Monday, October 31, 2011

Do Poltergeists exist outside of the movies?

To start this post off- I'd like to say happy Halloween to all my readers. If you are going out for Halloween, or assisting someone else in going out, than I salute you. Not enough people are celebrating this truly brilliant holiday anymore, and that makes me very sad. On the upside, I'll be able to dress up as Elder Price this year, since it's not like any kids will see me.

Anyways, to get back on track, this post is about Poltergeists. Poltergeists, which translate to "noisy ghosts" in German, are pretty much just that- evil ghosts that have nothing better to do than screw around with the living, by lingering around their homes and breaking things. Now, haunted houses have always been great settings for horror movies- from classics like Poltergeist to, well, The house that drips blood on Alex. Of course, the purpose of this post isn't to talk about my favorite horror films. The purpose is to determine whether Poltergeists are strong evidence for the supernatural or not.

Now before I begin, I'd keep in mind, as the Skeptics dictionary does, that there are too many of these events to look into- so don't expect a comprehensive debunking of every Poltergeist ever reported. However, we can certainly look into the similarities of each Poltergeist case, and see if plausible natural hypothesis can be administered to each and every one of them. Anyways, here are the three most common things that occur during Poltergeists: Objects moving on there own, Supernatural noises and Cold spots.

Now, we all know that cold spots are common, and often caused by completely natural phenomena. For instance, old houses often have drafts. This theory works well since the vast majority of Poltergeist cases happened at least 100 years ago, thus in old houses. Of course, someone could also have left a window open, or just had the placebo effect due to the fear of being in a "haunted house". The same applys to the supernatural noises. We must not forget the power of the imagination. Of course, people could hear strange sounds from outside their homes, and interpret them as being from paranormal agents inside. We must keep in mind that laymen and paranormal investigators usually lack the scientific expertise to properly identify strange sounds.

This bring us to our final occurrence- the moving of furniture "on it's own". Various alternatives have been given- such as strong drafts, electro magnetic feilds, high-frequency radio signals, and even simple explainations like loose bolts and phone cords. Hallucinations are often commonly associated to these experiences as well. Others think that they are caused by some kind of negative psychological energy like Dr. William Roll- although this view seems to be rejected by most Ghost hunters and scientists alike. However- I think the best explanation for most cases of this phenomena is usually fraud. For one thing, one has to wonder why the families experiencing these events are so contempt to stick around for the show. I'd assume that a rational person would run the hell away, and call a paranormal detective after they were a safe distance away. After all- some Poltergeist victims claim the Poltergeists were trying to kill them!

Of course, this reason alone isn't why I think most cases are frauds. It's also the fact that so many cases actually were frauds. The Amityville Poltergeist and the Columbus Poltergeist are good examples of very popular Poltergeists that turned out to be frauds. Even the Amherst Poltergeist and Enfield Poltergeist are now considered to be frauds by many Psychologists. Keep in mind that all these Poltergeists were, at a time, considered the best cases ever documented. One of the reasons why these people are motivated to do what they do is because of the media attention- although historically there have been many strange motives behind these events. In the case of The Columbus Poltergeist, the teenage daughter, Tina Resch, was caught on tape hoaxing the investigaters. James Randi investigated the case, and discovered that Tina was not only adopted, but using the media coverage to find her long lost parents. She was also arrested for killing her own children several years later.

Of course, Paranormal enthusiasts have always claimed that these were perhaps only partially faked. It seems possible. However, we have to ask ourselves- why did these families find the need to exaggerate their claims? Could it be because, perhaps, their original claims just weren't that good to begin with? Also, keep in mind that the media also exaggerates an awful lot in order to make these cases more marketable. For instance, only a handful of people could testify for all the huge claims that were made during the Amherst Poltergeist- and of them, I don't think any one claim had more than one witness. I know that Amherst happened over a hundred years ago- but really, we are talking about a case in which a church got possessed at one point. The whole thing had been all but invented by the media and a few unreliable witness'.

As a final thought, many Poltergeists may also be caused by a phenomena called Dissociation. Dr Walter F. Prince, for instance, makes the case for Dissociation as the cause of the Amherst Poltergeist. Dissociation is an altered state of consciousness in which you act without having any memory of it. In a way, it is kind of like amnesia- and often goes hand in hand with it. And of course, other explanations most certainly exist that I haven't looked into, and more will come into existence in time. Keep in mind that most serious Scientists and Psychologists still haven't reached a view in favor of these being authentic. As a matter of fact- paranormal studies as a whole have been on the decline since the 80's (see here), due to the criticism it's recieved by other, real scientists. Most of them believe that the evidence for the paranormal is most certainly bloated by the media, by the victims' active imaginations, and by mankinds supernatural expectations- just as I do.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: Lack of Veneration and Early Jewish Polemic

