This 4th Sunday of Easter we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord from the grave. In this second essay we focus on a claim that has shared consensus: Shortly after Jesus’ death, a number of his followers had experiences that allowed them to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them. Skeptical scholars, of course, would not grant that it was the risen Jesus his followers experienced. The naturalistic response to this claim has usually been a hallucination hypothesis of some sort. The naturalist response is that they were grieving and thought they saw the risen Jesus but it was a hallucination.
Does this hallucination hypothesis work very well? The most comprehensive work on hallucinations is entitled Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception (Aleman & Laroi, American Psychological Association, 2008) . They list six primary modes to experience an hallucination. See, hear, taste, smell, sense of motion (kinetic hallucination), and tactile hallucination (think you feel something but it was nothing). Most experience hallucinations in one of these modes. The group most likely to experience hallucinations are seniors who have lost a loved one (50%). Out of senior adults grieving, the highest percentage group, only 7% may experience a visual hallucination..
Early reports of Christians claimed to see Jesus. That he appeared to them, spoke to them, they touched him, and he ate with them. If this was a hallucination it was not a normal hallucination. This appearance is more than the normal one mode of six listed above. Making it highly unlikely that so many would experience a hallucination of this sort. Also we consider how many individual testimonies claimed to see him. The earliest reports are that he appeared to, of those grieving, an unthinkable 100%. He appeared to the 12 and to the 500 and to all the apostles. It is implausible that of those grieving they would have all experienced the same hallucination.
The naturalistic hallucination hypothesis also makes a group claim. That perhaps the whole group all shared the same hallucination. However, according to Aleman and Laroi, there is not a documented case of a group hallucination. Additionally, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) was not in the group that first claimed to see Jesus. Saul was perhaps the last person who wanted to see the risen Jesus and was glad that he was dead. But he claimed to see Jesus resurrected and it changed him.
To dismiss the groups that claimed to see Jesus resurrected with a naturalistic answer such as the hallucination hypothesis does not account for the data. It does not account for the group appearances, the claim by the Apostle Paul, and therefore it lacks any explanatory power. In order to make the naturalistic hallucination hypothesis work you have to smash the facts into something they are not. The fact is that people claimed to see the resurrected Jesus. Both those groups who were grieving his death and enemies of the early Church. The answer that has the best explanatory power is they saw a miracle of God. Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead as he said he would (John 2:19).