Saturday 26 February 2011

Near-death experiences are evidence of ... being near death

Isn't Gary Habermas supposed to be some hotshot apologist? Going by his first contribution to Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God, I'd say such a reputation is undeserved. In "Near Death Experiences — Evidence for an Afterlife?" Habermas puts a very weak case for NDEs being evidence for anything other than malfunctioning of the brain when it's deprived of oxygen. I'd recommend he watch anaesthetist Kevin Fong's BBC Horizon documentary Back from the Dead, which shows examples of people who have flat-lined for hours and then revived and fully recovered. This is even being used as a medical technique ("therapeutic hypothermia") for tricky heart operations.

Habermas does his case no favours by using dodgy references. The notes to his piece refer to the work of Melvin Morse, whose website Spiritual Scientific is truly a haven of woo-woo, with such things as "The God Spot" and "Distance Reiki Healing". Here's a typical quote: "Our right temporal lobe permits the opening of a quantum connection with nonlocal reality, at the point of death." This, Morse states, is his scientific conclusion. If he's legitimately concluded something this remarkable on the basis of sound, peer-reviewed research, I'd say he's in line for a Nobel Prize.

Another of Habermas's sources is the book Light and Death. According to the Amazon blurb, its author Michael B. Sabom, a born-again Christian, "scrutinizes near-death experiences in the light of what the Bible has to say about death and dying, the realities of light and darkness, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Not the most dispassionate or unbiased viewpoint he could have found, in my opinion.

But even the Bible references Habermas uses are poor support for his case. He cites Luke 16:22, in which the beggar Lazarus "died and was carried by angels into Paradise" (p 26.) This is not a near-death experience, it's a report of something that's purported to have happened after death. How Habermas expects us to take this as evidence for anything at all is beyond me.

He also cites Acts 7:55-56, which is supposedly a report of what Stephen said happened to him. I looked up the passage, and it's second- or third-hand unreliable hearsay, not evidence.