Here are two more arguments in favor of the empty tomb. The first one states that, because the tomb was not venerated, Jesus' remains were not in it; therefore, it was found empty. I have always been confused by this line of reasoning, since it is ultimately an argument from silence. As Allison rightly points out in his book, the early church may have very well venerated Jesus' remains at some point in time. Also, according to other scholars like Maurice Casey, veneration wasn't only about honoring the corpse- it was also about honoring the site of the burial. With that said, this argument can be flipped on its head and used against the empty tombs historicity! For even James Dunn admits that the lack of veneration is simply "striking". It seems to me that, even if there was no body to venerate, the early Church would at least want to preserve the location of the tomb to use as evidence. After all, this is what William Lane Craig seems to believe when he uses the early Jewish Polemic argument.

Which brings us to our other argument, the argument from early Jewish Polemic. This argument relies on Matt 28:11-15:

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

This passage is supposed to recall a controversy in which the ancient Jews claimed that Jesus body was stolen. In response to this claim, the early Christian movement decided to add this rather absurd story to their Gospel. However, the point is that the Jews aknowledged that his tomb was empty when formulating their naturalistic alternative, rather than stating that his body was still in the tomb. Now obviously this argument can be countered by stating the obvious fact that we have no idea when this controversy took place. It could have been a very recent one, originating just after Mark's Gospel and before Matthew's. This would make sense, considering that it doesn't appear in Mark and only appears in Matthew. Also, because the story doesn't appear anywhere else, it seems probable that the controversy was small and perhaps not representative of what most Jews thought. Perhaps there were skeptics of the empty tomb who never had a chance to get their opinion written down.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: The Women as witnesses

Any critic of the empty tomb is probably aware of this argument. The way it goes is to first argue that women were considered to be sub-par when compared to men, at least in terms of testimony. The second point is to argue that, with this consideration in mind, the Gospel writers would have had no reason to make women discover Jesus' empty tomb first- unless women really did discover the empty tomb first. Now, most critics will not bother with the first part of the argument. As Licona would say, it is "part of our historical bedrock". The second point is the one that Critics attack.

One of the common skeptical responses to this argument is that the Women may have had a symbolic reason to have been included in the story. Anyone who has read David Straus (or Ehrman's Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium) should be aware of his theory- that certain events of the New Testament are "true", even though they never happened. In other words, they were meant to be taken metaphorically, not literally. This makes a few of Jesus' miracles make sense, like the raising of Lazarus- which would undoubtedly appear in all four Gospels if it were historical. Proponents will say that the women were part of a "reversal of expectation" motif- in which the lowliest of the low found God- while the rich and even Jesus' own disciples were clueless and didn't get it. This view is certainly possible- although as you can see, it largely depends on whether you think the Gospels were intended to be literal history or not. I know that ancient biographies commonly included miracle claims- but anything further is beyond my expertise to comment on.

Another common response to this argument is that the inventor of the story had no choice but to make women discover the empty tomb, since they were the only ones left in Jerusalem. The Disciples all fled, remember? The counter argument to this, though, is that if someone were to have invented the story- they would have invented a male disciple whole cloth before they'd allow a woman to find the tomb. They could also have made Joseph of Amirathea find the empty tomb- at least in the later Gospels, where Joseph was elevated to the role of "secret disciple". Despite it's shortcomings, however, this argument can easily be combined with the above one to increase it's explanatory power.

A third scenario, proposed by the late scholar Michael Goulder, was that the story of women finding the empty tomb could've been invented by the early church to explain why the empty tomb wasn't previously known- because the women messed it up by running away and "telling nobody". This scenario has some force, since it at least tries to explain why the Gospel of Mark ends with the Women running away, telling no one "because they were afraid". However- there are many scholars who believe that the Gospel of Mark does, in fact, have an original ending- one that is missing, and will probably never be found again. Also, another argument against this hypothesis is that, had this account been made up, the real Mary and anyone who knew her would have spoken out. Sadly, I can't really comment on this since I don't know much about the politics of the early church. I do question, though, whether she could have reacted to the story. Mary probably died before Marks Gospel was completed (considering the very short lifespans of ancient Jews), and her family and friends could have been either totally unaware of the stories existence- or have been far too old or weak to speak out against it. Women were considered inferior to men, remember?

Although these three scenarios are the most popular ones, Maurice Casey came up with a new, more powerful scenario that may account for the Women discovering the empty tomb. Casey argues in his book that a vision of an empty tomb was what started the belief in Jesus' resurrection, not a real event. A vision from none other than Mary herself! This idea certainly sounds weird at first- but keep in mind that visionaries were quite common in Jesus' time, and that they were often Women. This alternative scenario certainly looks possible- but I have yet to see any scholars critically evaluate it in depth. If you want to know more, read the book, as well as this review of it here.

