Are NDEs evidence of an afterlife?
Near-death experience (NDE) is the clinically recognized phenomenon whereby an individual undergoes an experience of life when clinically dead. Unlike, say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that purports that a certain man named Jesus rose from the dead, defying biological death, there are clinically reported accounts of certain individuals overcoming clinical death. For the sake of clarity, I will define three types of death:
This is a form of clinical death that defines death as having occurred after the heart has stopped for an extended period of time (typically around 3-4 minutes), shutting off oxygen to the brain, subsequently assuring that the brain cannot function. There are innumerable documented cases of individuals whose heart has stopped for periods well exceeding what would qualify as cardiological death and thereafter returning with fantastic stories of disembodiment and life.
This is a form of clinical death whereby death is measured by when the brain stops functioning entirely as there are no measurable signs of brain function. While this form of death obtained in many documented cases in the cardiological category, there are exceedingly fewer documented cases in this category given that brain waves are less frequently being measured and documented during the time of NDE events.
There are no documented cases of persons recovering from this form of death (save for the post-mortem visitations of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels) as it is marked by the irreversible condition of a decomposing body.
In addition to the different definitions of death are the various types of NDE’s. I will separate NDE’s into two categories:Veridical NDE’s and Non-Veridical NDE’s.
A veridical NDE is marked by details that can be empirically verified. For instance, an experience of disembodiment whereby an individual sees, hears or knows things that they could not have possibly seen, heard or known given their condition of clinical death can be empirically verified. Non-Veridical experiences are often experiences of dead loved ones, heaven-like visions, personal thoughts and bright lights. These subjective experiences are out of the purview of scientific examination and thus are of little value when dealing with the subject in an empirical manner. Moreover, since similar experiences can be reproduced when stimulating the right temporal lobe, these non-veridical experiences are of little scientific worth.
With documented cases of veridical NDE’s in patients who experienced clinical death in at least one aforesaid category, it is hard to imagine that NDE’s are not a form of evidence that can be used to support any cumulative case for the existence of an afterlife.
Perhaps my opponent is operating under a verifiably disingenuous understanding of what constitutes evidence. The distinction must be made between proof and evidence.
Proof: If we can avoid the epistemological quagmire of Cartesian objections, we can say that proof is that which is so sufficiently supported by syllogism, equation, or a collation of evidence that it cannot be reasonably denied. For instance, though the murder weapon has the suspect’s fingerprints on it –call this evidence E1—it may not be sufficient in proving that the suspect was responsible for the murder in question. Thus E1, though certainly evidence in favor of convicting the suspect, it is not sufficient for proving him or her guilty. Now it may be the case that other evidence exists, call these E2, E3, E4… and so on. It may also be the case that none of these evidences, in isolation, are sufficient in proving the case they support. However, the cumulative effect of these evidences may be sufficient in making the case they support so probable that it cannot be reasonably denied.
Evidence: I like how Wikipedia puts it: “Evidence is the currency by which one fulfills the burden of proof.” To continue the metaphor, evidence or a collation of evidences may or may not be sufficient funds to buy the burden. My hundred dollars will not be enough to buy the car of my dreams; this insufficiency of funds does not render my legal tender non-currency, as its application towards the car, though insufficient to buy it, still makes the car $100 cheaper.
So the real question is: Do NDE’s make the burden of proof cheaper or not? I certainly think so!
The resolution can be affirmed on at least two levels, only one of which needs to obtain in order for me to fulfill my burden.
Some scientific models and virtually all historical models rely upon the confirmation of inferences. For example, the discovery of stratified fossils confirms the inference that all species share a common ancestor. Stratified fossils may not be enough to convince those who do not make that prior inference, however.
In the case of NDE’s, those who make the prior inference that the afterlife exists or something correlated to that, often fine that an experience of heaven-like utopia when dead is a confirmation of this inference. This clearly qualifies as evidence as it makes the likelihood of an afterlife more probable than not, at least to the one who experiences said event. Moreover, since I bring to the table the prior inference that God exists and that heaven and hell are real, I find that NDE’s are a strengthening confirmation of my inference – even though I have not personally experienced one myself.
