Alex Tsakiris on NDEs, and the Impotence of Debate

Question from Uriadka:
Does Alex Tsakiris prove NDEs?

He often uses a variety of NDE researchers and says that all these skeptics and atheists including Sam Harris, Christof Koch, have gone from skeptics to somewhat switching sides in the NDE debate.

Here is a link where he debates Mike Shermer.

http://skeptiko.com/dr-michael-shermer-on-near-death-experience-science-379/

He brings up some decent points in all of his debates, about how some studies seem to disprove certain scientific explanations for NDEs, and then he sites doctors and people with high credentials as proof of NDEs being soul related. He just seems to always beat skeptics when they debate. If you have an opportunity, look up some of his NDE debates, and he always seems more well versed, and it gets me to question whether or not skeptics always present things out of context.

Here is an example of a quote by Dr. Long:

“Dr. Jeffrey Long: The key thing is to know a few of the consistently seen elements of near-death experience that are the strongest evidence for their reality. For example, when you’re under general anesthesia, it should be impossible to have a lucidic organized remembrance at that time. In fact, under anesthesia, you’re typically so far under, with general anesthesia they often have to breathe for you. I mean you’re literally, brain shut down to the level of the brain stem and at that point in time some people have a cardiac arrest, their hearts stop, and of course, that’s very well documented. They monitor people very carefully that are having general anesthesia.

So, I have dozens and dozens of near-death experiences that occurred under general anesthesia and at this time, it should be, if you will, doubly impossible to have a conscious remembrance, and yet they do have near-death experiences at this time, and they’re typical near-death experiences. They have the same elements and appear to have them in the same orders as near-death experiences occurring under all other circumstances. In fact, a critical survey question I asked was what their level of consciousness and alertness during the experience was.

Well, even under general anesthetics, under those powerful chemicals to produce sedation, if they had a near-death experience under general anesthesia, their level of consciousness and alertness was identical to near-death experiences occurring under all other circumstances.

There’s absolutely no way the skeptics can explain that away, it’s impossible.”

On his shows he has Brain surgeons saying there is no way some brain in that state could create an experience feeling so much more vivid and lucid than real life. It kills me how many atheists have converted due to him:

He engages with Shermer (a skeptic)

: On that last part, I don’t know that that’s really the direction where things are going. The last time we talked to you a couple of years ago, one of the guys you brought up on your team was Dr. Christof Koch, right? A guy I’ve spoken to, interviewed on this show. Hey man, he’s moved over. He switched gears, right?

Michael Shermer: Sort of moved over.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, sort of moved over. The position has shifted. These guys are no longer holding to the mind equals brain thing.

Another clip I was going to play for you, but I’ve played enough clips, you were very nice to do it.

Michael Shermer: Even Deepak says you need a brain.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, hold on. I could play for you the clip of Sam Harris and David Chalmers. So, Sam Harris, I don’t think much of Sam Harris, but he’s a name everybody knows. David Chalmers, one of the leading researchers in consciousness for a number of years, and they’re there talking, and they say, “Dan Dennett, consciousness is an illusion. You don’t really think he believes that, do you? I mean, we’re not still stuck there, right?”

So, this idea that you’re putting forward, this kind of militant, materialism, mind equals brain, we’ve moved past that. All the leading players have moved past that Michael.

Michael Shermer: No, they haven’t. No, no.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, Christof Koch has moved past it. David Chalmers has moved past it. Sam Harris has moved past it. Who are you going to point to?

Michael Shermer: I know Sam quite well, he hasn’t moved past anything, what are you talking about?

Alex Tsakiris: He’s not a strict materialist. He’s not a strict mind equals brain guy, no. He’s totally in the panpsychism, spirituality, something other than strict mind equals brain materialism.

Michael Shermer: We did a public event together in Austin that he’s going to post in a week or two that you can listen to, where we talk about…

Alex Tsakiris: Ask him, bring him on, I’ll have both of you guys on at the same time and I’ll invite the people to talk to you.

What are your thoughts on this? Does it make sense from the brilliant Alex T that souls and NDEs are real?

Answer by SmartLX:
It’s my opinion that before too long there will be an article on this site regarding every prominent NDE advocate, simply because the people sending in the questions appear to be literally working their way down a list. I should go back and check whether they’re coming in alphabetical order.

As far as I can find, Sam Harris and Christof Koch have not said or written a word in support of genuine NDEs, and Sam Harris in particular has certainly not moved an inch on the existence of souls, which is what Shermer is trying to say above despite the interruptions. (Don’t accept that? Comment and post something to the contrary by Harris himself. He’s written about spirituality, sure, but expressly to reclaim the word from supernaturalists, so read carefully.)