The argument for the empty tomb via the testimony of female disciples is defiantly the strongest argument in support of the empty tomb. If you must know, this argument is the reason I remain agnostic on the matter. With that said, I think that every other argument in support of the empty tomb is nowhere near as good as this one, and next week, I will explain why.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dawkins VS. Craig

This Thursday, Richard Dawkins finally revealed to the world why he won't debate William Lane Craig. Word got out quickly, and within a few days every big-named Theist/Atheist blogger started talking about it. It seems like this is the biggest news since Flew's conversion to Deism. My only question is- why? Why do Theists want to see it happen- and why do we Atheists want to prevent it? Sorry- but I think that Craig being an "apologist for genocide" is hardly a sufficient reason. I have a hypothesis- but even I don't like it. I think it might be at least partially true. I think that the reason people are so worked up about it is that- simply put- this debate will make Atheists look really, really bad. See- the common Atheist is usually quite a fan of Richard Dawkins. Likewise, the common Theist tries to avoid him. They see him as a bully and, misfortunately, representative of Atheism. So imagine what will happen if ignorant Theists and Atheists watch this debate. Yes- a lot of doubt will emerge amongst the doubters, and faith amongst the faithful.

Now, this explanation may seem strange- but I can't help but put it out. Atheists are already disliked quite a bit in the public sphere. I remember the first time I told someone that I was an Atheist.Surprisingly, their first reaction was one of disgust, since atheism was apparently "loud and obnoxious". I don't even think I bothered correcting him. I was more surprised that this is what common Theists believe- that we Atheists are all the same.

 And apparently, it's not just common, uneducated Theists that think this way. Just look at this article, which is actually written by an Oxford research fellow, and printed by a reputable Newspaper. In it, the author writes an annoying diatribe about how bad Dawkins is and how great Craig is. Now- I understand the author, undoubtedly a Christian, wants revenge- I mean, Dawkins has been calling them delusional for many years. However, that's not what his concluding remark suggests:
 "In Craig, Dawkins met his match. Like Jonah, he was confronted by the truth and he ran away."
Hold on a second- the truth? Why is that? Is Christianity so obviously correct that the rest of the world is just simply delusional? This is sounding exactly the same as the New Atheist message! Now, I don't know if this is a joke or something- but he ought to know that non-Christians of all creeds and beliefs will find this comment belittling and degrading. And if that bit sickened you, imagine how much worse it would be if Dawkins actually did debate Craig and lost!

So all in all, I really don't know whether this debate will be good for Atheism in general. After all, it could knock some sense into those rebellious New Atheist teens. However- I also see the social ramifications as being very large. Personally, if you ask me, this whole scenario could've very easily been avoided. We Atheists have a lot to be proud of. Rather than belittle Theists, we should celebrate the great Atheist Scientists, Philosophers, Artists, Writers and public intellectuals that represent the very best of Atheistic thought. Maybe, to quote a well known Atheist, we should Give Peace a Chance.

Image from here.

Should we pay attention to miracle claims?

In my opinion, yes. It is a shame that miracles claims aren't investigated more vigorously. Most Atheists set their "skeptronimers" to 11, and most Christians don't even have one. In other words, Atheists ignore them, and Christians accept them totally uncritically. Here is a small example of what I mean. In this article on faith healing, the author mentions a few cases in which patients were cured, seemingly by prayer. The author than lays out the two strongest possible scenarios:
"Only two explanations appear reasonable - either they were spontaneous remissions which coincidentally occurred after prayer, or they are genuine healing miracles. "
Spontaneous remissions which coincidentally occurred after prayer- really? Did the author forget that most Medical Doctors are Religious? This means that most Doctors, like most Religious people, will most likely pray for their patients to get better. With that said, I think we should really focus on how many of these prayer recipients died, not how many survived. For according to the "spontaneous remissions theory, a relatively small group of patients will always resuscitate! It seems to me, however, that with the "miracle theory", we should expect more people to survive.

Now not all cases are the same. In one case, a doctor named Chaucy Crandall claims that he heard a "voice" in his head, telling him to pray. Firstly, I'd like to know what he means by "voice". If he means a sort of intuition, I can relate to him. On several occasions, I have felt a strong need to do something- often mundane, and often with no reward. Also, according to this news report, he prays for every patient he sees. Now with that in mind, doesn't it seem at least plausible that he just panicked at the sight of his patient and prayed out of desparation?

