Monday, September 14, 2009

Near-Death Experiences: The First Word



When presenting evidence for a spiritual realm, I usually bring up the phenomenon of Near-Death Experiences (NDEs).

NDEs are usually very threatening to materialists - whether they're tenured scientists at a university or young horny college students in the HBD/Game movement.

When debating the HBD/Gamers online, I'm often surprised by how hostile they are to evidence that challenges their worldview. I'm sure they think their hostility will make me doubt myself and back off; rather by revealing their own insecurity, it makes me push back even harder.

Let's take Chuck Ross, for instance. Chuck comments on my website (and vice versa) on issues pertaining to Game. Last week, when the Game topic moved to larger questions about God, life and death, tempers flared on both sides. I felt that Chuck was too quick to dismiss my evidence, while Chuck felt that I was personally attacking him. Overall, it was not one of our more productive debates.

In any case, as part of my essay, Kumbaya Alert, Chuck requested more evidence for NDEs. And I promised to give it to him. Just for the record, I am not entertaining any hope that I can convince Chuck of the merits of this issue. But a promise is a promise. And so I emailed my friend Alex Tsakiris, host of the excellent website Skeptiko, to give a brief outline of the best reasons to accept NDEs.

This is most of what Alex wrote...

*I often cite: http://www.iands.org/ and http://www.nderf.org

*NDE is usually a highly organized and lucid experience occurring while unconscious or clinically dead, which is medically inexplicable.

*1,000s of well documented cases of NDE have been recorded by researchers. Best estimates suggest millions have had NDEs.

*Reports of NDE and related survival of consciousnesses experiences are extremely common throughout time and across all known cultures.

*The best evidence (i.e. peer-reviewed published research) establish that NDE can not be explained by the prevailing mind = brain paradigm. Not a single scieitific paper published in the last 10 years contradicts this statement.

*A majority of NDErs, report being able to see and hear in the out of body state during their NDE. The accuracy of their descriptions have been confirmed by physicians who were present during these experiences. Such accounts by one's primary physician are generally accepted as strong evidence (i.e. "case studies").

*Highly visual NDEs occur among those with significantly impaired vision or even legal blindness, including several reported visual NDEs in those blind from birth.

*The consistency of the order and content of NDEs show that they are not solely due to pre-existing beliefs (i.e., religious belief in heaven, judgment, etc.).

*The evidence is favor of survival of consciousness is so strong that, were it not for the taboo against the belief, it would be considered a scientific certainty.

Remember, what Alex provided isn't the final word on NDEs; it's the first word.

Any opposition to NDEs must take these basic factors into consideration and address them head-on.


Semantic games like
"the very definition of the term Near-Death precludes any observations made during death" (yes, that's an actual quote) will not be considered valid.

-TW

9 comments:

Chuck said...

Todd:

thanks for answering my request. i've browsed some of the "evidence" you've talked about. i remain unconvinced although i'm not the final judge of the validity of these things.

first, according to near-death.org, I've had an NDE. I had a distinct out-of-body dream one night. it was memorable because i have never observed myself sleeping from the outside.

all i can say (and this is flimsy refuting evidence) is that there are probably other non-God related explanantions for NDEs. the mind is a powerful thing. it copes in various ways with traumatic experience.

the questions i have, pertaining only to NDEs, is: do people from other cultures with different dogmas experience them? i read about Buddhists who go through their own experience with Buddhist spiritual themes. I've read about Christians claiming to see angels and Jesus. I want to hear about a Buddhist or jungle dweller seeing Jesus. Someone who knows *nothing* about Jesus would be best. There seems to be a correlation between spiritual socialization and the types of NDEs these people have.

I mean, does this imply that our "afterlife" is of our own choosing? If it is arbitrary like that, an extension of our own reality, what is the point of it? How does that reverberate back to our behavior on earth leading up to death? If a person believes in the Christian God and believes he's going to hell for various sins, does he go somewhere different from a Buddhist who believes what he does? How do we match them up, and does that not erase the argument that there is some absolute being?

That tells me that their mind is going over that most important of issues: what happens when we die?

Perhaps I'm hard-headed, but that doesn't prove the existence of some benevolent deity to me. it only proves that the mind is a powerful thing.

I'll admit one thing to you. There are holes in Darwinism. NDEs presents an interesting conundrum. No observation of species' transformation into another is also a conundrum. The irreducible complexity concept is hard to deal with too although scientists (I've heard) are making headway in that department.

The thing is, you overlook all of the evidence for Darwinian evolution. There are numerous species on Earth with tiny differences. They have evolved to meet the needs of their environment, mating strategies, etc. The fossil record shows solid evidence for evolution. Humans have similar physiology, sociology, and even psychology to primates. Are the similarities a trick?

