How to evaluate an NDE skeptic’s materialist explanations for the phenomenon

Posted on December 21, 2010 By

Many of these reports [of Near-Death Experiences] are so well-documented that some naturalists have been forced to take them seriously, even admitting the possibility they pose of life beyond the grave.  John Beloff, writing in The Humanist, argued that the evidence for the afterlife was so strong that humanists should just admit it and attempt to interpret it in naturalistic terms.  Amazingly, the well-known atheist philosopher A.J. Ayer experienced an NDE that he could not explain in natural terms: “On the face of it, these experiences, on the assumption that the last one was vertical, are rather strong evidence that death does not put an end to consciousness.”

Gary Habermas and Michael Lacona, as cited in their book A Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.

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Those who wish to deny the existence of the spiritual world have attempted—and will continue to attempt—to explain away the NDE phenomenon using various materialist explanations (materialism, you will recall, is the philosophical view that there is no spiritual world because only the material world is real).  For example, NDE skeptics have cited the eroding neural environment of the dying brain as an explanation for the experience of the bright light at the end of a tunnel and the life review often described by NDErs.  In other words, when your brain starts to die, the centers of your brain that regulate vision and contain memories of your life start to fire rapidly, thus causing such experiences.

To evaluate the validity of such an explanation, it is necessary to cross-check it with all of the aspects of the NDE phenomenon that have been repeatedly reported by many experiencers—not just a select one or two aspects.  It is my contention that NDE skeptics’ explanations consistently fall short because they can only be applied to one or two of the reported aspects of the NDE phenomenon instead of the full gamut.  Only an explanation that can account for all of the aspects of the NDE phenomena can be considered a plausible materialist counter-explanation for the NDE phenomenon as a whole.

Below is a list of some of the phenomena that have been, as I said above, 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.

In evaluating the skeptics counter-explanations for the NDE phenomenon, the reader must be careful to examine how well that counter-explanation can be applied to all of the above listed (and other) NDE phenomena.  For example, the eroding-neural-environment-of-the-dying-brain explanation cited above is used to counter #4 above as well as the experience of the bright light and tunnel.  It cannot be applied to the other phenomena above and therefore conveniently ignores them.

The reader is reminded that the philosophical belief system which underlies the NDE skeptics’ explanations (materialism, or the belief that only the material world is real) has been utterly discredited by science.  As evidence of this I provide the following quotations:

1) Max Planck was one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, the founder of quantum theory, and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.  He said:

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”
  Planck also said, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

2)  Physicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins University reflected Planck’s above statement when he said:

“Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.”

3)  The neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles, who won the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine said:

“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.”


  1. Gretchen Breitschopf says:

    “Is There a God”….YOU BET! Without the Lord Jesus Christ in my life, I would be nothing. Thank you Lord, for loving me and saving me and placing my name in YOUR BOOK OF LIFE.

    • danno says:

      I can understand that. Don’t want to strip that feeling from anyone, Bob C. Just would like everyone to be informed of both sides of the argument, before stating convictions.

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