In addition to healing miracles, there are also miracle claims regarding dreams and visions. A particularly unimpressive one can be found here. In it, a Muslim man sees Jesus in a dream and converts to Christianity. Why do I think it's unimpressive, you ask? Well, according to the video, the guy already doubted his own Islam, as he said he wanted to know the "true God". Also, he started attending Christian mass prior to his dream. And if that isn't enough to cast doubt on this miracle claims authenticity, the physical description he gives of of Jesus doesn't even match what a first century Jew would look like. If anything, it sounds like it was influenced by the Christian paintings and popular media so common in the modern day! The only miraculous part of the story was when his children claimed to  see Jesus. However, their two visions were private and they occurred at night- so it seems like this is a case of "waking dreams"- a type of hallucinatory experience that is caused due to just waking up. Another possibility is that the visions were nothing more than dreams as well. This claim, like most miracle claims out there, is just not very well testified.

Now, despite my strong opinion of the last few cases, I do believe that there are some miracle claims that are difficult if not impossible to explain without appeal to the divine. Look at this one for example. Now how the hell can an Atheist prove this one false? I think CS Lewis' liar, lunatic or lord scenario sums up the skeptics dilemma quite well. So, what do I make of it? I think the liar branch is quite plausible. His crying was a bit over the top, if you ask me. Plus, psychic powers are empirically testable. He could easily force choke a grip if he really wanted to convert people. Not supplying us with evidence when you can is either being lazy or disingenuous with your supposed "gift". Also, I'd like to know whether there are other Muslims (like he was) that believe they have psychic powers given to them by Jinn. I mean, lets look at it this way- there are a dozen Muslim psychics. One of them becomes a Christian. Does this mean the eleven other Muslims are being deceived by Demons- or perhaps the one Christian? Either way you look at it, this miracles seems just too strange to believe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wait a second... there's evidence for Reincarnation?!

Are there intelligent people that believe in Reincarnation? Well, according to this very interesting blog post, yes. And not only that- but they do research into it, too. And I would read that research too- except that, as I have said before, Reincarnation really isn't a problem for Atheism. Christians are the ones with specific beliefs regarding the afterlife, not Atheists. Of course, that doesn't mean a belief in Reincarnation can't be reconciled with Christianity- it just means that it isn't my problem. In addition to the book mentioned in the above post, this webiste also has valuable information in support of Reincarnation.

Christian entity encounters

There are some Christians out there who claim to have experienced miracles. Well, the Christian understanding of a miracle has always been that it is an event that brings the recipient closer to God. No, when I say a miracle, I mean an event that is far harder to explain in naturalistic terms than by an appeal to the divine. Anyways, these miracles usually involve seeing and/or communicating with Angels, Demons, Jesus and Apparitions. Skeptics usually label these visionary experiences as entities- and usually group them together with UFO's, Bigfoot, and other strange, supernatural beings.

However, despite the popularity of entities amongst laymen, intellectuals rarely mention them, if ever. Really, the only ones I have ever heard even mention these kinds of events are Gary Habermas, Mike Licona and JP Moorland. And even they say little of value about them. I suspect the reason why they are unpopular in academia would be because, sadly, these events rarely have any evidence other than bare testimony. Even Habermas, who has argued in favor of these Miracles, admits this here.
"In my own study of apparition cases, in spite of my very positive mindset, I hardly ever saw a case for which there were not several potential alternative theses. In fact, when even the best cases are studied, something regularly seems to be lacking"
Usually the problem with entities are that they never interact with the environment (ie: leave footprints) and that they are usually experienced using one sense (usually sight, but they are sometimes heard, see here). However, there are exceptions, such as cases in which the supernatural entity is seen and heard, and/or appears to multiple people. These experiences are challenging to fit into a naturalistic worldview, but they are not impossible. Many explanations have been put forward from skeptics, such as Pereidola and false memory recalls. Personally, I think that some cases can also be explained by some form of group hallucinations. The experiences themselves tend to be very simplistic and short, so it seems plausible that many Apparition reports can be explained with them. Also, don't forget that Christians of all creeds- and even non-Christians (see here and here) claim to have these types of experiences! Dale Allison is certainly open to the possibility of group hallucinations- and he supposedly experienced one himself!

Just as a final thought, I'd just like to say that, if there really were supernatural entities out there- why haven't they ever been photographed or caught on film? Bill Nye makes an excellent point in this video that, only a little while ago, car collisions were considered impossible to catch on film. Nowadays, there are so many traffic cameras out there that they are captured regularly. So, my question is simple: why do so many of these entities appear when no one else is looking? There should be far more entity reports than there were several years ago, simply because of the fact that we now have the means to record them. Yet nothing unexplainable has turned up. This is a real problem for believers indeed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: An Overview of the Empty Tomb

It is believed by many historians that, on the very first Easter, a group of female disciples discovered that the tomb of Jesus was empty. Some atheists believe that this event, in conjunction with later visionary experiences and prior prophecies from Jesus himself, eventually led to the belief in Jesus' corporeal resurrection from the dead. However, there is a large and respectable minority of scholars holding the view that the empty tomb story is fictional- and that the Resurrection appearances alone caused the belief of the early disciples.