And if you want to say that God put being on this earth at some point way in the past then let nature run its course, allowing for natural selection, you are admitting that evolution is a real process. If you admit that, your argument collapses and you revert to heresay and speculation.

Todd White said...

Thanks, Chuck. I'll respond to your comment later today. But for now, can you double-check the link to near-death.org? I clicked on that link and got a dead website.

Todd White said...

Chuck,

You wrote, “according to near-death.org, I've had an NDE. I had a distinct out-of-body dream one night. it was memorable because i have never observed myself sleeping from the outside.”

I don’t think any NDE researcher would qualify your experience as an NDE due to the fact that you weren’t clinically dead at the time.

You wrote, “There are probably other non-God related explanantions for NDEs. The mind is a powerful thing. It copes in various ways with traumatic experience.

I have no doubt that the mind is a “powerful thing,” but according to conventional materialist science, the mind equals the brain, and thus, once the brain is “dead,” the mind should be dead too. A mind that’s dead should not be able to have a “traumatic experience.” It should cease to exist.

You asked, “do people from other cultures with different dogmas experience them? i read about Buddhists who go through their own experience with Buddhist spiritual themes. I've read about Christians claiming to see angels and Jesus…seems to be a correlation between spiritual socialization and the types of NDEs these people have.”

Alex wrote, “Reports of NDE and related survival of consciousnesses experiences are extremely common throughout time and across all known cultures.” I’ll try to put some meat on that. Based on what I’ve read, there is remarkable consistency in the NDE phenomenon regardless of religion (including NO religion): the feeling of floating above your body, being in a tunnel, encountering a “Being of Light,” etc. As for that “Being,” I once read somewhere that no record exists of that Being saying “I am Jesus,” or words to that effect (although Christians, in recounting their experience later, say “I saw Jesus”). That is their interpretation. Per your line, “There seems to be a correlation between spiritual socialization and the types of NDEs these people have,” I have seen no strong evidence to support that conclusion.

[to be continued]

Todd White said...

[continued]

You asked, “Does this imply that our ‘afterlife is of our own choosing?”

No, I don’t think so. If there’s a “remarkable consistency of NDE experiences,” how would the afterlife “be of our choosing?”

You wrote, “Perhaps I'm hard-headed, but that doesn't prove the existence of some benevolent deity to me. it only proves that the mind is a powerful thing.”

Someone once said – and I’m paraphrasing - “They’ll always be enough evidence to convince the believer, and they’ll never be enough evidence to convince the skeptic.” Based on the research I’ve done, I feel comfortable stating that the NDE phenomenon is real and powerful. But ultimately, each person must weigh the facts based on their own judgment.

You wrote, “The thing is, you overlook all of the evidence for Darwinian evolution. There are numerous species on Earth with tiny differences. They have evolved to meet the needs of their environment, mating strategies, etc. The fossil record shows solid evidence for evolution. Humans have similar physiology, sociology, and even psychology to primates. Are the similarities a trick?”

A few points: There is enough evidence for someone to believe in Darwinian evolution. Not convincing evidence, but evidence, nonetheless. You raise some of that evidence (although I’d quibble with a few of your points). What I have tried to do is expose the Church of Darwinism – the casual, sloppy thinking by Darwinists who then demonize and try to destroy the people who choose to raise doubts about Darwinism. See the movie “Expelled,” for example. The behavior by the Darwinists in that film is appalling. It is contradictory to any concept of science (open minds, free debate, etc.).

Where do thing stand now? As I said, I think a rational person can be a Darwinist. But – unlike 99% of Darwinists – I think a rational person also can believe in Intelligent Design. There’s good evidence to fit both theories (although I think the evidence for I.D. is better). And as someone who believes in God, the idea that God can use his creative force in the material realm is not out of bounds to me. It is out of bounds to the Darwinists. I want people who are open to the idea of God to have the freedom to question Darwinism and weigh the evidence presented by Intelligent Design.

You wrote, “If you want to say that God put being on this earth at some point way in the past then let nature run its course, allowing for natural selection, you are admitting that evolution is a real process.”

To paraphrase Mike Huckabee, “I don’t know exactly what happened; I wasn’t around then.” None of us were. The only option for Darwinists and I.D. proponents is speculation. As for me, my speculation is that the concept, “God created Man in His image” is rooted in truth. And none of my beliefs contradict that statement.

Chuck said...

sorry, near-death.com

Chuck said...

Todd:

"I don’t think any NDE researcher would qualify your experience as an NDE due to the fact that you weren’t clinically dead at the time."

near-death.org has a listing of NDE headings where they have listed "dreams" along with "trauma" and "deathbed" experiences. there is also new research that NDEs are similar to REM experiences.

"A mind that’s dead should not be able to have a “traumatic experience.” It should cease to exist."