Thus it can be clearly seen that there is a subjective element to what constitutes evidence, insofar as certain things tend to promote or strengthen certain beliefs depending upon the prior inferences one makes. Since NDE’s constitute evidence to at least some people, the affirmation that NDE’s are not evidence is demonstrably false!
But I believe this can be taken even further than this.
Since there is an empirical level to NDE’s, it can be shown that NDE’s are also evidence on an objective level. We will try to show this by way of syllogism.
(P1) Theories of the afterlife depend upon a belief of body-independent consciousness (or mind).
(P2) Experiences that seem to demonstrate body-independent consciousness, support, or are evidence of, any given theory that depends upon body-independent mind or consciousness.
(P3) NDE’s seem to demonstrate body-independent consciousness
(C) Therefore, NDE’s (per P1 and P3) are evidence of an afterlife (Per P2).
P1 is relatively uncontroversial, given that the afterlife typically requires life beyond our death bodies (taken generally, the afterlife makes no grandiose claims to eternity, pearly-gates, angels or streets of gold). P2 is effectively definitionally true, and thus also relatively uncontroversial. P3 seems to be the only place where rational disagreement can take place. Since the syllogism is valid, the conclusion necessarily follows when the premises are triply asserted.
In defense of P3:
On many levels P3 is prima facie true or self-evidential—insofar as an experience of disembodied consciousness when clinically dead is evidence of itself.
There are accounts of people, who, after being resuscitated are in possession of knowledge that they could not have possibly possessed being dead (and in many cases, even if the patient had been fully conscious the knowledge possessed could not be explained by bodily activity). (1)
There are documented accounts of patients experiencing disembodied consciousness when they have a flat EEG reading, or, in other words, when they have no brain activity. (2)
Though this evidence may be relatively unconvincing, specifically to someone without any prior inferences of an afterlife or any other type of “supernaturalism,” it should be abundantly clear that it constitutes evidence in at least the two aforesaid ways.
(1) Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation by cardiologist Michael Sabom
"Near-death experience (NDE) is the clinically recognized phenomenon whereby an individual undergoes an experience of life when clinically dead"
I have a problem with this definition being used to describe all NDE cases. Just because someone was clinically dead and recalled an experience after doesn't mean they recalled an experience they had while they were clinically dead. Lets say the brain is dying, the person goes clinically dead for a while, and they recall an experience, there is no way to provide evidence indicating that the experience happened while clinically dead rather than while the brain was dying.
This is a form of clinical death whereby death is measured by when the brain stops functioning entirely as there are no measurable signs of brain function. "
Key word is measurable, lower parts of the brain can still function even if the higher brain is "dead" and there is no activity being read. There is still no evidence that these experiences happened during the clinical death rather than while they were "dying".
"Since NDE's constitute evidence to at least some people, the affirmation that NDE's are not evidence is demonstrably false"
Near death experiences are exactly that, near death, not death itself. Just how like being near a finish line isn't crossing it, being near death isn't death. This means that anything that happens during a near death experience cannot be evidence of what happens after death.
"There are accounts of people, who, after being resuscitated are in possession of knowledge that they could not have possibly possessed being dead"
Once more you are making a claim that the person experienced the NDE while dead, I already explained two reasons why this may not be the case:
1) Just because someone was clinically dead and claimed to remember an experience, doesn't mean the experience being discussed happened during their "death", it could have been an experience that happened as the person was dying and the brain was not operating as it usually does.
2) Near death isn't death, just like how knocking on deaths door isn't walking into his room and just like how being a near a finish line isn't crossing it.
Also, most recalled NDEs are duds, most of these recalled experiences recall something false.
For example there was a lady who sued her doctors because she recalled an NDE and claimed she saw the doctors putting tools inside her and laughing. Basically, the most famous cases are the 'hits' but you also have to look at the mountain of dud cases which nobody seems to interested in. Obviously you are going to find a few hits in a mountain of misses (if they even are hits), this doesn't mean there is anything strange going on, it's called odds and chances.
"There are documented accounts of patients experiencing disembodied consciousness when they have a flat EEG reading, or, in other words, when they have no brain activity"
Once more, there is no evidence that these experiences happened while there was no brain activity and there is no way to prove this is the case. Just because there was no measurable brain activity before someone woke up and said "I had an experience", that doesn't mean the experience happened while there was no measurable brain activity.
