There is a striking story of a professor of anthropology who was an atheist and witnessed a man being raised from the dead (see here). This was the story of Bruce Grindal and his experience that he reported in the Journal of Anthropological Research in 1983. Grindal claims that he “can say with intuitive certainty, that on the night of 23 October 1967 I witnessed the raising of the dead. This experience was real and was seen as such by those who sat to my right in the divination place. It was although everybody present simultaneously touched a live wire.”
With such weighty words in mind, the purpose of this brief entry is to respond to criticisms of Grindal’s testimony. I have shared Grindal’s testimony with many atheists and religious skeptics (and skeptics of the supernatural), and want to include these criticisms together in one place (in this article) and respond to them. I want to defend Grindal’s testimony as one worth taking seriously.
An important point needs to be considered. I am not here affirming the authenticity of Grindal’s experience, although I believe, for several reasons, that Grindal is telling the truth and that his encounter is based on a reliable experience. What I rather want to do here is simply argue that something can be said in favor of Grindal’s experience and that this can challenge anti-supernatural assumptions, especially those held by many of the critics I received feedback from.
Let’s first agree on some items. First, the man who Grindal claims to have seen raised from the dead was really dead. According to Grindal, he had been dead for three to four days, he smelt like it, and his body was already rotting. As he explained in graphic detail, “the corpse was already putrid and oozing juices. An old woman was sitting next to the dead man with a fan even though the corpse had been washed about three hours earlier. The stench in the room was horrible.”
Second, the best explanation for the corpse being raised from the dead is supernatural. I believe most would agree that one is not raised from the dead by natural means, but rather by supernatural means. So, according to Grindal, the corpse was seated upright against the wall where a group of singers began to dance around it. All of a sudden, Grindal saw the,
“corpse jolt, and occasionally pulsating. The corpse, shaken by spasms, then rose to its feet spinning and dancing in a frenzy. As I watched, convulsions in the pit of my stomach tied not only my eyes but my whole being into this vortex of power. The corpse picked up the drumsticks and began to play. After a while the corpse was once again sitting against the left wall of the compound.”
We will refer to this view that the man’s corpse was raised from the dead as the resurrection hypothesis. And with the basics of this story now known, let’s move on to some of the criticisms.
The Hallucination Hypothesis
The most common criticism I came across of the resurrection hypothesis is that of a hallucination. Simply put, Grindal hallucinated his experience and the corpse did not really get raised from the dead. But I have since come to learn that this is a bit of a convenient escape hatch for skeptics of the supernatural and atheists to explain away uncomfortable data. It appears, I argue, that when they do not have an adequate explanation for something, they invoke the hallucination explanation/hypothesis. It is just an easy and convenient blanket criticism to explain away something one cannot fit into his already held worldview and philosophy. I am not saying that the hallucination explanation is not, at times, an adequate explanation for something, rather I am observing that this is usually the first place skeptics will go.
Nonetheless, I have been informed that Grindal experienced a hallucination. How he did depends on the skeptic. One skeptic told me that it was because of something a witch doctor would have exposed him to. Another said Grindal ate some mushrooms and another claimed he smoked some substance. It is also claimed that he had not eaten that day and the day before.
But the hallucination hypothesis encounters several issues. First, Grindal does not give any indication that he smoked or consumed any substance that would have induced a hallucination. The second problem, and which is more problematic for the hallucination hypothesis, is that Grindal tells us that multiple persons witnessed the corpse being raised from the dead. As he stated, “This experience was real and was seen as such by those who sat to my right in the divination place. It was although everybody present simultaneously touched a live wire. No words were said, indeed, what could be said?” (Emphasis added). In other words, several persons saw the corpse being raised from the dead. Yet, what we know of hallucinations is that they are subjective projections from within one’s own mind, namely the mind of the one having the hallucination. So, what the skeptic asks us to believe is that a group of several persons had the exact same hallucination of a corpse being raised from the dead. That stretches credulity.
Not Everyone Saw the Dead Man’s Corpse Being Raised from the Dead
Another criticism of the resurrection hypothesis is that Grindal says that not all the persons present saw the corpse being raised from the dead. As one skeptic answers, Grindal reports the conversation he had with a tribesman the next morning, in which the tribesman reveals that “Some did and some didn’t” see the corpse being raised.
