Since I posted the testimony of an atheist professor who witnessed a corpse rising from the dead, I’ve received some interesting feedback by both believers and critics alike. The purpose here is thus to review these questions and challenges and respond briefly.
1. Bruce Grindal Was Just Hallucinating.
Nicholas, a writer at Hume’s Apprentice, explains that “Grindal confirmed that he had eaten very little in the 48 hours or so leading up to his hallucination, and also that he had slept poorly. Lack of sleep and lack of food are known causes of hallucinations.”
This as a full, adequate explanation is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, as I touched on in the actual testimony itself, that the man, Ali, was raised from the dead was not only witnessed by Grindal but by others also present. Grindal affirms as much writing that “It was although everybody present simultaneously touched a live wire. No words were said, indeed, what could be said?”
And as I tried to explain hallucinations are subjective projections from within one’s own mind and thus cannot, or is extremely unlikely to, be experienced by other people, and especially in larger groups. On top of that it’s even more unlikely that all the people present would witness the same hallucination. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Collins, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly are not something which can be seen by a group of people…Since a hallucination exists only in the subjective, personal sense; it is obvious that others cannot witness it” (1). In agreement clinical psychologist, Gary Sibcy, say that he has “surveyed the professional literature (peer-reviewed journal articles and books) written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination, that is, an event for which more than one person purportedly shared in a visual or other sensory perception where there was clearly no external referent” (2).
This data should do away with Nicholas’ challenge that Grindal was subject to hallucinations because of not eating food and sleeping enough. It is true that a lack of eating can lead to the possibility (it’s not guaranteed) of hallucinations but this clearly fails to make sense of the testimonial data presented. Moreover, as Dr. Michael Block writes in his examination of visual hallucinations, “Patients usually recognize them as being distinct from reality…” (3). In other words, if Grindal suspected he was merely hallucinating these events because he was hungry and/or sleepy then he would have likely known.
However, we can sympathize with Nicholas’ attempt to explain this remarkable event away. If Grindal’s experience is really genuine then atheistic-naturalism is outright false. That is, however, a high price to pay for atheists like Nicholas.
Instead, I’d far rather put my trust in Grindal’s explanation over and above an atheist trying to explain it way through a hypothesis that doesn’t explain the data, and mostly out of a motivation simply to save his worldview. At the end, Grindal was confident enough to reject his atheism on the basis of his experience, as Mike Licona explains, “Grindal was an atheist. He wasn’t after this experience. I have spoken with his widow, he died in 2012, I’ve [also] spoken with one of his former students, and they both say that this experience disturbed him for the rest of his life… he never wanted to talk about this experience after getting it put in writing.”
Now, Nicholas subsequently concedes more than he actually intends to; he writes that “By Grindal’s account, some saw the resurrection and OTHERS DID NOT SEE ANYTHING. That is key: if the drummer boy had objectively risen from the dead everyone would have seen it, but they did not.”
Essentially if some people saw it then it strongly implies that we have multiple eyewitnesses. That’s a persuasive piece of evidence that Nicholas actually concedes rather than denies. But perhaps Nicholas might ask why not everyone saw it? Now, one could speculate as to why not everyone present had witnessed Ali’s raising. Remember that Grindal said that the ceremony occurred at midnight when it was dark. It is likely that those who were in the background, and thus who were not up close to the raising, would not have seen the events unfold especially if, as Grindal says, no-one was expecting it to happen. Moreover, Grindal affirms that a group of singers began to dance around the Ali’s corpse prior to him being raised from the dead. This possibly could have obscured the view for some onlookers. Moreover, northern Ghanaian burial ceremonies are not exactly structured. They take place in rural villages and involve dancing, singing, and chanting. Many attendees were likely just too busy occupying themselves with something else that they wouldn’t have noticed Ali being raised for the short time he was. Therefore, there are, I believe, several rational explanations as to why not everyone present would have witnessed Ali’s raising. However, what really matters is who witnessed it. Bruce Grindal, an atheist, witnessed it alongside other attendees. It was proof enough for Grindal to reject his atheism.
2. Only Grindal’s Testimony and Scientific Investigation.
William offers several remarks, “Your only argument against hallucination is that the event was witnessed by other people. Where are the testimonies of those other people? There aren’t any are there… this is simply one person’s account… Yet another “miracle” that just so happens to occur in a time and place that makes it immune to independent scientific investigation.”
The testimony of an atheist, Bruce Grindal, who likely would have believed everything to the contrary of the possibility of someone being raised from the dead (i.e. a miracle) is a worthy testimony. As far as we know this event affected Grindal for the rest of his life as his widow as well as one of students affirmed. The real question is whether or not Grindal was telling the truth, and whether or not he provides a reliable testimony. As far as we know all the evidence points in his direction. Do we have any reason to suspect that he is lying or being disingenuous? Not likely.
