Say It All Together Now: The ‘Proof of Heaven’ Author Made Everything Up

Did you ever hear the story of how the band Van Halen had a line in their contract rider stipulating that a bowl of M&Ms had to be backstage before a show… but there couldn’t be any brown M&Ms in it?

The request wasn’t there just for the hell of it; it served a practical purpose. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl, that meant the local crew hadn’t read through the contract. If they hadn’t read through the contract, they might have also missed out on checking some very important technical details, which could have ultimately led to minor or major problems during the performance.

The principle was that if you got the little things wrong, you probably screwed up the big things, too.

That’s what was going through my mind when I read Luke Dittrich‘s fantastic takedown of Dr. Eben Alexander in Esquire (the story is behind a $1.99 paywall). Alexander is the man who claimed to have visited Heaven while nearly dead, only to come back, write a book about it (Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife), and rake in the cash.

Dittrich, in a series of interviews with Alexander, points out how some of the most incredible moments in the book could not have been true. Like the time he saw a perfect rainbow:

As [Alexander] nears the end of his tale, every part of his story seems to be connected to every other part in mysterious ways. For instance, his coma began on Monday, November 10, and by Saturday, “it had been raining for five days straight, ever since the afternoon of my entrance into the ICU.” Then, on Sunday, after six days of torrents, just before he woke up, the rain stopped:

To the east, the sun was shooting its rays through a chink in the cloud cover, lighting up the lovely ancient mountains to the west and the layer of cloud above as well, giving the gray clouds a golden tinge.

Then, looking toward the distant peaks, opposite to where the mid-November sun was starting its ascent, there it was.

A perfect rainbow.

It was as though heaven itself was cheering Alexander’s return.

Dittrich spoke to a credible meteorologist, though, who denied a good chunk of that:

“There was nothing on the tenth,” he says. “Nothing on the eleventh…two hundredths of an inch on the twelfth.” The next three days, he says, were rainy and miserable. Then the storm appeared to break on the evening of the fifteenth. The sixteenth was another clear day.

Could there have been a rainbow on the morning of the sixteenth?

“No,” he says.

It’s like that throughout the article. Another time, Alexander writes about how he screamed “God, help me!” in an emergency room. But Dittrich finds out that the doctor on duty, Dr. Laura Potter, had stuck a “plastic tube down [Alexander's] throat” rendering him completely unable to speak, much less yell the words clearly.

Dittrich confronts Alexander with these (and many more) problems, but Alexander just makes a plea not to focus on such minor trifles:

By focusing on the inconsistencies in his story, on recollections that don’t seem to add up, on a court-documented history of revising facts, on the distinctions between natural and medically induced comas, he says, is to miss the forest for the trees. That’s all misleading stuff, irrelevant to his journey and story.

Of course, it’s not irrelevant. Alexander has brown M&Ms scattered all throughout his story. Any open-minded reader must therefore be skeptical about the bigger picture of his “visit to Heaven” and the message he brings back from there. If he’s willing to fabricate the details, isn’t it at least possible that he’s making up the major points, too?

It might be a wonderful message. It might make for a great story. But it might not be true.

Let’s hope Dittrich goes after that little boy next.

(via The Atlantic)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • sk3ptik0n

    Of course it’s not true. I died 3 times and I was in a coma (more than one actually, one natural, another induced) and I didn’t get to visit fantastic places. Heck, at least Coney Island would have been nice. Even a cheap suburban Luna Park would have been something.

    Instead, I felt exactly Zilch. No even dreams.
    I always have very vivid dream. Just last night I was dreaming of deer like creatures made of sticks and foliage that tried to invade the city by scurrying against the walls of the buildings. But every time I tried to alert my friends, they would turn into street signage for professional services like dentists and barber shops.

    Is that weird enough? But that’s my dream. When I flat lined or I was in a coma, it was like being born again. There was no transition from a dreaming state to an awake one. It was from nothing to reality.

    This guy is either full of crap, or I want to try what he is smoking.

    • randomfactor

      Ketamine is what Harris speculated about.

    • think4myselfb/cIcan

      While this hasn’t happened to me, I do have a dear friend who has died twice. She’s very much a christian, still she told me the same thing. There was *nothing*. No light, no family gathered…nirvana.

    • Obazervazi

      Wow, that’s the first time I’ve heard the words “born again” actually make sense.

    • JET

      You should write a book! But it might be very short and you might not make much money.

      • Machintelligence

        Just like the realist’s Diet Guide: eat less, exercise more. It is hard to even make it into a pamphlet. :-)

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Maybe add stock clip art of, I dunno, cats on treadmills.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            Throw in a rainbow too. People like rainbows.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

            ….

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              I would pay money to see that pamphlet.

      • sk3ptik0n

        I thought of it. It would be the shortest NDE book of them all. Maybe I can pass it off as a coloring book.

        “An atheist visits heaven”

        Foreword by Miles the Cat
        Meow. Meow. fuuud! Meow.

        Chapter 1

        Couldn’t find it. Sorry

        The End

    • Teri Westerby

      just because you didn’t remember your experience does not mean it didn’t happen. Also your soul may have stayed with your body, not every soul will leave. Also your soul can leave when you’re not in a coma at all, through meditation or even in dreams. it’s called lucid dreaming. Everyone has different experiences, doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong.

      • velveteenRabbit

        BAHAHAHAAAAAA

      • Nate Frein

        Also your soul may have stayed with your body, not every soul will leave.

        [citation needed]

        Also your soul can leave when you’re not in a coma at all, through meditation or even in dreams.

        [citation needed]

        [I]t’s called lucid dreaming.

        No, not it’s not. That’s not what lucid dreaming is.

        Everyone has different experiences, doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong.

        No, it just means that “lived experience” is a damned unreliable method of getting empirical data, something a bloody neurosurgeon should know full well.

