There is a short article published by the British news paper “the Guardian” about a man who sustained a brief cardiac arrest, and experienced…nothing, that is just blankness…. darkness, lack of awareness the void. This is presumably a response to those who claim near death experiences are proof for the existence of God, and was used to support the counterargument. Since he did not see God or heaven etc.. well then God, and heaven must not exist. Take that theists! He then goes on to make this absurd statement…
“I am still an atheist, and now I know that there is no such thing as God or Heaven. At least not for me. My reasoning behind that is no God would ever put a person and family through such a experience.
“I am an Atheist, and always will be. But I believe that your belief is your belief. The only thing we can share is our own experiences and let people make up their own mind. People need to stop forcing their own beliefs onto others.”
The whole article can be found at this link .
What is interesting is how this short article encapsulates many typical errors that are so common these days. It is almost painful to read. That they are widely shared however demands that they be looked at a little carefully.
First however let’s push aside all this nonsense about “near death experiences” (NDE) being proof or refutation of the afterlife. Such experiences are neither, since people who undergo them are not dead, not even for an instant. The common story describes individuals who sustain a cardiac arrest, and are resuscitated. Upon recovery they report recalling some sort of conscience experience, during the arrest. This is often a bright light, warmth, a feeling of love ( presumably an encounter with God) and meeting up with beloved previously deceased relatives. Sometimes more frightening images have been reported (often among folks with bad consciences) and presumably these represent encounters with devils and the like. The imagery may be more or less anthropomorphic. There are all kinds of theological problems with this. For starters post death we don’t “see” because seeing is a process that involves matter, ie light waves, and the physiologic apparatus to perceive light waves, our eyes, optic nerve and brain. The soul would have an awareness that is very from different than anything we have now, and would “see” only in an analogical sense.
More prosaically however such people are not dead. You do not die immediately upon cardiac arrest. In fact there are surgical procedures, in which people are artificially cooled, and surgeries are performed on them with the heart stopped and no circulation being maintained. They are then re-warmed and the heart beat resumes. Such people are not dead and brought back from death like Lazarus. Rather the process of cooling protects the brain and they wake up when cardiac function resumes. You can read about these kind of fascinating procedures at this site.
Similarly if you are resuscitated from cardiac arrest your vitals are restored before the lack of blood flow irreversibly destroys your brain. Bottom line is you are not dead until your brain is dead, and no one reported to have a NDE has had irreversible cessation of brain function. Of course those who have had a cardiac arrest, and been resuscitated without having a NDE were not dead either. None of them were dead and so whatever they experienced has no bearing one way or the other on the existence of the soul, God or the afterlife. Once again we need to stop asking science to prove the existence of God or the soul. It cannot do so since it deals with material things. God, the soul etc., are immaterial and science cannot speak directly to these things.
But let’s move on to the absurd, specifically philosophical ideas in this article that unfortunately are widely shared and encapsulated in our atheist gentleman’s comments above. First we have:
1) “I am still an atheist, and now I know that there is no such thing as God or Heaven. At least not for me”.
What can this possibly mean? Things do not exist for some people but not exist for others. Their existence or lack thereof is an objective reality. So some things exist (Paris, catfish, the moon,) regardless of anyone’s opinion, some things do not exist (vampires, leprechauns, Zeus, ) even if you happen to “believe” In them. Other things may be difficult to prove exist ( the Higgs boson, antimatter particles) but when scientists were in doubt about their existence they did not make the idiotic claim that the Higgs boson existed for scientists who “believed” in them but not for others. They either did or did not exist and they relied on evidence to confirm or refute. God is like that. He either does or does not exist. Existence is like that, it is a yes or no sort of deal.
Now we cannot prove God’s existence in the same we proved the Higgs boson exists, as God is immaterial, but we can prove he exists as we can prove the existence of irrational numbers like π, using deduction and logic. It makes about as much sense to say God exists for you or not depending on whether you “believe” in him, as it would to say that π times the diameter of a circle gives you the circumference of the circle if you believe it does, but not if you don’t believe in π.
Our atheist friend goes on to say….
2) “My reasoning behind that is no God would ever put a person and family through such an experience.” ( referring to the cardiac arrest)
This hardly rises to the level of reasoning at all. He simply makes an assertion (not an argument) about what God would or would not do. The problem of theodicy ( how an infinitely good God who is omnipotent can allow a world with evil) is a reasonable and quite old challenge to theism, but it has answers, and to labor under the impression that simply asserting no God would allow evil for any reason is idiotic on the face of it. Anyone who has ever held their sick child down while a nurse gave them a shot in a hospital, or drew blood for a lab test would quickly realize that it is quite compatible with love to allow or even cause suffering, for a greater good. The problem of theodicy is more complicated than this suggests of course, but the point is our atheist friends assertion is hardly reason at all. Unfortunately it is what passes for thinking these days.
Finally there is this common nugget of sheer nonsense:
3) “The only thing we can share is our own experiences and let people make up their own mind. People need to stop forcing their own beliefs onto others.”
What does it mean to force ones beliefs onto others? If a scientist believes that he has found evidence of a new fundamental particle, and presents this evidence to other scientists, is he forcing his beliefs on others who are skeptical or is he engaged in the pursuit of knowledge? When Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis attempted to convince skeptical colleagues that failure to wash their hands before delivering babies was a cause of “child bed fever” was he “forcing his beliefs” on anyone or advancing medicine? (You can read about Dr. Semmelweis by the way at this site .) How about when mathematician Andrew Wiles attempted to show other mathematicians he had proved Fermat’s last theorem, was he “forcing his beliefs” on anyone?
Obviously then to try and persuade someone that God exists is no more forcing one’s beliefs on anyone then any of the other activities. Perhaps ISIS forces one to profess belief in something under threat of force, but not anybody else, and certainly not us Catholics. Historically we have tried to persuade when it comes to the acknowledging Gods existence.
Unfortunately to the average secular atheist like the folks who publish the Guardian, reason and logic may be given lip service but they are not particularly prized as the above published comments prove. To such individuals all that remains might be force.
Such a world is a dangerous place…
Lord have mercy on us