“Heaven Is Real” according to the cover story of the October 15 issue of Newsweek. The story chronicles Eben Alexander’s descent into a seven-day coma and journey into a wholly different level of conscious reality during that time. Dr. Alexander’s 25 years as a neurosurgeon and former professor at Harvard Medical School qualifies him to speak as a scientist, although his conclusions have provoked numerous critiques from fellow scientists.
In the fall of 2008, Alexander was rushed to the emergency room of Lynchburg General Hospital, where his colleagues determined that he had contracted a rare bacterial meningitis. E. coli had attacked his brain, shutting down his cortex, the part of the brain that controls thoughts and emotions. The synapses between the neurons no longer functioned, halting all electromagnetic activity that produces brain function. His doctors had verified by repeated tests that no brain function was possible during that seven-day period – no vision, hearing, emotion memory or logical reasoning.
The overwhelming majority in the scientific community argues that the brain alone produces all conscious activity. Significant advances in technology have fortified these materialists’ belief that consciousness can be defined as a physical phenomenon solely.
Although technology can trace every thought and emotion to neural activity, scientists have not been able to explain how the brain produces this consciousness. And, of course, it is fair to toss the hypothesis into the lab that perhaps the brain is only a physical conduit of this conscious activity, but not the source.
Alexander’s coma has profoundly convinced him that this hypothesis is indeed fact. He is able to describe in elaborate detail a vivid conscious reality during those seven days. He saw clouds in a bright blue sky and transparent beings floating across it. He heard a loud joyful chant coming from the sky. A young woman accompanied him during this time and he could feel both her penetrating look and her vibrating words, even though she did not speak. In fact, he writes that “hearing and seeing were not separate in this place.” What he saw he also experienced as sound.
Alexander’s conclusion that he journeyed to heaven cannot be verified. But he argues that his conscious experience detached from brain function cannot be refuted. In a subsequent article for Newsweek (Nov. 26), Alexander writes, “My seven-day odyssey beyond my physical body and brain convinced me that when the filter of the brain is removed, we see the universe clearly for the first time. And the multidimensional universe revealed by this trans-physical vision is not a cold, dead one, but alive with the force that, as the poet Dante wrote some 600 years ago, ‘moves the sun and other stars.’”
Just months before Alexander explored the edges of life, Gary Habermas delivered a lecture at California Polytechnic State University on the evidence of life after death. Habermas has a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Religion and is Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he serves as chairman of the department of philosophy and theology. Habermas has devoted nearly 30 years to the study of near-death experiences (NDE).
Habermas asserts that an NDE cannot prove the existence of heaven (or hell) since they cannot be validated empirically. His interest lies in what he calls evidential cases where consciousness existed after a patient arrived at a flat-heart and flat-brain wave. He describes several of these cases in his lecture.
Maria suffered a heart attack and was taken to the emergency room. During efforts to resuscitate her, she describes a conscious view of the hospital room from a perspective different from the gurney. These reports are vulnerable to dispute by skeptics. Maria went on to describe something that escapes dispute.
After she was revived she described floating through the floors of the hospital until she was at the roof. She told the doctors and nurses that she saw on the roof a very large men’s blue canvass shoe with a small hole in the little toe area. Kim, one of the nurses, decided to follow up on Maria’s story, which even specified the section of the roof. She found several vantage points that enabled her to see portions of the roof, but did not spot the shoe. Finally, in one of the last places she could look, she found the shoe, exactly as Maria described.
In another case, a nine-year-old girl drowned in a pool and no heartbeat was detected for 19 minutes. Doctors now claim that brain activity goes flat 11 seconds after after the loss of a heartbeat. The girl, Katy, was declared brain dead when she arrived at the hospital. Dr. Melvin Morris attended the case and placed her on life-support, giving her 1 in 1,000 chances to survive, and 1 in 10,000 chances to survive with brain function.
Three days later Katy spontaneously woke up. When she saw Dr. Morris she said, “Oh, you are the doctor with the beard who saved me. Where is the tall doctor without a beard?” Dr. Melvin retrieved him and they asked Katy about her condition. She said that she was fine and that she had been with her angel, Elizabeth. Katy said that Elizabeth allowed her to view her family’s house the night she drowned and she told with detail where each member of her family was located in the house, what they were doing, what song was on the radio and what her mother was cooking for dinner.
Angels cannot be verified, but reports of contact with this world during a flat-brain state can. Dr. Morris took notes and later interviewed Katy’s family before she could tell them what she experienced. Katy’s report was accurate in every detail. Dr. Morris went on to do extensive research in NDEs. Originally an agnostic, his research has moved him to a theistic position.
As Habermas says, “Heaven can’t be tested. Angels can’t be tested.” But mounting reports of conscious experiences during conditions that are as near to death as we have the ability to define would indicate that the scientific position that nothing exists apart from the physical universe seems seriously flawed. Science may never answer all the questions generated by these reports, but they should at least tell us that the hard sciences alone are incapable of defining human existence. Science must give theology and philosophy places at the table.
Dr. Alexander’s book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, was released in October.