Just how large and respectable is this minority, you ask? Well, according to a study carried out by Gary Habermas, as many as a quarter of scholars think that the story of the empty tomb is fictional. Yeah- an entire quarter. That means that, unless a quarter of professional Jesus scholars are desperate non-believers- at least some Christians must hold this view. This consideration gives us at least some prima facie evidence that the arguments against the empty tomb must have at least some force. But what if most scholars are, in fact, non-believers? After all- Mike Licona says just that in his interview here. Well- wouldn't that be even better for Atheism's case?

Anyways, before I write any posts that actually examine the arguments, I just want to be upfront about my opinion on the empty tomb. For decades, Apologists have used this as an argument for the Resurrection. But to me this tactic seems like sleight of hand. For even if the body went missing- why must we infer a Resurrection? We have the traditional hypothesises, like the reburial theory or the stolen body theory. On top of this, we have other, less conventional explanations we can appeal to. For example, an earthquake could have caused the ground under Jesus' corpse to open up and swallow it! Atheists do not require one specific theory to serve as their official explanation- any number of possible scenarios will suffice. After all- the Bible only records theological interpretations of these events- not the underlying events themselves. Those are lost in history forever.

So that's about it. If you want to learn more about the empty tomb's historicity at a popular level, I would recommend James McGrath's Burial of Jesus: History and Faith and Kris Komarnitsky's Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box. At a more scholarly level, I would recommend the books of Michael Goulder, Gerd Ludemann, Maurice Casey and Dale Allison. And of course, if you haven't read it yet, also get a copy of  Dale Allison's 2008 Philosophia Christi essay, which responds to arguments from William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NDE's and universal salvation

Remember my post on Apparitions? Well, everything I said about them can be applied to NDE's. Also, we just so happen to have an NDE report from a member of the Baha'i faith. I wonder how Christians will respond to this?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The "New Christian" movement?

Prior to Sam Harris' "The end of Faith", nobody in there right mind would ever call an atheist an idiot purely on the basis of their atheism. The informed Theist would know full well that most philosophers and scientists were atheists. Usually Theists regarded atheism as an emotional rejection of God- not an intellectual one. However, recently a whole slew of Christian apologists (see here and here) have been going around declaring atheism both an emotional AND an intellectual defect! They claim that the existence of God is so obvious that one would have to consciously lie to themselves to avoid believing in him. So, how did such an attitude begin? Okay, I'll stop being coy- we all have a pretty good idea of what happened. The New Atheists came into the picture and made us all look dumb. Don't get me wrong- Dawkins is a brilliant scientist, and Dennett is popular in the Philosophy of Mind. But they aren't authorities in the History or Philosophy of Religion; and to put it bluntly, they put no effort into trying to be. They chant catch-phrases and ignore their critics.

So, how did Christians counter the new atheists? Well- they practically joined them! Apologists wrote books responding to the New Atheists- books which  were highly polemical apologetics with little substance (see here and here). Other, less informed Christians bought these books under the influence that Dawkins and co somehow represented the best in Atheistic thought. After all, why else would a Christian waste their money on a book debunking literally useless arguments? Anyways, I guess some of these ignorant Christians decided to "stand up" against the New Atheists, using their new books, filled with equally poor arguments and rhetoric, and as a result ended up starting a new movement- one I like to call "New Christianity". Philos71 and KabaneTheChristian from YouTube would be a great examples of these "New Christians". Of course, there have always been aggressive atheists like Bertrand Russell- but they lived way before the reign of Plantinga- during a time in which the non-existence of God was practically a fact. Now, I agree that this enlightenment attitude against religion that the New Atheists have espoused is both embarrassing and inappropriate- but honestly, does that give Christians the right to be just as rude in retaliation? Maybe we could figure out a way to critique the New Atheists without all the collateral damage?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: The Twelve, The Five Hundred and the rest of the Disciples

I think it is fair to say this is the only area where the Christian has a significant advantage over the Atheist when it comes down to explaining away the resurrection. While hallucinations were common enough back in Jesus' day, collective visions were and still are rather rare. Many New Testament scholars remain agnostic about it, while others like Gary Habermas are militantly opposed to them as even being possibilities. Before I go any further in this post, I will briefly argue that group hallucinations are not only real- but more common than we'd suspect. Also, keep in mind that I am, for the sake of argument, assuming that the early church Creed found in 1 Cor 15 is 100% reliable. I will blog about that in the future.