What seems to be happening is that at certain times in the supposedly ongoing debate, when people like Tsakiris have made a point which they don’t consider their opponents to have answered, NDE supporters write stuff like this to say Harris et al are beaten and will shortly have to concede. This is invited by Tsakiris himself who asserts as above that his opponents are coming around to his side while they’re not present. This is not the same as extracting any kind of actual concession, but it’s good enough to reassure a lot of believers.

I’ve written before on the attempts to debunk various scientific explanations of classic NDE phenomena, and here for instance I’ve addressed the undisputed fact that dreams do not occur during periods of very low brain activity, such as anaesthesia, cerebral hypoxia/anoxia, or just plain deep sleep. In order to reach these states from a starting state of consciousness, one must descend through intermediate levels of brain activity during which dreams are possible. In order to wake up to tell the tale, one must then ascend through the same levels, often more slowly. That’s two intervals either side of the “dead zone” that allow for the unconscious experiences people report afterwards. To summarise, there is always time to dream.

Winning a debate is not the same as winning an argument, which is not the same as winning someone over. I think of it in stages.
Stage 1: You win a debate if you appear to be ahead on points, literal or figurative, at the end of an exchange of predetermined length. No one’s mind is required to change.
Stage 2: You win an argument if your opponent cannot respond to your points, given ample time to research and consider, despite actually trying to do so. Still, though your opponent is no longer on solid ground they may cling to their position in the belief that it will eventually be vindicated.
Stage 3: You win someone over if they change their mind and adopt your position.

The religious appear to be good at debates, largely because those who participate in them are trained to be good at them, but this merely allows them to subjectively win the occasional debate even with bad logic and poor (or zero) evidence. Subsequent analysis of what they actually offered reveals how little they were working with, and thus a debate will hardly ever advance a religious viewpoint past stage 1 for anyone who does not already believe.

“Hell Paging Dr Rawlings, Code Blue”

Question from Uriadka:
Does this prove hell and NDEs? This story seems really compelling, and prayer seemed to get a person out of hell, like many hellish reports:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwLJBSqrrfY

Rawlings told the story of his patient who collapsed during a stress test, and “before we could stop the machine, he dropped dead.”

Well, apparently not completely dead, because in the patient’s own words,

“When I came to, Dr. Rawlings was giving me CPR, and he asked me what was the matter, because I was looking so scared. I told him that I had been to hell and I need help! He said to me, ‘keep your hell to yourself, I’m a doctor and I’m trying to save your life, you need a minister for that.’ … And I would fade out every so often, so then he would focus CPR again and bring me back…Whenever I would come back to my body, I kept asking, “Please help me, please help me, I don’t want to go back to hell.” Soon a nurse named Pam said, “He needs help, do something!” At that time, Dr. Rawlings told me to repeat this short prayer. “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus, save my soul. Keep me alive. If I die, please keep me out of hell!”

The experience of the patient, Charles McKaig, then became pleasant, and he reported seeing his deceased mother and stepmother and being surrounded and comforted by the Holy Spirit. Upon awakening, he was an immediate evangelical Christian.

In Rawlings’ words, “After this was all over, I realized what really happened. It was a double conversion. Not only had this make-believe prayer converted this atheist … it had also converted this atheist doctor that was working on him”

Answer by SmartLX:
“Compelling” is a subjective term. The sincerity of the patient supposedly compelled Dr Rawlings to accept Christianity; honestly I guess you had to be there.

This sounds like a great many NDEs we’ve had described to us here, with the added wrinkle that the patient was repeatedly coming and going. This is a nightmarish scenario for anyone, and during the unconscious periods between consciousness and brain inactivity, what dreams might have come had every right to be hellish as the brain struggled to get a handle on its circumstances. Once it was given a simple purpose – pray for salvation – perhaps it was able to regain some order and return to more peaceful dreams. It worked so well that the sheer contrast between mental states had an indelible effect on both patient and doctor, and the subsequent dreams kept to the Christian theme.

This story doesn’t even attempt to serve as proof of a divine experience, the way some other stories do. McKaig had an out-of-body sensation but didn’t learn anything about his surroundings that he wouldn’t otherwise have known. He came back from clinical death but wasn’t miraculously cured of any conditions; he was a simple heart patient going in and coming out. He had an experience in a traumatic situation, it ended, the world is no different for it except for the opinions of two people. For the rest of us, it’s only the least bit “compelling” if you already believe in what they’re pushing.

