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.

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:

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.

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.

One NDE Question Left Over

Question from Kamil (sent before I answered his previous one):
Hello there, a few weeks ago I asked about NDEs with many faces aka Jesus. I just wanted to give you only a few of about the 160-200 accounts I have found online of NDE meetings with Jesus, they are all pretty consistent, and I wanted to see if these convince you.

Here are a few descriptions of meeting him:

“Someone was waiting for me where the path ended. I knew it was Jesus. He was tall and strong, with long dark hair and a wonderful tender smile. His eyes were unforgettable, immense, dark, so loving and full of wisdom… He was wearing a long white tunic, and sandals. He was there all by himself and smiling, just waiting for ME. He welcomed me. He didn’t say a word, I didn’t either, but we were communicating without talking.”

” I felt someone pick me up in their arms and I was surrounded by light. I looked in the smiling face of a man, who said his name was Jesus. He told me not to be frightened; he was here to take me back. He had shoulder length brown hair and dark brown eyes. He was wearing leather sandals on his feet with straps that went between his toes and tied around his ankles. He had on a long white gown with long gig sleeves, with a long light blue tunic over it. There was a gold color rope tied around his waist. His voice was very soft and kind, almost musical, and I felt a feeling of pure love, complete safety and trust.”

” I felt a presence in there and tried to clarify whom it was. I could not see a face but felt the presence of Jesus on a throne. I said ‘who are you?’ He replied ‘I am your Lord Jesus’ and I fell to my knees. Jesus said ‘Don’t be afraid, I love you’. I do not have the words to express the feeling of his presence. He had unconditional love towards me and said ‘what do you think of your life so far?’ I had a strong sense I had not completed what I need to learn as a human being. Jesus said ’You may stay with me or return to being a human being”

” Jesus Christ was seated next to God. The throne room was pure white. Then I stood there in absolute awe at the beauty of Jesus. Jesus was wearing a white robe with a purple sash and had flames in his eyes. His golden crown had many bright jewels in it. The jewels were purple, green, and red. I looked back at Jesus and his sash. Then the sash turned red. I was looking into His eyes. I saw forever in them: He was so beautiful.”

“I only had a clear sight of a man that stood to the far right of me. I knew immediately that this man was Jesus. I never saw him before, but I knew that he was the master and my lord. I understood that he knew every fine detail about me. Jesus wore a white roman like cloak from his neck to his feet with long arm sleeves that were very loose. A red loose ban of clothing stretched from his left shoulder across the chest to his right waist. He had long brown curly hair that dangled to his shoulder length. Everything happened so fast that I didn’t see his wounds in his hands, face, nor see the color of his eyes.”

“Our conversation differed from a typical face-to-face speech. Somehow, I was able to communicate with the choice by mouth or the mind. Jesus spoke to me with his lips and spread his arms and said, “It is not time for you to die yet.”

“I had the pleasure of having a discussion with Jesus. I knew it was him and that I can never deny. I also received a wonderful hug from him. I felt his body with my spirit and there are times, especially when I do have occasional bouts of depression, I can still feel his physical body with my fingertips and I know he was real and that what he brought to the world was wonderful.”

” He was more beautiful outside. This was like the Jesus images I saw in the Bible. His face was shining and he was smiling. His eyes were so deep. I felt that he could sent me lights of love. I wished to stay like that forever. It was the most amazing experience in my whole life! It was like he was taking me to heaven with him and I was happy to follow him. ”

“There was Jesus standing there about one hundred feet tall, with his right arm extended. He was glowing, with long brown hair, copper skin, and a long white robe.”

“Next to me on my right side was a presence. They were similar to the ‘light beings’ I had seen when I was three years old. But this time, the presence turned into a likeness of Jesus. He stood next to me and looked in my eyes. Then he touched/rubbed my right cheek. I immediately was able to breath and was free of pain and fear.”

“Then, Jesus walked up to me. He was tall and so beautiful! His hair was dark and wavy, and very long down to his waist. His skin was dark and his eyes were a warm, liquid-brown. Jesus had a smile that melted my heart. He told me that He loved me, that He had walked beside me every day of my life. He told me that He had never left my side and never would leave my side, not ever.”

“”I saw a pinpoint of light in the distance. As I approached it, I noticed the figure of a man standing in it, with the light radiating all around him. As I got closer the light became brilliant – brilliant beyond any description, far more brilliant than the sun. I saw that the light immediately around him was golden, as if his whole body had a golden halo around it, and I could see that the golden halo burst out from around him and spread into a brilliant, magnificent whiteness that extended out for some distance. I felt his light blending into mine. And as our lights merged, I felt as if I had stepped into his countenance, and I felt an utter explosion of love. It was the most unconditional love I have ever felt, and as I saw his arms open to receive me I went to him and received his complete embrace. There was no questioning who he was. I knew that he was my Savior, and friend, and God. He was Jesus Christ, who had always loved me, even when I thought he hated me.”