The common argument against the "Group hallucination" hypothesis is that it is impossible for two people to share a hallucination, since hallucinations are projections of the mind; and obviously two people hallucinating the exact same thing is improbable, right? Well- I cringe when I hear apologists say this, since that isn't what the group hallucination hypothesis proposes at all! Actually, the best work on this phenomena states that the hallucinaters experience an "altered state of consciousness", or a type of trance. The trance alone does nothing- it's the hallucinaters that decide what they are seeing- and usually the dominant opinion is the one that comes out on top. They are also not as improbable as we'd think. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh's great book, "Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels" quote this study:
"Erika Bourguignon, who compiled a sample of 488 societies in all parts of the world, at various levels of technological complexity, and found that ninety percent of these societies evidence 'altered states of conciousness' Her conclusion: "Societies which do not utilize these states are historical exceptions which need to be explained, rather than the vast majority of societies that do not use these states" (cited by Pilch 1993)."

For more information, see here. Now, it's important to note that, although these experiences can feel "more real than reality" at some times, the Hallucinaters usually disregard the experience when they are over. However, if we add some pre-Easter prophecies and expectations, it makes sense out of why the disciples would not only believe their experience was genuine, but also re-interpret it the way they did. Lets not forget that the creed is silent on whether Jesus talked or did anything, so it seems likely to me that Jesus just appeared to his disciples and than vanished- just like a hallucination! Now, this fits the data that we have for the group appearance to the twelve, but the appearance to the five hundred seems a bit improbable. Plus, I don't even know where to begin with "the rest of the disciples". So lets consider the appearance to the 500 next.

Well, the appearance to the 500 is a notorious one since it is full of mysteries. For example, the 500 are nameless. William Lane Craig argues that because Paul says "although some of them have fallen asleep", that means he must've known at least some of them personally. I am surprised an otherwise smart man would say this. Maybe he did know someone involved, so what? That hardly means he knew them personally. And even if he did- Paul certainly doesn't share any of the details. We don't know any of the recipients names, we don't know where it happened, or even if they were drinking bad water or something. What little we do know seems to say the opposite! Now, if Paul knew some of them, why would he chose to mention that they had died, rather than name names? He could easily say that the appearance was to "Ralph and 499 other followers" or something like that. Perhaps he says this because the event happened a long time ago (AKA 10-12 years ago), so logically someone would have had to have died by than, considering that people in his day only lived until the ripe old age of 40!

But even if Paul did mention this information, we still have one big problem- it's not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament! This is prime evangelising material, people! How a story this incredible could evade the quills of the New Testament authors are beyond me. Now, if we consider the "Group Hallucinations" explanation, we know that often, the visions are discredited afterwards. As a matter of fact, this argument is used by apologists like Habermas arguing against the "Group hallucination hypothesis". So with that in mind, it's easy to imagine a scenario in which a large amount of people had an experience that some members considered Jesus. these ones reported it, and the rest discredited it. Eventually the dissenters are heard, and the appearance is later removed from the creed, and thus from scripture (Maurice Casey makes this argument here).

The same can be said of the group appearance to "the rest of the disciples". It's just sad that we don't know how many people were involved. We know that very early Christianity was fairly small, so it couldn't have been that big an appearance (considering a supposed 500 followers already saw him). Still- the fact that they give no number almost seems to imply that it isn't impressive, or isn't even a group appearance at all. At least they added some details to the appearance to the 500, like that some of them died. I'll have to look into it in more detail later, but it seems like at worst it's another massive group appearance that can be explained away in the same manner as the appearance to the 500. Of course, it may not be- but just relying on the text alone doesn't help us much. I'll have to devote a post to this topic in the future.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is the Hallucination Hypothesis improbable?

Sorry for not posting much recently, my dear readers- um, reader. I have recently contracted some sort of nasty virus which makes me feel dizzy and think not-good. My brother got it a few days before me, and is already better- so I doubt it'll take much longer for myself. Anyways when I checked out my blog, I got this comment from Chris W:
"So, do you think we have to simply go down the list in 1 Cor 15 and explain each appearance? Or do you think there might have been an earlier historical core on which the list is based on--one with less fantastic group visions and no additions like 'according to the scriptures'? "

As soon as I read it, I hastily sent off a response, admitting that I don't know, and that I usually concede that the creed is accurate, for the sake of argument. For me, it's nice to have a  theory that accounts for all of the potential data- and hallucinatory experiences seem to do that. However, after thinking about it a bit- I realised that he has a point. This theory does seem kinda improbable.

Of course, I believe that no naturalistic theory for the resurrection has ever been "perfect"- that is, none have ever accounted for all of the available data at least as well as the "resurrection hypothesis". However, I don't think a naturalistic explanation needs to be exactly on par with a supernatural explanation for it to be considered, let alone favored over it. For one thing, if one is a naturalist, and finds it extremely difficult to fit God into the universe, the probability of the resurrection completely plummets, until anything is more probable than it. Also, if one has a religious experience incompatible with Christianity, they would also consider Jesus' resurrection to be very improbable.