      • The Other Weirdo

        But if you don’t remember it happening how do know you that it did? It’s not like going on a bender in Vegas and not remembering. It doesn’t matter. You have the bushy-haired call-girl you married as evidence of your visit there and a picture of the two of you with the Elvis impersonator who officiated. And if that’s not enough, then there are those suspicious-looking red spots in your private area and the claw marks on your back that match the call-girl’s fingernails.

        But with something like this, if you don’t remember it(and even memory isn’t reliable evidence in these situations), how do you know anything at all happened?

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          And hey, if you have no evidence it happened, but you want to believe it anyway, no intrinsic harm there. But when you demand that other people take you seriously, and then exploit your spiritual experience for money…

          • The Other Weirdo

            I’m not sure I agree. I think there is intrinsic harm to purposely believing without evidence and closing yourself to all contrary arguments. There is intrinsic harm in believing something so hard that you end up prostituting your own near-death experience to shore up your own beliefs, and then you spread the intrinsic harm to others by reinforcing their already ossified beliefs.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              I think that by itself, a belief in the existence of an afterlife and NDEs isn’t harmful because it doesn’t make any claims about the physical universe that matter. The issue is more that NDEs are almost always used to shore up beliefs that do make such claims. So theoretically they aren’t harmful, but in practice we only hear about the group whose NDE beliefs are harmful because they self-select for traits like authoritarianism, gullibility, tribalism, dishonesty and narcissism.

          • par3182

            That’s pretty much the definition of organised religion.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              Well, “spiritual” people would be the ones with the subset of harmless people, and “religious” people the ones almost guaranteed to cause harm through claims about immediate material matters, but in practice, virtually everyone who claims to be “spiritual” is actually “religious”, so I guess I’m defending like two people.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Lucid dreaming isn’t attached to the “soul.”

        I was taught the concept of lucid dreaming after I was raped, to try and combat some hardcore nightmares. Nothing about a soul was ever mentioned.

        I never got very good at it, though, so maybe I’m just missing something. Maybe I don’t have a soul? /snark

        • Don

          You were raped? So that’s why your an atheist…

          • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

            I believe I speak for just about everyone when I say …

            What the fucking fuck?

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I’m sorry but by trying to describe someones soul journey using of-earth logical words like ‘leave’ and ‘stay’ just doesn’t make any sense.

        • randomfactor

          “Soul journey” doesn’t make sense in ANY language.

          • The Other Weirdo

            It does if you’re writing a song. Or, you know, on drugs.

            • phantomreader42

              Or writing a song on drugs. ;)

              • The Other Weirdo

                Or drugging and singing simultaneously. :)

      • Makoto

        You sound like quite the expert on souls. I’m curious, on what do you base this expertise?

      • sk3ptik0n

        My soul? Of course, there is the possibility that I went to Heaven, met Jesus, Krishna and Mohammed, then came back and went for a ride at Magic Mountain and I cannot remember a single thing.

        However, I have had a grand total of 5 experiences, of which only one medically induced, and I forgot my trip in all of them?

        Again, it’s possible, but then I must be the unluckiest person on earth (and maybe heaven).

        I happen to know lucid dreaming and there is no soul travelling involved. I have been able to control my lucid dreaming to the point where I could actually roll back the dream, change the actors and part of the story and play it again. All the while being perfectly conscious of being asleep and dreaming. It’s actually a lot of fun.

        I was already experienced at lucid dreaming when many years ago I tried Opium. There is a reason why Morphine is named after the god of sleep and dreams. WOW. It took my lucid dreaming to levels previously unthinkable. Which to me strongly indicates it is chemically induced rather than spiritual or supernatural, since the way it worked was the same but much more powerful and much more real than the ones I was able to induce on my own by various meditative techniques.

        I wasn’t always a skeptic, in fact I grew up surrounded by seances, homeopathy, the astral world and so forth. And at first, as a kid I was impressed. But it soon exceeded my bullshit meter capabilities and I learned to treat it for what it is: wishful thinking and self delusion.
        And I never said anything to those involved because I am not in the business of taking hope away from those that need it so much. But I stopped believing it myself the moment I learned a few basic magic tricks and a bit of how our minds work and how they can be fooled.

        The main reason for that is that I discovered I hate lies and I love the truth.
        As inviting as looking forward to meet my deceased father in heaven, there isn’t a shred of evidence for it. Not for the religious nor the new age version.

        Of course I would much prefer it, if that wasn’t the case. I’d love to meet my dad again. And Kira, my german shepherd, and Scruffy, the black and white cat that cured my depression and used to sleep with his face in the palm of my hand for the 5 short years I had the privilege to share my home with him. I know my dad would love meeting Scruffy. Why would I resist such a beautiful thought?

        But it’s not true. And if it is not true, I don’t care how inviting the thought is. I have had to learn to live with the memories of my Dad and not with the hope to meet him again one day. My Dad in a sense is alive for as long as I remember him, and I made sure my daughter had good memories with him, so he can live longer yet. In the minds of his loved ones.

        I’d much rather deal with reality than with a nicer, but fake fantasy. And that’s that.

    • Michael W Busch

      When I flat lined or I was in a coma

      Technically, neither of those nor what Alexander went through counts as being dead. Flatlined EKG means your heart stopped, and there is an urgent need for medical intervention. Flatlined EEG means no detectable electrical activity in your brain, but even that isn’t sufficient grounds to say that you were legally dead – in the US, it can be one part of a certification of legal death, but it isn’t enough by itself.

      Of course, all that this means is that medicine has significantly re-defined the meaning of the word “dead”, leading to qualified versions like “brain death”, “clinical death”, and “legal death”.

      Doctors can do incredibly impressive things.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Pfft. Who needs doctors when we have the power of prayer and the ability to read auras.

      • sk3ptik0n

        Obviously, I wasn’t around to discuss the finer points of my demise with the first responders and the doctors. But this is my experience and I did not go out trying to get a book deal either. I was just glad to be back.