As far as disembodied consciousness goes, out of body experiences can be recreated in labs and it all has to do with the brain.
1. The Experience
Evidence that these experiences being recalled happened during the "death" and not during the dying has not been provided. All we know is that someone was clinically dead, and they came back and told a story. We have to look at 2 things:
1) What evidence is there that the person experienced this experience? We are simply going off what the patient is claiming.
2) What evidence is there that the person had the experience during a specific time when there was absolutely no brain activity?
2. Near Death and After Death
These are called near death experiences for a reason, if there was absolutely no brain activity then there would be nothing to revive it and bring it back. The very fact that these people can even tell a story proves that there was brain activity, there was just most likely not enough to be measured.
Once more, events that happen near death cannot be evidence of what happens after. For example, if I drew a line in the middle of a piece of paper, and on side "x" there was a lot going on but what happens in side "Y" is unknown, then it doesn't matter how close you get to the line what happens on side "x" can never be evidence of what happens on side "Y". If people lived to tell a story, there was still some living biological processes going on no matter how small and unmeasurable or else there would be no story.
Death is defined as the permanent termination of the biological functions.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Death is the permanent termination of the biological functions that sustain a living organism. Phenomena which commonly bring about death include old age, predation, malnutrition, disease, and accidents or trauma resulting in terminal injury. Bodies of living organisms begin to decompose shortly after death.
In human societies, the nature of death has for millennia been a central concern of the world's religious traditions and of philosophical enquiry, which may include a belief in some kind of afterlife or reincarnation. Commemoration ceremonies after death may include mourning or a moment of silence."
death noun \ˈdeth
a : a permanent cessation of all vital functions : the end of life"
So basically if the person lived to dell the story then they didn't die, because death is defined as permanent ("permanent" being the key word). This means that no matter what happens during an NDE, it can never be evidence of what happens after death because the person still biologically lived to tell about it. Therefore, since the afterlife is defined as "life after death", then near ("near" being the key word) death experiences cannot be evidence of an afterlife. It's impossible.
3. REM Intrusions
The University of Kentucky came out with a scientific study explaining how near death experiences can happen after confirmed brain "death" (one arguing on the side of the supernatural still has to provide evidence that the experience happened during the brain "death" and not during the "dying" before even getting to this). REM Intrusions are triggered in the brain stem, so even though the higher brain may cease to function, the brain stem can still operate independently of the higher brain. This indicates that the entire brain was never 100% not-functioning during the NDE (once more, assuming it happened during the "death" and not during the "dying")
Someone telling a story isn't evidence like it is in a court, because it's impossible for their to be external eye witnesses to a conscious experience someone else had, meaning that using the "testimony is evidence" rebuttal will not work in this case.
Just because someone was brain "dead" before they told the story of their experience, doesn't mean the experience happened while brain "dead". There is no evidence that this didn't occur while the brain was in the process of dying..
a) What occurs near death is not evidence of what happens after after death
b) Death is defined as permanent
Since these people must have been biologically alive to tell the story of their NDE, then they didn't die. Using near death experiences as evidence of a theoretical afterlife is impossible.
REM intrusions can occur during "confirmed" brain "death".
I have met my burden of proof, while my opponent has not.
Let’s clear up some confusion. My opponent is under the seemingly misguided assumption that unless NDE’s can be demonstrated to have occurred necessarily during the duration of clinical death, then it does not constitute evidence. This is incredibly myopic for at least two reasons:
R1. When epistemically strict, all propositions can be reduced to statements of possibility.
R2. There are veridical accounts wherein the knowledge possessed could only have been achieved during the duration of clinical death.
R1 highlights the weakness of my opponent’s argument because it demonstrates that my opponent’s reasoning makes both evidence and proof impossible and therefore meaningless categories. My opponent’s logic can be reduced to the following: if [insert contested point here] can possibly be explained differently, it is therefore nonevidence. This incredibly disingenuous understanding of evidence makes evidence impossible. For instance, when a prosecutor explains that shoeprints exactly matching the size and imprint of the suspects shoes were found leading to and leaving from the back window where the victim was found dead, we rightly call this evidence. However, the defense may very well argue that it is possible that some other person with the same shoe could have done it. Though the defense has successfully reduced the prosecutors argument to a possibility, he has prima facie not reduced the argument to nonevidence.
