Proof of Heaven?

Proof of Heaven? March 4, 2015

I am delighted to be part of the Patheos book club about Eben Alexander’s book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. It is an account of the author’s experience while in a coma. It may be appropriate to call it a “near death experience.” But that very term may introduce assumptions that deserve investigation. Mystics who were not in comas have claimed to have similar experiences. And so ought the experience be treated primarily in terms of how close to death or otherwise the one having the experience happens to have been?

The book has already been the subject of a great deal of publicity, which has brought skeptical claims and counter-claims into the discussion. I have no reason to doubt that Dr. Alexander’s description of his experience is true. And I, like everyone other than him, cannot verify his claims about his experience.

And so the interesting thing to discuss is the interpretation of his experiences.

I remember how adamantly I rejected the suggestion that my own “born again” experience might be “psychological.” Both the offering of that suggestion as a supposed criticism, and my rejection of it, reflect the mind-body dualism that many presuppose. And I think that Alexander presupposes it, when he speaks of his soul having journeyed elsewhere apart from his body. But it seems to me that his experience – which at times he expresses using terminology derived from Hinduism, such as Om – is every bit as compatible with other views, such as that reality itself is fundamentally consciousness. If everything is ultimately one – as many mystics as well as physicists claim – then that is also true of body, mind, and consciousness.

“Near death experiences” are unlikely to ever provide what skeptics will consider adequate proof of life after death. But for me the interesting thing is the experience. We exist in a universe in which people have such experiences, and that in itself is remarkable, more so than any particular account of the mechanisms at work or the layers of reality that might be fathomed. If Alexander’s experience had nothing to do with the function of his brain, then our current understanding of the relationship between brain and memory must be completely wrong. But this is why I have stopped bristling at the use of the term “psychological.” All experience is psychological. And so for me, even if the experience did not involve an immaterial soul leaving a material body, that doesn’t make it less striking or less worth considering. The intuition that, at its deepest level, reality is not matter but love is one that may sound like New Age nonsense. But does it sound that way because it genuinely makes no sense, or because we have become accustomed to try to reduce love to chemistry? If love is about relationship, then there are views of reality which are taken very seriously by philosophers and physicists, and which view relationships and events rather than “things” as the most fundamental.

A recent post on the blog Only A Game discussed the relationship of Process Thought to the “hard problem” of consciousness.  (See also my review of Keith Ward’s book More Than Matter.) Alexander’s book also discusses this “hard problem” which stems from taking the one thing that we can be sure of – consciousness – and making it a problem on the basis of an approach to the universe as “matter” which has proven very useful in describing and studying certain aspects of what exists, but does not necessarily get at the fundamental underlying nature of things.

In the end, I am not sure how to best interpret Dr. Alexander’s experience. I am definitely committed to being extremely cautious, since, if science may not have all the answers, that is not a justification for embracing “alternatives” uncritically. But I do think he is right to emphasize that it is a misguided approach to reality which regards human experience, including mystical experiences and including love, as things to be reduced to physical processes, rather than as clues to the meaning and nature of reality itself.

Alexander has created a website about his experiences and those of others who’ve had NDEs, which may be of interest.

Have blog readers had these kinds of experiences? I know that even skeptics and atheists have had experiences of things that are normally considered paranormal, and interpret them in different ways. To use a phrase from the book (p.146), do you give yourself permission to believe your own eyes and your own experiences? Or do you rule out the possibility that some experiences reflect reality, because of a worldview that you adhere to which rules out the possibility that such experiences are veridical? If the latter, does that stance make sense to you, given that the experience, and the deduction about the nature of the world, are all products of and then funneled through human consciousness? Do you believe that we should we trust some of our reasoning and experiences, but not others? If so, why?

I hope that readers interested in this topic will take a look at Alexander’s book, but that even those who’ve never read it will take this opportunity to discuss the broader topic of the nature of existence, experience, and knowledge.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Well you’re looking at someone who has stepped over on the other side of life to have some adventures to tell. My eBook on amazon, TO LEARN.TO LOVE.: The Meaning of Life, is about an incident that happened to me 10 years ago. I’ve had 3 NDE experiences and honestly I too am skeptical about everything I saw. Mostly because words can’t describe everything I’ve seen. My mind isn’t that brilliant. But we can see beyond our own world and into the amazing dimension of life to come.

    • Nick G

      …so send me your money!

      • Josh Magda

        Right after you send us yours for McDonald’s french fries, the U.S. military budget, whoopie cushions, PEZ candy dispensers, and all the other superfluous things contemporary people waste their money on.

        God forbid we pay for substance, or for the fruits of disciplined spiritual inquiry. Books magically write themselves, you know.

        • Nick G

          Er, what? I’m not the one using a third party’s blog to advertise my wares.

  • John MacDonald

    I wouldn’t make too much about many different people all over the world experiencing the psychological phenomenon of the near death experience. It is not uncommon to see common psychological phenomena across a large range of people. For example, it is common for children all over the world to experience the “falling down the stairs nightmare,” or some variant. Near death experiences are probably just vivid dreams as the result of the conscious and/or unconscious awareness of the brain that an individual’s life is in peril (or threatened in some way).

    • Dale

      Except that some people are able to recount verifieable facts and conversations that they would have had no access to were it only a dream.

      • Caleb G

        I wonder about the “verifiable” part of that statement. I hear these stories but getting the true story can be difficult. Often I am getting the story third or fourth-hand. And our memory can reconstruct events that did not happen in the way we remember. It is also hard to introduce independent controls because often people recount their stories years afterwards. I have also heard that certain drugs delivered to certain lobes in the brain can induce NDEs. I am very interested to find out if while in a NDE people experienced conversations and facts which they could not have access to otherwise.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Yes, it’s one of those things I’d really like to believe, but when you really dig down into those stories of “so and so knew something he/she would’ve NEVER known!” it gets pretty muddy. Children are often much smarter and remember MUCH more than adults think.

        • I recently read a book by Anita Moorjani in which she claimed that during her NDE she was able to hear and accurately recall conversations which took place between her doctors and family. Not only was she “dead” at the time, but the conversations happened outside her room, well down the corridor.

          There are other examples of people who have had NDEs apparently being able to remember things that, in theory, they could not have known – details of the operation, where doctors or nurses put particular things, etc. I guess unless you recorded every operation on the off chance that the patient had an NDE, it would be impossible to verify how accurate these memories actually are. There was an experiment proposed a few years ago where researchers planned to put cards face up on shelves in operating theatres – I.e. they couldn’t be seen by a patient on an operating table, but might be seen by a disembodied spirit during a NDE. I’ve no idea if the experiment ever ran or what the results were.

          • $133323962

            Yes, the experiment was conducted. “AWARE Results Finally Published – No Evidence of NDE” http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/aware-results-finally-published-no-evidence-of-nde/

          • Yes, such anecdotal claims do sell books. We live in a society that is often gullible.

          • Oddly there’s fairly little about her NDE in the book, it’s mostly just new age type wisdom.

            I think that many people who are turned off by mainstream Christianity also find atheism fairly unappealing and sometimes look elsewhere for… I don’t know, spiritual food or something. Partly that’s why I bought it myself. And partly it’s because I have addiction issues with 99p Kindle daily deals.

          • Josh Magda

            Indeed. The success of Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, etc. prove that. Never before in the history of publishing, have swindlers sold so many books off a subject they know so little about (religion).

            Or. They could just be writing books because they believe their theses to be true. Just like the rest of us.

          • Actually, Harris and Stenger write (past tense for Stenger) very specifically in their fields of expertise.

            You could argue that Dawkins strays from his field in The God Delusion, but his books on evolution are the best laymen’s books for his field available. And that’s not just my opinion, but also that of his peers.

          • Josh Magda

            Right. When I’m allowed to write screeds against the problems and inaccuracies of first century science, while ignoring or downplaying the intervening two millennia of progress, I’ll consider their efforts to be intellectually honest.

            As to Eben, many of you seem to be under the assumption that I am bewitched by this one man’s testimony. He is one of thousands of documented individuals who have had NDEs. If he were to come out tomorrow and say he made the whole thing up, my metaphysics is not going to rise and fall with one witness. The ouster of Brian Williams doesn’t suddenly invalidate all journalism on the Iraq War.

          • Fortunately, nobody’s waiting around for your opinion.

          • Josh Magda

            Nor are most people waiting with baited breath for the next missional materialist offering, whether in printed form or in the form of your team’s trolling religious websites. Unlike me, you all seem intent on repeatedly foisting your unwanted opinion on folks you know already disagree with you.

            It’s anyone’s guess as to why.

          • Despite your accusation, I don’t have a team, and I don’t engage in trolling. I engage in substantive discussions on this blog; atheism does not always enter the conversation. But, even when it does, the blog owner quite often invites such discussion.

            When it comes to this discussion, my opinions about NDE tales are hardly “foisted” on people who already disagree. Quite the contrary, most on this blog would agree.

          • Josh Magda

            Calling people gullible because they find value in books you do not, is not substantive, it’s entry number 1 or 2 in the missional materialist playbook.

          • Yes, I’ve noticed that you never say anything remotely condescending, sarcastic, or dismissive. :^)

            I’m sure you can find such sound bytes in any robust conversation.

          • Josh Magda

            I could catalog the instances of derision and ridicule directed at religious people, before I started returning sarcasm for sarcasm. But I have better things to do. As I’m sure you do.

          • There’s nothing wrong with a bit of sarcasm and poking fun in healthy conversation. Even Jesus employed sarcasm. As do you … It’s permissible – not a matter of who “hit” first.

          • Nick G

            Sure, people report strange experiences from times when they were very ill. What’s in dispute in general is whether these tell us anything about an “afterlife”. But in Eben’s specific case, there is ample reason to question the honesty of his account.

          • Josh Magda

            As a neurosurgeon of many years, even one falling on hard professional times, Eben likely wasn’t hurting financially. I doubt he arranged to have himself placed in a Life-threatening coma for financial gain and our literary amusement.

            I think the Salon article is a demonstration of the way the ego seeks to invalidate that which it cannot understand. It feels more secure and valuable that way.

          • Nick G

            Don’t be so ridiculous. Of course I’m not suggesting that the coma was deliberately induced. I am saying that the account of his experiences may well be dishonest, considering both his past record – and I note you have not actually tried to show that anything in the Esquire article about that past record was false – and the fame and money to be made from such accounts.

          • Josh Magda

            I think the point I stopped taking the Esquire article seriously was when the author (attempted to) fact-check the rainbow with a meteorologist.

            Someone had an agenda, and it wasn’t Alexander.

          • Nick G

            So you’ve no information that contradicts the evidence it provided of Eben Alexander’s dishonesty. I thought not. And in fact the evidence of the meteorologist indicates that one of the few checkable parts of Alexander’s account is false.

          • Josh Magda

            One-fourth of the critiques seemed salient to me, but I stopped taking this one-fourth seriously at the rainbow-validation exercise. This silliness indicated to me the ego-driven nature of the article all the more.