There are many more accounts like this all over the internet, I counted about 160 accounts I could find. They just tend to be so deep. Many describe Jesus as having dark hair, while his pictures in the USA make him look almost blond, so the American paintings don’t usually mesh with the description of him.
These experiences like I said seem so deep, the people have personal conversations with Jesus, and they know its him, there are not any NDEs I can find from other faiths where people have such deep experiences with other deities. Do these accounts not mean anything to you???
Even Kreps who studies Muslim NDEs says other faith NDEs seem much more sketchy than the Christian ones, the Christian ones are so vast and detailed.

Answer by SmartLX:
Normally I try to take every question at face value, but it’s especially interesting to come back to this subject after you finally got down to your own motivations in your previous post. You’re still convinced by all this after we’ve covered all the probable reasons why, simply because that is how it strikes your brain – or did once, before you had even learned about the extent of this, and now you’re collecting this stuff to shore it up.

The more or less consistent depictions of Jesus in these quotes may be cherry-picked specifically in order to be consistent, firstly. Even if they are properly representative, though, the culturally accepted image of Jesus has been in place since the 6th century and it’s there in the subconscious of every Christian. What they expect to see is either what they conjure in their mind’s eye or what they gradually nudge the memory towards after the fact.

The emotional impact or “deep”-ness of these experiences is also cherry-picked just by the nature of the fact that they were documented. People who saw Jesus in a much less affecting context in a dream or other state of unconsciousness might not bother to tell people. But again, having got the idea that they saw Jesus triggers subsequent emotions that can be projected backwards into the experience. One’s wedding day is often remembered as uniformly blissful despite a large proportion of it actually being spent adjusting clothes and wrangling family members, because of its significance to one’s life.

Finally (for now, though I think comments will add to the counterpoints), if any of these stories are made up completely, of course Jesus is exactly as people expect him to look, and of course each is a profound spiritual experience. Even the stories that are based on an unexplained vision and embellished later will be shaped in one’s head unerringly towards the expected experience, not away.

So yes, the accounts do mean something to me. They are indicative of a great many social, psychological and memetic phenomena whether or not they are true. But they are very unlikely to mean that apparently the most common type of NDE is genuinely supernatural. You probably knew I’d say that at the end, but maybe just read it a couple of times to let yourself get past some of the emotion and see it through my eyes. It’s a good exercise, according to Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

NDEs: One Man’s Last Bastion of Belief

Question from Kamil:
Is it worth it to believe in religion if the only reason I have to believe is NDEs? I mean, I know you might say no one can tell me what to believe, and I can’t choose what to believe, but the thing is, the nearest NDE study coming out that is supposed to be really large isn’t coming out until probably 2021, which is a long time.

The ONLY thing that compels me, as obvious from my posts, to believe is the NDEs, I see many of hell, many of Jesus, and I fear rejecting fully, in case I do end up getting punished for it. However, if I knew for a 100% fact NDEs were not really the soul leaving the body, I would have absolutely no reason at all to believe, nothing else is compelling at all, or makes any sense. The religious texts don’t make sense, filled with inconsistencies, and contradictions. The idea of “something can’t come from nothing” is not compelling, because then where did God come from? If God can always exist, then why can’t a few particles or even the smallest amount of energy exist? Even if that were debunked, it still wouldn’t mean a God exists. The story of Jesus at surface level seems like a fabrication, or at least part of it.

I believe a man named Jesus existed, and walked on earth, and gave advice/help to people. However, I find it hard to believe that he performed real miracles (maybe he was a good magician), that he came from a virgin birth, or that he really rose from the dead. However, then I am somewhat afraid to question that out of fear. I also find religion somewhat annoying, so when I first started questioning things, I was a tad rebellious. I am afraid that this may partially be contributing to my view to “want” to dump religion, sadly. I know that is biased, and that is also why I am not sure fully where I stand. However, honestly, it is probably 70% the fact that I don’t believe most of it, 10% of me is somewhat stubborn and wants to forget religion, and 20% is just this fear of what if, and in that it is the NDEs that make me uneasy of dropping it.

