Book Plunge: Imagine Heaven

What do I think of John Burke’s book published by Baker Books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Burke’s book could be the most exciting book on near-death experiences (NDEs) that I have ever read. While the majority are not evidential in the sense that they tell about people seeing things that they could not have seen that can be verified, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much information here that should bring joy to the heart of a Christian. Namely, are some of the ideas about what is possible in the city that is being prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean that we shut our brains off and just believe entirely everything said. One has to be on guard because there have been fake accounts of people having NDEs. Burke is right though that many of these come from people who could face public embarrassment for claiming the things that they do claim. What do they gain by making them up always?

Burke is also very reliant on Scripture to make sure that the claims do not go beyond what is written. When one reads the accounts, it’s hard to not get excited. Light is a common refrain that shows up and life is right behind it. It’s as if the place that is coming is full of light that seems to move through everything and life is all around us.

Beauty also plays a major role and with this one, I was surprised that Burke didn’t address an issue that many men wonder about and that is the issue of marriage and sex in Heaven. I think marriage could have been addressed, but not the sexuality aspect. I remain uncertain about whether it will be in heaven, though making babies certainly will not take place. Still, what it is here should be seen as a foretaste of what is coming with God flirting with us about the joys of this world.

Some ideas that were really convicting also included hellish NDEs and the life review. For the NDEs of a more hellish nature, I found myself looking at my life and wondering if I was living that nature more sometimes. I do think I found some areas in which I can improve.

The life review was something common to come across as well. In this, people would review their lives like they were movies and see thoughts and emotions and how their tiniest actions affected people around them. The main question that was being asked is “What did you do with the life that I gave you?” In the accounts, Jesus cares deeply about how we treat other people around us.

I also found it interesting to hear about actual homes in the next world. This was intriguing to think of places where people live in a city. I was very pleased to hear about books being there and the constant pursuit and learning of knowledge.

Burke at one point does describe a welcoming committee and one reason they come is protection. More was said to be coming about this later, but I don’t remember it coming and it was something I was looking for. It could have been hellish NDEs, but that was not specified.

Again, I do not think that we should accept blindly every account given of an NDE, but there are too many to just dismiss them. More and more of them are also coming with evidence that can be verified.  Those with an interest in this field need to read this one.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 3

Do Near-Death experiences give evidence of theism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In Chapter 3, Jelbert goes after Gary Habermas’s essay on near-death experiences. Near-death experiences are fascinating events being talked about now and some are even talking about post-death experiences and shared near-death experiences. In these, a person somehow experiences what they say is a separation of their soul from their body. While you can often have visions of seeing a tunnel or angels or things like that, sometimes there are things seen that can be independently verified.

Of course, if we have experiences where all one sees are such things as angels and the like, then we cannot verify that any of that has been seen. What are interesting are the cases that have people seeing things that they could not see any other way. Naturally, this information has to be gathered immediately before they can talk to people who would tell them the events. For this reason, I place further huge suspicion on something like Heaven Is For Real.

Jelbert looks at one prime example of Habermas which was a case told by Melvin Morse. The girl nearly drowned and was without a pulse for nineteen minutes. When Katie came too, she gave a description of many of the events that happened, including the two physicians who worked on her and events that were going on in her home. We could try to think of other ways someone could gain such information, but good luck finding them.

Habermas also gives accounts that Jelbert says he thinks could be NDEs, such as the account of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Stephen’s sighting in Acts 7, and Paul in 2 Cor. 12. Of these, I only think Paul could likely be a near-death experience. I think Stephen was granted a vision and I don’t see an NDE at all in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

Jelbert’s response starts by saying that the view that consciousness can be separated from the brain goes against the dominant neuroscientific view. The first problem with this is that his source for this is Wikipedia which he does say is very thorough and has lots of other research. Readers here know about my thoughts on Wikipedia. It is the abomination that causes misinformation.

Jelbert goes on to cite Kenneth Ring on NDEs, but none of it deals with the more evidential cases. He then cites Jansen who says many of these sensations could be produced by Ketamine. Perhaps some cases are like this, but when you get to evidential cases, it is far harder.

Jelbert looks at this case and says that Morse is the only doctor there and he has interest in NDEs. He also points out that Morse has been found guilty of some crimes such as waterboarding his wife’s 11 year-old daughter and was sent to prison for three years. Even if this is so, we have to look at Morse’s claims and ask if they pass peer-review and if any fraud can be found in them. To not do so is to commit a genetic fallacy.

Even if we went without Morse, there are others like Moody and Sabom and many more who are collecting these stories. Jelbert is looking at one case with one doctor and dismissing the whole based on this. Even his look at how Morse could investigate is found wanting.

