Life After Death

Yet Another Study Confirms the Reality of Near Death Experiences

Most world religions teach that there is an afterlife. The Eastern religions, for example, believe in re-incarnation, where the soul moves on and inhabits another body, whether human or animal. In contrast, the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – hold that after we die, a judgment takes place and the outcome determines whether one enters heaven or hell. Only atheists believe that life ends at death, with no judgment or afterlife to speak of.

But something common to all people – those with a faith and those without – is the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences (NDEs), which transcends cultural and creedal boundaries. NDEs, as the name suggests, are profound personal experiences associated with death or impending death. NDE researchers say NDEs share similar characteristics. Positive NDEs may involve a variety of sensations including Out of Body Experiences (OBEs); feelings of levitation, total serenity, security, or warmth; or an experience of absolute dissolution and the presence of a light. Negative NDEs may include sensations of anguish and distress.

Stories of these nether worldly experiences have been part of human cultures since time immemorial, but NDEs as such first came to broad public attention in 1975 by way of American psychiatrist and philosopher Raymond Moody’s, Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon-Survival of Bodily Death. Moody presented more than 100 case studies of people who had experienced vivid mental experiences close to death or during “clinical death,” when brain and heart activities temporarily ceased, and were subsequently revived to tell the tale. Their experiences were so remarkably similar that Moody coined the term NDE to refer to this phenomenon. The book was popular and controversial, but it soon led to an uptick in scientific investigations of NDEs with the subsequent founding in 1978 of the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS)—the first organization in the world wholly devoted to the scientific study of NDEs and their relationship to mind and consciousness. To date, more than 25 million NDE cases have now been reported worldwide.

The vast majority of reported NDEs occur when patients experience cardiac arrest when their hearts stop beating and brainwave activity ceases, but other cases occur during coma, acute brain injury, or asphyxia. Yet, despite being in these dangerously compromised states, the patients later claim to have had such experiences as OBEs, levitation, and the ability to move through walls and doors. The senses, they reported, are often heightened; they hear, see all around them, and can even claim to read other people’s thoughts. There are even NDEs reported from patients who were blind from birth! Most NDE accounts can’t be corroborated, but American theologian and author Gary Habermas, Chair of the Theology and Philosophy Department at Liberty University, has spent many years researching evidence-based NDE cases. More than 300 have now been carefully documented in which details of the stories can actually be verified.

While some secular scientists have tried to explain away NDEs as a manifestation of oxygen deprivation or as a by-product of hallucinatory effects, work conducted since the 1990s has effectively debunked such ideas. On the contrary, many NDE experiencers display extraordinary lucidity, rational thought, and heightened awareness, none of which are associated with oxygen deprivation.

Now a fascinating new study from NYU Grossman School of Medicine has revealed that one in five people given cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after experiencing a heart attack describe lucid experiences of death while they were for all intents and purposes clinically dead. A key finding was the discovery of previously undetected spikes of brain activity, including gamma, delta, beta, and alpha waves normally associated with higher mental function. Lead author of the study, Dr. Sam Parnia, revealed some of the details:

Our results offer evidence that while on the brink of death and in a coma, people undergo a unique inner conscious experience, including awareness without distress.

These lucid experiences cannot be considered a trick of a disordered or dying brain, but rather a unique human experience that emerges on the brink of death, [raising] intriguing questions about human consciousness, even at death.

Parnia’s team presented their findings during the resuscitation science symposium at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2022 earlier in November. Full details are to be disclosed in an upcoming peer-reviewed paper.

NDEs through a Christian Lens

What are Christians to make of these studies? For one thing, the descriptions of NDE experiences - where individuals are able to see panoramically, defy gravity through levitation, move through solid obstacles such as walls and doors, and read someone else’s thoughts – remind me very much of the accounts of Jesus’ miracles in the gospels, especially his post-resurrection appearances in which he appeared to his disciples, seemingly out of nowhere, and was able to move effortlessly through doors and stone walls. Other miracles, such as the transfiguration or his walking on water, also strike an eerie pose with many NDE accounts.

Curiously, the press release of the study noted that there is no evolutionary explanation for NDEs. You can say that again! There is absolutely no materialistic explanation for NDEs because materialism, upon which evolutionary mechanisms are said to operate, denies the existence of such things as the soul, the reality of God, and the afterlife.

But what these new findings are demonstrating is that consciousness cannot solely reside in the brain. As the distinguished University of Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and his co-author Denyse O’ Leary wrote in The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul2 conclude:

The scientific NDE studies performed over the past decades indicate that heightened mental functions can be experienced independently of the body at a time when brain activity is greatly impaired or seemingly absent (such as during cardiac arrest). Some of these studies demonstrate that blind people can have veridical perceptions during OBEs associated with an NDE. Other investigations show that NDEs often result in deep psychological and spiritual changes. … NDE studies suggest that after physical death, mind and consciousness may continue in a transcendent level of reality. Needless to say, this view is utterly incompatible with the belief of many materialists that the material world is the only reality.

Furthermore, the fact that NDEs don’t discriminate between people of faith and people with no religious worldview strongly comports with the biblical notion that in some sense all humans are immortal:

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)

This also neatly explains why some individuals experience distressing NDEs, since the God of the Bible makes it clear that not all humans will be saved. As the Bible portrays it, God will ultimately honor our free-will decisions in this life, either to end up in our Creator’s glorious presence or to remain separated forever from him forever.

Further Reading

  1. Moody, R. Life After Life: The Bestselling Original Investigation That Revealed "Near-Death Experiences, Harper One Anniversary Edition, 2015
  2. Beauregard, M & O’Leary D., The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul, Harper One, 2008.

is that author of eight books on amateur and professional astronomy. His latest book is Choosing & Using Binoculars, a Guide for Stargazers, Birders and Outdoor Enthusiasts (Springer Publishing, 2023).

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