George Park Fisher (August 10, 1827 – December 20, 1909) taught theology at Yale and was a noted historian. He was president of the American Historical Association while he also served as the pastor at the College Church at Yale.
His book, A Manual of Christian Evidences, is an awesome, short introduction to historical apologetics that I highly recommend. Below was Fisher’s take on the hallucination hypothesis, which had become one of the more popular naturalistic explanations for Jesus’ resurrection during Fisher’s time.
Fisher on The hallucination theory
“Were the Apostles deceived? Were these manifestations to them (and to the five hundred) a delusion of their minds?
A hallucination is a disorder of the senses, or of the brain, which leads one to see or to hear what has no reality outside of the nervous organism. This explanation of the appearances of Jesus to the Disciples after his death is excluded for several reasons that are decisive.
There is no probability that they were looking for any such reappearance of Christ. There is no reason to distrust, but good reasons for believing, the statements of the Evangelists that the disciples, although they did not disperse, or forsake Jerusalem, were affected with sorrow and fear.
This would be natural on finding themselves bereaved of their Master, and their hopes connected with him crushed by an event so appalling as his crucifixion. There was, then, no preparation of the mind for such a delusion as the hallucination theory implies. Then, the fact that so many persons, in companies, on different occasions, were persuaded, without a shadow of a doubt, that Christ was with them, and that they saw him, renders such a hypothesis the more improbable.
When the authenticity of the Gospels shall have been established, the circumstances related by them — for example, the doubts of Thomas and the way they were overcome — will be seen absolutely to preclude the theory in question. But, besides these considerations, the idea of hallucination is shut out by one remarkable peculiarity of the alleged manifestations of the risen Jesus.
They took place, as Paul’s testimony shows, at intervals, and in a definite number. They began at a certain time — on the third day, and they ended after a brief period. Had the followers of Jesus been in that state of mind out of which the illusions of hallucination might arise, and if this had been the source of what they thought to be actual reappearances of Jesus, these manifestations would have been much more numerous.
They would not have begun and ended at these definite points. They would not have suddenly ceased. They would have continued and multiplied as time went on, and as the courage and enthusiasm of the flock increased. This would surely have been the case, according to the ordinary law of the working of this sort of mental delusion.
The conclusion is justified that the testimony of the Apostles, to which they adhered at the cost of every earthly comfort and of life itself — for there is no doubt that they steadfastly endured these penalties — ought to be believed.”
George Park Fisher, A Manual of Christian Evidences, pp. 44-46
You can pick up Fisher’s book free on Google Play here.
Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.