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Monday, August 9, 2010

On Near Death Experiences and the Supernatural

In continuing our discussion on Near Death Experiences (or NDE's for short) and their support for the existance of the supernatural, Coastzone Newsletter from the internationally syndicated radio talk show Coast to Coast AM informs us that last night's guest was Dutch researcher and cardiologist Dr. Pim vam Lommel (above). Dr. van Lommel stated that his research into NDE phenomena has lead him to believe that "these are authentic events that cannot be attributed to imagination." From Coastzone, quote...

"Van Lommel explained that cardiac arrest survivors are ideal candidates for NDE studies because it is thought to be medically impossible for them to experience consciousness when their circulation and breathing have ceased. Additionally, unlike previous NDE studies which relied on testimony submitted by those who had near-death experiences, his research actively sought out potential candidates from cardiac arrest survivors. This prospective method was surprisingly simple, in that he merely asked the out-treatment patients if they "had memories of the period of unconsciousness. That was the only question."

One particularly strong piece of evidence that Van Lommel discussed was NDEs where the experiencers received previously unknown information. To that end, he shared the tale of a man who had a cardiac arrest and then an NDE. During his near-death experience, the man saw an older gentleman who "looked at him lovingly, but whom he did not know." Over ten years later, as his mother was dying, she revealed to him that he was conceived via an extramarital affair. The mother then showed her son the picture of his biological father and it was the man he saw in the afterlife. Similarly, Van Lommel told the story of a little girl who had an NDE via drowning and, upon her recovery, said that "my brother was with me." However, the girl's brother died before she was born and her parents had been waiting until she was older to tell her about him.

Van Lommel also broke down some of the trends and statistics gleaned from his study of NDEs and their aftermath. For instance, he reported that 15% of those who had near-death experiences first went to a "frightening, dark space," but then saw the classic "tunnel of light." Chillingly, Van Lommel said that one to two percent of the experiencers stay in that dark place or travel "down, really down" to a Hell-like environment which is frightening and marked by feelings of guilt. He noted that experiencers of these 'dark NDEs' have a very difficult time sharing their story and are haunted by it for a longtime afterward. Nonetheless, regardless of the content of the NDE, Van Lommel said that ultimately the outcome is seen as positive and transformative for the patients. He observed that "an experience of two minutes changes the whole life."

I would be intersted in some examples of theories put forward by skeptics here in reference (specifically) to such people receiving previously unknown information through experiences of this type. I am at a loss personally to posit any alternative explanations apart from us moving on to another plane of existence after the point of death.


zilch said...

Basically, my response would be "the plural of anecdote is not data". These are not very convincing examples of people receiving previously unknown data, especially in total lack of controls: how many times did people relate experiences which were not confirmed? I'm afraid these can be chalked up to wishful thinking.

cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

Froggie said...


"An article by Netherlands researchers Pim van Lommel et al., argues, "With a purely physiological explanation such as cerebral anoxia for the experience, most patients who have been clinically dead should report one."

However, he reports in the study,
"The 18% frequency of NDE that we noted is lower
than reported in retrospective studies,1,8 which could be because our prospective study design prevented selfselection of patients. Our frequency of NDE is low despite our wide definition of the experience. Only 12% of patients had a core NDE, and this figure might be an overestimate. When we analysed our results, we noted that one hospital that participated in the study for nearly
4 years, and from which 137 patients were included,reported a significantly (p=0·01) lower percentage of NDE (8%), and significantly (p=0·05) fewer deep experiences."


There is far more evidence for other explanations for NDEs and I personally don't have much of an opinion on this matter, other than patients experiences are purely subjective and are not actual evidence for God.

Gregg said...

Even as a Christian and Pastor, I do not put much stock in NDE's. I especially do not put any stock in the NDE for profit - such as Piper (Don not John) having spent, what 90 minutes in Heaven. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord for a believer and to be absent from the body is to present in Hades for a non-believer. God has given us a very limited glimpse into eternity and the after life, certainly for good reason.

These experiences are very subjective, also heavily influenced by anesthesia, trauma, not to mention what we don't know about the capability of the brain tghrough psychosomatic, pre-suggestive information, etc.

I believe some very few saints as they are dieing and their soul is leaving the body they may see something that is communicated and heard by those in the room, but those folks don't come back.

I believe some very few sinners as they are dieing and expiring and their soul is leaving the body they might see flames but they don't come back.

There is no biblical, medical, or scientific evidence that these expericenes are accurate.

