menu

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 13: Two Problems with Eyewitness Testimony

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 13: Two Problems with Eyewitness Testimony November 21, 2021

WHERE WE ARE

I am currently examining Peter Kreeft’s third objection against the Hallucination Theory.  His first three objections are all concerned with the TESTIMONY of WITNESSES, namely EYEWITNESSES.  The first three objections by Kreeft thus evoke the centuries-old idea of proving the resurrection of Jesus in a court trial.  If we take that idea seriously, though, Kreeft’s first three objections become a pathetic joke.  

Objection #3 is about “Five Hundred Witnesses” who supposedly had an experience of the risen Jesus at the same time and the same place.

In Part 12 of this series, I began taking this idea (of a court trial about the resurrection) seriously, by walking through modern criteria for a careful and proper “initial investigation” of a murder (or other serious crime).  Witnesses in a murder trial are not just randomly grabbed off the street and put on a witness stand.  There is usually an initial investigation, where the crime scene is carefully examined and evidence collected and documented, and where witnesses are usually identified and briefly questioned by a police officer or by a detective, and later there is usually a follow-up investigation where witnesses are interviewed further by a detective.

So, before a witness ever takes the stand, both the prosecution and the defense have access to notes and recordings of previous interviews of the witnesses, sometimes two or three interviews of a witness, and so the lawyers have a good idea of what the witnesses will say when they testify, and they have a good idea of the credibility that the testimony of each witness will have.

Before I continue with a discussion about what a careful and proper “follow-up investigation” involves, and whether any such investigation took place relative to the alleged event where five hundred people had an experience of an alleged appearance of Jesus,  I want to point out two major problems with EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY:

  • Human memory is UNRELIABLE
  • Humans are DISHONEST

 

EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY IS UNRELIABLE BECAUSE HUMAN MEMORY IS UNRELIABLE

Professional detectives have been working at solving murders and other serious crimes since the mid-1800s.  So, why did the Department of Justice think law enforcement needed new guidelines for careful and proper investigation of murders and other serious crimes around 1998?  One big motivation is that many people who were convicted of murder and other serious crimes on the basis of EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY were later proven to be INNOCENT by the use of DNA evidence.  This had become a serious concern by that time:

An excellent article on the unreliability of human memory is Eyewitness Testimony and Memory Biases by Cara Laney and Elizabeth F. Loftus.  The main conclusion of this article is that eyewitness testimony is NOT reliable:

Notice some of the different ways that eyewitness memory can be corrupted:

a. leading questions
b. misinterpretation of events
c. conversations with co-witnesses
d. the expectations of the witness for what should have happened

 

If an eyewitness is exposed to misinformation after the event (e.g. in a misleading question) that can corrupt the memory of the eyewitness (This is known as the “misinformation effect”):

 

Discussions of an event between eyewitnesses to the event increase the Misinformation Effect:

This article also describes a study in which a group of people is shown a brief video, but because of the use of polarized glasses, they actually are watching two different versions of the video, some in the group see one video, and others see a video that has some significant differences from the first one.  The subjects are asked to answer a dozen memory questions about the movie after discussing those questions with each other, and then to answer another twenty questions on their own.  Four of the dozen questions that the subjects discuss together are about details that differed between the two versions of the video, and eight of the twenty questions that they answered individually are about details that differed between the two versions of the video.  There was a significant impact on the reliability of memory on the questions that were discussed by the group prior to answering those questions:

False memories of events that did not happen can be implanted into a person’s mind fairly easily:

More recent experiments have shown that false memories can be created in a significant portion of the subjects and in some experiments, false memories were created in most of the subjects.  In one study, subjects were exposed to advertisements about Disneyland that featured the cartoon character Bugs Bunny being present at Disneyland.  As a result, some subjects became convinced that they had personally seen the Bugs Bunny character at Disneyland, but that cannot have actually happened, because Bugs Bunny is a Warner Brothers cartoon and has never been a Disney cartoon character nor a character portrayed at Disneyland.

