Proof of Heaven


Many responders email me to continue the conversation. I ask Chris to contact me at godisnot3guys and also click around in my blog index to learn what mistaken assumptions he has about my beliefs. Better yet, I recommend God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky: Cherishing Christianity without Its Exclusive Claims.
I received an email objecting to my “labeling” atheists as dogmatic:
The vast majority of us have a scientific worldview in which "truth" is always tentative and subject to revision based on new evidence.
I do not suggest that ALL atheists are dogmatic. The writer seems open to revising his materialist view “based on new evidence.” I hope this series provides such evidence, but in my experience fervent materialism is dogmatic in the same way that Christian fundamentalism is dogmatic. I would guess there are more of the latter than the former, but who knows. In any case, even some atheists label some fellow atheists as fundamentalist or dogmatic.
What matters is growing in spiritual maturity, which I see in people of all beliefs.

Now this book.
In Proof of Heaven (2012), neuroscientist Eben Alexander tells the story of his conversion from belief in scientific materialism to belief in something called God.  Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who spent 15 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and was involved in the development of stereotactic radiosurgery and magnetic resonance imaging. He authored and coauthored works for medical journals and presented his findings around medical conferences around the world.

Consistent with the dominant view in his profession, Alexander admits that before his deep experience of the Other Side, he had no doubt of the modern neuroscientist “dictate” that
the brain gives rise to consciousness—to the mind, to the soul, to the spirit, to whatever you choose to call that invisible, intangible part of us that truly makes us who we are.
His experiences in a coma changed his mind. But first Alexander tells of a skydiving collision he managed to avoid.
Somehow I had reacted in microseconds to a situation that, had I actually had time to think about it, would have been much too complex for me to deal with.
How had I done it?
[For] the real answer to that question . . . I had to go through a complete metamorphosis of my life and worldview  . . .
In these excerpts Eben Alexander tells his story.
I was struck by a rare illness and thrown into a coma for seven days. During that time, my entire neocortex—the outer surface of the brain, the part that makes us human—was shut down. Inoperative. In essence, absent.

No one in the ER, at that point, thought I had E. coli meningitis.  The disease is astronomically rare in adults. . . . only 10 percent are lucky enough to survive. . . . many of them will spend the rest of their lives in a vegetative state.
He describes the “place” he found himself in.
I didn’t have a body . . . I was simply …there, in this place of pulsing, pounding darkness. . . . I might have called it “primordial.” But at the time this was going on, I didn’t know this word. In fact, I didn’t know any words at all. The words used here registered much later when, back in the world, I was writing down my recollections.
He struggles to describe his time out of his body.
My consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just …limited. I wasn’t human while I was in this place. . . . I was simply a lone point of awareness . . .   

The strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen. Brilliant, vibrant, ecstatic, stunning . . . Time in this place was different from the simple linear time we experience on earth and is as hopelessly difficult to describe as every other aspect of it.
I know the difference between fantasy and reality, and I know that the experience I’m struggling to give you the vaguest . . . picture of, was the single most real experience of my life.

Thoughts entered me directly. . . . I was able to instantly and effortlessly to understand concepts that would have taken me years to fully grasp in my earthly life.  

The “mother” was God, the Creator, the Source who is responsible for making the universe and all in it. . . . I will occasionally use Om as the pronoun for God because I originally used that name in my writings after my coma.  . . . The “voice” of this Being was warm and . . . personal.

All worlds are part of the same overarching divine Reality. . . .
Insights happened directly, rather than needing to be coaxed and absorbed.  Knowledge was stored without memorization . . . advanced level of learning . . .
Alexander received a penetrating awareness:
Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything.  
He developed a new perspective on the human brain.
Our brain blocks out, or veils, that larger cosmic background, . . . We can only see what our brain’s filter allows through. The brain—in particular its left-side linguistic/logical part, . . . is a barrier to our higher knowledge and experience. . . .
We need to recover more of that larger knowledge while living here on earth, while our brains (including its left-side analytical parts) are fully functioning.

When a person is in a coma . . . there’s a strange, almost physical sensation that the person is missing. That their essence, inexplicably, is somewhere else.

I call this essential Self my Higher Power. In Christian parlance, it’s the Christ within, but fortunately Alexander does not use that language—it would repulse some readers.

