Saturday, January 17, 2015

Playing football with NDEs

What are we to make of the Alex Malarkey situation? Unfortunately, he's being used by all sides. 

You have nominally Christian publishers and chain stores that will do anything for a bestseller. 

You have hardline cessationists who, as a matter of principle, don't believe that genuine NDEs or OBEs ever happen–much less bona fide visions of heaven and hell.

That makes Alex a theological football. In addition, he's a marital football in an acrimonious divorce. It's very hard on kids to be caught in the middle of a divorce. To be forced to choose between their mother and their father.

Aggravating that situation is the fact that he's not your average 16-year-old boy. To my knowledge, he's physically dependent on his caregivers. I believe his mother has custody. 

As a result, I doubt he's free to speak his mind. He's too dependent on the adults in his life. Under too much pressure to please a father or mother. 

I think it's unwise for outsiders to get in the middle of a nasty divorce or take sides. We don't know what was said and done behind closed doors. And custody battles are notoriously ugly. Moreover, they can bring out the worst in one or both spouses. One or both spouses may say anything for legal leverage. This isn't a simon pure case of a theological issue.  

It's not so much that I think the publisher should pull the book in light of his public retraction. Rather, I don't think it should have been published in the first place.

As a rule, I don't think young children are reliable witnesses. They are too imaginative, too impressionable, too suggestible, too malleable, too vulnerable to adult pressure. Below a certain age, I think memory is unreliable.

In the nature of the case, the story will be retold by an adult or adults. So it's filtered through them. 

In addition, I assume that his accident resulted in astronomical medical bills. There was a strong financial incentive to peddle a lucrative story. 

This doesn't mean I think children cannot or do not experience NDEs or OBEs. It wouldn't surprise me if angels sometimes appear to dying kids. It wouldn't surprise me if Jesus sometimes appears to dying kids. 

But I must suspend judgment, absent evidence that an outsider can evaluate. I didn't see what the child said he saw. 

There are cases that I think merit respectful attention. There are reported veridical NDEs and OBEs. If well-attested, these establish the reality of the phenomena. 

There are reported NDEs and OBEs by prima facie credible witnesses. Even though they may lack veridical details, if it has already been established that that kind of thing happens, and if it's reported by a credible witness, then I think these are believable. 

You also have people like hospice nurses who are in a position to report things that dying patients say they experience. If there's a pattern, then that's cumulative evidence for the reality of certain deathbed experiences. Of course, that's subject to interpretation. 

From what i've read, Alex is not a credible witness. He was too young when the accident occurred. And, at present, he lacks the personal independence to say what he really thinks, one way or the other.

That doesn't mean we should automatically discount uncanny reports by young children. But to be credible, there needs to be some corroboration. For instance:

Back home, our grandson Knox had been praying regularly for her, and he was two or thereabouts. But that night while praying for her, he stopped, and said, “She died. She is in Heaven.” They found out later that she had in fact died that night.
Outside the Bible, I judge supernatural claims on a case-by-case basis. It ranges a long a continuum. Some are incredible. Some are dubious. Some are plausible. Some are convincing. And in some cases I withhold judgment. 



    For at least three years, my son Alex Malarkey has been speaking the truth and pleading to be heard regarding The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. I’m thankful to the Pulpit and Pen blog for posting Alex’s open letter last week and finally helping his voice to be heard. The sudden interest of the media has meant that many reporters are seeking to investigate the story and I would love to answer every question, but since 2006, I have been Alex’s only nonstop caregiver, and I also have three more precious children to care for. So I’m forced to say no to all interview requests. I hope people understand. The facts of the case are being heard, through sources like the Pulpit & Pen website ( and the Grace to You blog (

    I do stand with my son and I’m proud of the courage he has shown. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

    I also want to correct one glaring error that has appeared in countless news articles over the past few days: I have not divorced my husband and I am not planning to pursue a divorce. Kevin and I are still married. My hope is that all of this can be resolved in a way that exalts Christ by honoring the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:14). That, likewise, has been Alex’s only aim in all his attempts to set the record straight.

    “Now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

    1. Whether or not Beth and Kevin Malarkey are divorced is a question which most of us are in no position to independently confirm. We rely on secondhand information. Whether we hear if from Beth Malarkey or some news outlet, it's secondhand information for the reader. There's clearly a very public rift between the two, with charges flying back and forth. It's best for Christians to maintain a prudent distance.

    2. We need to guard against credulity in opposing directions. In cases like this, both sides can be gullible.

      On the one hand, you have credulous readers who automatically believe the original account of Alex and Kevin Malarkey.

      On the other hand, you have credulous readers who automatically believe the revised account of Alex and Beth Malarkey.

      True discernment is a two-way street. We should be alert to confirmation bias in both directions.

      Some readers found Alex and Kevin Marlarkey's original account believable because it fit into their preexisting narrative.

      Some readers find Alex and Beth's revised account believable because it fits into their preexisting narrative.

      Each side operates with its own plausibility structure.

  2. I didn't believe this story when it initially came out, Im inherently sceptical of all stories of ppl going to hell and coming back, and I cringe when people use such stories as apologetics methods.Like you the only supernatural occurrences I believe without question are those that occur in scripture.