This article also discusses the unreliability of eyewitness identification of culprits.  This is relevant to the claim that hundreds of eyewitnesses experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, because in order for a person to claim to have seen the risen Jesus, that person must have IDENTIFIED a person (or an experienced visual image of a person) as being Jesus of Nazareth.  The evidential value of such testimony is based upon that IDENTIFICATION.  Merely seeing a person in town or in a church service is of no significance to the question at issue if that person was NOT Jesus of Nazareth.  So, the reliability or unreliability of eyewitness IDENTIFICATION of persons is of direct relevance to the claim that hundreds of people experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.

There are a number of factors that often lead to UNRELIABLE eyewitness IDENTIFICATIONS:

Let’s consider the above factors in relation to the claim that hundreds of people experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus:

a. poor vision
b. poor viewing conditions
c. stressful witnessing experiences
d. too little time to view the person who needs to be identified
e. too much delay between witnessing and identifying
f. being asked to identify a person from a race other than the race of the witness

a. Did an objective investigator determine for each one of the alleged eyewitnesses whether he/she had good vision or poor vision?

There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have tracked down hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses and inquired about the quality of their vision.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator checked on the vision of hundreds of witnesses to an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  In any case, we have no information about the quality of the vision of the hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses.

b. Did an objective investigator determine whether the viewing conditions at the time and place of this event were good or bad viewing conditions?

There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the quality of viewing conditions that existed at the time and place of this alleged event.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated the quality of viewing conditions that existed at the time and place of this alleged event.  In any case, we have no information about the viewing conditions at the time and place of this alleged event.

c. Did an objective investigator determine that the circumstances for these hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses during the event were NOT stressful circumstances for them?

There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the circumstances during the event to determine whether they were stressful circumstances for the alleged eyewitnesses.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated the psychological circumstances of the alleged eyewitnesses that existed at the time and place of this alleged event.  In any case, we have no information about the psychological circumstances of the eyewitnesses at the time and place of this alleged event.

Presumably, there was no threat of violence at the time, like there would be in the case of witnessing a murder.  However, if this event took place during a Christian worship service, there might well have been significant emotional factors at the time of this event.  Early Christians often spoke in tongues and “prophesied” and performed faith healings.  Early Christian worship was probably more like Pentacostal worship than the calm and well-ordered worship services in Catholic and mainstream protestant Churches that we see today.  So, if this event took place during a Christian worship service, which seems likely, then there might well have been a great intensity of religious fervor and emotion that would have impacted both the interpretations of the eyewitnesses and their memories of this event.

d. Did an objective investigator determine whether there was enough time or too little time to view the key person who was identified (namely the person who was thought to be the risen Jesus)?

There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the amount of time that each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person who they believed to be the risen Jesus.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated whether there was enough time or too little time to view the person who was thought to be the risen Jesus.

In any case, we have no information about how long each of the hundreds of witnesses “saw” or experienced this alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  It could have lasted for just one second, or just a few seconds, or for a minute, or a few minutes, or for longer.  We just don’t know.

e. Did an objective investigator determine for each alleged eyewitness whether there was too long of a delay between seeing this person (or experiencing an image of a person) and identifying that person as being Jesus of Nazareth?

There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated the amount of time between when each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person in question and the time when that witness concluded that this person was  Jesus of Nazareth.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated the amount of time between when each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person in question and the time when they concluded that this person was  Jesus of Nazareth.

In any case, we have no information about the amount of time between when each of the hundreds of witnesses viewed the person in question and the time when that witness concluded that this person was  Jesus of Nazareth.  Some people might have immediately concluded that the person was Jesus of Nazareth, other people may have drawn this conclusion an hour after the event, some may have drawn the conclusion a day later, a week later, or a month later.  We just don’t know.

There were no photographs or videos or line-ups of suspects to view later.   So, there was NEVER a formal identification in the way that IDENTIFICATION occurs in modern criminal investigations.  There were no pictures of Jesus to show to the alleged eyewitnesses, and there was no physical Jesus of Nazareth available to put into a lineup of similar-looking Jewish peasants.  So, modern standards and processes of IDENTIFICATION could NOT have taken place for this event.