He describes Morse talking to a mother and asking if they had chicken like the daughter said and the mother replying “Yes, that sounds right. Which night did you mean? It was a few days ago now, but I think so.” Morse then replies with “Wow, so she saw you eating chicken!”

It’s amazing that we are to reject Morse’s view, but we should accept the view of Jelbert, who wasn’t there at all, that this is how Morse’s interviews went. A doctor wanting to follow proper procedure and not embarrass himself will want to follow through accurately, especially if he’s publishing something to be peer-reviewed. Jelbert just thinks he can tell a story and that explains it all.

Jelbert also tells about figures being placed in areas of hospital operating rooms that are not visible from the floor to see if anyone can read them during an NDE. No one has yet. Perhaps not, but some things have been cited and why should we think someone having an NDE will automatically want to go and read some strange writing somewhere instead of going to see his family?

Finally, Jelbert tells us that experiences happen regardless of religion (I’d also add lack there of considering A.J. Ayers had one), but that does not provide evidence for any deity of specific religion. Habermas I am sure would agree. NDEs cannot prove any religion. Again, Jelbert faults an argument for not doing what it was never meant to do. What it does do is show naturalism has a problem. If it does, then we should be more open to theism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Aquinas and Modern Science

What do I think of Gerard Verschuuren’s book published by Angelico Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

What did Aquinas know about modern science. Very little no doubt. If you asked Aquinas his opinions on general relativity, he would not know what you were talking about. What about the Big Bang Theory? What about evolution? Oh he would know some basic ideas of what we call physics and such today, but this was a man who was a monk and lived when people thought the Earth was the center of the universe. What hath Aquinas to do with modern science?

Quite a lot actually.

You see, part of the problem is we enter into the discussion thinking often that science is the supreme field. Why not? It’s what’s been ingrained into us. “People in the past today believed in miracles, but we know that they didn’t happen. We live in a world of science.” If you want an expert on any subject for a TV show, bring in a scientist. A scientist is automatically assumed to be the beacon of knowledge and wisdom.

None of this is meant as anti-science. Many scientists are no doubt very knowledgeable and wise people. The problem is that science has its limits. Bring it out of its area and put it where it has no business and it does a lot of damage. Much of the problems in discussions about science today are not so much about the data as they are the metaphysics behind the data.

That’s a dirty word today. Metaphysics is often seen as “Studying things that are nonsense” or just a catch-all term for “the supernatural” or something of that sort. Those who mock metaphysics though have their own metaphysics that they are doing, and it’s quite normally a bad one in that case. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. How does existence work and function?

All that is science is a part of this existence and so Aquinas, the great metaphysician, has something to say. He can’t tell you about evolution, but he can tell you about substances and potential and change. He can’t tell you about the Big Bang Theory, but he can tell you about potential and actuality. He can’t tell you about DNA, but he can tell you about formal, material, efficient, final, instrumental, and exemplar causes.

If we study science with all of those in mind, then Aquinas can believe it or not shed a lot of light. Thankfully, Verschuuren has written a great book on this. The knowledge he brings is highly impressive. He has a great love of Aquinas and familiarity with him and his metaphysics, yet also looks to be highly read in the scientific literature.

But isn’t Aquinas’s view all about faith? Not at all. Faith and reason were not opposed to Aquinas. He would say that there are things known by revelation and things known without, but we must never make the two contradict. While Aquinas did believe the Earth was the center of the universe, he was going with the science of his time. If he thought the science today was overwhelming, he would also agree with that.

Verschuuren gives us an introduction to the metaphysics that is simple enough for the layman to understand. My only puzzle here was when talking about causes why the instrumental cause was left out. I consider this one highly important to understanding many cosmological debates and such, but it seemed to be forgotten.

While many will see a war between science and religion, Aquinas would not. What about evolution? If it is true, Aquinas would have no problem. Evolution is one thing becoming something else. It is not nothing becoming something, which is entirely different.

There is also the question of areas like neurology and such. How does the brain work? What about the mind-body problem? Aquinas has something to say in each case. Even something like NDEs receive something from Aquinas.

Finally, what about government? Here, Aquinas might have some more experience. What would Aquinas say about our constitutional freedoms today? What would he say about the role of money in our culture? What would he say about our rights?

I leave Aquinas’s positions for the readers to find in this book that should be read. Today, scientists are trying to understand our world by looking through telescopes and microscopes and other such tools, which they should do. Maybe they should look through old Aquinas as well and see if they can bring out treasures of old instead of just new.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Near-Death Experiences

What do I think of J. Steve Miller’s book published by Wisdom Creek Press on Near-Death Experiences? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

Near-Death experiences are one of those interesting things to talk about. There really is something going on. There are people really convinced that they are having an experience and it would be hard to deny that the experiences are often life-changing. Some people have had their entire worldview altered by having a near-death experience. (NDE from here on) Some people have also claimed to see things going on that they would have no way of knowing about and when compared to people who did not have NDEs but just went by whatever they saw from TV shows and things of that sort, the people with NDEs were far more accurate.

