Thursday, December 13, 2007

Near Death Experiences

I received an email asking about near-death experiences:
I read a lot of your website and I think you have made so many great points about the bible.

I too have been going through my own search for truth and appreciate your views on many of the subjects you have written.

One of the things that I find a little puzzling is your confidence in this life being all we have. Although most all of your points seem valid to me I wonder how much you are willing to investiage the Near Death Experience (NDE), or Out of Body Experience (OBE).

The NDE and OBE documented by some very respected Doctors of Medicine would seem to point to something beyond this life as we know it. I am aware of the scientific explanations of certain chemical reactions at time of death producing this phenomona but we simply do not have an explanation for certain individuals who have claimed to hover over their bodies or travel to other places at the time of their legal death (no brain activity or heart function) -- some can repeat conversations from medical staff after their legal death!

The last issue I still struggle with is matter -- the creation of it, or the origins of it -- did it always exist? Is that possible? Was there never a nothing -- is that possible? How could something come from nothing?

I am just talking off the top of my head at this point but would love to engage someone on these subjects. It seems to me that while you may be right on historical matters there are just some issues we cannot know at this point. It doesn't seem profitable to pull away from the notion of a Creator or an afterlife with what we feel so sure of.


Your concern is that near death experiences indicate that there is something beyond this life. You recognize that there are arguments that explain the subjective feelings of these experiences. When brains are deprived of oxygen, they can respond in confusing ways, which can be interpreted by the patient as a near-death experience. But what about the reports that some people have made observations of events that occurred while they were in this near-death state? Does this prove they were outside the body and making observations of the world?

Before we look at the reported evidence, lets think about the problems with such claims. How exactly is it that these people are able to hear voices? Their brain is practically shut down, and is not responding to sounds heard by the ears. So how are these sounds being heard? Is the soul able to detect sounds without the benefit of ears? If so, why do people have ears? Why doesn't the soul simply tune into these sounds all of the time? And why can't deaf people hear? If souls can hear without using their ears, one would think that deaf people could hear without using their ears. And if the soul is somehow hearing these things and remembering them, exactly how is the soul transferring those memories to the brain. For science demonstrates that our memories are stored in the brain. So how do souls transfer this knowledge? Does the soul somehow manipulate the molecules in the brain? Souls are supposedly immaterial, and are supposedly undetectable by physical means. If souls are able to rearrange molecules in the brain, why aren't we able to detect these souls working?

If we instead decide that the soul is actually using the patient's physical ears and auditory portions of his brain, where exactly is the miracle here? This would prove only that the patient may have drifted into states of consciousness or near-consciousness during the experience. That would do nothing to prove they were outside of their body.

The same problem occurs when we think about the other senses that the soul would be using in a near-death experience. Exactly how are these people seeing without eyes, or smelling without noses?

So there are many problems with believing that the soul of these people is observing while the brain is technically at or near death. Nevertheless, if it really happened, we would need to recognize it.

I don't find that the reports of physical observations during that experience are that impressive. Much that is reported represents basic knowledge of emergency room procedures. Also, the patients have had time to interact with doctors and nurses after the experience. Further, many of these patients are familiar with what others have reported when near death, and they know what they are expected to say. Could their minds simply be assimilating the knowledge of these various sources? In the fog that their brain experiences in the recovery process, could the brain piece this all together into a story? Many of these reports do not occur until weeks after the experience. It is well known that memories change with time, and tend to change in the direction that the person wants to be true. Could it be that these "memories" simply grew with time as the patient tried to make sense of it all?

It would be far more impressive if the patients could report things that they could not have known from any other source. For instance, some have put laptop computer screens in the room, with the screen facing toward the ceiling and away from the people in the room. If the patient's soul is indeed hovering over the room, then he should see the display on the laptop and tell us what was on that display. I understand that such studies have not yet produced interesting results.

Until I see impressive responses that could not possibly have come from other sources, and as long as the concept of a disembodied soul conflicts with so much known science, I will remain skeptical of the claims of out of body experiences.

For more information see Near-death experience.

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