            The other three-fourths of the observations, mostly about Eben’s professional downward spiral, are non-observations signifying little beyond the author’s cynicism. As I said in a previous post, it isn’t always the case, but usually, for God’s Kingdom to come, ours has to go.

            The author doesn’t believe Eben, and because he doesn’t, he can’t understand how the importance of telling the story of the experience could trump all other concerns. Eben’s experience demolishes the achievement orientation that forms the basis of the death-averting, ego-driven Life. Eben is a Living, breathing refutation of the worldview that likely underlies the author’s efforts here- a worldview where achievement matters more than anything or almost anything, and where death is final.

            Put simply, Eben and his experience rock the foundations of the author’s worldview. So I understand the pushback.

          • Nick G

            Eben’s experience demolishes the achievement orientation that forms the basis of the death-averting, ego-driven Life.

            Hilarious. The man has achieved fame and wealth far beyond anything he had before precisely by telling this story, which we have good reason – that you choose to blind yourself to – to suspect may be false.

            Put simply, Eben and his experience rock the foundations of the author’s worldview.

            No, they really don’t, and you make clear here that you understand nothing about the issue. Even if Eben Alexander is telling the exact truth about his experience, it goes precisely no way whatever to establishing that he actually met God, or that there is a Heaven.

          • Josh Magda

            Agree to disagree.

          • Josh Magda

            “The man has achieved fame and wealth far beyond anything he had before”

            How in god’s name do you know that? Let’s see. I’m sure the third-generation neurosurgeon a) purposefully perpetrated medical malpractice so that b) he could infect his brain with bacteria and arrange to have himself placed in a coma, all so that he could c) one day write a book called “Proof of Heaven,” no doubt becoming a laughingstock in the professional circles he has valued his entire adult Life.

            Give me a break. You and the Esquire author do not have access to Eben’s medical records, nor will you ever. As such your criticisms come down to the following: 1) (principally) “I don’t believe the story” and 2) “Mr. Darwin’s Universe dealt Eben a “defeat” (in your own egocentric evaluation) and I don’t understand why he can’t lie down and take it like a man.”

          • SLB

            One does not have to have a NDE to experience the other side. Many have. Those who question NDE in not being real makes me wonder how than can they believe in God?

          • slb

            Don’t let these guy’s comments bother you. They just lack the spiritual growth that you have and don’t understand.

          • Josh Magda

            Most of my interlocutors here have been atheists.
            There’s plenty of people, though, who believe in God, and also question the ontology behind NDEs. Serious faith requires that we Live the questions, not only the answers.

          • SLB

            I know what you mean. People need to realize that being religious and being spiritual are two separate things. Religions started out with more spiritual beliefs and then throughout the ages man’s ego and beliefs changed the face of religion with their man made rules and beliefs this is what causes Religious wars and misunderstandings such as what I read here on this blog. There is proof of Life after death. I am one who have experienced the other side without having a NDE. I am talking about your soul can travel to the other side. I also have talked to several people who have had NDE and shared what they saw and they did describe Heaven. There is a book that share stories from people who experience ADC Project: a Leap OF Faith. The book is called ‘Hello FROM HEAVEN” by Bill and Judy Guggenheim. This book ” Hello From Heaven is a living discussion of communications from those who have died. It represents years of scholarly research, yet is warm and very readable. I have talked to men and women who have experienced this including myself. I must of talked to at least 40 people here in my home town. Not one was from the internet. They were all in person.
            The following might interest you even though on a different topic. From PBS Home Video “The Secret Files of The Inquisition” which unveils the incredible true story of the western world’s most potent religion and its determination to maintain power at any cost. For centuries the historical records of the Inquisition have been locked away to become the subject of legend. In 1998 the Vatican opened these archives for the first time ever.
            From the Great Courses, which you can get the courses off the internet been in business for 25 years courses taught by the top 1% professors in America. Topics they cover is from Health to Science anything that may interest someone they have. The Professors are from such as Yale, Princeton and other top Universities. Here are a few courses: “Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication” and “The History of the Bible: The Making of the New Testament Canon.” Others like the “Great World Religions:” and “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity”. The next one I don’t know how you feel about it but I will share the title with you. ” How, Historically, Did Jesus Come to Be Seen as God?” If you would be interested in these or other topics their web site is http://www.TheGreatCourses.com

          • SLB

            This is to those who doubt NDE and what I said that I did not experience a NDE to experience the other side. I can hear your wheels turning in your brain so I want to let you know that I don’t take any legal or illegal drugs so no I was not tripping. The more spiritually you become the more psychic you become and the more you experience the spiritual realm more.

          • Does becoming “more spiritually” also have an effect on grammar and punctuation?

          • Nick G

            As it happens, I don’t believe in God, but some Christians believe that once you are dead, you will be conscious of nothing at all until the Last Judgement, when all the dead will be resurrected at the same time. That would seem to imply that NDEs, whatever they are, tell us nothing at all about the afterlife.

          • SLB

            The Christians that believe that the soul will be resurrected in the last days is a man made belief. When it is time for you to die (as I call it cross over) your soul leaves the body the moment you pass. The way I believe the Christian faith would call me an atheist but I know better. I don’t believe like Christians do my beliefs starts where religions leave off. When you say that you don’t believe in God what do you mean. Many believe this but say that they believe in a higher power. Unfortunately
            the Christian faith preach that those who do not believe in their ways are atheist. I believe in spirituality not in religion because of the man made beliefs. I don’t condemn anyone’s beliefs I only do when they believe in violence and hatred. It has took years before I was able to comprehend all the experiences that I have had experienced since I was a child made sense. I studied and all my questions were answered. I continue to grow in knowledge and spiritual strength. God does not judge how one believes we are all chosen. God loves and believes in all of us. The book Hello from Heaven does describe Heaven in some areas. I know that Heaven has mountains, valleys, rivers, flower gardens and animals. If you had a pet their there too waiting for you too. We are 30 years old and communicate by telepathy and we speak Aramaic. We love, learn, work and play. I have to go for now maybe I can share more later.

          • Nick G

            I don’t believe like Christians do my beliefs starts where religions leave off.

            Oh, I see. You’re far superior to those foolish Christians!

            When you say that you don’t believe in God what do you mean.

            I mean I don’t believe in God. Sorry I can’t express it in Aramaic for you – ask James McGrath for a translation!

          • Nick G

            How in god’s name do you know that?

            As far as fame is concerned, he has appeared on the cover of Newsweek and on Oprah Winfrey. That’s adequate proof that he has achieved fame far beyond anything he had before. As for wealth, I admit that’s not quite such a slam dunk, but with a book that was on the NY Times best-seller list for at least 97 consecutive weeks, and now a second best-seller, I think the inference is a reasonable one.

            Let’s see. I’m sure the third-generation neurosurgeon a) purposefully perpetrated medical malpractice so that b) he could infect his brain with bacteria and arrange to have himself placed in a coma

            You’re being dishonest, which indicates that you know the weakness of your position. I have already said quite clearly that of course I do not think Alexander deliberately put himself in a coma. I ask that you stop attributing to me positions that I have explicitly repudiated.

          • Josh Magda

            “I have already said quite clearly that of course I do not think Alexander deliberately put himself in a coma.”

            Why not? What evidence do you have that he DIDN’T? After all- it’s every scientific professional’s DREAM to appear on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah.

            I’m just chiming in with Luke’s cynicism-fest. Maybe it’s a grand conspiracy going back years or even decades. After all, it was a super-rare strain of bacteria that adults almost never catch. What are the chances? As a medical professional he had access to biological samples none of us do. Maybe Eben saw the writing on the wall years ago- you know at Harvard- and decided a 200 page popular best seller on heaven is where the action is at.

            We’re all waiting for his confession.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHx-kita75Y

          • Nick G

            This sort of dishonest rubbish says a lot more about you than about me.

          • Josh Magda

            You badmouth a man you’ve never met based on cynical middle-school non-journalism, because you have a problem with people who think the World is actually more benevolent than you do?

            I think I’ll pass on sitting in your corner.

          • Nick G

            Eben Alexander has not, to my knowledge, denied the speciifc allegations about his past made in the Esquire article: the dismissals from professional posts, and the legal cases against him for medical malpractice, involving the dishonest alteration of medical records. You credit the word of a man you’ve never met, who has a record of dishonesty, and who has ridden to fame on the unverifiable account he has given of his experiences. And you deliberately misrepresent the positions of those you argue with about it. If you were sitting in my corner, I’d move.

          • Josh Magda

            I haven’t deliberately misrepresented anything. I’m asking “what if?” and “why not?” That’s all. The bar for inquiry into this matter has already been set for us by Esquire, aka “The Rainbow Hunters.” Let’s be sure we Live up to it.

            “the dismissals from professional posts, and the legal cases against him for medical malpractice”

            This has nothing to do with anything other than yours and the author’s cynicism. Sort of like Michael Brown robbing the store didn’t justify his shooting. Only in this case, someone falling on professional hard times isn’t criminal in any way. The lack of empathy is astounding.

            “the dishonest alteration of medical records.”

            The only critique that would have any substance, if it were accurate. As Alexander still has medical credentials and has not been brought up on criminal charges, apparently the people who DO have his records have reviewed these particular charges and found them lacking.

            But let’s continue to trash him.

          • Nick G

            Yes, you have deliberately misrepresented my position. After I made it clear that I did not believe Alexander deliberately brought about his coma (which would have been an absurd belief), you continued to attribute that position to me. That’s simply dishonest. And the comparison with Michael Brown is both bizarre and grotesque. I’m questioning the honesty of a man far richer and more influential than me; not shooting someone dead.

            If the claims about him are false, why not deny them specifically, which as far as I know – and evidently as far as you know, or you’d have pointed to such denials – he has not done? He settled the cases involving dishonest alteration of medical records out of court. That he has not been charged with criminal offences does not mean that those who have his records have reviewed those charges at all. Unless a criminal complaint was made against him, why would they?

          • Josh Magda

            “you have deliberately misrepresented my position.”

            No I have not. I have asked what if and why not. I am aware that you don’t believe the infection was deliberate. If sarcasm is suddenly taboo, I should still be making a stink about your saying I placed my own brain on lockdown.

            “He settled the cases involving dishonest alteration of medical records out of court.”

            Please alert Esquire. I am sure they will be alarmed and find it quite suspicious that a malpractice suit was settled out of court. Perhaps they can get a twofer out of this deal.

            “And the comparison with Michael Brown is both bizarre and “grotesque.”

            It was an apt comparison. It’s grotesque to you because you are afraid of death. So is my ego, but I am not. That’s because I know “where” (what is essential about) Brown is right now. I know what Brown died into.

          • Nick G

            It is misrepresentation when a position I have explicxitly disowned is repeated as if it were mine.

            Please alert Esquire.

            That’s where the information came from.