Should I really wait until 2021 before I can (potentially depending on the results) sincerely call myself an atheist, or should I take everyone else’s word and say “NDEs are just in the brain” and reject it? I know I keep asking this, but it really does seem that NDEs prove Jesus over other deities, I know I live in a Christian part of the world, and maybe other NDEs haven’t been recorded, or people just don’t post them. People from other faiths just say NDEs are not real, but that’s not tackling the issue. If NDEs are hallucinations which are culturally based, then a Muslim should report seeing Muhammad, as their brain would pull from their knowledge of religion. However, getting beside the point, what should I do? Should I wait for 2021 or should I not?

Answer by SmartLX:
After all the arguments for the supernatural or divine nature of near death experiences presented by you, a few other determined repeat contributors and a host of one-offs, the case for this still appears to be very poor. Therefore I wouldn’t judge NDEs to be a worthy reason to believe in gods and an afterlife. That’s not really how it works though; you didn’t decide to believe in them for good reasons or otherwise, you were convinced by what you had read and all our exchanges have been attempts to rationalise this after the fact.

You reject major Christian doctrine and the divinity of Jesus on an intellectual level, and yet you fear to deny Jesus out loud. This nakedly baseless fear is part a seldom discussed but very common phenomenon which I’ve named faithdrawal. Faith is maintained far more by emotion than by intellect, so this is the element of it that dies hardest. Fortunately, without constant reinforcement it fades inexorably.

I may have confused your past writings with those of others, but regardless there are discussions here of all the components of your summary argument for Christian NDEs. You do not understand why Christian NDE claims are so common and other types are almost non-existent if the experiences aren’t really caused by Yahweh and Jesus, but this is your inner argument from ignorance and the core fallacy you ignore through cognitive dissonance. Explanations have been presented, such as the Muslim doctrine that NDEs of Muhammad don’t happen which keeps Muslims from reporting theirs, and the runaway success of the Christian NDE meme in our culture which invites mistaken claims and outright lies, so there is no argument from elimination to be made, but since the alternatives don’t resonate with you the completely undemonstrated supernatural explanation still seems likely to you.

Don’t wait until 2021, because nothing will change as a result of that study. If it supports NDEs as an almost uniquely Christian phenomenon, you will allow it to renew your latent faith and ignore other explanations. If it does not, you will focus on any unanswered questions, of which there will be many. Think through this now and get it over with.

Focus on this, if you will: if there is no God and no afterlife, there is no punishment waiting after death, and if you are confident that religion is wrong then you have nothing to fear. If you did not want or need NDEs to be genuine, if you thought about them through my eyes or those of another indifferent person you’ve discussed them with, how likely would they look? How much of all this is just you holding on for literally no good reason that anyone else can see?

Spoiler: the first time you really ponder this, whether now or later, you will get angry. Let it happen, go think about something else, and come back to it, multiple times if you must. Accept that there are things about your own way of thinking that you do not understand, and take it slow.


Question from Kamil:
I have done more research on Jesus NDEs, and found that while he does come up more than other deities from other faiths ex: Muhammad, that it may make some sense. I mean, Christians view Jesus on the same playing field as God, and they feel like they have a relationship with him. That may be why whenever they see a light in their NDEs they assume it is Jesus. Muslims do not feel like they have this kind of relationship with Muhammad, and they don’t worship him. Also there are no pictures of Muhammad, so during an NDE, their brains would be less likely to come up with seeing Muhammad potentially.

However, this leaves me with one question: what about the NDEs where Christians see Jesus, but he doesn’t look exactly like depicted in the paintings. Many report seeing him with dark hair, and some even say olive skin. Different people say he has different physical characteristics, and NDErs argue that he appears to each person differently so that they can understand who he is and so that their souls can learn in the best possible way. So person A may imagine Jesus as being tanned with black hair and brown eyes while person B may imagine him having fair skin with blue eyes, so he will manifest in those images for each person. My question is, does this mean that since he shows up to some people in ways that don’t reflect cultural imagery that NDEs with him are likely to be genuine?

And even though I feel Muslims would be less quick to jump to the idea that seeing a light or having a good “familiar” feeling is the result of Muhammad, it still seems Christian NDEs are much deeper with more life lessons and reinforcement of Jesus than Muslims are of their cultural beliefs. Does this prove Christianity?

Answer by SmartLX:
Kamil, did you start with the final sentence, “Does this prove Christianity?” and work backwards? Because if you read your question from the start up to that point, there is nothing approaching a proof there even if everything you write were true.

Jesus as described in the Gospels was one person, with one physical appearance. Shapeshifting was not one of his documented miracles. If different people who claim to see him are clearly not describing the same individual, this is a glaring inconsistency which contradicts the general claim that the same person is appearing to them all. The idea that Jesus is deliberately appearing to different people in different guises is an excuse for this inconsistency. The existence of an unsupported suggestion as to how the visions of Jesus might be both inconsistent and real is not evidence that they are real; it is at best an argument against utter disproof, which is a very, very long way from proof.

