This week’s buzz features the son of a famous Christian coming out as an agnostic and the results of the world’s largest NDE study—which suggests consciousness is possible after the brain and heart stop working.
“Results of world’s largest Near Death Experiences study published”
A few weeks ago, we looked at a new book about near-death experiences (NDEs). Some interesting news came out about them last week. Resuscitation, a European medical journal, published the results of a study called “AWAreness during Resuscitation” (AWARE).
The University of Southampton (UK) sponsored the study; it began in 2008 and looked at over 2,000 patients in 15 hospitals throughout the US, Austria, and the UK. One fascinating wrinkle is that, for the first time in a big study, they set up “objective markers” to determine if folks having out-of-body experiences near death were hallucinating—or having accurate experiences of their surroundings .
Southampton released a summary of the study’s findings:
• The themes relating to the experience of death appear far broader than what has been understood so far, or what has been described as so called near-death experiences.
• In some cases of cardiac arrest, memories of visual awareness compatible with so called out-of-body experiences may correspond with actual events.
• A higher proportion of people may have vivid death experiences, but do not recall them due to the effects of brain injury or sedative drugs on memory circuits.
• Widely used yet scientifically imprecise terms such as near-death and out-of-body experiences may not be sufficient to describe the actual experience of death. Future studies should focus on cardiac arrest, which is biologically synonymous with death, rather than ill-defined medical states sometimes referred to as ‘near-death’.
• The recalled experience surrounding death merits a genuine investigation without prejudice.
This study is FAR from conclusive, obviously, but it’s awfully interesting. I want to highlight some observations they made about patients who had some kind of awareness during cardiac arrest. Very few of these people accurately saw or heard anything, but some of them DID:
One case was validated and timed using auditory stimuli during cardiac arrest. Dr Parnia concluded: “This is significant, since it has often been assumed that experiences in relation to death are likely hallucinations or illusions, occurring either before the heart stops or after the heart has been successfully restarted, but not an experience corresponding with ‘real’ events when the heart isn’t beating. In this case, consciousness and awareness appeared to occur during a three-minute period when there was no heartbeat. This is paradoxical, since the brain typically ceases functioning within 20-30 seconds of the heart stopping and doesn’t resume again until the heart has been restarted. Furthermore, the detailed recollections of visual awareness in this case were consistent with verified events.
“Thus, while it was not possible to absolutely prove the reality or meaning of patients’ experiences and claims of awareness, (due to the very low incidence (2 per cent) of explicit recall of visual awareness or so called OBE’s), it was impossible to disclaim them either and more work is needed in this area. Clearly, the recalled experience surrounding death now merits further genuine investigation without prejudice.”
You can read the full Resuscitation article here. What do you think of these results?
Stay tuned to Jesus & Dawkins for more on this topic. I interviewed Howard Storm recently about his life-changing NDE. Before his experience, he was an atheist art professor. After his experience, he became a Christian, attended seminary, and started preaching.
“Are Faith and Science Compatible?”
The BioLogos Foundation had a conference in NYC recently with theologians, scientists, pastors, and other leaders. (According to their website, BioLogos “invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.“)
Amy Julia Becker attended the event, and she wrote about it for Christianity Today:
For me, the experience resulted not so much in affirming my views on science, but rather in reminding me of the ways in which, as the Psalmist writes, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).
Her short piece is a great reflection on wrestling with modern science and Christianity.
“Jennifer Wiseman on science and faith”
Speaking of BioLogos, a member of their board of directors, astronomer Jennifer Wiseman, sat down with Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Jonathan Merritt last week. Dr. Wiseman spoke with Sarah and Jonathan about faith and science.
“Tony Campolo’s surprise reaction when his son came out as a humanist”
And speaking of Jonathan Merritt, he wrote a great article about Tony Campolo and his son, Bart. Merritt writes that Bart came out as an agnostic humanist to his father, the famous Christian speaker and writer:
Bart Campolo decided he was no longer a Christian after being injured in a bike accident in 2011. But he waited until last Thanksgiving to break the news to his father, Tony, an influential evangelical leader and author who is famous for having been a spiritual adviser to former President Bill Clinton.
Tony described the news from Bart as “upsetting” and “traumatic,” but their love for each other hasn’t changed. In fact, Bart and Tony are writing a book about their spiritual differences:
The two remain close despite their theological differences and speak on the phone regularly. They are even co-authoring a book together that Tony says is tentatively titled, “A Painful Dialogue Between an Evangelical Father and His Agnostic Son.”
I found Bart’s closing comments very interesting, by the way:
“One thing I learned from Jesus was that if you want to gain your life, you have to lose it for the sake of the gospel,” Bart said. “I may have a different gospel now, but I want to give my life to it. I still have good news to share.”
The whole article is worth reading. What do you make of this news, and are you excited to read their new book?
“Can Wanting to Believe Make Us Believers?”
In The New York Times, Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting interviewed Princeton philosopher Daniel Garber. You can count on Gutting for good interviews about theology and philosophy.
My favorite part of the interview was when Garber talked about why he can’t believe in God, even if part of him may want to:
I can’t believe because I’m not convinced that it is true that God exists. It is as simple as that. Belief is not voluntary, and there are no (rational) considerations that move me to believe that God exists. In all honesty, I will admit that I don’t have a definitive argument that God doesn’t exist either. Which is to say that I refuse to make the judgment that some make that it is positively irrational to believe in God in an objective sense. But without convincing affirmative reasons to believe, I’m stuck. If others find reasons that convince them, I’m willing to discuss them and consider them. Who knows? There might be a convincing argument out there, or at least one that convinces me.
On the other hand, it is easy say why I might want to believe. I see people around me — often very smart and thoughtful people — who get great comfort from believing that God exists. Why wouldn’t I want to be like them? It’s just that I can’t.
As always, the entire interview with Gutting is good reading.
What do you think of this week’s buzz?