        I read several NDE testimonial and as far as I can tell, many of them were caused by very similar situations. If anything, in my case I was really gone while these other people meeting their pets in heaven could have just been high as a kite.

        You cannot be a skeptic just for what is convenient to you. You have to apply the same skepticism to the other NDE as well.

        In the case of “Alexander” (Are you on first name basis?) he is a neurosurgeon. His knowledge and training don’t make it more likely to understand the supernatural, but they sure make him more likely to come up with a more medically credible scenario.

        • Michael W Busch

          I referred to him as Alexander since that is his last name. Perhaps I should have used Dr. Alexander. I was following astronomer cultural conventions by truncating “Dr.” as a prefix in causal conversation.

          • sk3ptik0n

            Sorry. I thought Alexander was his first name. Somehow it seemed odd.

    • Guest

      Well, you are an atheist, so it wouldn’t make sense for you to see heaven *snicker, snicker*

      • The Other Weirdo

        Are you suggesting that what people see during an NDE has more to do with what they already believe rather than the base code of the universe?

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Gasp! Unpossible!

      • sk3ptik0n

        So what you are saying is that one sees what they believe in and not an actual place. That it is fantasy. There is actually a large body of evidence for that hypothesis. You must the the clock that’s right twice a day.

        *snicker, snicker*

  • Bdole

    “Alexander has brown M&Ms scattered all throughout his story.”
    Little brown pellets of something, anyway.

    • Michael

      Best not to eat them just in case.

      • Paul Julian Gould

        So sorry… I try to keep our rabbit in his cage, but he does like to run around sometimes…

  • KMR

    Don’t go after that little boy. I think he was just three when the story allegedly took place. Go after the Dad.

    • Bdole

      I think you might be thinking of a different heaven story. This guy, Eben Alexander, is a doctor who claims to have visited heaven while temporarily brain dead using his credentials to convince people of the authenticity of his experience.
      Edit: “Heaven is for Real” is the one with the little boy.

      • pierre

        I think he’s talking about the link in the last line of the blog post.

        “Let’s hope Dittrich goes after that little boy next.”

        • Bdole

          Ah, my mistake. I didn’t see that.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      You might be able to establish that Alexander was not well-qualified to be a neurosurgeon, but you’re going to have a tough time proving that the three year old boy was not qualified to be a three year old boy.

      • Edmond

        I’m sure he’s perfectly qualified to be a three year old boy. I’m sure he’s expert in all the related fields: imaginative & creative, emulative of his parents, short on knowledge about the real world, gullible of fantastic claims…

      • ~SoACTing

        I would say Alexander was credentialed to be a neurosurgeon — he was also probably smart enough to know that the general public wouldn’t be able to distinguish between that and a neuroscientist!

        ~ SoACTing

  • Terry Firma

    Love this post!

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I wonder if Oprah will go after Alexander like she did Frey

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      God I hope so. She’s about to fall behind on her do-one-useful-thing-a-decade schedule.

  • Lurker111

    I am so SHOCKED! Shocked, am I.

  • good_creon

    I suppose if you’re already believing in God and heaven, it wouldn’t be that much of a leap to believe that God made a rainbow appear even on a day it would be impossible according to meteorology. That’s the problem when you are trying to argue against this kind of stuff. When you believe in a god who can do anything, anything is possible, and any kind of reason or logic against that can be brushed aside.

    • duke_of_omnium

      On the other hand, it shoots to feces any claim that god is plausible or scientifically valid. The moment you appeal to magic, you are conceding the invalidity of your statement.

    • Ewan

      It might be OK to hand-wave away the rainbow as a god magicking one up, but even if you completely accept that as possible, you can’t say that god also made it rain for several days straight when there are good records of it not happening at all.

  • C Peterson

    That it’s all made up is certain beyond a reasonable doubt. The only question is, how much is unconscious fantasy, and how much deliberate fabrication?

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      I think there’s also a point when people start to believe their own bullshit. Happens all the time. There is even a phenomenon in which “psychics” who are very skilled at cold reading start to think they are really psychic. I think this sort of thing happens a lot. People tell a story they want to be true long enough and eventually start believing it.

      • C Peterson

        Yeah, that pretty much falls into the “unconscious fantasy” zone.

        Personally, I have no strong opinion as to whether this guy wrote what he honestly believed or made it all up. The only thing I’m certain of is that nothing supernatural occurred, and that this adds nothing to the existing evidence for the existence of heaven. That is, there is still absolutely zero evidence, and therefore not the slightest reason to believe it exists.

  • JET

    I’m glad someone finally explained how Alexander’s story was most likely bullshit. I had been questioning the very core of my beliefs.

    • Artor

      I hadn’t. It was implausible from the start, but I appreciate the detailed takedown and the views from the actual experts and people who were present.

      • JET

        Damn. I forgot the sarcasm tags again.

        • Baby_Raptor

          /snark is your friend, Jet! Learn him, love him! :P

          • The Other Weirdo

            I thought the best snarks were those that there were left unidentified in the text.

            • Baby_Raptor

              Sometimes they are, sometimes a tag is just needed. Snark needs a version of Poe’s Law, imo…There’s always someone that’ll miss it if you don’t tag.

          • DavidMHart

            Just be very careful in case your
            /snark
            turns out to be a
            /boojum

  • The Other Weirdo

    If the major point is true, there is no need to fabricate the minor ones.

  • pierre

    Technically, you can read the Esquire article without paying, it’s just really difficult and tedious.

    • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

      Since you mentioned it, I’ll append some helpful directions here.

      Using Google Chrome with Adblock Plus, add the following filters:
      http://www.esquire.com##.tp-lightbox
      http://www.esquire.com##.tp-reset

      Voila!

    • Michael W Busch

      It’s not that difficult. Just save the page to your computer and open it from there. The paywall script will error out, and you can read the article just fine. Esquire’s setup is apparently greatly lacking.