It would make the combined stories a lot more compelling in concert if the images of Jesus were separately verified as consistent AND did not fit the common media images. This would suggest that one person, independent of the cultural meme of Jesus, was reaching out to people. That still wouldn’t be proof, but it would be an interesting phenomenon which warranted further study. The reality is nothing like it.

Shawn Weed’s Adventures Through the Noose

Question from Kamil:
Hello there, thanks for answering all my questions thus far. I keep worrying about hell, and this testimony hasn’t helped, by Shawn Weed. His video can be found on YouTube, and he seems so genuine. He cries in his video, and I can’t imagine how someone could hallucinate absolute knowledge ex: he wants to know the demon’s height, and knows automatically it is 13 feet tall. Then, he claims he saw such a beautiful angel, again, how could he hallucinate that?
Here is his story, as his video is very long winded, but in the video, he tears up a lot.

Here are the details about Shawn:

-Was in the marine corps. Had a choice to chill with other broke comrades, go to Disney Land in CA w/ comrades, or Vegas w/ comrades. Lacking funds so he chilled with three others.
-One dude wants to take a picture of him in a noose.
-One other dude sneaks up and while in the noose actually gets Shawn Weed in the noose and it tightens.
-Loses consciousness and eventually dies; his soul leaves his body.
-Describes his soul as himself exactly except he is not physical. Shawn tried to enter his body while he was dead, sort of like matching a the last puzzle piece into the last spot. Didn’t work.
-Ends up in a dark parallel plane that extended forever. Complete darkness. He described it as a “darkness you can feel” and the only light was the dim glow of his own soul or essence. There was a ceiling that he could touch but no walls or doors. Just a never ending chasm dividing Heaven and Hell basically.
-(^^^) He would later describe that place as the doorstep of Hell.
-A demon grabbed him by the shoulders and he describes the demon and the pain he went through.
-Demon: 13 feet high, either blackish red skin or redish black skin, fingers as thick as a wine bottle length little more than a ruler per finger, width of hand was like 8-10 inches, says it’s a fair guess when he estimates the demon weighed 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, built like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime just ripped, grotesque face that scared him terribly (not afraid of no man on the planet will fight anyone no matter how big, etc. but only looked for one second with absolute horror and turned away), the demon was strong and in complete control; there was no fighting this thing.
-Pain: As the demon grabbed him by the shoulder, his legs popped and were kicking up and down rapidly kind of like when you twiddle your index and middle finger up and down quickly, pain in the spiritual is all around according to him meaning if you get pain in your ear you’ll feel it all through your soul all the way down to your feet. He described the pain as electrical current that didn’t stop, he could feel the pain everywhere whereas a cut finger will hurt near the finger an not much further…There are no pain receptors the pain of that finger would flow throughout the entire spirit/soul.

-Sees a light and his hand, almost instinctual, reached for this light that grabbed his hand and it was Archangel Michael. He described him as the most handsome man and the most beautiful woman but shaped like a man. Strong, “not bodybuilder muscle popping out strong but trainer strong” and claims he was definitely there to fight. He says he had the most perfect blue eyes, like flawless perfect blue eyes as if the blue sky were taken and put into his eyes.
-Michael says it is not yet his time, and while the demon still had a strong grip on his shoulder, Michael basically hit the demon like a palm to the neck sort of strike and this demon went flying back like a cartoon bent in half mid-air (hands touching toes) sort of way.
-Michael points a direction and Shawn follows, instantly back in his body alive.

***He claimed that once he knew the demon was taking him from the doorstep of Hell to the actual fire and brimstone part of Hell he kept repeating it in his head like “I’m going to Hell” “He’s taking me to Hell” over and over. Said it was mortal doom basically. And he described the hope he had in him sort of ooze out of him after that realization and he became numb and every bit of energy and will to live was gone drained from his soul.***

He said he was an average guy. Never murdered, stole, etc. Did some drinking and drugs nothing excessive just your average guy. Claims that there are good people in Hell, people who would call themselves Christians. His belief is that God doesn’t want average he wants full devotion and the people who follow Christ and God one foot in one foot out end up in Hell. Full devotion to the best of your ability is what God requires. That was the part that blew me away, to think that good people would be allowed to burn eternally for being lukewarm, spit out into Hell.

Answer by SmartLX:
Found it here.