            It was an apt comparison. It’s grotesque to you because you are afraid of death.

            That’s just contemptible. I am certain Michael Brown’s family and friends would much rather have seen his honesty questioned, than seen him shot dead.

          • Josh Magda

            You’re reading things that I’m not saying. Michael Brown was/is a cultural example of blaming the victim of a tragic situation. No one wants to be brought up on malpractice. The fact that the malpractice happened, first and foremost to the victim(s), and secondly to Eben, is tragic.

          • Nick G

            No, I’m reading exactly what you’re saying. And it’s most unpleasant.

          • Josh Magda

            Its clear we’re meaning different things with the Brown metaphor.

            But why have you latched onto the Brown thing? Don’t you know that your getting incensed at me is not going to do anything for Brown, according to your own WV? Your defending him post-mortem isn’t going to bring him back, nor keep him alive in any way that is meaningful to HIM. Memories come and go. Eventually Brown’s will too. People and species die. We vanish like a fart in the wind. According to your WV, anything we do here other than survive and reproduce is just gravy.

            The gravy-train has failed to deliver justice to Brown or his family. It likely will not. Nothing we can do to create justice in the future can help Brown; he is beyond all help in your WV. Perhaps you yourself would rather not Live within the leylines your WV has drawn for you. If that is the case, why are religious worldviews that offer more than your own, such a threat to you? Is it simply cynicism again?

            I like what Huston Smith said one time: What mean-spiritedness leads us to say “it’s too Good to be true,” rather than saying of the materialist scenario, “it’s too BAD to be true?”

            But I’m done here.

          • Nick G

            You dragged Michael Brown into this, without good reason – I have just responded to that. I don’t consider that religious wordlviews offer more than materialist ones, or are “too good to be true”, nor that our assessment of their goodness or badness has any relevance to which view is true. And you’ve said several times that you are “done here”, then continued to comment. Why?

          • Josh Magda

            “I don’t consider that religious wordlviews offer more than materialist ones.”

            If Brown, the Sandy Hooks kids, and the Shoah victims- among uncountable others- were actually in Heaven, would you still think that materialism offers the same or more? Or would you be glad that you are wrong? Be honest.

          • Nick G

            It would depend on whether anyone is in Hell. But if everyone goes to Heaven, what’s the point of putting people through suffering here? The very existence of suffering and evil makes the notion of a benevolent and all-powerful being completely implausible.

            Oh, and I thought you were “done here”.

          • Josh Magda

            I’m not done with EOM. But I was going to be done with you. For this morning. And then we kept talking. Sorry to deflate your expectations, if you had them. Life is full of disappointments.

            The question of suffering etc. is irrelevant to whether or not you want something more than annihilation for the least of these.

            No Hell. Especially not eternal Hell. And not just humans. Everyone and everything that has ever existed, would inherit a qualitatively better state of Being.

            Now what? If you still want to go get the glitter so you can make “stardust” mandalas with the Unitarians, go for it. For me, when a star has to bury its child, I’ll consider such exercises a potential substitute for God. But not before.

          • Nick G

            Yes, that would be nice. Now, can I have my unicorn that farts rainbows?

          • Josh Magda

            People don’t have any experience of a unicorn that farts rainbows, so I can’t help you there. But there’s plenty of experiences of God/Spirit/The Sacred to consider when evaluating the initial proposition.

            In the whole tapestry of human experience, past, present, and future, only ONE such experience has to be ontological, rather than hallucinatory, for your entire worldview to be delightfully wrong.

            Which, according to you, would be nice. I think it would be too. 🙂

          • Nick G

            But there’s plenty of experiences of God/Spirit/TheSacred to consider

            No, there are not. There are experiences which people interpret in that way, but it’s noticeable that these are highly culturally-dependent (this includes NDEs), and that they can be induced chemically, and using high accelerations and possibly magnetic fields. There is zero evidence that they involve anything non-material.

          • Josh Magda

            In the whole tapestry of human experience, past, present, and future, only ONE such experience has to be ontological, rather than hallucinatory, for your entire worldview to be delightfully wrong.

            Which, according to you, would be nice. I think it would be too. 🙂

          • Nick G

            Not so, of course. Many such experiences involve encounters with a malevolent supernatural being or force. There is no reason whatever to assume that if there are such things, that they are well-disposed to us. Here, of course, the existence of evil and suffering are highly relevant.

          • Josh Magda

            “There is no reason whatever to assume that if there are such things, that they are well-disposed to us.”

            From the “within” of mystical experience, there is every reason to believe that.

            PS be back on l8r. Take care.

          • Nick G

            From the “within” of mystical experience, there is every reason to believe that.

            All that means is that the experience gave you the warm fuzzies; but plenty of people have had terrifying experiences they interpreted as supernatural. There’s no reason to accept either as veridical.

          • Josh Magda

            My testicles are warm and fuzzy and all I need to do is touch them repeatedly to feel the same way. That sounds like another attempt at diminishment.

          • Nick G

            Just a response to your citing your private experience as self-authenticating.

          • Josh Magda

            I was actually referring to the cross-cultural and cross-temporal witness of the mystics, repeatedly verified by communities who have not locked their brain down to one reality station, so that they now only receive the scientific frequency. The mystical data points from nonscientific frequencies are extraordinarily similar… in the handful of cases where they aren’t identical.

          • There is only a “handful” of cases in which mystic reports aren’t identical?

            So let’s list a few of the “mystical data points” we have collected thus far from various witnesses:

            We fly around on butterflies after we die.
            Demons await some souls to escort them into hell.
            Demons may bite you, tear you, humiliate or violate you.
            You might be greeted by your favorite rapper, Kid Cudi, who isn’t even dead yet.
            We might find ourselves set before a literal “pearly gate”, constructed of mother-of-pearl.
            You might be thrown in the depths of hell, where you will be placed in small cell with reptile-like creatures to torment you.
            After being dragged to a garden, a naked man may send you back to be replaced by someone of the same name, who death mistook you for. A number of Hindu NDE’s involve being mistaken for someone of the same name.
            You might have your legs removed at the knees so that you can’t escape death, then have them put back on if a mistake has been made.

            In addition to NDE’s there are other sorts of mystical data points available in human experience:

            Succubi pressing on one’s chest to prevent breathing
            Sexual intercourse with succubi.
            Dancing with the devil in the forest.
            Dancing with fairies in the forest.
            Visits from the Virgin Mary.
            Visits from Ganesha.
            Speaking in tongues.

            It’s true that some experiences seem to be repeated:

            Out of body experiences.
            Seeing dead relatives.
            Various themes of light and darkness.
            Seeing your life flash before you.

            But it’s hard to say whether these more general experiences are the result of common psychological phenomenon or our tendency to incorporate what we’ve heard before in our dreams and memories. Almost noone reports experiences with succubi anymore, but they used to be quite common.

            Ultimately, it’s hard for me to see these wide-ranging, fanciful reports as data-points for any one reality other than psychological imagination.

          • Josh Magda

            Here I’m referring to mysticism, or unitive experience of God/Spirit/The Sacred, and specifically gnosis. One good overview is John Hick’s “The Fifth Dimension.”

            And as to the various ways people process the Divine, I am always intrigued by why atheists expect God to be boring. Is the Universe boring?

          • Did I say they were boring? I found them quite comical and entertaining. Hilarious, really. But in no sense “identical”.

          • Nick G

            Is the Universe boring?

            No, but mystics are. It’s rather obvious that what you’re doing (and I’d guess what John Hick is doing, although I haven’t read that particular work by him – I long ago read and was thoroughly unimpressed by his Philosophy of Religion) is picking out those accounts of experiences that happen to fit your ideas and saying “See! Practically identical!”

          • Nick G

            Utter tosh. Some mystics experience a relationship with a personal god – the nature and identity of which varies with the religious background – others with an impersonal something they nevertheless experience as divine, others do not talk about the divine at all. Some believe they have been to heaven, others that they have memories of past lives.

          • Josh Magda

            Whether mystics experience God in a personal way, a transpersonal way, or both, I have never read or met a mystic who said that G-d “exists” like raccoons and human beings exist. In mystical understandings of reality God is the basis of existence- as in Tillich’s famous phraseology, God is the Ground of Being.

            Nor is Heaven a “place” like Disney World is a place.

          • Nick G

            in Tillich’s famous phraseology, God is the Ground of Being.

            Which has absolutely zero actual content. What is a “Ground of Being”? Why Does It Need Upper-Case Initial Letters? Does it need a Ground of Ground of Being?

            Nor is Heaven a “place” like Disney World is a place.

            Something we can agree on!

          • Josh Magda

            It’s April Fools Day.

      • Nick G

        No, they are not, if you mean things they could not have overheard in ordinary ways.

  • Josh Magda

    I Live about 40 minutes from Eben and look forward to chatting with him should our schedules ever overlap. I don’t expect to hear anything new- only variations on the theme that humans have been experiencing since the dawn of our species.

    So I put the question to YOU. Why is it so hard for you to acknowledge that this World is not the Ground of Being? Is it simply because science has become our new idolatry system? Really? Is that all?

    It seems like a waste of worry to me.

    • To whom was this question addressed? I presume it wasn’t to me, since it doesn’t fit the kinds of things I wrote in this blog post or more typically on this blog. But it didn’t seem to be a reply to one of the other commenters. And so I thought I should ask, since the person it was aimed at may have missed it here.

      • Josh Magda

        (Dr. McGrath) “All experience is psychological”
        (Andrew) “It’s one of those things I’d really like to believe”
        (John) “I wouldn’t make too much about many different people all over the world experiencing the psychological phenomenon of the near death experience”

        • Josh Magda

          (Dr. McGrath) “In the end, I am not sure how to best interpret Dr. Alexander’s experience. I am definitely committed to being extremely cautious, since, if science may not have all the answers, that is not a justification for embracing “alternatives” uncritically.

          • Josh Magda

            (ed. notice the fealty to science as the invisible referent in process theology, in Dr. McGrath’s sentence here. Eben’s experience presents itself to his thinking as an alternative to The Truth, ordinarily revealed to us by science).

          • Truth isn’t always revealed by science, it can be revealed by simpler forms of logic and by experience; but science most certainly reveals truth. Science is the impetus for all the modern technology we take for granted (such as commenting on Internet blogs). What alternative means for finding true things did you have in mind?

          • Josh Magda

            Science is also the impetus for climate change and other ecological devastation.
            But no one’s out to trash science.
            And right from the start of this conversation, if it is to transpire, I’m not going to classify trans-scientific epistemologies as an “alternative means.” That privileges science from the outset. No case has yet been made that science deserves the distinction of the sacral mode of knowing to which all others are contrasted.

          • Oh you needn’t worry that I make a God of science. I simply recognize the undeniable ability of science to figure out the way the universe works. I don’t recognize any “sacral” modes of knowing. All modes of knowing are subject to critique.