  • Brian Westley

    So this means, there are no brown M&Ms in heaven?

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      No M&M’s, period. It’s supposed to be too good to imagine (which makes it a fairly stupid carrot), and I can imagine me some M&M’s.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Heaven would not be heaven without peanut butter MnMs. And dark chocolate Milky Ways.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Dark chocolate makes my sinuses burn :( Milkshakes! Does Heaven have those goddamnalicious mint Oreo milkshakes?

          • Michael W Busch

            Chocolate allergy? Ouch.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              Nah, it’s just dark chocolate. I had a leftover piece of chocolate-on-chocolate birthday cake* just a little while ago with no issues.

              *Someone else’s. Muahahaha!

              • Dave

                Typical atheist.

                • C.L. Honeycutt

                  I can’t believe it took four whole hours for someone to pick up on my godless immorality. Must be because of the holiday.

  • David Mock
  • Rain

    I believe it. Of course I’m probably not the best skeptical atheist ever though. I believed the one banana guy when he said bananas prove Jesus. Worst atheist skeptic ever, that’s me. I believed http://exodusinternational.org/ when they said they were shutting down too. Good one, guys. They probably scored a lot of cash on that one, lol. They still sell the same stuff over there if anyone wants to buy some stuff while supplies last. Make sure to click the donate button. Maybe they meant they were shutting down in “dog years”.

  • Keyra

    New atheists would say anything to deny it. A neurologist who shared the same opinions as most other neurologists; that’s it’s the result of brain chemicals acting up, & DMT or some shit…but finally an actual neurologist has a NDE and some New atheists still deny it. We still don’t know the futility of NDE but it’s something, a glimpse; but it’s easy af for people to deny what they didn’t experience for themselves. Even if Jesus shows up in our lifetime, there will be people who still deny

    • Dave

      Alexander isn’t a neurologist. He’s a neurosurgeon. He performs surgery on brains. He doesn’t study them like a neurologist does.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      A neuroSURGEON* can hallucinate just as much as anyone else, and can be fooled by them just as easily. You’ve experienced minor hallucinations today. So has everyone else you know.

      Crying that some hallucinations** must instead be MAGIC and that there are mean people who don’t agree with you about any particular hallucination being MAGIC doesn’t make for an argument. It makes for whinging.

      If a 900-foot Jesus showed up in New York breathing fire rainbows, the Bible would still be a moronic explanation of the universe. It would actually be more plausible that Jesuszilla was Q in disguise and trolling humanity.

      *Please Google “argument from authority”. While you’re at it, please Google all the other major fallacies, try to understand them, and discuss them with the other theists you know in a “how to not do this” roundtable, because frankly, it’s getting old and boring.

      **Specifically, the ones that you want to be true and magical. Convenient that.

    • Michael W Busch

      We don’t deny that he may have had a near-death experience. What we say, with considerable supporting evidence, is this:

      1. He lies or at least is provably wrong many times in his book.
      2. We only have his personal report for his subjective experience while he was on the table. He could be making the whole thing up.
      3. Human brains are prone to hallucinations, particularly when the oxygen supply to the brain is depleted or temporarily interrupted and when a long list of different drugs are introduced into the body.
      4. Humans are also prone to confabulation, where we unconsciously construct false memories or distort real ones to fill gaps in accurately-recalled events. These can range from subtle alterations to bizarre total fabrications, and while someone may believe they are telling the truth, what they remember didn’t actual happened.

      So even if he is telling the truth about what he recalls, Alexander’s experience does nothing to prove the existence of any form of heaven. What it does show is that human brains can do strange things.

      And I would hope that a neurosurgeon would understand all of that, especially since the last two are relevant to diagnosing patients.

    • Matt D

      You may swallow any story that supports your religion or faith…this man counts on people like you to take fiction as fact, when it supports your personal bias.
      I prefer more honesty when it comes to fantastical claims, but that’s where we differ, of course.

  • Teri Westerby

    I’m sorry but by trying to deny someones soul journey using of-earth logical processing just doesn’t make any sense.

    You don’t see or speak or hear with your human body, when you leave it you are using your soul senses. You may not SEE a rainbow with your eyes but your energy can perceive a full rainbow of energy from the sun. That does not mean he made the whole thing up.

    You are seriously missing out on this life if you don’t believe in souls.

    • velveteenRabbit

      BAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAA

      you are seriously missing out on this life if you don’t believe in Santa Claus.

    • John Evans

      That word, Energy, I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • Dave

    • Nate Frein

      I’m sorry but by trying to deny someones soul journey using of-earth logical processing just doesn’t make any sense.

      When you can provide compelling reason to believe that there’s any other kind of logical processing, I’ll consider trying something else. But since “of-earth logical processing” is responsible for literally every human innovation, I think I’ll stick with it for now.

      You don’t see or speak or hear with your human body, when you leave it you are using your soul senses. You may not SEE a rainbow with your eyes but your energy can perceive a full rainbow of energy from the sun. That does not mean he made the whole thing up.

      Say it with me now:
      [citation needed]

      You are seriously missing out on this life if you don’t believe in souls.

      I don’t fool around with mere “belief”. I know for a fact, that I, and everyone else on this planet, is made out of the very same particles that formed stars and galaxies in the earliest reaches of time.

      We are made of stars.

      Your “soul” nonsense is a trifle compared to that.

    • The Other Weirdo

      This, by far, is the funnest thing I’ve read all day. Also, see John Evans.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Don’t forget to explain how you’re a superior person who appreciates the universe more than people who don’t believe in magic spells because they know that brains fool themselves constantly.

      Oops, my bad. You did that already in the last sentence.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Could you kindly explain what it is we’re missing out on?

      • Teri Westerby

        Sure: you’re missing out on opportunities, connections, truly making this lifetime fulfilling by following your soul purpose that you chose before you incarnated. You’re missing out on becoming a better person and ultimately more perfect.

