“Groupthink” (Fortune Magazine, March 1952 more)

Christian apologists confidently maintain belief in Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is a rational belief (more>>).  In support of that proposition, one of the lines of evidence Christian apologists point to are the eyewitness accounts of people seeing Jesus alive after he was crucified, dead and buried.  In response to the historically documented eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ post-death appearances, some skeptics contend the eyewitnesses were victims of “groupthinking” or wishful thinking.  This article explores the reasons Christian apologists maintain the explanations that the eyewitness were victims of goupthinking or wishful thinking are inadequate and certainly not rationally compelling.

According to the historical record, after Jesus died, he appeared alive on twelve (12) separate occasions to more than 500 people, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul). On all twelve occasions Jesus was seen and probably heard. Jesus offered himself to be touched on at least three occasions and he was definitely touched twice. Jesus showed the scars from his crucifixion on two occasions and ate food with the disciples on 3 – 4 occasions. On four occasions the witnesses responded to their encounter with the risen Jesus by worshipping him. (See, index of eyewitness accounts) [See, Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection, pg. 141 (1984); Norman Giesler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, pg. 655 (1999); John Ankerberg & John Weldon, Ready with an Answer, pg. 81 (1997); Kenneth Boa & Robert Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences that God Exists, pg. 253 (2002); Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 72 (1998)]

When confronted with the evidence of Jesus’ post-crucifixion and burial appearances, some skeptics attempt to explain away the evidence by proposing the witnesses’ belief they had seen the resurrected Jesus could have been a product of “groupthinking”.  Groupthinking is a term believed to have been first coined by journalist William H. Whyte, Jr. in a 1952 magazine article entitled “Groupthink” (see photo above) and refers to a phenomena that “occurs with groups of people, in which the desire for harmony in a decision-making group overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. [See, Wikipedia, “Groupthink”, accessed 9/21/2012]Groupthinkers talk each other into seeing something they really aren’t seeing because they really want to believe they are seeing it.

Reasons Christian Apologists Maintain the Groupthinking / Wishful Thinking Proposition is an Inadequate Explanation of Jesus’ Post-Death Appearances

The proposition that the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances were victims of groupthinking / wishful thinking has been rebutted by Christian apologists as follows:

Rebuttal Point No. 1:  The Disciples Had Every Motive to “Rethink” their Groupthinking / Wishful Thinking but they Never Did

Due to the severe persecution they faced, the witnesses of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances had every reason to rethink their group thinking / wishful thinking at a later date and either recant their testimony or, at the very least, just quietly fall away. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pgs. 80-81 (1998)] This never happened. Instead, Jesus’ disciples got bolder in their testimony. For example, as recorded in Acts 4:5-31, the apostle Peter and the apostle John were arrested after healing a crippled man and preaching the gospel concerning Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The next day, Peter and John were brought before many of the same Jewish leaders who had been responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion and asked by whose name they had healed the cripple. The Peter aka Cephas responded:

“[K]now this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Because so many people were praising God for the crippled man being healed, the Jewish leaders decided to release Peter and John but not before warning them to stop speaking the name of Jesus.  In response to that warning, Peter proclaimed:  

Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.

After further warning Peter and John to stop preaching the gospel, the Jewish leaders released them and the first thing Peter and John did after reporting what had happened to their Christian brothers was to pray for more boldness: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”  The ongoing persecution the disciples and many in the early church faced for their belief in Jesus is documented in the Book of Acts recorded by Luke the Evangelist.

Despite great persecution and martyrdom which gave the disciples every motive to recant a “groupthink” or wishful thinking, none of them recanted their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and 10 of the remaining 11 original disciples died as martyrs for that belief.

Rebuttal Point No. 2:  As Skeptics, James and Paul Were Not Likely Candidates for Being Groupthinkers or Wishful Thinkers

James the Just was Jesus’ half-brother and a skeptic during the time of Jesus’ ministry before he was crucified (Mark 3:21, 31-35; John 7:1-10). Paul fka Saul was a Pharisee who spent at least a couple of years after Jesus’ crucifixion hunting Christians down to have them arrested, persecuted and even killed. Both of these men were Jewish skeptics and, yet, after seeing the resurrected Jesus (see, 1 Cor. 15:7 – 8), they became Christ-followers and died as martyrs. Neither of these witnesses wanted to believe Jesus had been raised from the dead and there is no reasonable explanation of how these two skeptics could have been “talked into” seeing a risen Jesus. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pg. 81 (1998)]

Rebuttal Point No. 3:  People May Reject Belief in Jesus’ Resurrection Due to Groupthinking or Wishful Thinking

The basis of the allegation that the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ post-crucifixion appearances were products of groupthinking or wishful thinking is that the witnesses so desperately wanted to believe their beloved leader was still alive they chose to believe he had been resurrected from the dead.  However, such an allegation cuts two ways and it can likewise be argued that the reason people don’t believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead isn’t because it didn’t happen and/or because there is insufficient evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, but because they really don’t want to believe it. [See, Lee Strobel, The Case For Easter, “Interview with Gary Habermas, Ph.D., D.D.”, pgs. 80-81 (1998)]  After all, if Jesus was supernaturally resurrected from the dead that means God exists and if God exists, that means there is a holy, just, and righteous supreme being to whom we are ultimately accountable. Additionally, Jesus’ resurrection which Jesus himself predicted (see, Matt. 12:40; Mark 8:31, 9:31; 10:34; John 2:18-20), justifies the conclusion Jesus really was who he claimed to be — the way, the truth and the life and that no one gets to the Father except through him (see, John 14:6). Many people simply do not want that to be true and they will not believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead no matter how much evidence is presented.