Obviously, because he tells his story, the neuroscientist Eben Alexander recovers fully, a story I will not recount here. This is the conclusion he draws from his singular experience, unlike other near-death experiences because his was longer, deeper, and later viewed by his scientific mind.

There are really no “objects” in the world at all, only vibrations of energy, and relationships. . . .

Far from being an unimportant by-product of physical processes (as I had thought before my experience), consciousness is not only very real—it’s actually more real than the rest of physical existence, and most likely the basis of it all.

This is my belief as I integrate ideas from science, theology, and twelve-step spirituality. Consciousness, the spiritual part of us, is the essential part of us, and our bodies express our consciousness—our thoughts, beliefs, decisions, etc.

What Alexander calls the “invisible, intangible part that makes us who we are” I call our Higher Power or Essential Self. From it derives our moral sense, our altruism, all the impulses from “the better angels of our nature,” to quote Lincoln’s first inaugural address.

Comment by Chris.
Hi Jeanette,     I've taken your advice and have been reading through many of your posts. I must confess that I haven't read anything that suggests to me that I've misapprehended any of your views. What have I missed?

Dogmatic: "Inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true" - from Wiki.

Again, in the spirit of inquiry, it seems to me that your book and blog dogmatically rejects the central tenets of traditional Christianity.

I am totally sensitive to the fact that we live in a smaller globalizing world. As such, there is an increasingly urgent need to promote peace and tolerance. Nevertheless, the problem with this modern egalitarian perspective is that it is largely self-refuting. There's one thing that "tolerance" cannot tolerate, and that is intolerance.

I respect and support the project of inclusion (as far as it goes); however, as a foundational principle, tolerance consistently followed transforms into the very thing that it opposes.

Political correctness is a dubious doctrine in the first place, but even more so when applied to theology and/or metaphysics.

February 20
This statement begs for scientific evidence:
As a materialist I do not deny the possibility of immaterial things. I just don't believe in them any more than I believe in the existence of an infinite number of things in the material world the existence of which I have no substantial evidence.
Will, Sauk Rapids
I think quantum mechanics provides the evidence of immaterial reality. It forced physicists in 1923 to accept wave-particle duality.
A photon, an electron, an atom, a molecule—in principle any object—can be either compact or widely spread-out. . . . You can choose which of these two contradictory features to demonstrate. The physical reality of an object depends on how you choose to look at it.
Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness, Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner (Oxford, 2006)
The inescapable conclusion, as I see it—consciousness governs physical reality.
Dr. Larry Dossey writes in Unity Magazine (May/June 2006) that an increasing number of thoughtful scientists admit the centrality of consciousness. He cites Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg who concedes,
. . .  consciousness does not seem derivable from physical laws. Because consciousness won’t fit, a physically based theory of everything cannot be complete. A final theory must contain some additional, fundamental element.

“Toward this end,” Chalmers states,
“I propose that conscious experience be considered a fundamental feature, irreducible to anything more basic.” [He and others suggest] that consciousness take its place alongside matter and energy as fundamental features of our universe.
To Chris who can't find orthodoxy in my writing, I ask, Whose idea of orthodoxy?" Many Christians mistake conventional belief for orthodoxy.

A reader responded to the article attempting to discredit Eben Alexander:
The objector’s reason didn’t seem that convincing to me either.  He didn’t attack the experience directly only tried to totally discredit Alexander.
Yes. It is a personal attack, not an engagement with Alexander’s message in Proof of Heaven.

Written on February 14.
It’s Valentine’s Day and I just finished listening to an MPR News Presents on the question, “What is this thing called love?” I heard anthropologist Helen Fisher say romantic love is a biological drive, and her colleague Lucy Brown give “proof” of it.

Brown, a professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, studies brain scans of people in love. She tells her subjects to think about romantic attachments and finds chemical effects in their brains as they do. Brain chemistry patterns—Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and so on—show up as the subjects experience certain emotions. These patterns appear across various cultures and even in animals.
Lucy Brown says,
People who have just gotten a shot of cocaine show activation in this exact same region [of the brain].
Yes, it has been shown that drugs induce changes in the brain—this is the basis of psychotropic medicine. I do not accept, however, Dr. Brown’s apparent conclusion that chemical activity in the brain produces love. When scanning brains, she asks her subjects to elicit certain emotions or to think of certain topics, and this is how she gets the brain effects to show up.

