NDEs and Heaven

Are near death experiences an indicator of heaven? 

Kyle Hill:

And these takedowns have company. Paul Raeburn in the Huffington Post, speaking of Alexander’s deathbed vision being promoted as a scientific account, wrote, “We are all demeaned, and our national conversation is demeaned, by people who promote this kind of thing as science. This is religious belief; nothing else.” We might expect this tone from skeptics, but even the faithful chime in. Greg Stierwrites in the Christian post that while he fully believes in the existence of Heaven, we should not take NDE accounts like Alexander’s as proof of it.

These criticisms of Alexander point out that what he saw was a classic NDE—the white light, the tunnel, the feelings of connectedness, etc. This is effective in dismantling his account of an “immaterial intellect” because, so far, most symptoms of a NDE are in fact scientifically explainable. [I won’t go into depth here, as another article on this site provides a thorough description of the evidence, as does this study.]…

Explaining the near death experience in a purely physical way is not to say that people cannot have a transformative vision or intense mental journey. The experience is real and tells us quite a bit about the brain (while raising even more fascinating questions about consciousness). But emotional and experiential gravitas says nothing of Heaven, or the afterlife in general. A healthy imbibing of ketaminecan induce the same feelings, but rarely do we consider this euphoric haze a glance of God’s paradise….

The experiment is exploring an NDE under different conditions. Can the same sensations be produced when you are in fact not dying? If so, your rapping on the Pearly Gates is an illusion, even if Heaven were real. St. Peter surely can tell the difference between a dying man and a hallucinating one.

The near death experience as a foreshadowing of Heaven is a beautiful theory perhaps, but wrong.

Barring a capricious conception of “God’s plan,” one can experience a beautiful white light at the end of a tunnel while still having a firm grasp of their mortal coil. This is the death of near death. Combine explainable symptoms with a plausible, physical theory as to why we have them and you get a description of what it is like to die, not what it is like to glimpse God.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • joey

    Has the judgment occurred yet?

  • Steve Teague

    Probably – our timekeeping is not exactly the same as God’s. I suspect if we look chronologically – we can point back to the cross and resurrection.

  • NateW

    I fail to see why a physical explanation precludes this kind of experience also being a glimpse of God. Are we really still working under the dualistic assumption of mutually exclusive explanations for things?

  • http://sweeteye.tablegrace.net/ J.D.

    Agree with NateW. Just because you can point to some brain chemistry associated with NDEs does not automatically invalidate their potential to be a valid glimpse into spiritual reality. Let’s face it, there are two kinds of science/scientists: one type looks at all data objectively and is open to spirituality (Albert Einstein, Francis Collins), and one type that uses materialism as a hammer to deny any possibility of spirituality (a self-fulfilling prophecy). IMHO, it IS important to look at NDEs from the former scientific standpoint, where a large number of NDEs are evaluated, as opposed to personal accounts of NDEs. If you are interested in this approach check out “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences.” The author, a physician, does a great job of dismantling the materialist arguments against the validity of NDEs.


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