          • Nick G

            Actually, anthropogenic climate change possibly, and other forms of ecological devastation certainly, long predate science (the expansion of Homo sapiens sapiens from Africa coincides with a wave of extinction of megafauna in Eurasia, Oceania and the Americas).

          • Josh Magda

            Anthropogenic climate change, like many forms of modern day ecological devastation, is enabled and carried out by the technology spawned by the Scientific Revolution. Homo sapiens survived on this planet hundreds of thousands of years before science, but with science, it has brought itself and many other species to extinction or the brink of extinction in the space of a few hundred years. Science early on whored itself out to industry and empire, a trend that holds, and increases, with grossly irresponsible rapaciousness and rapidity.

            That’s a more balanced view of science. On the other side of the ledger are all the near-miraculous technologies and discoveries about the physical World, that enhance our Lives – and in some cases, make Life possible.

          • Nick G

            Actually, as a matter of historical fact, it was only in the 19th century that science and technology became inter-related in the intimate way they have been since; before that, science was a leisure pursuit of the upper classes, while people lower down the social scale, from craftworkers to miners to soldiers, got the industrial revolution underway, with little help from those studying mathematics, physics, astronomy, geology, anatomy and natural history. The working steam-engine preceded and inspired thermodynamics, not the other way round. Both modern science and modern technology have their roots in cultural developments as far back as 1300, if not earlier (see Alfred W. Crosby’s The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600, Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine), and the importation of ideas and technologies from elsewhere (see Arnold Pacey’s Technology in World Civilization). These developments occurred in a group of societies thoroughly permeated and dominated by religion. (Funny: I often find myself explaining this to fellow-atheists who think Christianity prevented any technological advance until *bing* the Scientific Revolution happened, just like that!)

            As I’ve already said, and as you can easily check, our species had already caused the extinction of many others long before the scientific revolution. I agree with you that scientists have often truckled to the powerful; but at present, it is scientists – specifically climate scientists – who are telling the truth about anthropogenic climate change and calling for urgent measures to mitigate it, while many of the religious – although by no means all – are denialists.

          • Andrew Dowling

            We killed off all the mega-fauna way before the advent of modern technology . . .which still pisses me off to this day!

          • Josh Magda

            You seem well versed in the history of science. Nuance is a Good thing.

            As I told Beau, I’m not out to trash science. Yet science itself isn’t an unmitigated Good, which is how it is usually portrayed by missional atheism. Along with its benefits, It presents challenges and setbacks to humanity as well, just like religion. In both cases, science and religion, I would rather go with my hopes than my fears. But in both cases, we have to know where we’ve screwed up so we won’t continue to do so in the future.

          • Josh Magda

            My own biases:

            Science has (much) MORE to say about the logico-deductive, algorithmic patterns and habits of physical Nature, than most or all other ways of knowing.

            Science has AS MUCH to say about the Divine immanent, or “God in this World,” as religion or any other way of knowing.

            Science has LESS to say about the transcendent, or “This World in God,” than non-ordinary states of consciousness like mysticism and NDEs.

          • Yes, I’ve noticed that modern sophisticated theology often prefers to conveniently define the divine as outside of the realm of science.

          • Josh Magda

            Theology has cycled through varying degrees of sophistication through the millennia.

            The “conveniently” sounds like another ad hominem attempt at delegitimization. I don’t have the time for that sort of thing tonight.

            If you’re referring to point number 3, I do not say the divine is outside of science. I say the divine encompasses it.

            But you have not established why it would be such a travesty if there WERE modes of reality beyond science’s ability to investigate (not my belief- science could theoretically be deployed, but it’s more effective in some areas than others.) Your premise seems to be that science is the ordinary and preferred way of ascertaining truth across all dimensions of Life, a premise I reject.

          • Why would I want to establish such a convoluted notion?

          • Josh Magda

            This is the article I usually start with in this kind of conversation. Hope it helps.

            http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/the-presence-of-living-organisms-2

          • I finally took the time to read this article, and had to laugh out loud at Gabel’s complete failure to understand plant biology. He’s clearly not a biologist. That he could take the painstaking years of research into plant biochemistry and reduce it to a “redescription” is not only laughable, it’s an insult to actual biologists. And, oh, the irony when he accuses others of reductionism! The only reductionism at play in this article is religious reductionism.

          • Josh Magda

            Because you presumably don’t see the spiritual dimension in Nature, I could understand how you might view this article as “‘religious reductionism.” If you think that everything (or mostly everything) that there is to know about the life of plants (and everything else in Nature) is to be explained by biochemistry, that assumption is a clear revelation of materialistic reductionism, from a spiritual perspective.

            The article isn’t about diminishing the work of biologists. I never got that. But it is a clear challenge to scientism’s epistemic superiority complex, and its one-trick pony claim that it alone most accurately details the constitution of the real World, as the real World actually is in itself.

          • Sorry, but clapping the word “soul” onto a plant does not constitute depth of thought at any level.

          • Josh Magda

            Soul isn’t “tacked on.” Spiritual experience is as basic to our humanity as reason (the basis of science) and morality. It is from experience, his and the human majority’s, that Gabel’s observations arise.

            Flippantly negating experience and the lines of “data” arising from non-scientific sources does not reveal depth of thought; it reveals one’s own biases.

          • His ending premise alone:

            “we can come to grasp the evolution of the species as the upward movement of Being that it self-evidently is”

            Consciousness has certainly been a successful evolutionary adaptation. It was not a “leap” as Gabel proposes, however; we see gradual degrees of conscious in other forms of life, and most clearly in those animals most closely related to us.

            But there are many other successful evolutionary adaptions, and you could easily argue that microbes are far more successful than humans by virtue of their sheer numbers alone.

          • Josh Magda

            Spiritual perspectives do not see consciousness as solely an adaptation that has arisen in one primate species; they see consciousness either as a) the basis of all existence, b) a basal constituent of existence, or c) in germinal form in everything in existence (as in process theology’s panexperientialism). My own view is c with a healthy side dish of b.

            The “upward movement of Being” is one of the lines in the Gabel article I’m uncomfortable with. I certainly think there is teleology in Creation, but directionality is (to borrow a phrase from sociology) “multiply determined.” Molecules to man is not self-evident, and there is nothing magical about primates that says we must be the sole bearers of our unique gifts.

            Knowing Gabel’s other work and advocacy, I doubt very seriously he had any of this in mind. “Upward movement of Being” is an unfortunate phrase with a checkered history; I would have chosen another.

            But Gabel is a better writer than I, so I’ll leave him to his craft.

          • Neither do biologists “see consciousness as soley an adaptation that has arisen in one primate species”. Evidence of consciousness has been researched in species as diverse as elephants, black birds, dolphins, and octopi.

          • Josh Magda

            I am greatly encouraged by the discovery of self-reflective consciousness in these species.

            But self-reflective consciousness isn’t the only form of consciousness. All creatures have a perspective. In spiritual experience many people have discovered an inner continuity with all things, and not only the outer physical continuity science investigates. But it’s better to celebrate both.

            Jesus’ image was a banquet table. Let’s feast on all that Being has gratuitously offered us.

          • So that’s what Eben Alexander was doing flying around heaven on butterfly wings; discovering “inner continuity”.

          • Josh Magda

            Well, Eben’s was an extreme encounter with inner (and outer) continuity. Most of our experiences aren’t that dramatic.

            There are, however, classes of experience (such as Eben’s) that surpass in perceptual clarity and saturation that which can be experienced in the everyday World- it’s these particular kinds of encounters with the Real that I had in mind for #3, in my old post to you about the 3 applications of science (more than, equal to, less).

            Most experiences of inner continuity fall into the category of “science having AS MUCH to say as our experiences of inner continuity, about God and Reality.”

          • I experience love in all of it’s forms: empathy, kindness, friendship, familial devotion, collegiality. I experience amazement and the joy of curiosity in the natural world and the discoveries of science. It doesn’t bother me that these experiences are derived from the emergent properties of human existence. I find my life meaningful from a human point of view, locally not cosmically, and see no benefit that would be added to my experience through a larger ground of being. This isn’t reductionism. It is taking joy in the existence that I have with the people that surround me. It is enough.

          • Josh Magda

            I have copied your beautiful paragraph for future reference and forwarded it to my atheist brother (who I Love dearly). “Why isn’t it enough for you?” might as well be your final sentence, and it’s a question I consider often.

            There are several reasons it isn’t enough for me, but I don’t want to go over them, at least tonight. (And I will also leave aside the question of pursuing truth for its own sake, regardless of how it makes us feel.)

            I want to say that if Love is enough for you, then you have chosen wisely. As Jesus said to Mary, “you have chosen the best, and it will never be taken from you.”

            That’s probably the biggest source of value my worldview adds to the mix- the “it will never be taken from you,” though there are others. But we have to start with your worldview, with the real-World experience of Love, as being what matters most in human Life and society, before we can even consider what might lie deeper within, in the Even Realer World. During this Lifetime, Love in the here and now- not beliefs, and especially not beliefs about God- is what matters most. What God seems to really value here, is abundant Life.

          • In the scheme of things, I am not really concerned with the question “Why isn’t it enough for you?”, except in those cases when a person’s religious beliefs involve trampling upon the joy that others take in experiencing life, endangering others, or feeding false science and history into our education systems.

            For example, though it makes for rousing conversation, I have no interest in “converting” our blog host, James McGrath to “atheism”. In all the important aspects of living together well in community, I find myself in agreement with James.

          • Josh Magda

            “except in those cases when a person’s religious beliefs involve trampling upon the joy that others take in experiencing life”

            My rule for religion of the future is that it has to be at least as good as the best secular democracies- Scandinavia is my current gold standard. Everything it would seek to offer has to be over, above, and beyond what the best humanist WV can offer (eg Sagan), specifically by addressing the area you describe as “I see no benefit that would add to my experience through a larger ground of being.” Religion must adopt this value-added approach in a World where religious people will likely be the minority in not too much longer.

            We’re not going to put up with a God who hates gays, writes magic books, has a favorite tribe, squelches creativity, has testicles but not ovaries, has a problem with empirical evidence vis a vis evolution, etc. ad nauseum. That shit’s over with.

          • I wish all Christians shared that perspective.

          • B.L.

            You question the word Soul do you believe that you have a soul or not?

          • I suppose that depends on what you mean by “soul”. I value our emergent human ability to remember, reason, experience emotion, develop shared and mutually beneficial principles of morality, and form bonds of love and friendship. Evidence clearly demonstrates that all of these human traits can be altered and/or diminished through the effects of brain damage. If my uncle’s memories (and personality!) cannot survive alzheimers, I hardly think they would survive the death and deterioration of the whole brain and body.

            But if “soul” is simply the word someone wants to use as a short-hand for all emergent human traits, I have no objection.

          • B.L.

            Another name for Soul is Spirit. You have shared that you believe that when you die that is it. You stop existing you stop being who you are. Am I understanding you right?

