Tom Gilson

The Resurrection: An Unlikely Ally

Daniel Dennett, one of the four most prominent “New Atheists,” is no proponent of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The hallucination theory to explain Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances is no longer held by many scholars. Nevertheless there are exceptions to this, including Gerd Lüdemann (detailed further here). In Consciousness Explained, however, Dennett says on page 7,

Another conclusion it seems we can draw from this is that strong hallucinations are simply impossible! By a strong hallucination I mean a hallucination of an apparently concrete and persisting three-dimensional object in the real world—as contrasted to flashes, geometric distortions, auras, afterimages, fleeting phantom-limb experiences, and other anomalous sensations. A strong hallucination would be, say, a ghost that talked back, that permitted you to touch it, that resisted with a sense of solidity, that cast a shadow, that was visible from any angle so that you might walk around it and see what its back looked like.

(See the full argument here; go to page one if it doesn’t open directly there) Based on Dennett’s analysis, then, hallucinations cannot explain the events in Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:13-48, John 20:24-28, or John 21:4-19.

See Gary Habermas for more on hallucination theories.

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13 thoughts on “The Resurrection: An Unlikely Ally

  1. Yes, the hallucination theory is, and always has been, pretty silly; but, is it really any sillier than the traditional Christian theory that Jesus used “magic” to raise himself from the dead? I would say both theories are pretty ridiculous.

  2. Well, it’s nice to agree on something, Jordan!

    Yes, a theory that Jesus used “magic” to raise himself from the dead is pretty ridiculous. I’m glad to see we’re tracking together on this.

  3. From your previous post on Bill Craig:

    [Did you know] … That the tide of New Testament scholarship has turned in the past few decades, and now the majority of scholars, believers and skeptics alike, acknowledge that the New Testament can be trusted in its accounts of several basic facts regarding Christ’s life, death, and even his post-death (resurrection) appearances?

    From this on Dan Dennett we know that hallucinations do not make for convincing post-Resurrection appearances.

    This doesn’t leave much by way of options.

  4. Also from your previous post on the Craig book…

    If, however, I have an unmistakable personal experience of God, and if (a) my interpretation of that experience is not defeated by other knowledge and (b) other knowledge such as may be available to me supports that conclusion, then I am rational to take it to be an unmistakable experience of God.

  5. Looks like Joe Eszterhas of Basic Instinct fame had a similar vision recently.

    But he felt an overwhelming peace. His heart stopped pounding. His hands stopped twitching. He saw a “shimmering, dazzling, nearly blinding brightness that made me cover my eyes with my hands.”

    Like Saul on the road to Damascus, Mr. Eszterhas had been blinded by God. He stood up, wiped his eyes, and walked back home a new man.

  6. The use of the word “events” begs the question. The hallucination theory need only explain the stories in Matthew 28:9-10, Luke 24:13-48, John 20:24-28, or John 21:4-19. Thirty to sixty years of retelling is more than sufficient to exaggerate a normal hallucination into a “strong hallucination.”

  7. Vinny, that’s not a hallucination theory, that’s a faith-community-legend theory. This post’s point was that the hallucination theory does not explain the accounts as recorded.

  8. I am not familiar with anyone who tries to explain the accounts as recorded with a hallucination theory. I have always understood the theory to be that the original visionary experiences were considerably different than what was eventually recorded in the gospels. It seems to me that you may be setting up a straw man hallucination theory.

  9. I can appreciate your concern, Vinny. Please see the original post:

    The hallucination theory to explain Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances is no longer held by many scholars. Nevertheless there are exceptions to this…

    I did not say it was commonly held in this form.

  10. Hi Tom,
    I commend you on what seems almost like a minimalist approach that you are able to take with a lot of these issues. It’s so exhausting to try to make and defend every case every time.
    Your patience in making one point, setting one pillar, at a time is encouraging.

  11. I looked at the link you provided for Ludemann. It was rather sketchy but it did not strike me that he was trying to explain the accounts as reported.

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