A Christian Plants His Feet

Question from Vern:
I’m a Christian. I think atheists have the wrong idea. I had a Near Death Experience involving Jesus. He told me the day my wife would have a baby boy, 3 years down the road. Sure enough it happened, he told me it would be a blond boy and sure enough it was. My wife and I have no family we know of with blond hair, so we were surprised. I have also researched Near Death Experiences, and they favour Christianity. This, plus read the Bible if you have not. Many historians and scholars agree that the Bible is true. Many many people witnessed Christ die on the cross, and they met him afterwards. He did rise from the dead. How can you deny it? There is lots of proof including the infamous shroud of Turin, the bible itself, and I met the lord. How can you dismiss it like this? Our religion has more proof than others, look at all the evidence.

Answer by SmartLX:
Everything but the kitchen sink here, it’s a pretty good jumping off point after a bit of a break. So let’s break it down.

– Thanks to some very persistent questioners we’ve covered every aspect of NDEs here: their place in Christian culture, famous claims, medical explanations and denials thereof, the information they impart and so on. Have a read if you want to consider experiences outside your own. From an atheist’s perspective, they favour Christianity basically because Christianity favours NDEs. (There are genetic and also potential practical explanations for your boy’s blonde hair which I won’t get into.)

– When a historian claims that the entire Bible is true, including the supernatural parts, he/she is not speaking as a historian (unless it’s as a really bad one) but as a religious apologist. Most of the arguments about judging the events of the Bible on their historical merit using the criteria of historians are totally invalid because historians have no standard of evidence for accepting supernatural events. Theologians, on the other hand, have to take it as a premise that God and Jesus are real to proceed with any of their work, because you can’t ponder the nature of God as anything but a moot point unless you think there is one. Consider how many of the scholars you refer to are in fact theologians.

– Post-crucifixion Jesus is documented as only appearing to a handful of people, except in just one passage in 1 Corinthians 15 where he appears to five hundred or so. An account of 500 witnesses is not 500 witness accounts. As for the greater argument about his divinity, it’s another popular subject here. Look.

– The Shroud of Turin appears to have finally bit the dust as a genuine relic in just the last few weeks, as reported here. Generally speaking, it goes through periods of high and low credibility based on studies and studies of studies. At the absolute best, it was really Jesus’ burial shroud, but tells us nothing about what happened after his burial as we have no idea where it came from.

– Your supposed personal experience of Jesus is not good evidence for anyone else. When you claim the supernatural you ask people to weigh the reality of the impossible against the integrity of your character and the constant impeccability of your senses and faculties. I don’t know you so I can’t even make that judgement, but it wouldn’t go well even for my dearest friends and family if they made the same claim. There are just too many ways that such an experience can seem real and not be.

If you want to follow up on one specific argument for Christianity, look it up here by keyword. If you think it’s less than done to death at this point, comment and we’ll talk about it.

Again With The Dawkins Video

Question from Mido:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W4e4MwogLo
What is the response to this? Does this refute evoulution?
Please give me a detailed explanation.

Answer by SmartLX:
This crops up every now and again, as if we’re not supposed to have seen it before. Every time it’s an opportunity to shed light on it for more people.

Richard Dawkins let an Australian film crew into his home for an interview. When they asked the question in the video (how does nature create new genetic information) he immediately realised they were creationists in his home under false pretenses and stopped the interview. He let it resume afterwards, basically because they begged him.

The video has been edited by many different creationist propagandists to make Dawkins’ moment of realisation and quiet anger look even more like he was stumped. (Some even insert themselves as the interviewer.) When Dawkins got wind of this, he put out an article explaining what had happened and comprehensively answering the question, to dispel any doubt that he could if he’d been inclined to indulge the creationists that day.

Whether or not you believe Dawkins’ explanation, he’s given the question an answer which you must judge on its own merits by reading his article. If you don’t accept it, comment and tell me why.

No God, But…Angels?

Question from Joanne:
I’m doing an assignment on different religious beliefs on angels and I want to know if atheists believe in angels and what are atheist perspectives on angels? Does each person’s viewpoint differ based on personal belief or is there a general perspective? Also, what arguments/proofs are there to back up the atheist viewpoint on angels?
Thank you so much.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve had an awful month moving house, Joanne, I hope this isn’t too late to help you.

Atheists usually don’t believe in supernatural beings including angels, for the same reason they don’t believe in gods: there’s no good evidence that they’re real. Like with gods their non-existence is not certain, but you need a good reason to positively believe in something so exotic.