          • I think you’ll find that the word “spirit” is even more amorphous in common usage than the word soul”.

            I don’t just “believe” that you stop being who you are. I have seen the cadavers and ashes of dead relatives. I have watched as my uncle lost all memories of those he once loved throughout the slow deterioration of his brain in alzheimers. I have seen a dear friend who’s entire personality altered overnight from the influence of brain damage in a car accident. I don’t “believe” that the death of our bodies stops us from being who we are. I know it.

          • B.L.

            When it is time for you to cross over you will be delighted to know that you will be wrong. You were asked if you experienced seeing your dog staring at nothing but acted as if he/she was seeing something and you said that you did. You also mentioned that you have had experienced the nightmare of having a falling sensation and woke up and was still in your bed. I know what I am telling you you will disagree with. That is ok, you are learning in spite on how you believe. You were witnessing the spirit world when you watched your dog looking at nothing. Your dog was seeing a Spirit and your falling sensation you were experiencing was your soul coming back into your body. Our soul does amazing things when we sleep. You were seeing the destruction of the human body of your love ones not their souls. When they pass over and when it is your turn to go home to heaven they will be their in one piece waiting for you with loving arms. Your soul lives on forever. When you cross over for good you won’t realize that you are dead and feel the same as you did before you pasted away but you will notice that you have no more pain and fears.

          • What a lovely imagination you have!

            But I’m afraid that you have completely misinterpreted the clear signs you have been given. When your dog seemingly stares at nothing, he has been possessed by a familiar spirit and he is consorting with an invisible demon from the Pagan underworld. When you experience a falling sensation while waking, you have just been returned to your bed by alien entities who abducted you during the night for medical probing. Indeed, your soul is quite active while you sleep, battling the ancient thetans who have infested the bodies of mankind for millennia.

            But don’t worry, you’ll understand how wrong you have been when you cross-over and experience reincarnation as a caterpillar.

          • B.L.

            The words that you have said to me does not bother me. I understand you so well and all I can do is smile and wish that you can experience what so many people have already experienced. There is so much that you don’t know and understand. I don’t expect someone to believe when they have never experienced what so many people have experienced. You do need to question it! I wouldn’t have it any other way. One can not expect you to believe without knowing. Believe me I felt the same way until I started to understand what I had experienced as a child and what I continued to experience. It is like telling someone who has never seen, touched, tasted, felt snow or ever seen a picture of snow and tell them that snow exists and expect them to believe. The person has to experience snow for themselves to be able to understand and believe in its existence. This is no different.
            Several years ago a co-worker shared an experience that her dying father shared with her as he was near death. She and her siblings were at his bed side. She said that she saw his face light up and smiled and he motioned her to come closer. He said to her “Oh how beautiful I see Gold and Silver.” When she told me this I was delighted and explained what he saw. I told her that the color “Gold” represents the love of God and the color “Silver” represents the knowledge we forget when we come down to earth. It is always nice when someone confirms what you already know. When we cross to the other side God does not want us to fear and wants us to know that we are very much loved, and regaining the knowledge that we forgot when we came down here making sense to us again. I feel very blessed for all the experiences that I have had and the knowledge of so many people who have shared their experiences who believed like you do but now believe differently. I know that you will continue to believe in how you do and make foul remarks to people because of lack of experience and understanding. But that is ok because we know better and understand who you are. Maybe one day you may experience what I have been sharing with you. If you don’t or you hope that you don’t that is ok because what ever you have to say will never change what is true and what knowledge I have gained and experienced. At least I have the truth an understanding of what you are trying to fight and condemn. I know that one day you will find out for yourself finally when you leave this life.

          • I am truly at a loss as to how you can characterize my comments as “foul remarks”, but that’s OK – the words that you have said do not bother me. I understand you so well and all I can do is smile and wish that you can experience what so many people have already experienced.

            I know that you don’t believe in demons, but when you least expect it, you may someday witness what so many Christians have been testifying since the middle ages and still today, the action of Pagan demons who consort with Satan and lead our animals and fallen humans astray.

            One day, you too may experience the truth that so many alien abduction victims have known before you – that human beings are being captured and probed in their sleep by aliens from another galaxy.

            You may one day see for yourself, what thousands of scientologists already understand, the great psychological and spiritual battle we face with the ancient thetans who want to take over our bodies.

            A co-worker of mine once told me about the day he and his Hindu therapist discovered memories of his past life as a Viking warrior. His awakened memories (and those of thousands of Hindus before him) confirm the truth of reincarnation for those who are willing to see the truth.

            Maybe one day you may experience what I have been sharing with you. But that is ok because we know better and understand who you are. I know that one day you will find out for yourself finally when you leave this life.

          • B.L.

            You are becoming a confusing man and I am now seeing you with more clarity. I got the impression that you might of been ignorant in the deep areas of faith like Hinduism. Jesus studied Hinduism during those 18 missing years that Christianity acknowledge they don’t know anything about what Jesus did during those years and Jesus study other religions as well. I do believe in spiritual demons as well in the human form. What your dog was noticing was not a demon if so you would know it by the aggression of your dog. If it was peaceful your dog was seeing a loving spirit. The demon spirit you must be careful with but not as much as the demons in human form. ISIS is an example of demons in human form. There is life on other planets and yes I have heard of people experience of what you have said on abduction. I personally have not experienced myself so it is hard to except it 100% but I don’t judge those people of their experience. I except that they have had an experience that I had never had and that is how I believe. I know that we are visited by aliens from other planets because I had a telepathy encounter with two flying space ships. When I was little and we would go to a drive in movie my sister would say sometimes on a clear night you may see a flying saucer. I always seem to pick out helicopters and small airplanes. But one day I was driving and it rained that day and parts of the sky was changing dark gray to light gray something made me want to look up. It was funny because as I had this sensation I thought to myself wouldn’t it be funny if I saw flying saucers. I looked up and saw 6 orange secular lights high in the sky. The pattern was there were two orange secular lights side by side with one center in the front which was pointing from the left and there were 3 other orange secular lights pointing from the right. Maybe I show it by putting dots down. : then a center dot facing right then a center dot facing left with the two double dots behind the center. I continued to think wouldn’t it be neat is they separated and flew in the opposite direction from each other. The moment I thought that the secular lights did exactly what I was thinking at that moment. It felt like they were reading my thoughts. Throught out the years I wanted to know more of what I saw and for several years if I came a cross a UFO show I watched it in hopes of seeing the flying saucer that I saw with no luck. Until about 10 years ago when I felt like I needed to watch this one channel (as if I was being guided) and needed to see what was coming on next. It was on UFOs and I didn’t want to watch it I then sensed that I needed to watch just the first 10 minutes of the show. The first flying saucer they showed was on a V shape saucer in an Ivory color with an orange light on the tip of the v shape and one on each of the back. I also have seen lower level entities so I know exactly what you are saying. There are several levels of the underworld and at one time I had experienced and seen a dark entity spirit form at one time the feeling was pure terror I prayed to God and within seconds the dark spirit was gone as well the heaviness feeling along with the terror that I was feeling. Then a few days later I saw a spirit of a pretty little girl by my bed smiling down at me. This time it was peaceful. When I commented on you giving rude comments I was referring in how you respond to people beliefs and experiences that I have noticed when you reply back to them. Like when you try and cut someone beliefs or comments that is all. When I was 8 years old I experienced the other side and saw my spirit going back into my body. I had been fortunate to experience so many things before I found out what I experienced. That way it wasn’t wishful thinking on my part.

          • You seem to have had many amazing experiences that aren’t “wishing thinking” on your part. My first experience of galactic aliens occurred when I was five years old in the year 39AD (a former life). I was a Greek slave serving figs in a bowl to the Emperor Tiberius. Suddenly, I saw a disc shaped craft descend from the mountain sky and fly directly overhead. I was surrounded by a beam of unearthly light and found myself ascending to a third heaven where I saw all events in space and time fluttering about me in the form of golden butterflies. It was then that I witnessed through the ether what no historian had ever known – the lost years of the holy Buddha who, as a child, flew to a thousand planets on the wings of Vedekahn prayers, where he learned the ancient wisdom of millennia. When I fell back to the earth, I disappeared into a stone well and drowned unseen by the emperor. In a later life (as a French courtier) I shared a telepathic moment of insight with an alien prophet who felt into my nether soul and calmed the ancient fears of my former drowned self.
            Some may not believe the truths I have experienced, but someday all will know the prophetic depth of the universe.

          • B.L.

            Like I have said before there are so many things out there that people don’t know about or understand. They have found symbols of flying saucers in the Pyramids and yes I have heard of similar stories like yours. So you are not alone. I believe in reincarnation but I always seem to remember how I died. I am very glad that the prophet was able to help you with your fears. People go about everyday without phobias and all of a sudden one appears and sometimes the phobia is short lived. Some people feel it is a panic attack and that can happen. But many phobias is from a pass life experience. Your soul is remembering a past event. To use an example I heard of a lady who would drive over this bridge most of her life with no problem until one day she could not drive over the bridge she was terrified. She found out that in a past life when she was 43 the same age that she was in her present life she learned that in that past life on the same month, the same day and at the same time she lost her life by driving off of a bridge and drowning. A few minutes later she was fine and able to continue to drive over the bridge and never again had that fear.
            Thank you for sharing your experiences. I feel honored!

          • Until we meet in the cosmic Brahmandas in another plane of quantum existence.

  • Nick G

    The intuition that, at its deepest level, reality is not matter but love is one that may sound like New Age nonsense.

    That’s because it is New Age nonsense.

    But does it sound that way because it genuinely makes no sense

    It doesn’t literally make no sense – I understand what you mean – but there is absolutely no reason to think it’s true, and plenty of reasons to think it false. If the deepest reality is love, whence all the suffering and evil?

    • Have you considered a perspective such as process thought? You seem to be assuming that one has to view the deepest reality as love coupled with power. But if the deepest reality is love, which influences but cannot control how the universe unfolds, would that not be compatible with what we see in the universe?

      I think we have two options, from our human perspective. We can either treat love as an uncharacteristic byproduct of the kinds of things that are really what the universe is about – or rather, which show it is not “about” anything; or we can treat love as a clue to what the essence of existence is at its deepest level. I’m not suggesting that we have overwhelming evidence of the latter, but I would dare to suggest that the evidence for the former is less clear and much less decisive than some assume.

      I might add that I really liked the treatment of this theme in Interstellar. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2015/02/interstellar.html

      • Nick G

        If “the deepest reality”:

        influences but cannot control how the universe unfolds

        what does it mean to say it’s “the deepest reality”? Wouldn’t whatever determines the extent of and limits on its influence be deeper?

        We can either treat love as an uncharacteristic byproduct

        What work is “uncharacteristic” doing here? It’s just a boo-word.

        or we can treat love as a clue to what the essence of existence is at its deepest level

        Or we could treat hate, or amusement, or embarrassment, or itching, or intellectual excitement, or drunkenness in the same way. Any of which would make exactly as much or as little sense.

        the essence of existence is at its deepest level

        Is that the same as the depth of essence at its most existent level? Or is it more like the existence of depth at its most essential level?

