Has anyone ever met God and returned to tell about it?
In what is widely regarded to be the greatest soliloquy in all of drama, Shakespeare’s Hamlet refers to death as “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.” And, in our culture, it is often taken for granted that we can have no insight whatsoever as to what lies on the other side of death’s door. But in the last few decades, advances in medicine have made instances of resuscitation from the brink of death—including instances of resuscitation after the complete cessation of brain activity—a far more common occurrence. The accounts given by individuals who have had such “Near Death Experiences,” or NDEs, (of which there are many thousands) have revealed some startling and fascinating patterns. These accounts, though they have not rendered death a completely discovered “country”, are akin to the first reports returned from explorers to a new land.
An entire field of research has sprung up to analyze this phenomenon. Researchers from the fields of medicine and psychology have come together to form the International Association of Near- Death Studies (IANDS, website iands.org) and the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF, website: nderf.org).
In 2005, IANDS released The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences to summarize the conclusions of 30 years of research in this field. Some of the revelations featured in this book (which appear below) should come as a wake-up call to those inclined to doubt the existence of the Deity:
“NDErs often believe that they have survived because God willed it and had a divine purpose in bringing them back…They have experienced the love of God and been changed by it (Grosso 1981). Many have come face-to-face with a personal God with whom they continue to maintain a loving relationship.”
“…for most the result appears to be a spiritual awakening. The NDE often brings with it a spiritual certainty and intense desire to conform one’s life to divine will. The new relationship with what is often a personal God becomes central to the NDErs’ lives.”
In part because of the sheer volume of NDE accounts, it has become a phenomenon that is difficult to ignore. And, as Patrick Glynn notes in his book God: The Evidence, “the majority of researchers who have investigated the phenomenon, generally professionals with medical, psychological, or other scientific training—many of whom started out as skeptics—have concluded that these experiences are authentic.” The strategy most often pursued by skeptics is to declare the NDE to be a hallucination…most often a hallucination produced by the eroding neural environment of the dying brain.
Please view the testimony of a Harvard University neurosurgeon who came to belief in God as a result of his NDE, below:
But the astute reader (with or without expertise in the fields of brain science or psychology) will immediately recognize why this explanation is inadequate to explain frequent encounters with a “personal God:” Hallucinations amongst various people share commonalities in terms of their perceptual alterations but not in terms of the content of the experience.
For example, if one were to administer a hallucinogenic drug such as LSD to a large number of people, it would not be surprising if most or all of the subjects reported similar symptoms. These might include visual hallucinations, a feeling of euphoria, a feeling of separation from one’s body, etc… Further, it would not be surprising if the content of one of the subjects’ hallucinations included meeting a purple leprechaun named Bobo who led him on a journey to Never-Never land.
One would certainly not expect, however, for multiple subjects to report a similar encounter with a similar purple leprechaun. The experiential content of hallucinations are unique to each individual. And entering into a “loving relationship” with a “personal God” speaks of the content of a vast number of NDE experiences and can therefore not be classified as hallucination.
But one should not expect those committed to the illusion of a God-free universe to change their views just because they cannot adequately explain away frequent encounters with God. Ideology can be a powerful force in human psychology. As such, atheistic NDE skeptics can be expected to continue trying as hard as they can to use their flawed ideology to hammer square pegs into round holes.
Psychologists are well aware of this phenomenon. Here we cite psychologist Charles Tart in his book The End of Materialism:
“Pathologies of cognition, both intellectual and emotional, that [the great psychologist] Maslow identified in ThePsychology of Science [include]: Hanging onto a generalization in spite of new information that contradicts it. You attach too much to what makes sense, what makes you feel good, what has worked before. Theory is always subject to change if new data doesn’t fit. When human experience doesn’t fit into scientistic materialism, for instance, there’s often a specious generalization invoked to make such potentially disturbing information go away. A common method is to invoke human fallibility: people are misled, superstitious, crazy, liars, or deluded, so you can stop paying attention to anything that doesn’t fit your idea of the way the world works.”