That said, through this site I have spoken to some atheists who believe in a few such beings, such as ghosts. They come to these beliefs through personal experiences they interpret as supernatural, even though they don’t sound very convincing to the rest of us. Angels are a special case however, because as defined in the lore of any religion they are created by a god and sent to participate in the affairs of humans. An atheist by definition does not believe in any gods, and therefore would not believe in any creature that can only have been created by gods. So while atheist viewpoints on ghosts, cryptozoology (e.g. Bigfoot) or supernatural forces like karma do vary, their attitude toward angels is a very general one of denial and dismissal.

…Mother Mary Comes To Me, Speaking Words Of Wisdom: “You’re Pregnant!”

Question from Chuck:
So my mom grew up in a Greek Catholic house, she isn’t too religious, but does believe there may be a higher power like a god or something of that nature. One thing that’s kind of strange to me is this. She has 2 children, myself and my brother. She also had 2 miscarriages, where after about 6 weeks, the fetus died. She told me that it wasn’t particularly easy to conceive, and that there were times where it didn’t work. However, when she became pregnant with me (the day before she found out) she had a dream with mother Mary telling her she was going to be giving birth to a child. It happened to be true. Then, her next attempt to have a baby was a miscarriage, and while she was at one point pregnant, she did not have a religious dream. Then, she had my brother, and the day before she found out about being pregnant with him, she said Jesus came to her, lifted her up, and said she would be giving birth to another baby.

I know these could be written off as just dreams, coincidences, potentially anticipation lead the brain to expect pregnancy, but these dreams didn’t occur for the 2 miscarriages, does this potentially mean anything supernatural at work here?

Answer by SmartLX:
Well we know they were dreams, your mother said as much. Coincidences are certainly possible, but anticipation is almost certain; her mind would turn towards babies at specific times simply because she knew when she’d previously had sex in the right part of her cycle. It goes through the mind of most women, I’m sure: “If I conceived on that particular night, this is about when I’d find out.” Given the relationship between dreams and memory, she might have had the dream one or both times she eventually miscarried, or at any time in between, and simply not remembered it (or dismissed it simply because the timing was so off).

Memory changes over time, too, especially if you start telling the story of it (or even reliving it in your mind). The original dreams may not have been as specific, well-timed, relevant and accurate as they sound in your mother’s current version of the story, but any tiny exaggerations are liable to be integrated into the memory of the dream, and not regarded as exaggerations the next time.

All up, there are too many ways this can have occurred naturally and still seem like two perfectly aimed singing telegrams from Our Lady for anyone who doesn’t start off already believing to take much notice.

Just Being Around a Box Jellyfish Is a Near Death Experience Anyway

Question from Jay:
Hello, I was wondering what you thought of Ian McCormack’s NDE testimony, this is a man who claims he was swimming in the ocean in Mauritius, was stung by a box jellyfish, died, went to hell, was then given a second chance, shown heaven, etc. He claims that he has been retelling his testimony for over 30 years hundreds of times at these religious conventions, and tons of people approach him, saying they saw hell in an NDE of their own and it is exactly the way he described it. He was also apparently an atheist when this took place. When I typed down “box jellyfish sting survival rate” into google, his testimony comes up, even though I didn’t search for NDEs. It seems he beat the odds by surviving, as the sting kills most people, and he had such a vivid testimony. Do you think even though he claims thousands of people came to him and told him they saw hell in NDEs just like he did that it doesn’t prove a hell?

Answer by SmartLX:
For reference, here’s his story in the first person.

See Wikipedia: most box jellyfish encounters aren’t too serious, so the survival rate is pretty good. There are no statistics on survival rates for a full-blown sting, only a very rough number of fatalities per year in a few regions.

Hell to McCormack was darkness, disembodiment, angry voices and a sense of unease. This is a very easy dream to have if you are under stress, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many people remember something similar as they listen to him. That said, we have only his word how many people have corroborated his story, so to speak, and even that is an estimate.

Primarily, we have absolutely no evidence for the critical facts of the story itself: the severity and location (even the occurence) of the sting, the time he went untreated and unconscious, the doctor’s reaction, how long he was in hospital, whether he was an atheist beforehand, etc. And that’s before the claims of anything supernatural. A “vivid” testimony counts for nothing; think of your favourite work of fiction and consider how vivid a narrative can be without being at all true.

