as being what determines the “Degree of rational Credibility” of a particular instance of “Testimony”:

Note that the phrase “Credibility of Testimony” occurs four times and that the word “credible” occurs twice as a description of “Testimony” on the above page.

On page 164, Ditton is still clearly focused on the “Credibility of Testimony” but he uses the phrase “well qualify’d” to describe some “Witnesses”, again implying that the “qualifications” of witnesses help determine the CREDIBILITY of their testimony:

Furthermore, it is clear that Kreeft’s Objection #2 has historical roots in Ditton’s defense of the resurrection because the considerations briefly mentioned by Kreeft line up with some of Ditton’s reasons why we should take the “testimony” of the apostles (Jesus’ inner circle of disciples) about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus to be “credible”.  Recall the first premise of Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #2:

1. The witnesses were simple, honest, moral people.

Here is how William Craig summarizes Ditton’s reasoning on this question:

A second popular argument against the disciples’ being deceivers was that their character precludes them from being liars.  Humphrey Ditton observes that the apostles were simple, common men, not cunning deceivers.  They were men of unquestioned moral integrity and their proclamation of the resurrection was solemn and devout. …Finally, they were evidently sincere in what they proclaimed.  In the light of their character so described, asks Ditton bluntly, why not believe the testimony of these men?                    (Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, p.340-341)

Ditton asserted that the apostles were “simple”  and that they were “not cunning deceivers” (i.e. they were honest people) and that they had “moral integrity”. These are among the reasons Ditton gives as the basis for taking their TESTIMONY to be CREDIBLE.

Kreeft’s use of the odd and UNCLEAR term “qualified” to describe “the witnesses” of alleged appearances of a risen Jesus suggests that Objection #2 derives from Humphrey Ditton’s case for the resurrection, but in addition to that, the very reasons that Kreeft gives in support of his UNCLEAR sub-conclusion, premise (3), are the same as some of the reasons that Ditton gave in support of the CREDIBILITY of the TESTIMONY of the apostles, in Ditton’s case for the resurrection.  Clearly, Objection #2 has historical roots in Ditton’s argument about the CREDIBILITY of the TESTIMONY of witnesses who allegedly had experiences of a risen Jesus.

Because Keeft’s Objection #2 was derived from Ditton’s case for the resurrection of Jesus, it is reasonable to interpret premise (3) of Kreeft’s argument constituting this objection, in the way that I initially suggested prior to learning about the relationship between Kreeft’s objection and Ditton’s discussion about the credibility of the testimony of the apostles:

3a. The testimony of the witnesses is credible.

We can toss aside the VAGUE and UNCLEAR term “qualified” used by both Kreeft and Craig, and substitute the clearer idea about the CREDIBILITY of the TESTIMONY of a WITNESS,  because that was the focus of Ditton’s argument concerning witnesses of alleged appearances of a risen Jesus, and because Kreeft’s Objection #2 derives from Ditton’s argument on this question.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

*The image above of the quotation of Objection #1 is taken from a web page, and the web page mistakenly substituted the word “fisherman” for the word “fishermen”.

========================== 

ADDENDUM: FIGURING OUT THE PEOPLE REFERRED TO BY THE PHRASE “THE WITNESSES”

========================== 

The phrase “The witnesses” in premise (3) is a referring expression, and it refers back to the people that Kreeft was talking about in Objection #1:

The expression “The witnesses” in premise (3) refers to this list of people.  The list gives us only three named “witnesses”:

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Thomas (one of “the twelve” disciples)
  • James (the “brother” or cousin of Jesus)

This list also contains a number of expressions that need to be clarified:

  • the disciples minus Thomas
  • the disciples including Thomas
  • two disciples at Emmaus
  • the fishermen on the shore
  • five hundred people

Although Kreeft does not bother to clarify these expressions, those who are familiar with the New Testament can easily connect these expressions to specific stories or passages in the NT:

  • The expression “the disciples minus Thomas” is a reference to an appearance story found in the 4th Gospel (John 20:19-25).
  • The expression “the disciples including Thomas” is a reference to an appearance story found in the 4th Gospel (John 20:26-28).
  • The expression “two disciples at Emmaus” is a reference to an appearance story found in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13-32).
  • The expression “the fishermen on the shore” is a reference to an appearance story found in the 4th Gospel (John 21:1-14).
  • The expression “five hundred people” is a reference to the mention of an appearance found in one of Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

Unfortunately, the NT passage that corresponds to the phrase “the disciples minus Thomas” does NOT SPECIFY who “the disciples” were:

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
[…]
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:19-25).

However, this passage does hint at the meaning of the phrase “the disciples” by pointing out that Thomas was “one of the twelve”.  Presumably, “the disciples” includes other members of “the twelve”, making the absence of Thomas an exception.  According to the gospels, Jesus had selected TWELVE followers to be an inner circle of disciples.  So it seems like the expression “the disciples” in the above quote from Chapter 20 of John includes most of “the twelve” disciples who were selected by Jesus to be part of an inner circle of his followers. The Gospel of John, however, does not provide a list of “the twelve” disciples.  So, the phrase “the disciples” in this passage is an UNCLEAR reference.

