Q & A with Dr. Craig: Appearances of Mary and Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances

Reasonable Faith

Dr. Bart Ehrman has repeatedly claimed in his debates and written work that group visions of the Virgin Mary in modern times proves that group hallucinations can occur. He spends a significant portion of Chapter 5 of his book “How Jesus Became God” describing these group hallucinations. Is this example truly analogous to the appearances of Jesus to groups of people after his resurrection?


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My friend and colleague Michael Licona has not only studied group hallucinations but has also successfully debated Bart Ehrman.  So I’ve asked Mike to write a guest Question of the Week in response to your question. His reply follows:

Hi, Jordan. Dr. Craig has asked me to address your question, since I’ve debated Bart Ehrman on numerous occasions.

A lot of research has been conducted for more than a century pertaining to hallucinations. An excellent book that summarizes the research is Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception by André Aleman and Frank Larøi, published by the American Psychological Association in 2008.

According to the American Psychological Association, a hallucination is “a false sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality despite the absence of an external stimulus” (APA Dictionary of Psychology, 2007, 427). Hallucinations should not be confused with illusions or delusions. An illusion is a distorted perception of reality, such as seeing water on a highway on a sunny day, while a delusion occurs when one persists in believing something despite conclusive evidence to the contrary. Someone who refuses to believe that his wife is dead despite having buried her is delusional.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to ask a few dozen Navy SEALs about their experiences during Hell Week, which is the first grueling test they must pass before becoming a SEAL. Candidates begin Hell Week on a Sunday evening and finish around noon on the following Saturday, getting only about 3-5 hours of sleep during the entire week. That’s not 3-5 hours of sleep a night but for the entire week! A large percentage of candidates told me they had experienced visual hallucinations during Hell Week due to sleep deprivation. But none had experienced the same hallucination. Moreover, when one candidate pointed out to the others what he believed he was seeing, none then saw what he did. This is because hallucinations are private experiences occurring inside the mind of an individual. Since they are mental events with no external reality, there is no way for people to participate in the same hallucination.

Hallucinations are similar to dreams in this sense. I could not awaken my wife in the middle of the night and say, “Honey, I’m dreaming I’m in Maui. Go back to sleep, join me in my dream, and let’s have a free vacation!” She may dream she’s with me in Maui. But it’s not going to be the same dream. And any interaction with me in that dream is not something in which I would actually be participating.

Now that you have an idea of the nature of hallucinations, let’s discuss Ehrman’s contentions pertaining to visions of Mary in his book How Jesus Became God. There, Ehrman makes numerous errors in his assessment of group visions…
Q & A with Dr. Craig: Appearances of Mary and Jesus’ Resurrection Appearances