Of course, I am not saying that we need to believe in space aliens or evil twins to remain skeptics- quite the contrary, I believe that some alternative explanations for the resurrection actually account for different pieces of information better than the resurrection hypothesis- for example, they explain the nature of the visions very well. They also explain away failed prophecies and the early disciples false scientific beliefs- but I'll save that for a later post.

All that I intend to do is show is that skeptical hypothesis aren't too implausible to believe. For one thing, apparitions are quite well known- and studied from a secular perspective (see here and here). However, I don't want to spoil too much since I plan to blog about them in the future. All that's important is that they happen more often than we'd think. We also know that visionary experiences (including group visions) were actually very common in Jesus' day- in fact, they were so common they were considered "normal". We also know that in many of these instances, the seers don't see the same thing, even though they initially think they do- which seems much more probable according to a naturalistic hypothesis than a supernatural one.

Just as a concluding thought- I want to discuss apologists that undermine the hallucination hypothesis. William Lane Craig, in spite of his ego, usually accepts that they are at least possible, stating that he feels that they are ad-hoc and improbable. Fair enough. Some other scholars, however, are much more antagonistic towards it. These scholars are most notably Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. For one thing, Habermas denies that they can even happen! Being a protestant, I wonder how he'd explain away the Marian Apparitions? Licona falls into this same trap as well. As a matter of fact, during his debate with Bart Ehrman, he once again claims ignorance as to how the Marian apparitions came to be, once again stating he hasn't seen the evidence! This is academic dishonesty, plain and simple.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to comment on your own blog posts

Until recently I had not been unable to place comments on my own Blog posts. Whenever I would try to, a message would come up saying "Input error: Cookie value is null for FormRestoration". However, thanks to this article, I can now post comments on my own blog! Apparently, you aren't supposed to check the "stay signed in" box when you log in. Keep that in mind readers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Shroud of Turin is deader than Jesus!

I was initially going to publish a post detailing all of the pro-shroud and anti-shroud arguments I have found on the web during my last week of research. However, I have recently found even more damning evidence that the Turin shroud cannot possibly be authentic anyways, due to this article. Long story short, the original 1988 Carbon dating test was accurate after all.

Of course, I was already pretty sure that the shroud was a fake. For one thing, the initial carbon dating test of 1988 dated the shroud to have been produced in between 1260-1390. This fit the medieval dating perfectly, as it coincides with the shrouds first appearance in history in 1353. Other evidence against it's authenticity included a report  in 1390 from a bishop named Pierre d'Arcis who declared that it was a forgery, and that the artist confessed. Also, curiously enough, the good bishop claimed the author "cunningly painted" it, implying a complicated technique.

However, the shroud's proponents have used a variety of arguments to defend it. They would claim that the image on the shroud is anatomically perfect; They would claim that they found blood on it; They would claim that no skeptic has ever been able to perfectly replicate it; etc, etc, etc. However, the biggest argument they would use was that, in 2005, former Shroud skeptic Raymond Rogers published an article stating that the Carbon dating tests were inaccurate due to an invisible patch. He also composed his own test to date the Turin Shroud, which stated that the Shroud must be at least 1300-3000 years old. However, considering the article I found and aforementioned, I doubt that the Shroud will convince skeptics anytime soon.

Apparitions of the dead: Can they disprove Christianity?

I was thinking about Apparitions of the dead. They are an interesting phenomena that can very adequately explain away Jesus' resurrection in natural terms. However, they are also a double sided sword. For if they can be proven to be veridical- than that not only becomes evidence in support of the Resurrection, but against Naturalism itself! So, I think that before we cling to apparitions data for support, we better first try to prove, at least to ourselves, that the apparition data fits a naturalistic worldview. Sadly, most atheists scientists just ignore apparitional data; hell, according to Dale Allison, Theologians do too!

"Now I share Gary's fascination for NDEs, and I am nonplussed that theologians by and large seem content to ignore them"

However, these scientists may have good reason to ignore them. Here is a great article on this sort of phenomena here. As Gary Habermas admits in his essay here, may of these events do not have very good evidential merit.
"In my own study of apparition cases, in spite of my very positive mindset, I hardly ever saw a case for which there were not several potential alternative theses. In fact, when even the best cases are studied, something regularly seems to be lacking."

So it seems to me that, by Gary's own admission, the burden of proof lies on the Theist to explain why they think that these apparitions constitute as proof of an afterlife, and not of vivid Hallucinations. However, I think that, even if one where to concede that apparitions are strong evidence in support of an afterlife, that they could still turn around and mount a powerful attack against traditional Christianity. To do this, one has to show that the apparition data is inconsistent with the Bibles teachings and thus, Christianity. The doctrine that stands out most quickly to me is the doctrine of hell. Traditional Christianity has always taught that not all will enjoy salvation. However, if within the vast amounts of apparitional data we find at least one case of a non-Christian enjoying his/her stay in the afterlife, than that should constitute as damning evidence against the doctrine of hell and, by extension, traditional Christianity as we know it.