In virtually all categories, it is POSSIBLE that our cognitive faculties do not yield true or verisimilitudinous beliefs, thus always leaving the inscrutable possibility that any given belief is a false one. But this shouldn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter when we talk about evidence. Evidence is simply whatever is used as currency towards the burden of proof towards any given proposition. NDE’s, whether good evidence or bad, are used as currency towards of the burden of proof towards the proposition of an afterlife.
Beyond the disingenuous notion that possible alternative explanations render all things nonevidence, is the reality that the alternative explanation given by my opponent is a very unlikely alternative given at least a few documented veridical accounts.
There are NDE accounts where patients recall events that happened during the duration of clinical death. Moreover, the idea that only the brainstem could recall the logical, comprehensible and empirically verified events is simply unheard of—to say nothing of the fact that the cessation of sensory organs and complete memory loss would occur when only the brainstem is active. This startling truth is witnessed in anencephalic infants, who are born with only the brainstem and subsequently will never become self-aware as only the very basic motor functions (breathing, heart beat) are regulated by this part of the brain. In fact, patients in vegetative states are literally brain-dead, inasmuch as they will never reach consciousness or think in even the most rudimentary way! So it is simply amazing that my opponent wishes us to believe that NDE’s happen at the level of the brainstem! The twenty-one reported cases of blind patients who underwent NDE’s and recalled SEEING visual elements while disembodied is remarkable and cannot be relegated to the manufacturing work of a brainstem that is recalling things it’s never seen! The account of a nurse whose patient recalled what he did during the duration of his clinical death renders my opponent’s argument something less than parsimonious .
As you will recall in my first round, I said that NDE’s are evidence for at least some individuals. To this my opponent simply said, “not true.” But here are some helpful facts. Approximately 98% of people who experienced NDE’s now believe in an afterlife . This fact demonstrates that the experience of an NDE is sufficient evidence to convince some individuals that there is an afterlife. This fact is impossible to deny. One can reasonably deny that it is good evidence, but cannot with sound argument deny that it exists as evidence for many people –good, bad or otherwise.
There was nothing of substance here as I had already preempted his arguments, even though he seems to have rehashed them anyway. As noted in my first round, subjective, non-veridical experiences are of little scientific worth as they cannot be empirically corroborated. What my opponent missed was the fact that I was not referring to these experiences, I was specifically referring to VERIDICAL experiences, that is, NDE’s that involved empirically verifiable accounts – like someone seeing, hearing and knowing about events that occurred during the time of their clinical death. These accounts cannot be disregarded with ANY of my opponent’s arguments, as they can be verified. Moreover, witness testimony IS evidence, corroborated or otherwise. Anyone trying to disregard testimony has evidence hasn’t the slightest clue about history or the world at large.
Ironically, too, my opponent’s case of REM intrustions is only possibly true, and thus, according to his priorly employed logic, is not evidence in favor of his case! But we’ll excuse his logical blunder and let him continue unabated. The problem with the hypothesis that REM intrustions sufficiently explain the NDE phenomenon is that it only stimulates a process that I already in my first round admitted can be replicated by stimulating parts of the brain. Since my argument only refers to veridical perceptions, my opponent has only danced around the real issue, rebutting arguments that were never made. REM intrusion CANNOT explain the existence of veridical perceptions or visual perception in the blind during NDE’s.
Both my arguments still obtain relatively easily. NDE’s provide evidence, whether good or bad, in both a subject AND an objective sense.
"My opponent is under the seemingly misguided assumption that unless NDE's can be demonstrated to have occurred necessarily during the duration of clinical death, then it does not constitute evidence"
It constitutes as evidence, but it does not constitute evidence of an afterlife (which is what this debate is about). You are claiming my logic is something that it is not, which is a very dishonest tactic if I may say so. This debate is regarding something being evidence of an afterlife, not something being evidence. For example, dirt can be evidence of something but it cannot be evidence of water...My logic is that everything is evidence of something, but not necessarily evidence of something specific.
"R1 highlights the weakness of my opponent's argument because it demonstrates that my opponent's reasoning makes both evidence and proof impossible and therefore meaningless categories."
