False Theories of the Resurrection. Part #3: Why the Hallucination Theory Comes Up Short

The Hallucination Theory asserts that the disciples and other followers were so emotionally involved with Jesus that they only had a hallucination of Him rising from the dead. This theory further holds that Christ’s post-resurrection appearances were only supposed appearances. 

As a result, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ are dismissible. The Hallucination Theory misses the mark as a suitable alternative to Jesus’ resurrection as it fails to adequately handle matters such as the number of witness accounts, medical truths related to hallucinations, and the lack of explanation of other resurrection facts. 

 The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus were numerous and took place in different locations lasting for varying amounts of time. Jesus appeared “when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19) and “showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). Mary Magdalene, supposing Jesus to be a gardener, was confronted with the reality of the risen Lord after arriving at the tomb early Sunday morning. He told her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God” (John 20:17). She then went and told the disciples what He had told her. 

 The disciples were not the only ones on record as having seen the risen Christ. The Apostle Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ was “…seen by James, then by all the apostles” (v.7), and separately “…last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (v.8). Paul discloses that many of those to whom Christ had personally appeared were still alive, which presented a challenge to his readers to verify their claims. The appearances of Christ lasted too long for them to be a hallucination. Hallucinations usually last for seconds or minutes, rarely for hours. 1 Luke records one such extended appearance, “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Likely the greatest challenge to the Hallucination Theory is the fact that Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred brethren at once” (1 Corinthians 15:6). Clinical psychologists suggest that the most formidable obstacle for the hallucination theory to overcome is its failure to explain appearances to groups of people:

I have surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent.  

William Dembski, Evidence for God; 50 Arguments for Faith From the Bible

Psychologist Gary Collins was no less clear when he remarked:

Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people. Neither is it possible that one person could somehow induce a hallucination in somebody else. Since a hallucination exists only in this subjective, personal sense, it is obvious that others cannot witness it. And yet, Jesus not only appeared to numerous individuals but to groups, as well—and on numerous occasions.

Dr. Gary Collins, Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: Hallucination

A hallucination may explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it does not explain the empty tomb, the rolled away stone, and Roman and Jewish officials’ inability to produce the body of Jesus Christ. Writing on the certainty of the resurrection, C.S. Lewis offered:

Any theory of hallucination breaks down on the fact (and if it is invention [rather than fact], it is the oddest invention hat ever entered the mind of man) that on three separate occasions this hallucination was not immediately recognized as Jesus. Even granting that God sent a holy hallucination to teach truths already widely believed without it, and far more easily taught by other methods, and certain to be completely obscured by this, might we not at least hope that He would get the face of the hallucination right? Is He who made all faces such a bungler that He cannot even work up a recognizable likeness of the Man who was Himself?

Peter Kreeft, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions

1 Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers  to Crucial Questions. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994. Print.

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