However, some or all of the alleged eyewitnesses might not have identified the person in question as being Jesus of Nazareth immediately, during the event.  If a witness did NOT immediately recognize the person in question as being Jesus of Nazareth, then there was a gap in time between seeing this person (or experiencing an image of a person) and IDENTIFYING that person as being Jesus.  In those cases, it would be important to know HOW LONG that gap of time was between seeing and identifying.  We have no information about whether there was such a gap in time between seeing and identifying, no information about how many witnesses experienced a delay between seeing and identifying, and no information about how long this gap of time was for each of the various hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses.  We just don’t know.

f. Did an objective investigator determine for each of the hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses whether Jesus of Nazareth was from a race other than the race of the witness?

There probably was no objective investigator of this event.  Furthermore, even if there were an objective investigator, it seems unlikely that this investigator would have carefully investigated whether Jesus of Nazareth was from a race other than the race of the witness.  This is a concern based on the modern scientific study of problems with eyewitness identificatiton.  So, it is very unlikely that an objective investigator carefully investigated whether Jesus of Nazareth was from a race other than the race of the witness.

In any case, we have no information about the race, or races, of the alleged eyewitnesses.  We just don’t know their race or races.  These alleged eyewitnesses might well have all been Greeks or Romans who had converted to Christianity, and thus none of them would have been Palestinian Jews.  In that case, their identifications of a man as being Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Palestinian Jew, would be suspect.

There is one very important factor that has not been touched on by the article on problems with eyewitness memory: prior familiarity with the person in question.

g. Did an objective investigator determine for each of the hundreds of alleged eyewitnesses whether they had previously seen and met Jesus of Nazareth before he died?

This is the crucial problem with Paul’s testimony about his alleged experience of an appearance of the risen Jesus.  Paul never met the historical Jesus prior to Jesus’ death.   So, Paul was in no position to correctly and reliably IDENTIFY any person as being Jesus of Nazareth.  Paul’s testimony, the only firsthand testimony that we have, of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus is WORTHLESS because Paul did not know what Jesus looked like.

So, an absolutely crucial question about these alleged hundreds of eyewitnesses of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus is whether ANY of them had seen and met Jesus of Nazareth before Jesus died.  If these people did not live in Palestine, then it is unlikely that they had seen and met Jesus of Nazareth before he died.  In that case, their eyewitness IDENTIFICATION of the man who appeared to them in this event as being Jesus of Nazareth would be WORTHLESS, and thus their testimony, like Paul’s testimony, would be WORTHLESS.  The fact that they saw some person who they believed to be Jesus of Nazareth would NOT provide significant evidence that this person was in fact Jesus of Nazareth.

 

CONCLUSION

It is becoming more and more clear that the analogy with a court trial shows the “eyewitness” evidence for the resurrection of Jesus to be a pathetic joke.   If we compare modern murder investigations by professional detectives and the court trials that depend on those investigations with the evidence offered by Christian apologists, it becomes painfully obvious that the evidence they provide is extremely weak and dubious, nowhere even close to being the sort of strong evidence needed to establish the occurrence of a supernatural event or miracle.

Eyewitnesses in a murder trial are not simply pulled off the street and put onto the witness stand.  The crime scene and witnesses of the crime are initially investigated by a professional police officer and/or homicide detective, and key witnesses are investigated and interviewed again in more depth by a professional detective, and this initial gathering of information and testimony occurs prior to any court trial, prior to any witness being called to testify.  By considering modern criminal investigations and court trials, especially concerning serious crimes like murder, we can clearly see that there is no serious chance that an actual court trial would ever lead to the verdict that Jesus rose from the dead.

"You did NOT answer my question. Often when people FAIL to answer simple and direct ..."

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part ..."
"But if we can use the second approach to conclude that as far as we ..."

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part ..."
"I think what you are asking is this:If we assume that there was a widespread ..."

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part ..."
"It's worth noting that "eye witness accounts" must be spoken and subsequently written at or ..."

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part ..."

Browse Our Archives