In this book, Miller has gathered testimonies from many researchers of NDEs, including those who started out originally skeptical and decides to also go all over the world for them rather than stick to NDEs in a Western Christian context. Miller’s main point that he wishes to highlight is how the experience is different from what people who went in would expect and how there are so many similarities to the experience. In doing so, he also looks at naturalistic explanations of what goes on, including looking at Blackmore, and decides that ultimately these fall short to explain the data.

The emphasis on subjective experiences is interesting, but I would have liked to have seen more accounts of people who see items and events that can be verified when we have all reason to believe that they were “dead” at the time. The case of Pam Reynolds is one such case. There are also cases of people who come back and report seeing people on the other side who had died before they entered a state where they were subjected to an NDE and that they would have had no way of knowing. Many of these have too many perfectly timed events to just chalk up every time to coincidence.

Also included are looks at studies of people who are deaf, color-blind, and blind, and how they are able to see and hear and experience things that they had no place for prior to that in their life. If people want more, the authors suggests trying to talk to people in your area to see if any of them have had NDEs or if they know someone who has had an NDE. Miller tells us that here in America, about 1 in 25 could be expected to have an NDE and many people are hesitant to talk about an NDE to a doctor lest they be identified as crazy. Hopefully such a stigma is starting to be removed from our culture.

Miller’s book is interesting and also I think he would agree that it is a starting place. That’s why he gives further references at the end for people to do further research and that includes both sides. If you are interested in NDEs, this is something worth checking out.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 6

Is there anything to reports of NDEs? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’m not going to get too much into the mind-body subject of this chapter, but I wish to comment on one aspect of it that I think is highly lacking and that is Carrier’s treatment of NDE’s, otherwise known as Near-Death Experiences.

Near-Death Experiences are experiences where the person is on the verge of death (Or in some cases now is actually dead) and they have some sort of experience where they have a separation from their body and give an account of what happened to them when they were dead. Naturally, they do return to their body or else we’d never hear about it.

Now there are some NDEs that we cannot really do anything with in the area of verification. If you die and claim you went to Heaven and met your grandmother there or talked to God or saw an angel, I cannot verify that. It could have happened, but we cannot verify that it happened.

But let’s suppose you die and while apart from your body, you see events that take place. You see meals that your family is making in your absence. You see car accidents that take place. You hear comments that are made in the waiting room.

Also important with such events is that the person is spoken to as soon as possible about what happened. This is one reason among several others that I’m skeptical about the account in “Heaven is for Real”. The account of what happened came much later and very little of it has any verification and as a Christian, I think much of it contradicts Scripture.

In this chapter, Carrier will speak of both NDE’s and OBE’s, but for our purposes, what unites them is the same. A person sees something when we have no reason to think that they would be capable of seeing anything else. (If you’re under anesthesia in the hospital, it’s quite certain you’re not seeing anything for instance.)

On page 155 he writes “Many fanciful legends have grown up boasting of amazing proofs that a particular OBE was genuine, but they have always dissolved under scrutiny; investigations turn up no corroboration for any of the story’s details, or often uncover evidence that flatly contradicts it.”

Little problem here. Not one such case is mentioned. When looking at recommended reading, I see nothing that in fact records accounts that are favorable towards NDEs. You won’t find, for instance, Michael Sabom’s work on this topic. You also won’t find Habermas and Moreland on this topic, and surely Carrier knows of this since he interacts with Moreland some in this book.

What accounts do we have? Those interested in more are free to read Sabom’s book as well as Habermas and Moreland’s. You can also find interviews of Habermas. One of him on the Sci Phi show in two parts. Here is part 1 and part 2. Also in parts one and two are him at the Veritas forum. You can listen again to part 1 and part 2.

Those interested in a debate can hear the debate he had with Keith Augustine in three parts. part 1, part 2, and part 3.

One caseI think worth mentioning right off is the story of Pam Reynolds, who gave an account of what she saw while she was dead in a sort of standstill operation. She gave a highly detailed account of various things she saw when she definitely had no way of seeing them.

My biggest problem with what I saw here was that once again, there was the sound of one-hand clapping. We are told to value evidence, but only one side of the story was given in the case of NDEs. Evidential NDEs were not presented. Again, the recommended works are highly lacking. No doubt there are several fake accounts out there, but it takes more to say all of them are fake.

Next time we will look at the question of how we got here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters