Argument from near-death experiences

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The argument from near-death experiences, also known as the argument from survival after death, is based on personal testimonies of people who have experienced things while nearly or clinically dead. They survived the experience to be able tell other people. The exact experience varies but often features heavenly visions or apparent contact with deceased family members. Some apologists conclude that an afterlife must exist.

"A friend of mine, he considered himself atheist. He had a brush with death. He was walking down the street on a hill and a car rolled over him and he instantly lost consciousness. He says he remembers seeing that light that everyone supposedly sees and being very content. And when he came out of it, he turned religious on me. [1]"
"By their nature, many transpersonal experiences point to the existence and nature of both God and an afterlife of continued personal consciousness beyond physical death. [2]"

The argument is a form of argument from personal experience.

Contents

Counter arguments

Naturalistic explanation

Near-death experiences are probably explainable in terms of naturalistic causes. Since the brain is in an unusual state, possibly having undergone damage and oxygen deprivation, it malfunctions and produces hallucinations.

There is no reason to think the experiences correspond to another reality.

"The evidence supporting the "biological product of the brain" explanation comes from rigorously- gathered, carefully- tested, thoroughly cross-checked, double-blinded, placebo- controlled, replicated, peer-reviewed research. An enormous mountain of research. A mountain of research that is growing more mountainous every day. [3]"

Which God?

"The most striking difference between deathbed experiences in the U.S. and India is one that could have been anticipated: the religious figures that came to take the person into the afterlife corresponded to the person's religion. Christians saw God, Jesus, angels, and Mary. Hindus saw such figures as Yamaraj, the Hindu god of death, as well as Krishna, Rama, and Durga, (Osis & Haraldsson, 1977, pp. 52-78, 218). [2]"

Consciousness is not observed apart from being in a body

A thinking mind is never observed to exist separately from a physical brain. By induction, minds do not occur apart from a physical brain. If God is defined as a thinking being that exists without a physical brain, God does not exist. This is the non-existence of God from his attributes argument.

Further argument: special knowledge in near-death experiences

"It’s naive to believe that they all are induced by chemicals or drugs. How do we account for a blind person having this experience, coming back to describe what they had never before seen, a person telling the Doctor that there is a blue paperclip on top of the high cabinet, which they couldn’t have otherwise known, an african man being dead in his coffin for 3 days, coming back to life to tell of much the same events which took place as those of many others? [4]"

This is a form of argument from observed miracles. The evidence that special knowledge is available in near-death experiences is weak and unreliable. Most of the information is trivial and could have been accidentally absorbed unconsciously. Alternatively, the story of the incident is fabricated. [5]

References

  1. The Atheist Experience #656
  2. 2.0 2.1 [1]
  3. [2]
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
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