        Eventually you don’t ever have to incarnate here again, so you are going to miss out on shortening your times spent here on earth to learn what you need to learn (which is a good thing, cuz Earth sucks!)

        • baal

          How about since ‘Earth sucks’ we all dedicate ourselves to making it suck less for everyone during our short time here?

          • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

            Less suckage in Terra sounds like an excellent plan, O Baal! I’m on it.

        • Michael W Busch

          You have failed to present any evidence for the following claims:

          1. That people exist before their brains grow (i.e. “soul”).
          2. That there is any “soul purpose” to be fulfilled.
          3. That people exist after their brains are dead.
          4. That people who believe in souls are better people than people who don’t.

          And there is quite a lot of evidence that #4 is false.

          • Teri Westerby

            The first part of a human body that grows in utero is the heart. The heart knows to grow on its own before a brain even is formed. How can you explain that?

            Have you ever meditated? have you ever even spent one second on looking inwards instead of just judging outwardly?

            I don’t need to prove it to you. I live my life how I wish just as you do. At the end of the road once you die, then I will prove it to you.

            and finally, I never said that people who believe are better than people who don’t. Nobody is better. We are all equal and here for our own purposes. When you realize this, Tolerance is easy.

            All I speak of is that you are losing out in this life by not waking up to your purpose.

            • Nate Frein

              The first part of a human body that grows in utero is the heart. The heart knows to grow on its own before a brain even is formed. How can you explain that?

              Simple genetic instructions.

              Have you ever meditated? have you ever even spent one second on looking inwards instead of just judging outwardly?

              All the time.

              I don’t need to prove it to you. I live my life how I wish just as you do. At the end of the road once you die, then I will prove it to you.

              Or you won’t. You can guess which I think is likelier.

              And, yes. You do need to prove it to us if you want to be taken seriously.

              and finally, I never said that people who believe are better than people who don’t. Nobody is better. We are all equal and here for our own purposes. When you realize this, Tolerance is easy.

              Almost every post you have made here has called us “pig-headed” and “ignorant” and other such judgmental language. You’re either lying to yourself if you really believe that, or you’re lying to us.

              Either way, you’re lying.

              • Paul Julian Gould

                What I find interesting is that this particular blog is coming from a standpoint of atheism…. the blogger is an atheist, and, as such, the articles are written from an atheist worldview… that’s not the interesting part, though…

                I am not an atheist… I’ve never attempted to portray myself as such… deciding to comment on an atheist blog, is, to me, predicated on the idea that I am a guest in someone else’s home… It is not my place to dictate someone else’s behavior in his/her own home, criticize the decor, and attempt to convince them they should have bought the duplex up the street instead…

                To behave otherwise is to be as a troll… I question the wisdom of the above commenter attempting to proselytize for… well, for something, I suppose, as well as that person’s discretion.

            • TCC

              How can you explain that?

              This schtick is tired, Bill.

            • Michael W Busch

              @First: No, it isn’t. The first part of a human body that grows is the cleavage furrow, which establishes the bilateral symmetry of the embryo, and the differentiatiation into what will become the digestive system, kidneys, and lungs; what will become the muscles, skeleton, and circulatory system; and what will become the nervous system and skin. The heart doesn’t form until 4-5 weeks after fertilization, at which point there is already a nerve cord, limb buds, precursors to all of the other internal organs, and a fully functioning placenta and umbilical cord. As Nate Frein has explained, the development of the heart – along with everything else in the body – is determined by genetic regulation. The study of the underlying genetic mechanisms is a field of science called developmental biology.

              You need to learn some, and also some general biology. Start with this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embryology

              @Second: Yes. Not bad for managing stress. Nothing to do with anything external to my body.

              @Third: Yes, you do – you have an obligation to provide evidence for the claims that you make. That’s called the burden of proof.

              @Fourth: Yes, you did. You said “[people who don't believe in a soul] are missing out on becoming a better person “. That’s the same as saying “people who believe in souls are better people”.

            • Nate Frein

              [...]you are losing out in this life by not waking up to your purpose.

              It seems to me that by focusing on the nebulous concept of future lives and souls, you are the one missing out on this life. You’re too busy debasing Feynman and misattributing Einstein to see all the wonders of this world. You’re too busy pretending your hallucinations are real to appreciate the complex chemistry that goes on in your brain to make those hallucinations happen.

              To paraphrase Douglas Adams, you’ve been taken to a beautiful garden and your first question is “how can it be beautiful without fairies?”.

              To quote Tim Minchin, “Isn’t this enough?”

              That against all probabilities, over billions of years, simple chemistry built up in complexity to create us? That we are formed of elements ejected from ancient stars?

              That humans, through observation and innovation, have found ways to understand the mechanics of the universe in ways our brains aren’t wired to know? That we’ve done so in a timespan that barely qualifies as a blink of the eye compared to the age of the universe?

              We’re here against all odds, and you have the audacity to ask for more from the universe?

              • Paul Julian Gould

                I would posit that the fundamental difference between a thinking atheist and a thinking theist is the ascribing of personality, in some form, to all that is… a proposition that is admittedly unprovable, from the one standpoint of the logical impossibility of proving a negative, and from the other attempting to describe something that by definition transcends description… but the agreement, at least from this crusty old theist’s view, is that what is observable is wondrous enough without any addition — anything else is commentary.

            • phantomreader42

              Teri Westerby, delusional liar, babbled:

              The first part of a human body that grows in utero is the heart.

              Like so much of what you say, this is simply not true. Do you care whether or not what you say is true? Even a little tiny bit? If you did, then you’d make some effort to correct your many lies, but you have not done so. So, since you clearly have no interest in the truth, why should anyone believe you?
              You also display a disturbing degree of willful ignorance on pretty much every subject you’ve touched on. So again, since you not only don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t WANT to know, why should anyone believe you?