Weed doesn’t have to be lying to be wrong. His experience can have been entirely real to him and yet not involve any supernatural beings. This is the nature of dreams, hallucinations, and false memories.

Whatever really happened, the more he tells this story the more he reinforces it in his own mind (especially with his emotions engaged), until he may believe it entirely when once he didn’t. All kinds of new and specific details can creep in that way too and become canon, so to speak. This could include not only the height of the demon but his memory of how quickly he knew it, so it actually is possible to fabricate a memory of having certain knowledge. Imagining a beautiful angel is pretty straightforward if you believe in angels.

Much of the story is consistent with him having fabricated the whole thing, consciously or not. It reflects his existing beliefs and even special interests. Besides the obvious Christian imagery, bodybuilder Weed portrays the entities involved as distinct beefcake body types. The bit about spitting out lukewarm people paraphrases Revelations 3:16, and reflects many other Bible verses telling Christians to be active in their faith. (Some evangelicals call it being “on fire for Jesus”.)

Let’s not forget that there isn’t even any obvious support for the non-supernatural parts of the story. We have only Weed’s word that he was in the noose in the first place, let alone accidentally strangled until clinically dead with three close friends present. For this story to be taken as evidence of anything, surely it should be the first pre-requisite to establish that he even had an opportunity to experience the afterlife.

Take note anytime you take “I can’t imagine how” as evidence for something. This is acceptance of an argument from ignorance, unconsciously made to yourself. It may well convince you at the time but it has no right to.

Cornering the Market, Continued: The NDE Niche

Question from Kamil:
After emailing back and forth with a near death experience expert, I got a figure that from the NDEs he collects, about 13% of NDEs that people have include seeing Jesus. There are not too many Islamic NDEs, but there is yet to be one where a person encounters Muhammad. There are a few Hindu NDEs which differ from Christian ones, but again, almost no mention of Krishna. Would you say 13% of NDEs seeing Jesus would give Jesus more of a chance of being real than the other deities? I have heard that Islamic people may be quiet on encounters with Muhammad as it may be seen as taboo to mention a Muhammad encounter. however, I have seen testimonies of people dreaming about Muhammad and mentioning it, so I’m not quite sure how “taboo” it would be. My question is, if there was never a single NDE of Muhammad but NDEs with Jesus, does this mean Christianity has a better chance of being true? Also, I have seen forums on this topic, and no one can seem to figure out why Muhammad never shows up in NDEs. I do know that Christians on the web will proudly point this out and say “We see Jesus, others don’t see their deities, so we are correct!”. I would like to know an atheistic standpoint on this.

Answer by SmartLX:
I concur on two points. All the research done so far has failed to come up with a statistically significant amount of NDE claims involving Muhammad, and as shown here some Christians do point out Jesus’ supposed monopoly on NDE appearances as support for the reality of his divinity.

Firstly, at 13% of all NDE claims it’s not much of a monopoly. Jesus is not a part of the vast majority of NDE claims even by Christians. Even if it’s really Jesus, he’s not making good use of his omnipresence. But more importantly, when all appearances by Jesus in all claims made so far aren’t enough to convince non-believers due to the lack of good evidence any given claim provides, it means little to point out that other religions do not have the same claims. “Oh, your rivals don’t have this same support that isn’t any kind of support anyway? Well whoop-de-do.”

A more likely reason for the discrepancy than the occasional genuine presence of Jesus, expanding on what I wrote here and here, is that this form of NDE is an almost exclusively Christian cultural meme at this point in time. People are aware of prior claims, so if they have an experience that gives them even a fuzzy feeling of a divine presence (often attributable to medical effects) they will subconsciously shape the memory to fit the expectation. And of course if they’re making it up entirely they will custom-tool it to the memetic specifications.

Now if a recognisable Jesus appeared to someone who had never heard of Jesus, that would be something. But it would also be nearly impossible to prove after the fact, as I’m sure we’ll explore if anyone has a claim like that to share.

The Least Verifiable NDE Claim Yet

Question from Ned:
Does this psychic woman prove Jesus?

Answer by SmartLX:

If anything in this story were true, it would be amazing, but there’s no evidence that it is, so that doesn’t begin to approach the criteria of proof that Jesus is alive and curing people. There are no names in the story, not the author, not the doctor, and not the “psychic” woman, so there’s absolutely no way to find out whether any of it happened. Like another recent account the hospital is named – the Veteran Affairs Medical Center – but firstly this may or may not be the one in Portland, Oregon, and secondly hospitals are not forthcoming to the general public on the details of their ex-patients. Just because Forrest Gump went to the White House, which is a real building, does not mean Forrest Gump was a real person.

As it stands, there’s just nothing here.