        • I think your first question reflects the view – found in many ideas of God and the ultimate – that power is greater than love. Many theists would sooner sacrifice divine goodness than divine power if it proves impossible to cling to both together. Doesn’t your question reflect a similar kind of assumption?

          I’ve never experienced itching that led me to connect with another human being in a manner that caused us both to grow and find our lives deepened and enriched. But maybe it matters who is scratching your back?

          • Nick G

            Doesn’t your question reflect a similar kind of assumption?

            No. Saying either “power is greater than love” or “love is greater than power” is just silly: there is no scale on which to compare the two. Simply, if: “at its deepest level, reality is not matter but love”, we would not expect to find any evil or suffering. How could these (or matter, or energy, or spacetime) be “made” out of love? We do have (incomplete) explanations for how love (and hate) can be “made” out of matter, and how this came about (through natural selection of tendencies to care for and protect others, initially offspring), and research programmes for completing these explanations; we have not the slightest idea how love could even exist independently of matter; and in the only examples of love we know, it is clear that it is dependent on matter in a specfic and detailed way (damage to the anterior insular cortex area of the brain affects the ability to feel empathy, for example).

            I’ve never experienced itching that led me to connect with another human being in a manner that caused us both to grow and find our lives deepened and enriched.

            So what? First, itching can in fact have profound effects on human life – it can drive people to suicide. Second, you are assuming your conclusion here: that certain kinds of human experience give clues as to the “deepest level” of reality. That is, as far as I can tell, simply wishful thinking.

          • I think your final words give us our two main kinds of options. We can view ourselves as beings who’ve been endowed by natural processes with not only thinking but wishful thinking that is fundamentally at odds in its hopes and intuitions about what is really meaningful and what really matters. Or we can suggest that the very fact that we exist, as beings with hopes and dreams and loves and a desire for meaning, as something produced by this universe, tell us something about its character every bit as much as physics and chemistry do.

          • Nick G

            Of course the fact that we exist tells us something about the universe: that it is capable of producing us. If we want to understand how, we have to do the hard work of scientific investigation. What you are suggesting, without any evidence or argument, is that we have some kind of direct access to “the deepest reality”. That’s wishful thinking: you would like it to be so, you would like that “deepest reality” to be love (even though you cannot explain how love could produce either physical reality or suffering and evil), so you give these fantasies credence, without any sound reason to do so.

          • You seem to be assuming that love must have existed chronologically prior to matter. A process view (which I am intrigued by and can relate to, but cannot say I entirely subscribe to) would say that love/God is never disembodied.

            To put it more conventionally, why consider “stuff” to be fundamental, rather than the relationship between stuff? If stuff has never existed in the absence of relation, then why say that stuff is fundamental and relation is mere epiphenomenon?

            I’m not suggesting that anyone bypass science. Science has told us a great deal. I don’t accept the binary that either one follows science and ignores the qualia of our subjective experience, or we prioritize the latter and ignore the former. I believe that an integrative approach is more likely to be helpful, one that embraces science, but also recognizes that the only thing we can say we know with absolute certainty exists is consciousness, and so suggesting that consciousness is unreal because of things that we (with good reason) believe we have perceived in the natural world outside of our consciousness is a much more problematic viewpoint than some thinkers in our time seem willing to acknowledge.

          • Nick G

            To put it more conventionally, why consider “stuff” to be fundamental, rather than the relationship between stuff?

            That’s not the question. Rather, it is whether materiality or mentality is ontologically prior. All the evidence we have indicates that it is the former: we know of a lot of material stuff and relationships with no apparent dependence on the mental, while the only mentalities we know depend, in ways we increasingly understand, on the material.

            The only thing we can say we know with absolute certainty exists is consciousness

            This is an error. First, the category of “consciousness” cannot be understood in isolation: it implies already that there is some entity that is conscious, and some content it is conscious of. Second, being aware of anything requires time, so for consciousness to exist, time must do so. Third, the scientific study of consciousness has revealed that it is not the kind of unanalysable whole this statement takes it to be. Consider blindsight, for example. Are people with this condition “conscious” of the visual stimuli they respond to, or not?

            I’m not suggesting that anyone bypass science.

            Yes, you are. You are suggesting we can (reasonably if not infallibly) make immediate inferences about the “deepest level of reality” from the fact that we have certain types of experience. There is no reason to think this is so. How would we come by the information? How could we tell which experiences are in this special class, and which are not? Why isn’t itching, or hate, just as good a candidate as love?

            suggesting that consciousness is unreal

            Where have I suggested that?

          • I beg to differ, following Descartes. One can doubt every object of conscious experience, but one cannot in the process deny that a doubting thing exists. If you doubt that you yourself exist, Descartes asked, then who or what is doing the doubting?

            I think you may be thinking in terms of a theistic idea of God which exists as some other kind of thing over against matter. In process thought, and many other forms of panentheism, God is not a separate thing, and matter or energy can be said to always have existed. God, in such a system of thinking, may relate to the matter of the cosmos much as a human being relates to her or his body. We are our bodies, and human identity nonetheless cannot be found in any particular cell, or in the space between them, but in the complex arrangement thereof when considered as a whole.

          • Nick G

            One can doubt every object of conscious experience, but one cannot in the process deny that a doubting thing exists.

            The distinction between some entity that is conscious, and the content of consciousness, is not necessarily present in experience (it’s often absent in dreams, for example), but is necessary to the concept of “consciousness” as Descartes used it.

            No, I’m not specifically thinking of a God separate from matter, but saying that there is no evidence or argument supporting the claim that matter in general has any mindlike properties; or the claim that we can reasonably make direct inferences from certain experiences to the nature of “the deepest reality”. From all the evidence we have, mindlike qualities only appear when matter is arranged in certain specific ways.

          • How can we hope to know such things from the perspective of our level of reality? To use an analogy, could mitochondria, if able to think and perceive, ever know that they are part of a “human being” and what the life of a human being is like?

          • Nick G

            Well mitochondrai are not able to think and perceive, so the analogy is a poor one. It’s reasonably clear why we have minds and conscious awareness: their survival value; they have emerged through evolutionary processes that are fairly well understood. It’s clear in general terms what makes them possible: highly complex networks of semistable connections between multistate elements (neurons), some of which also have direct connections to the external environment, enabling the whole caboodle to function to keep us alive. It’s reasonable to predict that we will be able to build artifacts with minds within the next century or so. We have no evidence of anything without such complex environmentally-embedded networks having any mindlike properties, nor the slightest idea how anything else could support such properties, or how they could come into existence. All you have on your side of the argument is wishful thinking: you’d like to believe the universe loves us. There is if anything more evidence that it hates us, or at least is trying to kill us – something which, with or without malice, it will undoubtedly do in time.

          • I suspect that if cells could think, they would think the world is a terrible, meaningless, and hostile place. And yet the world they know in that way could be a beautiful, rich, rewarding life. I suppose the question is whether, given that we can’t see what the full array of universes (assuming there may be more than one) look like at a higher level of organization, is there anything to be gained or lost by living as though our level is the most transcendent, or by living as though it is not?

          • Nick G

            But cells can’t think, and can neither suffer nor enjoy life. I don’t know what the point of these counterfactual speculations about mitochondria and cells is supposed to be.

            is there anything to be gained or lost by living as though our level is the most transcendent, or by living as though it is not?

            “Transcendent” is just a hooray-word, with little if any real content. And there’s a great deal to be lost through wishful thinking – believing things because you want to, rather than because there are good reasons to think them likely to be true. That’s what most of those who deny anthropogenic climate change are doing, what smokers who deny that their cigarettes are likely to kill them are doing. Perhaps the most general harmful effect of religion is that it encourages and indeed valorises irrational belief.

          • If there are higher levels of organization of the reality that we are part of, that level of existence will involve things that we simply can’t imagine or have words for, just as individual neurons, if not unrelated to thought, cannot know what the sum of their connections is like in human consciousness.

          • Nick G

            Actually, that doesn’t follow at all. A neuron can’t conceive of “higher levels of organization” (or anything else for that matter), while we can, so the analogy fails immediately. But in any case, there’s no reason to believe that such levels exist, nor a fortiori, to believe that they have anything to do with love – when the only examples we have of love occur on our “level of organization”. Such beliefs are (to repeat myself) nothing but wishful thinking.

          • How, from the perspective of our level of reality, would you ever hope to be able to know that?

            Let me use an analogy I’ve used before. If we imagine two cells having a conversation, one might say that there is nothing but cells – we’re born, we die, it’s all meaningless. The other might say that it sometimes thinks that maybe we are all part of something bigger, maybe something like one big cell. The latter is engaging in what we might call cellulomorphism (akin to our anthropomorphism). But it is intuiting something that has an element of truth to it, is it not? Or is it merely engaging in “wishful thinking”?

          • Nick G

            How, from the perspective of our level of reality, would you ever hope to be able to know that?

            I know it’s just wishful thinking by your complete inability to provide any reason to think it likely to be true.

            Let me use an analogy I’ve used before. If we imagine two cells having a conversation…

            I don’t know how many times I have to say it: I do not accept these absurd analogies as having any relevance whatsoever to the argument. You anthropomorphise cells in a vain attempt to justify anthropomorphising the universe – but the fact that the first is obviously unjustified (cells can’t reason, or have conversations) really ought to warn you against the second.

            Sastra, one of the most insightful (and polite!) commenters on Freethought Blogs, said the following yesterday:

            The religious have problems dealing with the concept of abstractions; they tend to turn them into something like Spiritual Essences. Not just Good and Evil, but Beauty and Love are treated as “things” or “powers” or “forces” with their own natures, separate from human beings but acting upon or through us.

            She was talking about Rick Santorum, and things he’s been saying about “Evil”. Now in most respects, you clearly have little in common with Santorum. But in this one, you’re as like as two peas in a pod.

          • Josh Magda

            ” But in this one, you’re as like as two peas in a pod.”

            Everyone’s who’s not a materialistic nominalist is on your hit list it seems.

            Maybe it doesn’t occur to you that humans are different. I don’t have a problem with you being an atheist. I have no reason to doubt that the reason you are, is because your reason, experience, etc. has led you to that conclusion.

            For millennia many people smarter than you or I, including some of humanity’s greatest minds and hearts, have not bought into your nominalist hegemony. There’s nothing defective about their thinking. Their brain isn’t on lockdown. They’re just different than you. And that seems to rub you the wrong one, for whatever reason.