But the Gospel of Luke has a similar story about Jesus appearing to some of his disciples in Jerusalem on the evening of the first Easter Sunday.  In Luke’s version, Thomas was present at this event, so Luke contradicts the appearance story in John.  In Luke’s account of this appearance “the eleven and their companions gathered together” in the evening of the first Easter (Luke 24:33).  The reference to “the eleven” by Luke is a reference to “the twelve” minus the disciple Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.  The Gospel of Luke, unlike the Gospel of John, provides a list of “the twelve” who made up the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, so we can use Luke’s list of “the twelve” to determine who at least some of “the disciples” were in the appearance stories found in Chapter 20 of John:

13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles:
14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew,
15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.                                 (Luke 6:13-15, NRSV)

We can remove Judas Iscariot, because he betrayed Jesus and thus was no longer part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples who (allegedly) gathered together in the evening on the first Easter, according to Luke:

  1. Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
  2. Andrew (Peter’s brother)
  3. James
  4. John
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew
  7. Matthew
  8. Thomas
  9. James (son of Alphaeus)
  10. Simon (called the Zealot)
  11. Judas (son of James)

According to the Gospel of John, Thomas was not present during this Easter Sunday event, so no more than ten of “the twelve” were present for this alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, based on the account in the Gospel of John.

Who were the “two disciples at Emmaus”?  The passage in Luke where this appearance story is found (Luke 24:13-32) only names one of the two disciples who allegedly saw the risen Jesus:

Cleopas (Luke 24:18).

Luke makes it clear, though, that neither of these two disciples was part of “the eleven” (Luke 24:33); neither of them had been selected by Jesus to be part of his inner circle of disciples.

Who were “the fishermen on the shore”? This phrase refers to an appearance story found in the 4th Gospel (John 21:1-14). In this story, the author of the 4th Gospel provides more information about who was present:

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.  (John 24: 1-2)

Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, and the sons of Zebedee are part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples.  The “sons of Zebedee” are “James” and “John” mentioned third and fourth in the above list of disciples by Luke.

Additionally, in this group of fishermen, we have “Nathanael of Cana in Galilee” and “two others of his disciples”.  Who were these other people?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus specifically calls Nathanael to be his disciple, so the Gospel of John makes it seem that Nathanael was one of the twelve disciples, one of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples.  However, none of the lists of “the twelve” include the name “Nathanael”.  One plausible hypothesis is that “Nathanael” is the same person as “Bartholomew”.  There are a few reasons that support this hypothesis.  First, the Gospel of John never mentions a “Bartholomew”.  Second, “Bartholomew” means “son of Ptolemy” which implies that this disciple had another name, a first name. Third, the first two names in Luke’s list of “the twelve” are brothers: Peter and Andrew, and the second two names in Luke’s list are also brothers:  John and James (the sons of Zebedee), so it might well be that the next two names in Luke’s list were also brothers (or close friends): Philip and Bartholomew.  In the story in the Gospel of John where Jesus calls Nathanael to become his disciple, there is an indication that Philip and Nathanael were close to each other (see John 1:3-51).  So, I think it is reasonable to assume that the “Bartholomew” mentioned in Luke is the same person as “Nathanael” mentioned in the 4th Gospel, and thus that Nathanael was one of “the eleven”, part of the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples.

What about the “two others of his disciples” who were among “the fishermen at the shore”?  One of them was Jesus’ “beloved disciple” (John 21:20).  There is much debate and disagreement over who this person was, but the evidence is fairly clear that this person was NOT among “the eleven”.  The beloved disciple appears to be a follower of Jesus from Jerusalem or near Jerusalem, not from Galilee.  The 4th Gospel was probably written by disciples of “the beloved disciple” a follower of Jesus who founded a Christian church or community in the first century.

So, “the fishermen on the shore” refers to the following group of people:

  • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
  • James (son of Zebedee)
  • John (son of Zebedee)
  • Thomas
  • Nathanael (= Bartholomew?)
  • the beloved disciple (not one of “the twelve” disciples)
  • a second unnamed disciple (by the Sea of Tiberias)

Who were “the five hundred” people who allegedly experienced an appearance of the risen Jesus? We don’t know the name of a single person in “the five hundred”.  We don’t know where these people were when this event took place.  We don’t know whether any or all of them were Jewish followers of Jesus or non-Jewish Christian believers at the time this “appearance” happened. We know virtually NOTHING about “the five hundred” because there is only one brief sentence about them in one of the letters of Paul:

6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.  (1 Corinthians 15:6)

The phrase “brothers and sisters” here does not mean biological siblings; it means male and female Christian believers.  Paul does not say whether some, most, or all of these people were already Christian believers when this alleged “appearance” of Jesus took place.

The SUBJECT of premise (3) is “The Witnesses” and we can now clarify who this expression is talking about.  It is talking about two individuals and five groups of people:

INDIVIDUALS

  • Mary Magdalene
  • James (the “brother” or cousin of Jesus)

GROUPS

  • the disciples minus Thomas
    • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
    • Andrew (Peter’s brother)
    • James
    • John
    • Philip
    • Bartholomew
    • Matthew
    • James (son of Alphaeus)
    • Simon (called the Zealot)
    • Judas (son of James)
  • the disciples including Thomas
    • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
    • Andrew (Peter’s brother)
    • James
    • John
    • Philip
    • Bartholomew
    • Matthew
    • Thomas
    • James (son of Alphaeus)
    • Simon (called the Zealot)
    • Judas (son of James)
  • two disciples at Emmaus
    • Cleopas
    • an unnamed disciple at Emmaus
  • the fishermen on the shore
    • Simon (whom Jesus named Peter)
    • James (son of Zebedee)
    • John (son of Zebedee)
    • Thomas
    • Nathanael (= Bartholomew?)
    • the beloved disciple (not one of “the twelve” disciples)
    • a second unnamed disciple by the Sea of Tiberias
  • five hundred people
    • unnamed males and females in an unknown location and with unknown background(s)

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