Conclusion 

The principle of Occam’s razor, which states simple explanations are always preferable to more complex explanations, only states one should not multiply causes beyond necessity. Occam’s razor can only be reasonably relied on to exclude the need for a supernatural explanation if a sufficient natural explanation can be offered (more>>).

In this case, the rebuttal points set forth above weigh decidedly against the naturalistic explanation that the witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were victims of groupthinking or wishful thinking.  The other naturalistic explanations skeptics have offered to explain the eyewitness reports that Jesus was seen alive after his death are similarly inadequate (more>>). Consequently, Christian apologists maintain it is at least reasonable to look beyond such explanations for an explanation that adequately explains all of the historical evidence, including the explanation that God supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead.

In sum, Christian apologists candidly concede if God does not exist, then Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. Nevertheless, Christian apologists confidently maintain there are good reasons to believe God exists (more>>) and the following seven independent lines of evidence reasonably establish God did, in fact, supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead:

  1. The resurrection best explains the historical evidence of Jesus being seen alive in a resurrected body on at least twelve (12) separate occasions by more than 500 witnesses, including at least two skeptics (James the Just and Paul fka Saul) (here>>)
  2. The resurrection best explains why the tomb Jesus was buried in was found empty within days of his crucifixion and burial (here>>)
  3. The resurrection best explains why Jesus’ disciples were transformed from fearful fleers to faithful followers who endured great persecution and became martyrs for their faith (here>>)
  4. The resurrection best explains why even Jewish leaders and skeptics converted to Christianity after Jesus was crucified, even though Christianity was foundationally centered on Jesus’ resurrection
  5. The resurrection best explains why there is no evidence any site was ever venerated as Jesus’ burial site even though it was common practice to venerate the burial sites of religious and political leaders
  6. The resurrection best explains why the early Church centered its teachings and practices around a supernatural event like Jesus’ resurrection instead of something less controversial like Jesus’ moral teachings
  7. The resurrection best explains the sudden rise and expansion of Christianity so soon after Jesus death even though he had been crucified by the Romans as a political traitor and declared a religious heretic by the Jewish religious leaders

Following a two day debate over the evidence of the resurrection between Dr. Gary Habermas and well-known skeptic, Dr. Anthony Flew, a panel of five philosophers from American universities (including the University of Virginia, James Madison University and the University of Pittsburgh) voted 4 to 1 in favor of the case for the resurrection, with 1 judge voting the debate was a draw. After listening to both sides of the debate, one of the judges concluded the historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was “strong enough to lead reasonable minds to conclude that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.” [Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)]. Another of the judges stated:

Since the case against the resurrection was no stronger than that presented by Dr. Flew, I would think it was time I began to take the resurrection seriously.

[Ankerberg & Weldon, Ready With an Answer, pgs. 132-133 (1997) citing to Terry L. Miethe (ed.), Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, pg. xiv (New York Harper & Row, 1987)] Because there are good reasons to believe God exists and that he supernaturally raised Jesus from the dead, Christian apologists insist it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons for believing in Jesus’ resurrection but it is intellectually dishonest to write off the resurrection as mere foolishness.

For information on how to know God personally, go here.

© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published: June 1, 2012 / Last Updated: May 16, 2013

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

John F. Ankerberg and John Weldon, Ready With an Answer(Harvest House Publishers, 1997)

Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)

William Lane Craig, Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb(Servant, 1988)

William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Crossway; 3rd Edition, 2008)

Norman L. Geisler, BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS(Baker Books, 1999)

Norman L. Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection: Updated Edition(Wipf & Stock Publishers; Updated Edition, 2004)

Gary R. Habermas, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe, “Can Naturalistic Theories Account for the Resurrection?” pgs. 1621-1622 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)

Frank Morison, Who Moved the Stone?(Zondervan,1958)

Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection (Zondervan, 2004)

Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ(Zondervan, 2007)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo:  The image was scanned from a March 1952 Fortune Magazine article written by William H.,Whyte, Jr. entitled “Groupthink” (see pages 114–117, 142, and 146).  The article written by Mr. Whyte is the first  time the word “groupthink” is known to have appeared in print.  That word has become a word of common usage.  The image was downloaded from www.wikipedia.org, “groupthink” and is being used for educational purposes under the Fair Use Doctrine.

Tags: Gary Habermas, group thinking, Jesus rose from the dead, Lee Strobel, Lee Stroble, Resurrection, risen from the dead, wishful thinking, witnesses of the resurrection, witnesses of the risen Jesus, witnesses who saw Jesus alive

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