Even though you tried to hedge against semantic games, there is a valid point to be made that near-death implies lack of death. these situations - where people are clinically dead - obviously imply that *the person is not dead yet*. if they were dead - by definition - they couldn't come back to life. so there is still some mind attached to the body. maybe it comes microseconds from crossing the realm into death.

"I once read somewhere that no record exists of that Being saying “I am Jesus,” or words to that effect (although Christians, in recounting their experience later, say “I saw Jesus”). "

NDEs would be a lot more believeable if they had.

"There’s good evidence to fit both theories (although I think the evidence for I.D. is better)."

There is no evidence *for* I.D. there is only *lack of evidence* for evolution. that's what creationists rely upon to do their heavy lifting. your spiritual rationalism is a novel concept, but it doesn't hold up because it doesn't rationalize anything new. belief in God is based solely on faith. you can't disprove God just like you can't prove it. it doesn't fit into the realm of science. the only thing scientists can do is find their own theories and explanations that make it highly unlikely that your theory - I.D. - is correct. I.D. and natural selection are mutually exclusive (unless you believe God put beings here then let the mechamism of natural selection run wild; if that's the case, you weaken your argument from the jump.)

Todd White said...

Chuck, I’ve put your language in quotes with my response below it.


"There is no evidence *for* I.D. there is only *lack of evidence* for evolution."

I could just as easily say, “There is no evidence *for* Darwinism; there is only *lack of evidence* for Intelligent Design.

Both I.D. and Darwinism are interpretations of circumstantial evidence; it’s like putting together a crime scene. For example, if a guy falls off a balcony and dies, the police might say, “It was an accident.” But if the guy leaves behind a suicide note, the police will say, “Ah, he intended to die.” And that’s what we’re doing: We’re looking at the evidence. And the evidence, in my opinion, suggests design.

“Your spiritual rationalism is a novel concept, but it doesn't hold up because it doesn't rationalize anything new.”

I disagree. In recent decades, it has been assumed that a “rational life” – i.e., a life committed to Reality, Reason, etc. – by definition negates any possibility of God, spirituality, etc. What I have tried to do is say: There is no conflict here. There is no conflict between reason and faith; science and spirituality. That, to me, is “new.” And important.

“Belief in God is based solely on faith.”

I don’t agree for all of the reasons I’ve laid out: The Anthropic Principle, Intelligent Design, Near-Dear Studies, and other related phenomenon.

“You can't disprove God just like you can't prove it.”

I never claimed that I *proved* God. At most, I’ve said, “looking objectively at the evidence, it is rational to believe in God and a spiritual dimension to human life.”


“It doesn't fit into the realm of science.”

How so? Science means looking at the evidence objectively and drawing logical conclusions. That’s what I’ve done. It’s science in the best sense of the word.

“The only thing scientists can do is find their own theories and explanations that make it highly unlikely that your theory - I.D. - is correct.”

I welcome further scientific research. I have no fear of it.

“I.D. and natural selection are mutually exclusive (unless you believe God put beings here then let the mechamism of natural selection run wild; if that's the case, you weaken your argument from the jump.)”

I believe that environmental pressures can cause minor changes within species (see Darwin’s finches, for example). But I don’t believe human beings arose through Darwinian evolution.

I’ll get into the NDE stuff in a later post.

Todd White said...

A response to your latest NDE entry...

You wrote, "Near-death.org has a listing of NDE headings where they have listed 'dreams' along with 'trauma' and 'deathbed' experiences. there is also new research that NDEs are similar to REM experiences."

I'm aware that NDEs have similarities to REM experiences, but at the end of the day, the only response I can muster is "That's nice."

Why? Because a state of trauma (mind damaged) is fundamentally different from a state of death (i.e., mind is gone).

You wrote, "if they were dead - by definition - they couldn't come back to life. so there is still some mind attached to the body. maybe it comes microseconds from crossing the realm into death."

If they were dead for only "microseconds" as you speculate, I would be very open-minded to that possibility. But when people are dead for 20-30 minutes (and the doctor has signed the death certificate, etc.), then we are dealing with a more complicated phenomenon.

Of course, there is no smoking gun either way. The only way to determine the truth is through critical thinking. For me, I think the balance of evidence shows that the NDE phenomenon is real.

Chuck said...

"But when people are dead for 20-30 minutes (and the doctor has signed the death certificate, etc.), then we are dealing with a more complicated phenomenon."

then they weren't dead. you're assuming a clinical definition of dead. if people can come back to life after 30 minutes then why the hell is Jesus so popular? i thought that was *his* gig.

" For me, I think the balance of evidence shows that the NDE phenomenon is real."

so do you believe in aliens? if not, why do you choose to believe in one thing with scant evidence instead of another?