But I am at a loss as to why this constitutes a criticism of the resurrection hypothesis. That “Some did and some didn’t” see the corpse being raised is indirectly saying that several persons did see this happen. What we want is multiple witnesses and that is evidently what we have according to Grindal. Thus, rather than diminishing the case for the resurrection hypothesis, this would appear to strengthen the case.
Moreover, there is likely a reason why not everyone saw the corpse being raised from the dead. First, Grindal indicates that those closest to the corpse saw this happen. Second, it was dark since this occurred at midnight and so could have easily been missed. Third, no one expects a corpse to be raised from the dead and so it could have been missed by those not paying close attention to the group of singers dancing around it. These are possibilities, all of which can account for why not everyone saw this happen.
An Extraordinary Claim Requires Extraordinary Evidence
Perhaps, to my mind, the strongest objection is that we only have Grindal’s testimony to rely on.
I responded that testimony is valuable evidence and that we should give the benefit of the doubt to it unless we have good reason to dispute it. Thus, if we are willing to give the benefit of doubt to Grindal, as we should, then I believe we can accept his testimony and his experience as authentic. When I pointed this out, the critic responded that Grindal’s testimony is not sufficient because his is an extraordinary one. It makes an extraordinary claim.
But while a better attempt to render doubt on Grindal’s experience than most of the other criticisms we have considered, I still believe we can problematize this one.
First, the claim that Grindal’s experience is extraordinary and requires extraordinary evidence is presuppositional. It presupposes naturalism (the philosophical view nature is all there is and the supernatural does not exist) and by default rejects supernaturalism out of the gate. But I maintain that, while siding with neither, we need to be open to both. We need to be open to an adequate naturalistic explanation for the resurrection hypothesis as well as a supernatural one. Personally, I am fully open to a natural explanation for Grindal’s testimony of the corpse being raised from the dead. I just have not seen one as of yet. The whole notion that an “extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence” is simply a sleight of hand to favor naturalism. One should not fall for this.
Second, one could actually turn this argument on its head. For instance, the claim that the corpse did not rise from the dead becomes the extraordinary claim when we consider several factors, such as it being witnessed by Grindal, a well-educated and scientifically-minded individual, a group of persons, and the fact that Grindal rejected his atheism afterward, wrote about it in a journal, and stood by what he saw. Taking these several factors into account, the extraordinary claim becomes the one made by the skeptic, which is that the corpse did not rise from the dead.
The Man Wasn’t Dead
As one skeptic claims, if the corpse got back up “Then the man wasn’t dead.” But the details of the story surely suggest the man was, in fact, dead. As Grindal states, the man had been dead for three to four days, his corpse was oozing juices, and it smelled as if it was decomposing. These are clear signs indicating death, rather than someone staging a hoax. There is the added fact that this was a funeral and burial, suggesting that everyone knew the man was dead.
Admittedly, not many proposed that Grindal lied about his experience, but it is worth answering this objection. We argue here that it seems very unlikely that Grindal lied about what he witnessed. If he had fabricated the story of the corpse being raised from the dead, then why would he have included this fictional experience in a peer-reviewed journal article? If he did fabricate this story, that would be a sound way to get oneself exposed as an academic fraud and have one’s career reputation ruined.
Second, Grindal underwent a worldview transition. He was formerly an atheist and came to reject his atheism after seeing the corpse being raised from the dead. Scholar Michael Licona has insider information on this since he engaged with some of the closest people to Grindal. According to Licona, “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.” A worldview transition is a strong indicator that one did not fabricate events but is being genuine.
What About Other Stories of Corpses Rising from the Dead?
A final criticism is that there are other stories of dead people coming back to life. The assumption held by the critic here is that this must be inconsistent with Grindal’s experience and thus render doubt on its uniqueness. Assumed is that one couldn’t possibly have two stories of dead people rising. They must cancel each other out.
But this is not a good criticism for the simple reason that we evaluate claims on an individual basis. What I argue here is that we have evaluated Grindal’s experience on an individual basis and seen that it withstands criticism and should cause us to question anti-supernatural presuppositions. That another figure may have been raised from the dead (like Jesus Christ, for example), is irrelevant and does nothing to render doubt on Grindal’s experience. Further, that some other figure might have been raised from the dead is not a problem for a supernaturalist because he believes that supernatural events can and do happen. Rather, the problem would like with the atheist and the critic of the supernatural.