Then that William attempts to undermine “Yet another “miracle” that just so happens to occur in a time and place that makes it immune to independent scientific investigation” of which one might contend is just confused.
Firstly, if no-one expected a dead man at his own burial to be raised from the dead then why would anyone expect investigative researchers to be present? Miracles are unexpected, rare events. They are not events that one can prepare for and thus empirically observe as some critics demand. The real contention point is over whether or not Grindal provides a reliable eyewitness testimony. He does.
3. How Does This Square with Christian Theology?
Robert asks an important theological question, “How does that fit the Christian world view? How was he raised? It sounds like a tribal ritual.”
As far as I can tell Grindal’s did not say that he converted to Christianity, nor do I know whether or not he believed in God, or at least the classical Christian conception of God. But what we do know from his life transforming experience is that he rejected his atheism.
Now, there are a few important theological considerations. Firstly, that a miracle, such as Ali’s raising, could occur apart from the supernatural power of Jesus would be, at least to most Christians, consistent with biblical theology. They would likely attribute it to Satan or to dark supernatural powers. According to the Apostle Paul the Antichrist “will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie” (2 Thess. 2:9), and in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns that many “will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive” (Mat. 24:24). According to Revelation 13:11 there will be “great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he (will) deceive those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do.”
Thus, on a Christian worldview, that a genuine miracle could occur apart from Jesus, or the God of Christianity, might show that there are other agents, or beings within a supernatural realm that can have some influence on the natural. However, I don’t think we need to even go that far. The miracle is itself enough.
4. Is Ali’s Being Raised From the Dead Like Jesus’ Resurrection?
Melissa says, “This is definitely one of those bizarre stories much like the resurrection of Jesus. Yet Jesus was the one who predicted His death and resurrection and then delivered on both accounts.”
One might agree with Melissa that Ali’s raising is “much like the resurrection of Jesus” in the way that it is also a remarkable event that evidently had a profound impact on certain people. But they are certainly not the same. There are other miraculous accounts within the Bible where people have been raised to life after having died. For example, Elijah resurrected the son of Zarepath’s widow (1 Kings 17:17-24), Elisha resurrects the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4), and a dead man comes back to life when he touches Elisha’s bones. Jesus is also credited with the raising to life of a widow’s son (Luke 7:13-15), the daughter of Jairus (Matthew 9:25), and Lazarus (John 11:43-44). However, there is a crucial difference, for example, between a resurrection and a revivification. Philosopher and exegete William Lane Craig explains that “A person revived from death merely returned to the mortal life and would die again; a resurrection in Jewish thinking was to glory and immortality. Certainly miraculous revivifications of the dead were known—Jesus himself raised the dead in that sense—, but such revivifications were not, properly speaking, resurrections” (4). Jesus was resurrected into an enteral, imperishable body that would never taste death again, unlike Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and even Ali himself. In this way they are not the same.
5. Was Bruce Grindal Lying?
Jim challenges, “What a bunch of hooey! There’s nothing saying that this guy was examined by a doctor and declared to be dead. Either this was a trick or the author is lying.”
Jim’s proposal would seem unlikely given that it would have us believe Grindal did several very unlikely things. Firstly, Grindal would have to have made it all up, and then base an entire article he penned for the Journal of Anthropological Research on an imaginative lie (5). If he was ever caught to be lying, or inconsistent in any way, it would have severely damaged his scholarly reputation which, for most, is far too much of a risk. However, scholars have widely documented and commented on Grindal’s remarkable experience without them entertaining the idea that he lied about it (6). Secondly, we would have to hold that Grindal not only lied to his wife, but also to his student, and managed to convince them that he was telling the truth when he wasn’t. According to his widow and his student this experience, quite naturally, had a big impact on Grindal for the rest of his life. Did he simply lie, write about the lie in an academic journal, risk his reputation, and then convince those who knew him best that he really saw this even though he really didn’t? It’s hard to entertain the plausibility of such an explanation.
I think we have good grounds for affirming that we have a genuine miracle, and that not only did Bruce Grindal really witness a man being raised from the dead, but that he was also telling the truth of what he witnessed that night in Northern Ghana.
1. Scholar Gary Habermas in communication with clinical psychologist Gary Collins, 21 February, 1977.
2. Scholar Gary Habermas in communication with clinical psychologist Gary Sibcy, 21 February, 1977.
3. Block, M. 2012. An Overview of Hallucinations. Available.
4. Craig, W. 2014. What Was Herod Thinking? Available.
5. Grindal, B. 1983. “Into the Heart of Sisala Experience” in the Journal of Anthropological Research. p. 68.
6. See, Hellweg, J. Englehardt, J. & Miller, J. 2015. Raising the Dead: Altered States, Anthropology, and the Heart of Sisala Experience. Magliocco, S. 2010. Witching Culture. p. 13. MacLean, H. 2012. The Shaman’s Mirror. p. 11.