My reasoning is actually very simple, everything is evidence of something but that doesn't mean everything is evidence of a specific subject. My opponent seems to not know the difference between evidence, and evidence of an afterlife. He speaks about evidence in general terms when this debate is not about broad evidence, it's about evidence of an afterlife so I wish my opponent would at least stick to the topic at hand.
"My opponent's logic can be reduced to the following: if [insert contested point here] can possibly be explained differently, it is therefore nonevidence"
Please, quitting summing up my logic falsely when this is not what a believe at all. If my opponent can't even sum up my logic correctly then he has no grounds in this debate. My logic is this:
1. Death is defined as permanent
2. These people lived to tell the story, so they never experienced death
3. Afterlife is defined as "life after death"
4. NDE's cannot be evidence of an afterlife, because if the person lived to tell the story, then they didn't die as far as death's definition is concerned.
This is a debate about evidence of an afterlife, not evidence in general:
The problem and huge flaw in my opponent's argument is simple, he assumes this debate is about evidence, rather than evidence of an afterlife. Are NDE's evidence? Of course they are, everything is evidence of something, however they are not evidence of an afterlife.
"Beyond the disingenuous notion that possible alternative explanations render all things nonevidence"
Not once did I ever make the claim that just because something has an alternative explanation that it does not count as evidence, I never even typed anything which should give off that impression.
"Moreover, the idea that only the brainstem could recall the logical, comprehensible and empirically verified events is simply unheard of"
I provided two links showing you the study from the University of Kentucky that proves you wrong. You have provided no sources to back up your claim that it is "unheard of" you are simply making a baseless assertion.
"In fact, patients in vegetative states are literally brain-dead, inasmuch as they will never reach consciousness or think in even the most rudimentary way! So it is simply amazing that my opponent wishes us to believe that NDE's happen at the level of the brainstem"
I don't chose to believe anything, it's just been demonstrated by the study that REM intrusions can occur when the higher brain is dead. Unless you can provide a study which proves this wrong then you are just making baseless assertions. Your whole rebuttal to my last round is basically this:
a) Arguing against logic you claim I hold, which I don't
b) Saying scientific studies are false, without any counter studies of your own regarding the specific subject
c) Making a case for what constitutes as evidence, instead of making a case for what constitutes as evidence of an afterlife (which is what this whole debate is about)
"Approximately 98% of people who experienced NDE's now believe in an afterlife . This fact demonstrates that the experience of an NDE is sufficient evidence to convince some individuals that there is an afterlife."
So let me sum up my opponents logic here (unlike him, I will actually do it correctly). If something is evidence of X to at least some people, that means it counts as evidence of X. The reason this is flawed it this:
If a bunch of people think that stars are evidence of cardboard, does that mean stars are evidence of cardboard? No, of course not because it makes no sense. Same thing with NDE's, because even though these people believe it's evidence of an afterlife, it makes no sense because death is defined as permanent, so if they lived to tell the story, then they didn't die. This means, there experience cannot be evidence of what happens after death because they never experienced death.
"There was nothing of substance here as I had already preempted his arguments"
Really? I must have missed where you rebutted the definition of death, the definition of the afterlife, and what would constitute as evidence of the afterlife. Maybe you think you are in a debate with a different person, I'm not too sure.
"I was specifically referring to VERIDICAL experiences, that is, NDE's that involved empirically verifiable accounts – like someone seeing, hearing and knowing about events that occurred during the time of their clinical death. These accounts cannot be disregarded with ANY of my opponent's arguments, as they can be verified"
Yes they can be disregarded, by 2 simple arguments which you seem to ignore:
1. No patient who experienced an NDE actually died. Death is permanent so if they lived to tell a story then nothing they experienced can be evidence of something that happens after death.
2. They are called near death experiences, not after death experiences, so nothing that happens during an NDE can be evidence of what happens after death.
My opponent makes points about what constitutes as evidence, what he should be doing is making points about what constitutes as evidence of an afterlife. I believe that everything is evidence of something, that doesn't mean that it's evidence of something regarding something specific. This is where my opponent's whole argument crumbles.
Are NDE's evidence? Yes they are, they can be used as evidence for a lot of things...However they cannot be used as evidence for an afterlife which is what this debate is about.