          • Nick G

            You fail to point out anything dishonest in my comment. That would be because there isn’t anything dishonest about it – nor do I think James McGrath would think so, although of course he may well disagree with my assessment of his similarity in one respect to Santorum; and of course he can speak for himself. I have great respect for him as a scholar of early Christianity and its context; I think he is guilty of wishful thinking with respect to the nature of reality, and I think this is related to a tendency to reify abstractions – which, as you point out, has been a common feature of religious thought for millennia. For millennia, many of humanity’s greatest minds (whether they were suffering from cardiomegaly I can’t say) believed that the sun went round the earth, that psychiatric illness was caused by demons or witches, that the earth was just a few thousand years old. Being cleverer than you or me didn’t stop them being wrong.

          • Josh Magda

            “For millennia, many of humanity’s greatest minds (whether they were suffering from cardiomegaly I can’t say) believed that the sun went round the earth, tha t psychiatric illness was caused by demons or witches, that the earth was just a few thousand years old.”

            And equating superstition of various kinds with all religious thought, and especially with all philosophy that is NOT physicalist nominalism, just shows your own incapability or unwillingness of moving beyond the New Atheist hits parade. Like most of what the New Atheists write, your characterizations of positions you disagree with have all the substance and multivalence of Family Guy skit.

            Plato was stupid too, Nick. All of them were. So are we. You and Sam Harris have saved us. You are the the flame of reason in a dark and scary World. You have spoken, and now we know that the Sun returns to us everyday and is in no danger of getting mad with us and leaving one night. This is what everyone who is idealist or religious has thought and taught and experienced. None of us were or are capable of coming to reasoned positions other than your own. None of them, like none of us, can look at the World and honestly see something different than you do.

            When we look at the World honestly, in the light of reason, we cannot fail to see what it is you’re telling us we should see. And everything we see, is a hallucination.

          • Nick G

            More misrepresentation from you. My point was very simple, and made quite explicit:

            Being cleverer than you or me didn’t stop them being wrong.

            And I loathe that bigot Sam Harris. It seems I may not be the one stereotyping those who believe differently from me.

          • Josh Magda

            Harris is simply a popular New Atheist. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.

            I’m done here anyways. I wish you the best. I don’t have any enemies, just undercover friends. You may not be in my corner (which was a joke about standing a kid in the corner as punishment) but I am in yours. We’re sort of stuck together here right now. In more ways than one.

          • Nick G

            If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.

            Where have I called myself a “New Atheist”? I stopped doing so – prompted, as it happens, by a commenter on this blog, arcseconds – because I dislike so much of what Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens, among others, have said.

            I don’t have any enemies

            That is far from the impression you give.

          • Josh Magda

            “Where have I called myself a “New Atheist”?

            I didn’t say you did; I was referring to the association with Harris. Some of this is just email/blog incommunicado.

          • Nick G

            I didn’t say you did

            You said:

            Harris is simply a popular New Atheist. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.

            What “shoe” could be meant other than the name of “New Atheist”? If you didn’t mean that, why mention that Harris is one?

          • Josh Magda

            The shoe of me associating you with Harris. You can take off the shoe I just strapped to your foot. And you did.

            You seem to be looking for a fight. I am not. I’m leaving now.

          • You seem (based on the final part of your comment) to be misunderstanding what I am saying about love.

            But there is also the issue that you think that it is safe to assume that there are no higher levels of organization to the universe than our own level, and you seem unwilling if not unable to grasp that any discussions of things beyond our ability to see may involve analogical thinking if we are to talk about them at all. Quantum mechanics is a good example of this – how do we conceptualize that which does not behave in a manner that is describable in terms of the macro objects that are part of our everyday experience?

          • Nick G

            You seem (based on the final part of your comment) to be misunderstanding what I am saying about love.

            You don’t say how you think I am misunderstanding. You have suggested that:

            at its deepest level, reality is not matter but love

            and implied that “love” is greater than “power”. Both appear to be reifying love.

            But there is also the issue that you think that it is safe to assume that there are no higher levels of organization to the universe than our own level

            If evidence of such levels of organization is presented, I will consider it. But the intuitions some people have that there are such levels, are not evidence, because they are not intersubjectively checkable. There’s also the question of what is meant by “higher levels of organization”: physically, the universe is organized on many scales, both larger and smaller than the ones we have immediate perceptual access to; and in another sense, societies are at a “higher level of organization” than individuals – but, be it noted, are not personal and do not love us; but handwaving about “deepest levels” and “essence of existence” is not helpful..

            you seem unwilling if not unable to grasp that any discussions of things beyond our ability to see may involve analogical thinking if we are to talk about them at all

            Analogies can be useful pedagogically; but they can also deceive us into thinking we understand something when we do not; and it simply is not true that we cannot discuss things beyond our ability to see without analogies. It was only as our ancestors gradually broke free of the analogical mindset of medieval thought (“As above, so below”, “Like cures like”, Jesus is to the Church as king is to subject, lord is to serf, husband is to wife…) that either modern science or ideas of freedom and equality could flourish.

            Quantum mechanics is a good example of this – how do we conceptualize that which does not behave in a manner that is describable in terms of the macro objects that are part of our everyday experience

            Mathematically, primarily. The phenomenological descriptions of quantum phenomena (to which I admit I’m largely limited) are useful to an extent, but only because they are backed by the mathematics, which produces precise predictions of experimental results. Show me the mathematics of your “higher levels of organization”, and the predictions they produce, and I’ll take them seriously. Until then, they’re just waffle.

          • If we reflect on the implications of Quantum mechanics, the math seems to many to have philosophical implications, to suggest a fundamental interconnectedness of realities which may be separated by space and seem unrelated in terms of classical physics. I’m not sure that we have any way of quantifying (pun intended) the extent of our interconnectedness, but if the nature of things is not merely stuff but connections, then why would it be inappropriate to think that the connections we forge at our level of reality – love – is anything other than an expression of something that is fundamental to the nature of reality itself?

          • Nick G

            This is pretty desperate stuff – you surely don’t want to put yourself on a par with Deepak Chopra! In your area of professional expertise, you appear to be a rigorous, critical thinker, insisting on specific evidence for the claims you and others make; why abandon that standard in favour of mush like the above? Of course in one sense, everything real is “an expression of something that is fundamental to the nature of reality itself”, since the nature of reality is such that it can exist or happen; but that doesn’t single out love from hate, or itching, or parasitic worms, or rocks, or stars, or empty space. Really, you’re just making just a feeble pun: “connections” in the quantum mechanical sense and social connections, including love, have nothing in common other than the word – and indeed, hardly that, since the specific term for what you mention in QM is “entanglement”. So there’s a better case for saying that what happens when someone trips over an unravelled ball of string and gets it caught round their feet is “an expression of something that is fundamental to the nature of reality itself”.

          • Sorry I took so long to respond to this. I suppose that your point is that one could say that any sort of experience might in theory tell us something fundamental about the nature of reality itself. And that is true. Tripping can help us discover gravity, and how to live with caution and care. But most people who have experienced love would say that it has a transformative impact that is different from the experience of tripping over string. There are perspectives from which all things are essentially the same, and perspectives from which some things seem to take on greater significance than others. From one perspective the person tripping is just matter, like the string. From another, the person is inestimably more valuable than the string could ever be.

          • I’ve been taking a look at this conversation between you and Nick. I would agree that a “person is inestimably more valuable than the string could ever be”, but only in that a person is valued by people. I would never deny the value of all of our emergent human properties, including all of the diverse forms of love (which really can’t be simplistically described as one essential thing). But love is valued by humans, at our level of reality. There is no evidence that love is valued (much less working to some effect) at any other level than that of humans, and possibly some animals.

          • GotJesus?

            But if God is not immaterial and not greater than matter and energy then how can he be eternal and infinite?

          • What exactly would make a God who relates to the universe or multiverse as we relate to our bodies either not eternal or not infinite?

          • FisherofMan1111111

            If he was made of matter and energy and began to exist with the universe.

            BTW* Fisher of man is my other guest name to GotJesus?

  • Nick G

    is a misguided approach to reality which regards human experience,
    including mystical experiences and including love, as things to be
    reduced to physical processes

    Since eliminative materialism is the only philosophical stance that posits this, and is quite rare even among the most sceptical, this is a red herring.

  • $133323962

    My father had an NDE as well. We discussed it at length. No light, no darkness, no tunnel, no dead relatives waiting, no Jesus or any other supernatural being, no feeling of being loved, no feeling of anything… nothing. Just oblivion. I believe him.

    I don’t believe second- and third-hand accounts. I didn’t believe Alex Malarkey and was proven right, his story was a fraud. http://pulpitandpen.org/2015/01/13/the-boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-recants-story-rebukes-christian-retailers/ I don’t believe Dr Alexander either since he’s been proven to be something less than truthful about a number of things, including the falsification of medical documents. (http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/interviews/a23248/the-prophet/)

    My friends, we’re all looking for a blissful afterlife, justice, a re-uniting with deceased loved ones. But it’s not happening. Sorry. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. The switch is off.

    I believe my father. I don’t believe someone trying to sell either their books or their religious philosophy.

    • Josh Magda

      Oblivion can’t be experienced; it is by definition the absence of experience. As Christopher Hitchens said, “you’re not going to know you’re dead.”

      So whatever your father experienced, it wasn’t the total absence of experience materialism posits.

      • $133323962

        I think you’re confusing the experience of oblivion – which he DIDN’T have – with oblivion itself.

        There was no experience of anything. No feeling of anything. Nothing. Not like he was in the dark experiencing the dark, it was – as he told me – no experience at all. It was exactly the opposite of what you describe: it was the absence of experience.

        He only knew that he had been “dead” because of the passage of time that he sensed once he regained consciousness after his heart was re-started. Yes, it was the total absence of experience. That’s how he described it, anyway. I can’t ask him for clarification, he’s gone now. But I believe what he said. No reason for me not to, unlike those who are trying to sell books or push their religion.

        • Josh Magda

          We differ metaphysically if you think that one can experience the absence of experience. That is absurd. The fact that he was experiencing anything, or conscious in any way, means that he couldn’t have been experiencing the materialist’s afterlife scenario- which cannot be experienced as it is the absence of experience.

          He may have been experiencing G-d as the Void. God isn’t all flowers and rainbows. G-d is also no-thingness. As a Buddhist aphorism says “the blue moon of the Buddha sits in the sky of utmost emptiness.”

          Or as Eben experienced, either in “the earthworm’s eye view” or in the emptiness-darkness surrounding the brilliant ball of Light.

          I have experienced the Void many times. I must admit, I prefer the Light. I’m still learning to be in the dark.

          If your Dad were here, he might confirm what many have experienced of the no-thingness: it isn’t threatening.

          • $133323962

            I’ll repeat it, since you’re having difficulty with comprehension this evening.

            There. Was. No. Experience. Of. Anything.

            Got it?

          • Josh Magda

            No. If there was “no experience” that would have included his consciousness. He would have been unable to report anything because he wouldn’t have been aware of the no-thingness. Minimally, his Living presence, his consciousness, was still there. That’s not nothing.

