I want to thank the people who responded to the posting of Part I of this blog, the trial of William Joseph Johanssen on both CADRE Comments and Apologia Christi. The positions adopted were thoughtful and gave me pause to think.
A. My Determination in the Fictitious Johanssen Case.
My own response, if I were in Judge Pohler’s shoes, would be to deny the request for the introduction of any testimony that these witnesses were hallucinating. I would not allow the testimony for several reasons.
First, it is absolutely essential to understand the importance of eyewitness testimony in court hearings. While it is certainly true that today’s trials increasingly rely on physical evidence (DNA, fingerprints, CSI-type work) to establish the facts in a criminal or civil trial, throughout most of history when investigative science was not as refined as it is today, eyewitness testimony was the most sought after evidence for proving the innocence or guilt of a defendant. Even today, while the reliability of eyewitness identifications (not eyewitness testimony, generally) is increasingly being questioned, eyewitness testimony remains the type of testimony that leads to most convictions.
There is no doubt that in the vast majority of circumstances, what people see and hear are not hallucinations. Even if present estimates are correct that 39% of all people experience hallucinations (the largest number of which represent olfactory and gustatory hallucinations), this does not mean that they are hallucinating regularly. Thus, to infer from the fact that a significant number of people have hallucinations that it is likely that people are having a hallucination infers too much. To allow someone to throw out a challenge that certain evidence ought to be excluded because of the possibility that the eyewitnesses may be hallucinating throws much of what we know to be true into question – both in trials and historically.
Moreover, when there are multiple eyewitnesses to an event, such multiple attestation increases the reliability of the eyewitness testimony. There is little information available concerning “mass hallucinations.” Most of what is available over the Internet simply assumes that such things are possible because people collectively see things that are assumed to not be real, such as visions of the Virgin Mary, UFOs or the Loch Ness Monster. While I, like Judge Pohler, may be able to be convinced that the sightings of these UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster may be hallucinations (much tougher to convince me that the Virgin Mary visions would be), I am not certain that there has been any prior determination that these mass experiences are necessarily hallucinations, and very little in the way of scientific research into the cause of the so-called “mass hallucinations.”
Thus, unless we have a strong reason to believe that an eyewitness is hallucinating, it is wrong to permit argument that they are hallucinating as it would (in the words of California Evidence Code Sec. 352) “create substantial danger of undue prejudice, of confusing the issues, or of misleading the jury.” So, what factors should be present prior to permitting the inference that an eyewitness is (or eyewitnesses are) hallucinating.
In the case of hallucination in the fictitious Johanssen case, you would need to show either (1) that multiple witnesses exist who could testify that the three witnesses in question did not see what they say they saw because these other witnesses saw them witnessing it and nothing of the sort happened, (2) evidence of a regular occurrence of hallucinations, or (3) the three witnesses have been evaluated by a psychiatrist who is willing and able to testify that these people are hallucinogenic prone.
If (1) can be shown, then you probably wouldn’t need to prove that the three witnesses hallucinated – it would be a question of fact as to which sets of witnesses saw what really happened. In other words, if the three witnesses saw Billy murder the victim, and four other witnesses said that they were present at the same time and no such murder happened, then it would be a battle between the two camps as to which witnesses are the more believable and the possibility of hallucinations would not generally enter into the equation (except maybe to try to account for the reason that the three witnesses thought they saw the murder). Thus, it wouldn’t seem reasonable to submit evidence of possible hallucinations in the fictitious Johanssen case because there are no alternate witnesses testifying counter to the three witnesses, and even if there were, there would be no compelling reason to introduce the evidence for the reason previously stated.
Second, the defense attorney asserts that he can show (2) by means of the fact that two of the witnesses had seen visions of the Virgin Mary and UFOs, respectively, showing that they had hallucinations in the past. But that seems woefully inadequate for a couple of reasons. First, as mentioned before, it assumes that all visions of the Virgin Mary and all sightings of UFOs are hallucinations. While it may be true that these things are mere hallucinations, I know of no scientifically verifiable way to prove that these things are mere hallucinations. Second, some psychiatric websites don’t appear to categorize such things as UFOs or visions as “hallucinations” at all, but rather classify them as “anomalous phenomena,” i.e., unexplained things. For example, according to Dr. John Grohol’s Psych Central:
An anomalous phenomenon is an observed phenomenon for which there is no suitable explanation in the context of a specific body of scientific knowledge, e.g., astronomy or biology.
Many bodies of knowledge exhibit "anomaly gaps" where theory does not explain (or seem to explain) one or more observations. Common examples though are out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, extrasensory perception, ghosts, UFOs, alien abductions and close encounters.
Thus, it may be that there is no present explanation for many of the types of visions that the defense attorney argues should serve as the basis for finding people hallucinated in the past because they may not be hallucinations at all.
Moreover, if we allow claims that any witness’ sighting of something that society may believe to be “unreal” to be classified as an hallucination merely because it doesn’t fall within the expectations of the naturalist-universe’s assumptions, then we will never admit evidence of something happening outside the ordinary or expected. Thus, evidence that may lead to new scientific inquiry may be excluded from being considered as reliable or even “reality-based” merely because it is outside of what we already know. In the court, perhaps someone will see something that sounds absurd, but it isn’t really absurd, just previously unknown.