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              When you say that people who don’t believe in souls are blinkered, which is what you are saying, you are saying that they are less than those who do. Words matter, even if you don’t understand what you write.

              If you didn’t feel the need to prove it, you wouldn’t be here repeating yourself and talking about your special superior magic knowledge that exists because you say so.

              • Teri Westerby

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ4a_Gu49SA

                I am merely trying to help. I am also on a Journey and I am equal to all those around me as they are my equals.

                • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

                  Just so you know, Kirlian photography as a supernatural phenomenon has been completely debunked for ages. Check it out on the interwebs. In general when investigating paranormal claims especially, I always go to the debunkers to see what they have to say. Last thing I want is to believe everything that sounds attractive, as I used to do that a lot, trying to bolster my spiritual theories instead of taking the time to understand the fundamentals of nature and especially the fundamentals of the brain. The way our minds work it’s very easy to get caught into a poetic or romanticized reality as a bulwark against the mundane. But that is of course mind stuff. We build visions that cast our lives in a way that connects us to things. Sometimes we go too far. We are of course connected to things, but not like a radio to God. It’s simpler than that. We’re all here.

                • Teri Westerby

                  Good to know, and probably a bad example. I wish people would put more time into researching what is as they do what isn’t.

                  I just ask that nobody deny someone else’s experience just because it doesn’t make sense for them.

            • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

              Your first paragraph simply says “I don’t understand biology.

              Your second paragraph recommends meditation, which is a practice involving training the mind. Why train the mind unless you equate mind with soul in some regard?

              As for paragraph 3, welcome! Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Claims made with evidence, blessed evidence, are always welcome.

              Paragraph 4 is good in spirit, but actually, I might be a better computer programmer than some. Others are better dancers than me. So some are better at some things, and that is an important thing to acknowledge especially as regards recognizing valid authorities vs invalid ones. But of course we are all equally deserving of respect in terms of autonomy and freedom from harm. In that sense we are equal, and that is the basis of civil rights.

              Final paragraph, you seem to think that having rigorous standards for what we will accept as factually true somehow prevents us from discovering and fulfilling our purpose. Of course that’s simply not true. If you’re worried about people squandering their potential, maybe prisons would be a more effective place to take your ministry. For the most part atheists are doing just fine!

        • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

          Teri, if you think Earth sucks, you’re doing this ‘life’ thing all wrong.

          • Paul Julian Gould

            Ah, but you see… there is no such thing as gravity… it’s just that the Earth sucks….

            (OK… kidding…)

    • Michael W Busch

      You don’t see or speak or hear with your human body,

      I do. Seeing as how my body is me. There is no evidence of any kind for mind-body dualism.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson
    • Brian

      I had a near death experience once, and i saw Heaven, and it was populated by Muslims, so it would appear you picked the wrong religion and are going to burn in Hell for it, and dont you dare try and deny my soul journey, because that doesnt make any sense.

      • Teri Westerby

        How are you sure they were Muslims and not your interpretation of what you saw based on your human experiences?

        • duke_of_omnium

          If irony were painful, this one would be a morphine addict.

        • Nate Frein

          How are you sure that your “lucid dreaming” really proves the existence of your soul?

          You don’t get to insist that your lived experience is absolute proof of something and then turn around and reject that standard for someone else.

    • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

      Teri, here’s an easy experiment to see if you actually have a “soul”:

      When you go to sleep, try to retain your sense of self through the whole night — Not just the REM dreaming phase, but the dreamless segments as well. Upon awakening, you may realize that “you” were not there at all for a large part of the night.

      Now consider this, please: If you can’t utilize this “soul” when your body is alive and your brain is functioning, what makes you think that it’ll be there after you die?

      • Teri Westerby

        I have experienced lucid dreaming. I know souls exist and I know how to connect with mine and my soul-journey.

        You can, absolutely 100%, utilize your soul when your body is alive and brain is functioning. You use it every day and you take it for granted. Intuition, personal energy, deja-vu, when you feel like “you’ve known someone for years but you just met them”, etc, are all spiritual experiences that you must learn to recognize and build them, and more will come to you.

        You are not a human being having a spiritual experience, you are a spiritual being having a human experience. Once you realize this you may awaken to your true purpose and existence here. You will see your soul connections and find your purpose.

        It’s time for you to wake up.

        • Nate Frein

          I have experienced lucid dreaming. I know souls exist and I know how to connect with mine and my soul-journey.

          Just because you’ve experienced something doesn’t mean you correctly interpreted why that something happened.

          You can, absolutely 100%, utilize your soul when your body is alive and brain is functioning. You use it every day and you take it for granted. Intuition, personal energy, deja-vu, when you feel like “you’ve known someone for years but you just met them”, etc, are all spiritual experiences that you must learn to recognize and build them, and more will come to you.

          More evidence free assertions. When you provide compelling evidence to back up these statements, we will begin to take them seriously.

          You are not a human being having a spiritual experience, you are a spiritual being having a human experience. Once you realize this you may awaken to your true purpose and existence here. You will see your soul connections and find your purpose.

          None of which you have any evidence for.

          It’s time for you to wake up.

          That’s a funny thing to say when you’re the one with her head in the clouds.

          You need to “wake up” and realize that what you have is all you have.

          You need to “wake up” and stop trying to replace the wonders of reality with your pseudo-religious woo.

        • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

          Teri, I’m familiar with lucid dreaming. My question was whether or not you could retain that awareness for the whole night. I really don’t think so, and the blank spots in the middle of the night suggest that I’m probably correct about that.

          I used to do the woo — I studied Reiki and played around with the occult. With the passage of years I’ve come to see it as a placebo at best, self-delusion at worst.

          As for “true purpose,” I think that’s a bunch of malarkey. Purpose is something we create for ourselves in life, not something that we blindly carry to Earth from some supernatural otherworld, undergoing “tests” in the hope of one day remembering what the heck we came here for. That’s a ludicrous concept.