My opponent has not explained the following, so he has no case:
1. Being near a finish line isn't crossing it, so how can near death experiences be evidence of what happens after death?
2. Death is defined as permanent, so how can these near death experiences be evidence of what happens after death if they lived to tell the story afterwards?
All my opponent has done is defined what evidence is, made a case for near death experiences being supernatural, and somehow tried to make the claim that this means near death experiences are evidence of an afterlife. Lets say I grant him that NDEs are supernatural (which I don't believe they are, but this is for the sake of argument), and lets say I grant him that his definition of evidence is correct, this still doesn't not even scratch the surface for a case that NDEs are evidence of life after death, not one bit.
Death = Permanent
Afterlife = Life after death
Near Death Experiences = Not After Death Experiences
Near Death Experiences can be regarded as evidence for a number of things, but not the afterlife (which is what this debate is about).
PS. Hopefully in the name of fairness my opponent forfeits his last round because he didn't accept the debate in the first round and went right to his case (which may have been my fault for not specifying the rules beforehand). If not, then try to keep the fact that it's a handicapped debate while doing your voting.
Thanks to my opponent for a good debate!
I know my opponent wants me to forfeit this round in the name of civility, but I am not going to. If you choose to use your first round to instigate without case or rules, do not anticipate your opponent to use his or her round with equal carelessness. I will keep it short, however, as brevity on this matter is all I will need.
My opponent has admitted that NDE’s are evidence; in fact, he admits that ALL things are evidence of something. The problem for my opponent is that he just conceded to exactly what he needed to oppose in order to uphold his position. Since NDE’s could be used to support the hypothesis of emergent consciousness, they can be used to support the hypothesis of an afterlife (per my first round syllogism). This means that alternative explanations, though possible, are not sufficient in preventing NDE’s has evidence for an afterlife. So long as it is possible that emergent consciousness is a possible explanation for veridical NDE encounters, then it can be rightly used as evidence for an afterlife (since the afterlife would require that consciousness not be bound by the body).
Then we are presented with the following syllogism:
1. Death is defined as permanent
As noted in my first round, only biological death is defined as permanent. Thus many patients went through two phases of clinical death until they were finally, and often miraculously, resuscitated. So let’s go through my opponent’s syllogism with the appropriate changes.
1’. Biological death is defined as permanent
2’. These people lived to tell the story, so they never experienced biological death.
3. Afterlife is defined as “life after death”
4’. NDE’s cannot be evidence of an afterlife, because if the person lived to tell the story, then they didn’t die as far as the definition of biological death is concerned.
The question then, is whether or not 4’ follows when the three prior premises are triply asserted. Of course, anyone schooled in the basics of logic will immediately see that 4’ is a simple non sequitur –inasmuch as the conclusion does not follow from the premises.
Firstly, it could be evidence for something on which the existence of an afterlife is contingent upon, namely disembodied consciousness. Secondly, the experience itself could be sufficient evidence to convince the one who experienced the NDE that there is an afterlife – as is evidenced by the statistic listed in my second round.
“If a bunch of people think that stars are evidence of cardboard, does that mean stars are evidence of cardboard? No, of course not because it makes no sense.”
This demonstrates a level of logical ineptitude not often seen. The only logical answer is, yes, stars obviously constitute evidence of cardboard to some people, given the fact that some people are convinced of cardboard because of stars. It is objectively bad and entirely unfounded evidence, however, but evidence nonetheless. As stated in my first round, evidence is not solely an objective enterprise; there is an obvious subjective element to it (specifically when it comes to the confirmation of prior inferences).
Lastly, since my opponent seems to believe that the brainstem is able to recount ordered, logical and detailed events when the higher levels of the brain are dead, I will refer him to the following pages regarding anencephalic infants and persistent vegetative states. The former demonstrates that ALL infants born with only the brainstem NEVER become self aware or conscious or reach a level beyond the most rudimentary, biorhythmatic functions. The latter page demonstrates that those in a persistent vegetative state are NOT self-aware or conscious even though only the brainstem is active. (Furthermore, the study, as stated in my previous round, does not demonstrate how people who undergo NDE’s can become aware of things outside of their specific location concurrently with the duration of their clinical death without an emergent consciousness.)
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