Let me give an example of something that could fall within the prior paragraph: suppose that a scientist develops a new type of suction cup that allows a person to walk up a vertical wall like Spiderman. Suppose someone uses that technology to commit a crime. Suppose a witness sees the thieves walking up the wall using the technology. Should we automatically reject the testimony merely because we know from our experience that people cannot walk up and down walls? That may be what experience leads us to conclude, but in this imaginary case, it would lead to the wrong answer.
Further, given the lack of any real understanding of mass hallucinations (what causes them, what are the underlying circumstances, how they could possibly occur between two or more people, etc.), allowing any evidence into a court that suggests that the claim of “mass hallucination” could be relied upon as an explanation for the statements of otherwise credible eyewitnesses is almost completely unsupportable.
For all of the foregoing reasons, I would not permit the testimony that posits “mass hallucinations” for the otherwise credible testimony of experts.
B. The Application to the Resurrection
As I stated in Part I, this is a not-so-subtle analogy. Robert Price, in one of his comments, sniffed out where I was going but he missed the point of the analogy. He said:
The disanalogy with Christ's resurrection includes that there are no multiple eyewitness accounts, even in writing (as opposed to the living witnesses needed for court), to any single postcrucifixion sighting of Jesus. This is true even if we held to traditional attributions for the gospels (which I don't)--the appearances in Matthew and John are not the same and, so, do not benefit from the attestation of multiple witnesses. Hence, there are no records attesting to what might be alternatively explained by "mass hallucination" (i.e. such an "explanation" doesn't come up because there is no event, described by eyewitness records, corresponding to it).
Yes, I am talking about the resurrection in my example. Yes, I am analogizing to the claim that the post resurrection appearances were the result of mass hallucination. However, my analysis is not addressing the question of the reliability of the accounts in Matthew, Luke, John and in Paul’s Epistles of the post-resurrection appearances. Rather, my question goes to the entire issue of whether this objection is legitimate in any sense. In other words, I am not saying that the Gospels and Epistles can be shown categorically to not be hallucinations (even though I believe that the best explanation is that they are not hallucinations), but rather that raising the issue of a mass hallucination on the limited evidence supporting the idea of a mass hallucination is inappropriate in the same way that permitting testimony about mass hallucinations at a trial should not be permitted.
In the fictitious Johanssen case, the claim is made that the witnesses had suffered a mass hallucination. On what basis was this claim made? Basically, it was made because the defense attorney didn’t believe his client committed a murder, period. Was there any reason beyond that to believe that the witnesses had a hallucination? None was presented other than the claim that there past experiences with a vision of the Virgin Mary and a UFO sighting made them susceptible to findings that they had suffered hallucinations. Was there any showing that there was such a thing as a mass hallucination in the first place? Again, no. Nothing in the facts presented demonstrated that it was likely that they were in a situation where they may experience a mass hallucination.
In the case of the resurrection, the question is: on what basis are claims made that the disciples experienced a mass hallucination? The arguments that are made in favor of hallucinations all speak to circumstances surrounding individual hallucinations. I have yet to find anyone make a case for “mass hallucinations” other than a often quoted statement by D.H. Rawcliffe, where he makes the following statement:
Where a belief in miracles exists, evidence will always be forthcoming to confirm its existence. In the case of moving statutes and paintings, the belief produces the hallucination and the hallucination confirms the belief. The same factors which operate for a single individual in the induction of hallucinations or pseudo-hallucinations, may become even more effective in an excited or expectant crowd, and on occasion may result in mass hallucinations.
Rawcliffe, Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult, quoted in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, p. 437, Ed. by Robert M. Price and Jefferey Jay Lowder.
With all due respect to those who point to this verse, I need to quote once again the infamous Wendy’s commercial line: “Where’s the Beef?” Rawcliffe seems to speculate about the reasons that people hallucinate miracles (expressing that in expectant crowds the factors that produce hallucinations “may” become more effective), but it begins with the same assumption that the attorney had in the fictitious Johanssen Case, i.e., he simply doesn’t believe that the miracles are true and has to come up with some explanation. Hallucination is simply his choice of reasons to explain the “anomalous phenomena.” There is no showing that there is any reason to accept his speculations as the real reasons for these anomalies unless you subscribe to a naturalistic world view that forecloses any possibility of miracles.
The defense attorney had it right: there are only three possibilities for the witnesses seeing Billy kill Ms. Evans: (1) he did it and they witnessed it, (2) he didn’t do it and they are lying about witnessing it, and (3) he didn’t do it but they imagined he did it. In the case of the resurrection, there are three possibilities: (1) Jesus was actually resurrected and the disciples were witnesses to it, (2) Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected and they were lying about it, or (3) Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected and they imagined it. What real reason do we have to believe it was option 3? There is no testimony by competent psychiatrists saying that the apostles were prone to hallucinations. There are no accounts by other witnesses saying that they were present at the tomb on that first Easter morning and what the Disciples claimed didn’t happen. There is no evidence of prior hallucinations unless, as I have already discussed, you are willing to claim every religious experience is a hallucination (a claim that most people would reject for obvious reasons). So where is the evidence that would allow us to even consider the possibility?
My point is this: before trying to convince people that the disciples hallucinated Jesus resurrection, there should be some basis for finding it likely that they may have. This doesn’t exist in the case of the resurrection. Consequently, even though it can be raised as a possibility, the claims should be disregarded on the basis that, without more foundation, they create “substantial danger of undue prejudice, of confusing the issues, or of misleading” the listener.