Over at the Evangelical Realism blog, we’ve just finished looking at William Lane Craig’s attempt to discredit the hypothesis that the postmortem appearances of Jesus were actually just hallucinations on the part of the disciples. He gave it his best shot, and used some of the best debating tactics he knows, but couldn’t quite pull it off. And yet for all that, the hallucination hypothesis does have a flaw: it’s overkill. Christians don’t need anywhere near that amount of psychological incentive to induce them to believe that they’re receiving some kind of special visitation from supernatural divinity.
For example, here’s our friend Mighty Timbo explaining how God shows up in real life today.
…God is present on the earth through his Holy Spirit. Because that’s not a visible manifestation I know that doesn’t satisfy the skeptic, but the works of the holy spirit have often been seen through the holy spirit that have often been unexplainable outside of the supernatural, however, many skeptics remain resolute in their rejection and still seek for ways to disregard what they see before them. That is their prerogative.
Notice how the “presence” of God boils down to ordinary superstition: you see something you don’t know how to explain, so you arbitrarily assign credit for it to God, even though you haven’t demonstrated any actual connection between God and the thing that stumped you, and probably can’t even give a coherent account of what that connection would be so that anyone could even look for it. The “supernatural” aspect of this “manifestation” turns out to be the thoroughly mundane and ordinary fact that people don’t understand a lot of what they experience. Human ignorance and fallibility just isn’t all that miraculous.
And yet, for Mighty Timbo and others, this is God showing up in real life. No physical manifestations or even hallucinations necessary. Ordinary ignorance and superstition are enough. And so is hearsay.
As far as other ways God shows himself, we regularly hear reports from people who claim they have seen Jesus Christ in a vision/dream/or that he appeared to them in some way. Many of these people are Muslims or of some other faith in a foreign country where the Gospel could not reach them. I cannot personally vouch for the validity of such experiences except to say that of the testimonies that I have heard they haven’t contradicted the bible in any way and have led these men to become bible-believing Christians.
Again, though Timbo concedes that he cannot personally vouch for any of these reports being true, he still offers them up as apologetic evidence of “other ways God shows himself.” Their reports don’t contradict his interpretation of the Bible, and seem useful in converting people to Christianity, so he spreads the story whether it’s true or not. And that’s what the original Gospels are: stories that people spread even though they can’t personally vouch for whether or not they’re really true.
Modern studies show that between between 1/3 and 1/2 of people who have recently lost a loved one experience hallucinations of the deceased coming back to them in some way. Out of 12 disciples, that averages out to between 4 and 6 of them who would ordinarily be expected to have such experiences. That might sow the seed of the resurrection stories, but it’s not the real power behind the Gospel. The real power is ordinary people like Timbo, believing out of superstition, believing because they want to believe, sharing stories that promote their beliefs, whether or not they’re really true. That’s all it takes to explain the Gospels.