Saturday, February 8, 2014

What Sort of Heaven?

Yet another provocative episode of Unbelievable...

I wrote to the host, Justin Brierley:

I listened to the [1 February 2014] "What on Earth do we Know About Heaven" episode with great interest.

There are many troubling issues related to the concept of the Christian heaven. The issue of eternal boredom was addressed as best it could be. Other issues were missed. Will the residents of heaven be unconcerned for the fate of their friends and family members suffering eternal conscious torment in hell? If heaven is so swell why did (as many as a third of) the angels rebel against God and were cast down? [Rev. 12:3-4] If free will persists in heaven what prevents another fraction of the angels, or mankind, from rebelling again? These might make interesting topics for future episodes.

While Hemant Mehta might be accused of an untoward glibness in his approach to this heavenly topic (please forgive him, arguing with American fundamentalists [year after year] is crazy-making), it's interesting that Randal Rauser seemed to rely almost exclusively upon the extremely subjective so-called Near Death Experiences (NDE) as proof positive of the afterlife.

It is important to remember that Near Death Experiences are reported by people who did not, in fact, die. While the patient's heartbeat may have stopped (temporarily), his brain did not die or he would not have had any means by which to regain consciousness. The memories may have been created, remembered, or conflated while the patient lost or regained consciousness.

The experience called NDE is widely known, if not [fully] understood, which is why it is examined in credible peer-reviewed journals. Generally, the literature deals more with phenomenology - subjective reports of first person experience - rather than the results of scientific experiment (it being unethical to deliberately kill and then revive test subjects for research purposes). You will find that the literature that claims veridical experience during an NDE are found primarily in the less rigorous, more credulous journals.

Interestingly, near death is not required to experience an NDE [or the related Out of Body Experience, or OBE]. In addition to cardiac arrest, severe illness, or other life-threatening trauma, the NDE experience be initiated in a non-life threatening form by hypoxia, a variety of medications, [certain forms of epilepsy, intense meditation,] and electrical or magnetic stimulation of the brain.

In any case, these various neurobiological phenomena seem a weak reed upon which to base one's faith in a Christian-themed eternal hereafter.

As always, thank you again for serving up the very finest religious debate on the web.

Best regards,


PS I wrote on these topics in the course my studies. My papers feature substantial bibliographies for further reading.

And just for fun...

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