Dunkin’ Babies

Question from Andrei:
A colleague of mine recently attended the baptism of a baby and she told me she noticed that before the immersion in holy water the baby was very agitated and was crying a lot, but after the immersion the baby became very quiet and calm. She attributed this behavior to the supernatural (she was probably thinking about the Holy Spirit). Please tell me: Why do you think the baby changed his/her behavior during the baptism?
Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
What temperature was the water? If it was a smart priest the water was very warm, as close as possible to 37° Celsius (~98° Farenheit) which is the recommended temperature for bathing very young babies. It reminds them of the womb and calms them right down. In fact, if it’s the kind of church that baptises babies by literally immersing them, it could be dangerous for the babies if the water is any cooler than that, in case they get hypothermia.

Even not knowing all this, a church that baptises enough babies will have learned through decades or even centuries of trial and error that there’s a lot less screaming over the rites if the water is pleasant for the poor kids.

Ouija Ouija Woo Woo 2

Question from Kamil:
I would like to ask you your opinion on Ouija boards.

Originally, I would have thought they were just peoples’ imaginations, but recently, I made one with my family and we played for fun. We were asking questions and getting answers. Apparently we were talking to some guy who lived during the 1500s in Qatar named Carvel. It was all fun and we got a good laugh. However, then something interesting (kind of spooky) took place. My parents asked for fun if I would ever get married (I am very young). The answer was yes. Then we asked, what country will she be from, and the answer was Sweden. Finally, we asked the name, and got “Hilvy”. A few months passed, and I didn’t think anything of it. However, I was bored one day and googled “Hilvy”. To my surprise, it came up as a Swedish name! I asked my parents and they said they had never heard of that name before. Now I am shocked that this was able to come up with an ethnically Swedish name when we didn’t know it. I don’t know what to think of that. My parents joke if I ever really do meet a Hilvy maybe it will mean something.

I have also heard a catalog of anecdotes where people claim they were playing as kids and objects around the house went flying, garbage cans, clocks, etc. Some people say they have seen strange things, and even some murder mysteries have apparently been solved with Ouija boards. My question is, do you think these anecdotes as well as my anecdote prove that spirits are around us communicating or no? I doubt all these people lie about having strange experiences after using these boards. Do you think this proves a life after death?

Answer by SmartLX:
No, the anecdotes don’t prove anything. They’re anecdotes, without a shred of evidence or corroboration, which is significant for an activity that is necessarily done in a group. Fortunately there’s an easy way to make ouija boards look silly, which I’ll get to.

When even one person with a finger on the pointer has an idea where to go while everyone else is aimless, everyone else will go with the strongest force without knowing where it came from. If one person at your session happened to know that Hilvy is a Swedish name (and it does seem to be a common one) they could have spelled it out, and even spelled “Sweden” to set it up.

If you really want to test the power of a Ouija board then get the same group back together, blindfold every participant, and have an observer capture video of the board. People might still have an idea of where “yes” and “no” are, so ask questions that require answers to be spelled out. You’ll probably find that the pointer doesn’t just spell garbage but frequently lands in the spaces between characters, giving no valid answer at all. It’s already happened on camera.

I’m not suggesting that every legible answer or even letter has been forced on the pointer by cheating participants. Ideomotor effects can drive people’s muscles to make countless tiny adjustments without them realising if they know what they expect to happen, say if the pointer looks like it’s going to narrowly miss a letter, or if half of an obvious word has been spelled out. The more people “at the wheel”, the more difficult the specific moves are to attribute.

Even if ouija boards did work with all “drivers” blindfolded, attributing the information to real ghosts would be the next near-impossible task. You’d need to treat the board the way a skeptic would treat any self-proclaimed psychic, asking specific questions about the future that can be unambiguously proved wrong, and similar questions about the past and present that not only no one in the room could know, but only a specific deceased person would know.

Incidentally, how would “Carvel” even know who you’ll marry? In whose model of the afterlife do ghosts exist and know the future, on top of their own past?

Served by Steve Harvey

Question from Uriadka:
According to Steve Harvey, atheists are idiots. He claims God changed his life. Any rebuttals???

(Kind of a sarcastic post but I want to see what you guys think of such a bold statement from some Family Feud host.)

Answer by SmartLX:
He does indeed say that, near the end of this compilation. The main reason he gives is simply the argument from design applied to everything on Earth at once. He then focuses on evolution and rattles off (or should I say parrots?) the classic and utterly ignorant question about monkeys. The rest of Harvey’s opinion of atheists is based on his ignorance of our sources of morality, and the implication that we don’t have any.

Steve Harvey is no authority on philosophy of religion, and even if he were it wouldn’t be advisable to merely accept his authority on the subject, so we have to judge his reasons. His attempts to justify his position are all familiar, and not at all convincing, to those who do not already believe. That his position AND his reasons are insulting are not logical reasons to dismiss them, but it sure doesn’t help his case.