Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Resurrection and Hallucinations

The Resurrection & Hallucinations

This past Easter Sunday I read something on the resurrection of Jesus. Gary Habermas is a specialist in resurrection studies and he teamed up with medical doctor Joseph Bergeron to look at the claims that the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus can be explained naturalistically in terms of psychiatric processes.

Their essay is entitled: "The Resurrection of Jesus: A Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter" Irish Theological Quarterly (2015)--available online: The Resurrection of Jesus: A Clinical Review of Psychiatric Hypotheses for the Biblical Story of Easter 

Habermas and Bergeron look at a number of psychiatric hypotheses: hallucinations, conversions disorder, and bereavement-related visions. What is unique to their paper is that they examine these hypotheses in relation to current medical literature. I want to focus attention on just the issue of hallucinations.

Many times a historian or theologian will allege that what the disciples experienced were hallucinations but there is little to no interaction with the medical understanding of hallucinations. By examining the medical literature on these matters Habermas and Bergeron are able to assess whether the hallucination hypothesis actually fits the evidence we have.

Here are a few pieces from their essay:

"It is noteworthy that hallucinations are private experiences. Hallucination hypotheses, therefore, are unable to explain the disciples' simultaneous group encounters with the resurrected Jesus. While some may consider the disciples' post-crucifixion group encounters with the resurrected Jesus as collective simultaneous hallucinations, such an explanation is far outside mainstream clinical thought. What are the odds that separate individuals in a group could experience simultaneous and identical psychological phenomena mixed with hallucinations? This is a non sequitur. Concordantly, the concept of collective-hallucination is not found in peer reviewed medical and psychological literature."

"The proposed hallucination hypotheses are naive in the light of medical and psychiatric pathognomic considerations. Those suffering illnesses characterized by hallucinations are sick. They require medical and psychosocial support, a structured environment, pharmacological support, and behavioural treatment. Persons suffering from psychosis in Jesus' time, not having benefit of modern medical treatment, might well be considered lunatics or demon possessed (e.g., Matt 4:24). They would be unlikely candidates to organize as a group and implement the rapid and historic widespread expansion of the Christian religion during the first century."

"Further, if Jesus' tomb had been found empty, as a majority of scholars now concur was the case, this would be an additional factor counting against a purely psychiatric hypothesis for the biblical account of Easter."

Habermas and Bergeron also examine "conversion disorders" as well as "bereavement-related visions" and conclude, in light of current medical understanding, such views are "clinically implausible and historically unconvincing." This, of course, doesn't "prove" the resurrection but it does remove one attempted avenue to explain it away as a mere psychological process.