      • baal

        Hypnagogia is a subjective personal experience. Subjective personal experiences are terrible evidence for facts about reality.

    • TCC

      You don’t see or speak or hear with your human body, when you leave it you are using your soul senses.

      Thank you for this great example of words that make sense on their own but absolutely none together.

      • Teri Westerby

        I believe Einstein was quoted of saying: Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.

        If you realize that your soul is made of energy, and that energy can pick up other energies, you will realize that your soul is far more powerful than your physical body, and has far more senses as such. You can tune into these senses if you weren’t so ignorant and pig-headed.

        • Nate Frein

          Prove that this “soul energy” exists.

        • baal

          What?

          This is not physics.

          Woo Woo types don’t get to claim quotes from Einstein; he didn’t swing your way.

        • TCC

          That’s not physics, not even remotely; it’s just bullshit you pulled out of your nether regions. “Match the frequency of the reality you want”? This is another example of words that make no sense together. You might as well talk about the buoyancy of brainwaves or the malleability of the number 3.

          I am, however, amused at you calling me ignorant, so thanks for that.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          No, that’s a quote New Agers have attributed to Einstein, but you won’t find any credible source for it because he did not say it. It’s the kind of thing Deepak Chopra would say.

          “Everything is energy” is a pretty poor way of describing it, but sure, that’s theoretically correct.

          “Match the frequency of the reality” reality doesn’t have a ‘frequency’.

          That’s not philosophy or physics. It’s bullshit.

          Your brain works in ways that seem illogical and strange, and does things you don’t think it is, or think you want it to. You could understand that if you weren’t so ignorant and pig-headed.

        • Michael W Busch

          Einstein never said anything of the kind, and you do not understand physics. Go learn some, and stop reciting nonsense.

          In particular, you do not understand what the word “energy” means. So you should start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy . Short answer: energy is a conserved physical property of the universe. There is nothing mystical about it.

          There is no “frequency of reality”. The universe is not a sine wave. So you need to read up on math too. Try this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequency

          And there is no evidence for any kind of soul. If you had any, or any of the supernatural senses you claim to have, you would be getting a check from James Randi for 1.3 million US dollars.

          • Teri Westerby

            In the words of Richard Feynman, “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount”

            There is insurmountable amount of evidence. It is scientifically proven. It just doesn’t offer you an explanation, so you are unable to accept it. Your ignorance and closemindedness is shameful.

            • Nate Frein

              Just…stop.

              Stop quoting scientists in fields for which you have no understanding.

              Feynman was explaining that quantum physics breaks every “common sense” rule that human brains have for the workings of the universe.

              To try to mangle that argument to say that your special little brain is capable of “knowing things” without any outside evidence is ridiculous.

            • Michael W Busch

              @First: You are entirely misunderstanding that quote. Feynmann was explaining that we do not have a unique model for why energy is quantized in physical systems – and that’s true in some cases but not in all (we understand quite well why energy levels in atoms and molecules are quantized, for example). That has nothing to do with the claims you are making, which are provably false and indicate that you don’t understand the vocabulary of science.

              @Second: No, there is no evidence of anything supernatural existing. At all. Again, if you claim to have some, present it to the scientific community, the media, and James Randi and get your 1.3 million.

              And at the risk of invoking argument-from-authority: I am a professional astronomer and trained as a physicist. I say you don’t understand physics or the math necessary to describe it, and you need to go learn about it. I gave links to Wikipedia and its sources. They are a good place to start.

              And since I am not inclined to type out an entire course of physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology here for you, I will not reply to you further unless you admit to your ignorance of science and begin to correct it.

  • chrislaws22

    Why do I care what a math teacher in Chi Town says about a near death experience? Oh, I don’t! Loved this book.

    • duke_of_omnium

      And let’s face it, if facts and details mattered, you wouldn’t be a christian in the first place.

      • Pepe

        Burn!

    • The Other Weirdo

      You cared enough to comment that you don’t care at all.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      “So when they continued defending proven liars, he lifted himself up, and said unto them, He that is without butthurt among you, let him make the first post that isn’t insecure posturing.”

    • Michael W Busch

      This isn’t what Hemant says, or about what Luke Dittrich said – this is Hemant reporting Dittrich’s review, remember.

      It’s about what the evidence says. And the evidence is that Alexander has either lied or is wrongly remembering many things, and that his entire reported experience is some combination of cognitive disturbance, confabulation, and willful deception. Near-death experiences aren’t “proof of heaven” or anything else beyond the odd properties of human brains.

      And do not dismiss arguments just because of who said them. That’s the ad hominem logical fallacy.

    • Brian

      I love the Game of Thrones series of books (asoiaf), but that doesnt mean Westeros is real either.

    • phantomreader42

      Yeah, chris what possible reason could you have to care whether or not what you believe is actually true? If you gave a flying fuck about the truth, you couldn’t pretend that your imaginary friend will torture anyone who disagrees with you forever for your depraved entertainment!

  • busterggi

    If I had visited Heaven I’d have gotten god’s autograph to prove it.

    • JET

      Or at least a buddy pic on your phone.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        This might be the best possible use of the phrase “Pics or GTFO.”

  • alanwil2

    When will Eben be getting his Nobel Prize? I would like to go to heaven, but I don’t know where it is. Oh, well.

  • Tak

    My mom was reading this just prior to her impending death from cancer. I never read it but I recall feeling immense sadness as the reality that she was dying really hit me and anger that such charletans profit from the fears of vulnerable people.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    An old Southern saying is “Little lie, big lie.” If someone is willing to be untruthful about something small, then you can bet that person isn’t going to be finicky about the big things either. It’s a saying worth remembering as we wade through the many wide-eyed “testimonies” that we hear from religious people.

