Thursday, December 19, 2019

Dembski on Eben Alexander's "heavenly" NDE

I'm going to discuss Dembski's analysis of Eben Alexander's reported NDE:

This is one of the most interesting cases for all the reasons detailed in Dembski's chapter. I'll begin by laying my cards on the table, although I'm not saying anything I haven't said before:

1. I think some people encounter God, heaven, or hell during NDEs. It's the real thing. 

2. I use the Bible as a benchmark to interpret and assess NDEs. 

3. Another consideration is what they come back as. Does an unbeliever prior to the NDE come back a Christian or a New Ager? That affects whether I think this is from God.

4. I think it's undoubtedly the case that at least some children have heavenly NDEs. That's not based on any particular report, but the fact that children have immortal souls. Their minds don't pass into temporarily oblivion during brain death.

5. That said, I put no stock in reported NDEs about kids. If it was my own kid, then depending on the details, I might find his report convincing–because I'm getting it in his own words. And he's telling me what he remembers right after the event. But when it comes to books by parents, I'm highly skeptical. 

6. Some NDEs reportedly penetrate much deeper into the beyond than others. In many cases it's the tunnel of light, meeting a luminous being, and not much more. In other cases the patient claims to have seen far more. 

7. Some Christians chalk it up to the demonic. That's worthy exploring, but I'm going to pursue a different approach.

8. From what I've read, there seems to be a false dichotomy in the explanatory options. According to physicalism, NDEs are hallucinations. Figments of a delirious brain. 

It is, of course, true, that people hallucinate under certain circumstances, but that typically involves an intact, functioning brain, not a brain with no higher cortical functions or no neurological activity at all.

Veridical NDEs pose another problem for a physicalist explanation. According to physicalism, the only sources of knowledge are instinct or sensory perception. But some NDEs report seeing or overhearing things in the ER, or other rooms of the hospital, or miles away at home. But that requires ESP, which physicalism disavows. Another cliche line of evidence is the patient discovering a relative in the afterlife they didn't know existed. 

9. As a result, Christian apologists argue that these experiences can't be subjective or merely psychological. They can't originate in the brain. So they must reflect objective encounters. 

And I think that's true in however many cases. But it overlooks a third explanation. Either memory and imagination are located in the brain or else they are located in the soul. If we have an immortal, immaterial mind, then in some cases the NDE could still be "imaginary". 

That would explain the cartoonish or unorthodox "heaven" that some patients report. When higher cortical functions shut down or when there's a complete cessation of neurological activity, the mind may remain active, and what they perceive is like a dream. 

Many unbelievers have a preconception of heaven. They don't believe in heaven, but they think that's what heaven is supposed to be like if only it was real. That's "heaven" in their imagination. In this case, the "heavenly" NDE doesn't originate in the brain but the mind. Their mind already has stock imagery and characters about heaven. A generic, pop cultural notion of heaven. 

1 comment:

  1. I watched Alexander's talk on utube and he is some kind of new ager gnostic.