          • $133323962

            Sorry, my friend, but you’re just not getting it. I don’t know why this is so difficult for you, but I’m done here. Believe what you will.

          • Josh Magda

            Something was aware of the absence of experience. Enough to tell you about it. That something was likely your father’s spark of consciousness, experiencing the Void, it’s own ground of Being. Experiencing (at least partially) Itself. It is generally very difficult for consciousness to “look” at itself, but it can be done. The fact that your father was not aware that it was his own consciousness looking at itself during the NDE doesn’t mean his consciousness wasn’t “online.” Most of the time, we are unaware of our own consciousness. That’s why people meditate.

            What also may be somewhat confusing, is that in traditional metaphysics, the Void is almost always the Source of the sensible World- eg, what you’re calling “experience.”

            I say again. The absence of experience is not “nothing,” it is the womb of Creation. The fact that your father could even talk about this paradoxical experience of the absence of experience shows that consciousness goes farther down than the materialist WV allows for. If the materialist WV were accurate, your father simply would have been dead… Of which he wouldn’t have been aware. In which case we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

          • Caravelle

            He was aware of the absence of experience after he woke up and realized time had passed but that he hadn’t been aware during that time. That’s pretty clearly what Silverdart is saying.

          • Josh Magda

            Not having an NDE is not an NDE then. That’s just waking up. We wake up all the time as if “nothing happened.” Chances are, we dreamed plenty. We just don’t remember it.

          • I’m not sure why someone’s experience of waking up and not remembering is to be invalidated by someone who didn’t have the experience, as merely the forgetting of a dream, while someone else’s experience is supposed to be accepted as self-authenticating and in no way having possibly been a dream.

          • Guest

            Wait a sec, hold the phone here. You’re basing your religious philosophy partially on the NDE testimony of one person who recanted (Malarkey – the irony is too much, the joke writes itself) and another who’s a proven fraud and a liar? Seriously? Is that the best you can do? Can you not see how absurd that is?

          • $133323962

            James, I mistakenly replied to your post rather than Josh’s. Sorry about that.

          • Josh Magda

            I don’t really have a religious philosophy. I mean I do, but philosophies come and go.

          • Nick G

            Whether you do or you don’t (and why don’t you appear to know?), you’re basing your belief in an afterlife on very dubious testimony, as Silverdart60 says. There are very obvious pecuniary reasons to spin such stories. That doesn’t mean that everyone recounting such an experience is lying, but since corroboration is practically impossible, scepticism is justified.

          • Guest

            Wait a sec, hold the phone here. You’re basing your religious philosophy partially on the NDE testimony of one person who recanted (Malarkey – the irony is too much, the joke writes itself) and another who’s a proven fraud and a liar? Seriously? Is that the best you can do? Can you not see how absurd that is?

          • Josh Magda

            Waking up and not remembering is not an NDE. Nor is not having an experience an experience. There are clinical criteria for interpreting NDEs based off of thousands of prior “trials.” Someone being a smartass, and using NDE lingo to lambast people who take actual NDEs seriously, is again not an NDE.

    • John MacDonald

      Exactly right. Once you’re dead, that’s it. The end of life is death and nothingness. When bacteria die, they’re gone. No trip to bacteria heaven. When plants die, they’re gone. No trip to plant heaven. When fish die, they’re gone. No trip to fish heaven. When rats die, they’re gone. No trip to rat heaven. When fungi die they’re gone. No trip to fungi heaven. Just as these forms of life not go to heaven when they die, neither do we. Arrogance and pride lead some of us to believe human life is somehow different and that for some reason we go to a magical amusement park for the rest of eternity. Life ends in death and annihilation, a formula that applies to all living things.

      • Nick G

        I have actually come across a rather unorthodox Christian online, who thought everything with an “identity”, which he equated with having a “soul” does go to heaven (except some people!), where it gets to do whatever fulfils its nature. I explored what counts as having an “identity”, and did get him to say that probably every spermatozoon goes to heaven, where it gets to fertilize an ovum – but I couldn’t quite get him to concede equal celestial rights for kitchen utensils and wardrobes!

      • Josh Magda

        Do you feel proud of yourself now that you’ve looked at reality “square on?” You can sit at the big-boy table. Pat your ego on the back for being so mature.

        In the meantime I’m interested in exploring your alternate-reality sarcasm Universe. I wasn’t aware that a) fish have a different Source than I do b) Eternity has built a theme park and c) Life ends in annihilation rather than rebirth/the next generation.

        It’s a weird place, your Sarcasmverse. Just like the 19th century pseudoscientific, superstitious materialist Universe you actually believe in.

        Do they bring you comfort?

        • John MacDonald

          Maybe if you had a little less vanity, you would realize that you have more in common with bacteria and fungus than you are currently willing to admit.

          • Josh Magda

            Not sure what you mean. I AM bacteria and fungus. You folks always peg all religionists as garden variety supernatural theists. It makes your giddy straw-man destruction episodes that much less of a mental challenge. I can’t imagine why you perennially under-challenge yourselves.

            All I know is, I’m now in line for Celestial Space Mountain, without a fastpass. And if Florida and California is any indication, I’ll be standing here for a while. Your sarcasm has peaked my interest in this Eternal DisneyWorld I always hear about.

          • “You folks”? Accusations of ego? Some one is straw-manning here, but it’s not John McDonald.

  • Josh Magda

    The man’s brain was locked down by bacteria. If “all experience is psychological” Eben is lying, mistaken, or hallucinating.

    I think It’s simply the fact that Eben’s experience points to the Infinite, that process-infused theology insists on psychologizing it, because of process’ (usually unconscious) featly to scientism (no matter how much it protests to the opposite effect).

    There is no transcendence in process theology. There is God, who is a subset of Reality, where Reality is comprised of four metaphysical absolutes. According to Whitehead God is the axiological absolute, not the ontological. This never changes; it’s always four, never One. Eben’s experience can’t be ontological without destroying the transcendence-denying elements of process theology.

    • I don’t think we know enough about the brain, and its relationship to consciousness, to say that the neocortex could shut down completely and then resume function, or that the effects of such a shutdown would result in a complete absence of perception of subjective experience. Also given the amount that can happen subjectively in dreams when very little time has passed on a clock, it is unclear how we can know that the experiences were spread over the entire coma period rather than just prior to recovery. There is too much we do not know, even if Dr. Alexander is being completely truthful, for it to be possible to feel confident about what his experience does or does not prove.

      • Josh Magda

        Please respond to my critique of process metaphysics. Do you disagree?

      • Josh Magda

        When it comes to science, I’m going to trust a) the neuroscientist b) the neuroscientist who had the experience c) the neuroscientist who had the experience, who is now writing to us, using his neocortex, before I go with unspecified reservations by a non-specialist theologian. No offense. 🙂

        I (try to) do the same for positions I disagree with.

        • I think you meant to write neurosurgeon, not neuroscientist? Or were you talking about someone other than Dr. Alexander here?

          • Josh Magda

      • Josh Magda

        “For it to be possible to feel confident about what his experience does or does not prove.”

        Maybe if Eben’s experience were a departure from the great cloud of witnesses, both contemporary and ancient, to the Reality of G-d. What you have in Dr. Alexander is simply further testimony, this time under the most extraordinary physical and sociocultural circumstances- a neuroscientist whose brain was on lockdown.

        On the flip side of the cloud of witnesses, you have the brilliant speculations of a single mathematician and the small handful of people who continue in his lineage. While the Cloud offers experience after experience after experience, through the millenia, Whitehead and his people offer theory upon more theory upon more theory, about why the human unanimity is wrong.

        When it comes to describing divine immanence, the process tradition is the near-perfect representative in the contemporary World of the Divine Heart and how It acts in the World. When it comes to the transcendent, or how the whole of the World is a subset of a larger and more wondrous Reality, it totally misses the boat.

        • Nick G

          What does “brain on lockdown” mean? As far as I am aware, it is not a term known to medical science. How can it be shown whether this is the case? But perhaps anyone who takes Eben Alexander’s claims at face value might be said to have deliberately put their brain on lockdown.

          • Josh Magda

            I’m aware of the Esquire article. It’s ego, through and through.
            In the Biblical tradition, God is not really interested in using perfect people.
            And in real Life, that applies even more so. It’s not ALWAYS the case, but usually, for God’s Queendom to come, our Kingdom has to go.

          • Nick G

            As with all your comments, you’re long on assertion and short on evidence or argument. Which of the factual assertions about Eben’s history in the article do you believe to be false, and on what grounds? Eben has done very well out of his claims, as have others before him who made similar claims; there’s a ready market for them, and he’s certainly intelligent enough to have seen that. Why should we take those claims at face value?

          • Josh Magda

            Seemingly unlike yourself, my Life is not that bereft of meaning and/or alternate sources of stimulation that I feel the need to go to the websites of my intellectual opponents, and troll them. One thing you people don’t get is that this is not a courtroom, and we are not on trial. We don’t have to justify ourselves to you, the self-appointed 19th Century Materialism Worldview Conformity and Compliance Task Squad. You come in with your own litany of unsubstantiated assertions, lambasting religious people for being mentally and emotionally impaired, repeatedly ridiculing us… and then act surprised when I tell you to go do to yourself what a former Vice President once recommended.

          • Nick G

            In other words, you don’t have a substantive answer to my questions. In fact, you are as much an intellectual opponent of James McGrath as I am, as your comments clearly show.

          • Josh Magda

            Like all of your insults, I appreciate this one too. I’m gullible. I’m a faith-head. I’m into wish fulfillment. Unlike yourself, I don’t believe the things I do, first and foremost, because I think they’re true, but rather because of some ulterior, weak-minded psychological reason.

            Don’t forget the Kleenex.

  • Josh Magda

    What this also may be about is that process theology thinks that it has solved the problem of evil by making G-d a subset of Reality. If Eben’s account is ontological in any way, it suggests the comic nature of evil. Then we’re back to having to justify the Sandy Hook Universe (for which there is no justification). Because there is no justification for the evil of the Sandy Hook Universe, it calls God’s reality or existence into question yet again.

    I certainly understand and greatly respect the move to preserve God’s omnibenevolence. Given a hypothetical choice between Love and Power, Love will always be the appropriate selection.

    But it’s only when we move into the unitive understanding of humanity’s mystics, that reality is One, not four, and that God’s Power=God’s Love=God’s Truth=God’s Presence, etc, that we’re able to finally “solve” the problem of evil, by placing evil in a larger context… a context where what Burke called “a single drop of the Brahmanic bliss” of G-d is enough to, as the book of Revelations says, “wipe away ALL tears from our eyes.”

    I’m a big fan of happy endings. Since we’re on this particular blog, Star Wars wouldn’t be quite the same, if when Obi-Wan initially died, his Spirit wasn’t there to say “run Luke!” And even more importantly, the Ewoks would have less to dance about if they didn’t Live in a Universe where all things eventually worked together for Good- a Universe quite unlike the one materialism and process theology both propose.