This specific “pathology of cognition” amongst NDE deniers is clearly at work in the case of their most prominent member, psychologist Susan Blackmore. Roy A. Varghese describes the now famous NDE case of Pam Reynolds and Blackmore’s reaction to it in his book There Is Life After Death:
“In 1991, Reynolds was found to have a basilar artery aneurysm in the brain that could not be operated on with conventional neurosurgical methods without imminent risk of death. She was taken to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix where the neurologist Robert Spetzler had pioneered a new type of surgery called hypothermic cardiac arrest, nicknamed ‘Standstill.’ What the patient first had to undergo included clinical death, which would mean that the brain EEG would come to a stop (no cerebral cortex activity), there would be no response from the brain stem (hence no brain function), and blood flow to the brain would cease. Reynold’s body temperature was brought down to 60 degrees, her heartbeat and breathing stopped, her brainwaves flattened with no electrical activity in the brain, and the blood drained from her head. Just when she was brought to this state and before the surgery commenced, Reynolds felt herself ‘pop’ out of her body. She gave remarkably accurate descriptions of the unusual instruments used in the surgery, as well as the activities taking place in the operating room. This was followed by her encounter with her deceased relatives.”
During this NDE experience, featured in the BBC documentary The Day I Died (featured above), Reynolds also describes witnessing the presence of God.*(click here to see Pam’s experience) But, in an all-too-human fashion, Blackmore here allows her beliefs to frame the facts…rather than the other way around. (This is a “pathology of cognition” which all persons must be on guard against—in themselves—when examining issues which lie outside the margins of plausibility as dictated by one’s core assumptions about the nature of reality). As Roy Varghese notes:
“In a contribution to a Reader’s Digest article on the Reynolds case, Susan Blackmore wrote, ‘If the case you describe is true, the whole of science would need rewriting.’ She thinks the account could not be as described: ‘I can only say that my expectation is that this case did not happen like that.’ Apart from this a priori rejection, Blackmore did not offer a detailed critique.”
Notably, it is not the “whole of science” that needs rewriting. Rather, it is the core assumptions about the nature of reality and of human consciousness made by materialists such as Blackmore that are in need of rewriting. In particular, I mean the assumptions that the material world is all that exists and that, therefore, human consciousness and all of human experience are simply the product of chemical and electrical activity in the brain.
Commenting on this subject matter, quantum physicist Nick Herbert writes in Elemental Mind:
“In this materialistic age, dualists [those who believe in the existence of a soul apart from the brain] are often accused of smuggling outmoded religious beliefs back into science, of introducing superfluous spiritual forces into biology, and of venerating an invisible ‘ghost in the machine.’ However, our utter ignorance concerning the real origins of human consciousness marks such criticism more a matter of taste than of logical thinking. At this stage of mind science, dualism is not irrational, merely somewhat unfashionable.”
Please note that materialists such as Blackmore do not suggest that consciousness and experience have been explained by such purely physical, material processes; but that they will be. Hence, this philosophy has been mockingly termed “promissory materialism” by Karl Popper (who is widely regarded to be one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century).
But despite its fashionable status among atheists, the validity of promissory materialism can hardly be taken for granted. Revealingly, Varghese comments that “considering the present-day popularity of physicalism [a.k.a. promissory materialism], it is astonishing that four of the greatest brain scientists of all time were led by their work to affirm the reality of the transphysical.” They appear below as recounted by Varghese:
 Sir John Eccles, winner of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology wrote extensively on the mind and brain. Here are a few of his many comments on this topic.
“I maintain that the human mystery is incredibly demeaned by scientific reductionism, with its claim in promissory materialism to account eventually for all of the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal [or brain] activity. This belief must be classed as a superstition.”
“We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world.”
In his book The Wonder of Being Human, Eccles (and coauthor Daniel N. Robinson) write:
“We regard promissory materialism as superstition without a rational foundation. The more we discover about the brain, the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena, and the more wonderful do both the brain events and the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a religious belief held by dogmatic materialists…who often confuse their religion with their science. [emphasis added]
 Roger W. Sperry, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology: In a paper titled Turnabout on Consciousness, he observed that an objective understanding of mental activity requires us to take subjective qualities seriously. In this context, he warns that to think of these as “nothing but” or “identical to” the neural events themselves is to be misled. “A neural event, or, preferably, a brain event or brain process,” he wrote, “is many things: it includes the physiology of nerve-impulse traffic, the underlying chemistry, plus all sorts of subatomic low- and high-energy physical phenomena. While these may be the stuff of neural events, they are not, as I see it, the conscious phenomena.”