Chemicals can cause brain effects but the basis of brain activity is consciousness—our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes—our inner responses to outer experiences.
Brain research always begins with study of brain activity in response to the subjects’ feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, more evidence that immaterial stuff—consciousness—drives brain activity.

Also on Valentine’s Day I heard about a study to determine whether oysters are an aphrodisiac. (a topic warmed up every year on this day). The reasonable conclusion—it’s all in the mind of the beholder. As a regular consumer of psychological studies, I notice that perception often determines outcomes.

More on consciousness next time.
(Email me for more evidence from quantum mechanics. I'm assuming here that scientific types already know the basics of this research.)

Proof of Heaven 2, February 11
I believe that after I die, I will go on as a knowing consciousness without a brain. In Proof of Heaven neurosurgeon Eben Alexander described thinking without a brain in his near-death experience (NDE). It does not provide proof for materialists, but the author was smart to choose the provocative title.

To materialists, Alexander’s experience on the Other Side is evidence of hallucination or some other process in the brain. Materialists cannot accept NDEs because they deny the possibility of bodiless reality; no spiritual realm exists for them.
They imagine that material things (brains) create spiritual things (thoughts).
I don’t want to offend, but it strikes me as ludicrous to believe that magnificent and sublime achievements of the human mind derive accidentally from a mix of chemicals. Brains do not create minds; brains only register physically what is happening in the mind. MINDS ARE THE DRIVERS.

I was emailed an article that tries to discredit Eben Alexander as a neurosurgeon. It’s not surprising that a bestseller with a controversial message would spawn such pushback.  I cannot judge whether the charge is correct—readers can make up their own minds—but I doubt any minds will be changed by this article.

It is so interesting—amazing—that people can look at the same set of facts and arrive at opposite conclusions. What seems like incontrovertible proof to one person will challenge another one to dig up opposing evidence. Laura Stanley (a few posts down) was right when she said,
The God debate is non-falsifiable. No one wins. We believe what we want to believe.
I appreciate this email from a thoughtful materialist:
I'm open to believing when someone awakens from an out-of-body or near death experience with something they couldn't have dreamed up, maybe useful knowledge that they couldn't have known like the cure for breast cancer from someone without prior knowledge in the field or a non-physicist returning with the grand unifying theory that ties together quantum physics and general relativity. Something falsifiable.
I do believe that many of those who have had a near death or out of body experience do feel that they have experienced something spiritual and meaningful.  But unless they bring back something tangible that can be experienced by others it is just someone else's dream.
Will, Sauk Rapids.

Accounts of actionable revelations from scientists, artists, etc., are not uncommon, and they also provide evidence of communication from the Inner realm, but they are different from NDEs. Revelations often come in dreams or relaxed reverie, but materialists will not accept any sign of a message from a bodiless entity. Counter arguments and scoffing always remain possible. In my next post I plan to discuss my own experiences, knowing they will not impress materialists.

A reader wrote:
Some say that "God" is used to fill in the spaces of what we don't know. As our knowledge increases, the space for God gets smaller.
I think the space for God gets larger as our knowledge increases. Evidence from quantum mechanics has scientific materialists scratching their heads, the brightest ones admitting that consciousness upsets materialist assumptions.


Chris said…
Hi Jeanette,

I haven't read the book that you've been discussing. It has certainly stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Personally, I'm rather flat-footed when it comes to these kind of experiences. That doesn't mean that I don't find them interesting and worthy of investigation. After all, I am not a fundamaterialist.

I'm not sure where I stand on the subject of the implications of the findings of quantum mechanics. I think the points that you raise are problematic for physicalism, but do not represent anything like a refutation. Nevertheless, the hard problem of consciousness is still a hard problem.

I feel the same way about the intelligent design perspective. The ID people identify some interesting problems and issues that ramify on neo-Darwinism. Nevertheless, I don't think that ID gives sufficient reason to get on board with creation science. It seems to me that these folks are mounting the challenge on the wrong side of the metaphysical divide.

I'll finish this post with a more contentious topic- Orthodoxy. Jeanette, do you think that there is even such a thing as "Orthodoxy", that is, "right thinking"? If you say yes, wouldn't that be dogmatic? What is the criteria for determining what is "conventional"?

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