Now, I'm not sure what Theologians would make of this sort of argument- perhaps they would find it convincing. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is why they are so hesitant to embrace the data in the first place! Personally, I see apparitional data as being, if anything, quite relieving to the atheist, since it offers some hope of an afterlife, even if we don't believe it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: How strong is the Hallucination hypothosis?

Now that we've briefly discussed the Hallucination hypothesis, it's time to apply it to the visions of Jesus. According to 1 Corinthians 15:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 Than lastly, he appeared to me

So, according to the formula, Jesus made 6 appearances. 3 of these appearances where to groups of people. Also, if we accept the empty tomb as historical, it is possible that Mary had a vision of Jesus as well (William Lane Craig argues for that here). The argument that is put forth is usually that this appearance is multiply attested, and would have been omitted from the creed due to her being a woman. I agree, although I am still pretty agnostic about about the visions. For one thing- Our earliest resurrection narrative doesn't mention Mary witnessing the risen Jesus- she only observes the empty tomb. According to Mark: 
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.  6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”  8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[a]   

So as we can see, if Mary saw Jesus, the first gospel writer was silent about it. And this problem becomes even bigger if Markan priority is correct- since the later Gospel writers could have easily fabricated the appearance. Anyways, now to explain the appearances away. Now, if you recall my in my earlier post Mike Liconas demon haunted world, I argued that sometimes naturalistic explanations can make more sense than supernatural explanations. Well, with the Resurrection appearances, supernatural explanations do make a lot of sense. For one thing, we know what God's  motive would be for raising Jesus. However, that doesn't mean the hypothesis is perfect. For in this post I would like to specifically address one oddity about the resurrection appearances, and that is the strangely short nature of the appearances. If we alone follow the creedal formula in 1 Cor 15, it becomes apparent that the appearances are in someway disconnected. After all, why else would the formula treat vision as a separate event? If Jesus were to have actually stuck around for forty days, why wouldn't the creed mention it?

Now, the Hallucination hypothesis is unique in that it actually fits in with this data rather well. As a matter of fact, if we were to just ignore the group appearances, it would fit like a glove! We have good reason to think that the "appearances" were short and simplistic in nature, which is what we'd expect if they Hallucinated. We also know that the disciples doubted their own visions, which is also what we'd expect if they  Hallucinated. Also, if one were to believe that Jesus actually predicted his own death and vindication, than that would give the disciples a great reason to assume that their visions were veridical. And finally, if he were to have predicted that he'd be bodily vindicated, in a quasi apocalyptic way, that would also explain why the disciples would later interpret their visions in a bodily manner. Plus, if we believe that Mary had the first vision of Jesus, that would only strengthen the Hallucination hypothesis. You see, while we have no information of use regarding Peter's psychiatric health, we do have some for Mary's- for according to Luke 8:2, Mary had seven demons pulled from her.

2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;

As we all know, James, brother of Jesus and Paul of Tarsus were skeptics. They did not believe that Jesus was divine- and therefore, wouldn't have hallucinated Jesus. Well, when it comes down to James, we really don't know how skeptical he was of Jesus- plus, we don't know how how antagonistic he was to the movement. However, even if we assumed, for the sake of argument, that James loathed Jesus and his cult, I think I might have a good explanation for why they had the vision. Influential scholar Gerd Ludemann contends that Paul was a secret Christian, who persecuted Christians due to a secret desire to join them. This seems silly to me, but I can see another avenue for this type of argumentation. What if, and this is purely speculation, these two men actually found the evidence for Christianity persuasive?

Many ex-Christians will talk about the intense stress that occurs when they started to doubt their faith. They will describe in detail how they desperately clinged onto whatever they could to maintain their beliefs. The same is true of people switching Religions to/from Christiany. Now, we have to keep in mind that James converted after the vision to Peter, the twelve and the 500. So now imagine being James, trying to figure out how they could proclaim these wonderful things. Imagine adding possible biblical prophecies, Jesus' pre-crucifixion predictions and even an empty tomb to the mix. Finally, lets add a wee bit of gilt over the harsh treatment of his brother and voila! I think it may very well solve this mystery, if not shed some light over it. And of course with Paul's case, we can add all these appearances plus the appearance to James and the rest of the disciples, for his vision came last.

Now, I am not claiming to have solved the case once and for all. Quite the contrary, I am not even certain if what I have produced is accurate. I certainly haven't done as much research on James or Paul as a real scholar. All I am trying to do is consider other possibilities; and by extension, make the case for skepticism just a bit stronger.