    Christians especially tend to believe anything they’re told if it reinforces their beliefs. I saw that over and over again, especially since my ex was involved in the ministry. I can tell you that not a single dramatic “testimony” I personally investigated out of dozens ever, EVER turned out to have happened as recounted (look up the downfall of Mike Warnke sometime for a good chuckle), but the more dramatic and reinforcing a story is, the better-received and the less-scrutinized it tends to be. Christianity just has a social reward system that is skewed toward the dishonest. Alexander’s discovered that he gets rewarded socially (and financially) for talking this way, and so I predict that he is only going to exaggerate his claims more and more to get bigger and bigger rewards from his audience. He’s not going to break down and admit he got some things totally wrong as long as he is rewarded. As you’ve said so many times, Hemant, we cannot expect Christians to do the right thing unless they’re forced to do so. So I’m glad that you’re calling him out. Thank you for writing about this story.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Yep, if someone will lie when it doesn’t even matter, nothing they say is credible. I’m actually going to be using that in a civil case in a few months, since the defendants are prone to making up provably false stories and stupidly posting them on YouTube to impress strangers.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        Good luck with the case :) Isn’t it weird that a pack of non-Christians would be the ones to take truth seriously?

  • Rob Cunningham

    Van Halen also had a habit of trashing their backstage areas for no reason whatsoever. Damned if I don’t love them anyway.

  • Godlesspanther

    Yeah! Go after the Burpo kid next! I hate that kid — stomp the little bastard.

    • RowanVT

      Really? You hate a child who has been rewarded for his make-believe story, and so of course continues with it? How about you despise his parents for continuing the charade? How about you hope he grows out of it?

      • Godlesspanther

        I was joking — Hemant wrote, “Let’s hope Dittrich goes after that little boy next.”

        I was following his line of sarcasm.

    • TCC

      Go away, troll.

  • JoseValdes

    Dying on an operating table turned me into an atheist.

    Not all at once, but after being “dead” for almost a full minute and not seeing anything… in fact, not being ABLE to experience anything because of the lack of consciousness… that started me down the path that would eventually lead to a full deconversion from christianity.

    Been god-free my whole life, known it for the last 10 years, and glad I died in 2002 or I never would have started living.

    • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

      A friend of mine had a near death experience when he was very young and went down a long tunnel to “another place.” He said it seemed like an eternity, time without end. And he wasn’t alone. In fact he had a long conversation with The Great Kazoo, the little green levitating alien from The Flintstones, who told him all kinds of very profound but inexpressible things.

  • Mairianna

    Kinda scary that a neurosurgeon doesn’t understand that the brain can go a bit haywire when the body is under duress (not to mention what pain medications can do).

  • http://www.thinkyhead.com/ Thinkyhead

    Others have pointed out that much of Alexander’s story does sound very plausible, if someone was telling a story of their experience with DMT, Salvia divinorum, or Ayahuasca. The website Erowid is full of very similar stories, all the result of altered brain chemistry. It’s absolutely amazing what kinds of experiences the brain is capable of generating, and how vivid and real they can seem. That should be no surprise, as everything we ever experience, from the most vague to the most visceral, all happens within this 5 pound mass.

  • Rob

    Actually, NDE’s (near death experiences) are unique in the fact that even though the subject’s brains are technically dead (thus no scientific reason why they would be experiencing any kind of mental activity), large numbers of people who’ve experienced one have had very similar experiences. God is real, he created us and the universe and he loves us.

    • HQ

      He’s real and he loves us. He loves us so much that he’s going to send most of us to hell, where we’ll be tortured for eternity.

    • Derrik Pates

      Wrong. If the person was “brain dead”, they wouldn’t be able to come back to life. Period. Brain death is *not reversible*. It’s not like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “You’re dead!” “I’m gettin’ better…”

    • Nacchas

      He loves us SO MUCH that he allowed the Nazis to slaughter 6 million Jews and millions more Poles, Gypsys, etc. and allowed live babies to be thrown into ovens at Auschwitz. Get a life, moron!

  • UD

    It’s advertisement of some church, not true story. Dr.(?)Alexander quoted conversations between his relatives and pastor, which no one can remember in such a situations, and, in addition, he was’n there. It means that it’s not truth, or is “something more than truth”. If We can’t believe to part of his story, We can’t believe to all this story.

  • iamwhatiam

    You do realize that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever in the
    scientific literature that proves that the brain “creates”,
    consciousness. There are “associations” between certain physical
    and mental functions and particular areas of the brain, but it’s not the same for every person, so precise cause and effect is very hard to prove. Consciousness is the greatest mystery of our time, and the least we should do is be humble enough to realize that
    there’s a whole lot going on that we have no earthly idea about. If you
    don’t believe me, read about the double slit experiments, especially
    the more recent versions. Thousands of experiments have led to the
    unavoidable conclusion that it is impossible to separate consciousness
    from how matter or “reality” manifests itself. The scientific community
    is going on “blind-faith” that we will one day figure out how the brain
    creates consciousness, because there is zero empirical evidence so far. Don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and read about the “hard problem of consciousness” in the book The Conscious Mind. If one has a more mature approach to what the word “God” might be pointing to, and then replace the word “consciousness” and all its mysteries and potential with the word “God”, we can begin to see that there’s no evidence that the brain creates God. God, like consciousness simply IS, it’s a reality we can’t escape, it’s our most immediate experience and pointless denying. We are no where near understanding consciousness, nor what the word “God” is pointing to.

  • Dave

    http://weilerpsiblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/luke-dittrich-and-esquire-have-been-debunked/ says that the Esquire article is full of crap. And Dr. Laura Potter has gone on record refuting Esquire’s assertions.

  • Dave

    Actually, here is the Robert Mays article that destroys Luke Dittrich’s Esquire article. And it doesn’t help that Dr. Potter has accused Dittrich of misrepresenting her statements.

  • Dave

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