 Wilder Penfield, one of the pioneering neuroscientists of the last century. Penfield said:
“For my own part, after years of striving to explain the mind on the basis of brain-action alone, I have come to the conclusion that it is simpler (and far easier to be logical) if one adopts the hypothesis that our being does consist of two fundamental elements…It seems to me certain that it will always be quite impossible to explain the mind on the basis of neuronal action within the brain.”
 Charles Scott Sherrington, winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology, said in his Gifford Lectures:
“If as you say thoughts are an outcome of the brain, we as students using the energy-concept know nothing of it; as followers of natural science we know nothing of any relation between thoughts and the brain, except as a gross correlation in time and space. In some ways this is embarrassing for biology…We have to regard the relation of mind to brain as not merely unresolved but still devoid of a basis for its very beginning.”
And if four of the greatest brain scientists of all time—plus untold thousands of NDErs–accept the concept of a soul that inhabits a body (and then, by extension, goes on to meet God after death), the burden of proof lies with the skeptic. Can the skeptic really furnish a solid, rationally constructed, fact-based reason why this cannot be true? Or is he/she merely reasserting previously held beliefs and declaring those who believe to be, in Tart’s words, “misled, superstitious, crazy, liars, or deluded” so as to hang on to “what has worked before?” Can the skeptic really refute the enormous body of evidence supporting this phenomenon, or is he/she merely falling back on a convenient platitude such as “there must be a rational explanation” that only reasserts previously held beliefs without really furnishing a rebuttal? The implications of this phenomenon are so profound as to demand a thorough investigation.
*Click here to read about skeptical counter-explanations for the NDE phenomenon and how to evaluate them.
*For further examples of this phenomenon, the reader may review the below videos. Also, several cases similar to Reynolds are available in God: The Evidence by Patrick Glynn.
Lastly, this website provides many compelling NDE testimonies regarding the existence of heaven and hell.
Below is a list of some of the phenomena that have been repeatedly reported by many NDE experiencers. This list has been extracted from Evidence for the Afterlife by Jeffrey Long, MD, www.nderf.org, and www.iands.org. (I have chosen these sources, but many others are available).
1) Lucid death: NDErs report highly lucid experiences while clinically unconscious or clinically dead. Such experiences often include witnessing an emergency room crew working on one’s own body after the heart has stopped and brain activity has ceased. Many conscious experiences have also been reported while an individual was under carefully monitored general anesthesia, which is intended to bring about loss of consciousness.
2) Out of body: Long states that “approximately half of all NDEs have an OBE (out-of-body experience) that involves seeing or hearing earthly events. Usually the point of consciousness rises above the body.”
3) Blind sight: Long recounts that, “in 1998 Kenneth Ring, PhD, and Sharon Cooper, MA, published a landmark article in the Journal of Near-Death Studies about blind people who have vividly visual near-death experiences….An especially interesting subgroup in this study was made up of case reports from individuals who were born totally blind and had NDEs with the typical elements, including detailed visual content.” Click on the following links for a couple examples: 1) Born blind NDE #1 2) Born blind NDE #2
4) Life review: Commonly reported is the phenomenon in which everything significant from the NDEr’s life is reviewed. This includes experiencing the emotional impact that one’s actions had upon others, from the perspective of the other person. The review is sometimes in a three-dimensional panoramic view.
5) Reunion with deceased loved ones and with God, angels, Jesus: The title says it all. Click here for more detail.
6) Very young children report NDEs: A common retort from NDE skeptics is that NDEs are the result of the dying brain bringing to mind the results of years of religious and cultural conditioning. But, as Long reminds us, “most five-year-olds have not yet started elementary school, where cultural influences are accelerated…very young children are practically a blank slate when it comes to the subject of death.” Nevertheless, these very young children (under 5) often report the same encounters with deceased loved ones, God, angels, and Jesus cited above. In fact, children under five “have had every NDE element that older children and adults have had,” according to Long.