I would be more inclined to think that barring post suggestive influences, pre-disposed and previously buried info in the brain and the possibility of demon influence are responsible for some of these where "so-called information" is retreived.

Satan and his minions are very deceptive, disquiesed as angels of light, set out to deceive the human race. What a better way to suggest the afterlife either doesn't exsist or is super pleasant to everyone and nothing to fear?

Our Lord said, don't fear those who can destroy the body, fear Him, who can destroy your soul soul eternally in hell, separated from God.

Chris Mackey said...

I was under the impression the Bible taught the dead "sleep in their graves" until Judgment Day when YHWH judges "the quick and the dead", separating the damned from the saved, at that time casting the damned into Hell...
But then again Jesus told the thief on his cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise"...

The Catholic Apologist said...


I see no interaction with the data in your post. Specifically answer: How can the girl who did not know she had a brother, come back an report about being with her brother? How can the man who had the cardiac arrest come back and report encountering his father- he knew nothing about? Interact with that please.

Sometimes I wonder if you guys truly have your minds already made up- such that no matter how impressive the evidence, you will just dismiss it- even if you have nothing intelligent to argue in your dismissal.

JD Curtis said...

Or at least offer up some sort of counter theory that has the possibility of seeming somewhat plausible.

Chris Mackey said...

At the moment there is no evidence that they actually happened.

Tunnels are likely DMT.

I should have asked this question: is it against Christian teaching that there is no Day of Judgment?

JD Curtis said...

But the specific point raised was concerning those that received information that later turned out to be correct and yet there is no earthly explanation as to how they received said information.

Not tunnels.

Chris Mackey said...

We don't know if these events actually happened.

ATVLC said...

I was sick enough to
- Greyout (vision gets whiter and whiter)
- Hear a ringing whistling that got so loud I couldn't hear
- Have delusions
- Become unable to move

but it was just a lack of oxygen in the brain. I was already in hospital and my girlfriend thought I was dying 'cos basically I said "Bright lights! Ringing! I fly!"
I milked it later as a Near-NDE (Near-near-death-experience!)

JD Curtis said...

We don't know if these events actually happened

Does it seem very plausible that these people lied? To me it doesn't because I don't see what they could gain from it.

ATVLC said...

Well, I gained extra attention for a start.

zilch said...

I see no interaction with the data in your post. Specifically answer: How can the girl who did not know she had a brother, come back an report about being with her brother? How can the man who had the cardiac arrest come back and report encountering his father- he knew nothing about? Interact with that please.

Catholic Apologist:

There are two problems I see with accepting these as extraordinary events. One is that they are not especially unlikely events: it's not surprising for a girl to imagine she has a brother, or for a man to imagine seeing his father. It would be much more impressive if someone were to read a six-digit number in a sealed envelope, for instance. Merely imagining the presence of family members is natural and there aren't that many permutations, so it's not that unlikely to happen by chance. We also don't know the family history of these two well enough to say for sure that what they supposedly didn't know about their family history wasn't somehow imparted to them, perhaps unconsciously. Controls are lacking here.

But the second problem is more grave: we don't know, at least from what's been posted here, how many stories were told by these NDE patients that didn't pan out. That means we have no way of knowing how large the sample size was from which these two stories were picked. Thus, the data are useless.

cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

JD Curtis said...

One is that they are not especially unlikely events: it's not surprising for a girl to imagine she has a brother, or for a man to imagine seeing his father

How likely is it that I'm going to start thinking of my sister as I lie dying on my deathbed when I don't even have one?

how many stories were told by these NDE patients that didn't pan out

I could then mention the above case about the man who didnt know who his true father was. If his mother had decided to take that information to his grave instead of clueing him in on the actual circumstances of his birth, then information percieved would have been registered as an experience that really didn't pan out becuase he would never had known any better.

zilch said...

JD: even if we accept these two stories as accurate, what I said about statistics still holds: in absence of any data about how many stories did not fit, we have no comparison and thus no ground to believe that these are anything other than coincidences.

The Catholic Apologist said...


I appreciate your attempt at a meaningful interaction with the information, but I find it unconvincing.

I am not saying I believe the above information is absolutely solid either, but there are more impressive NDE then this. For example- a person who had an out of body experience in a hospital and came back and told the nurse about a red tennis shoe on the roof that the person had seen, or blind people who can accurately see events around them- AND report seeing as you would expect a blind person to report seeing- that is to say not being able to make sense of things at first.

Something is going on, and those who seek to discredit it are simply not convincing.

zilch said...

Catholic Apologist: if you would point me to some links, I will happily check them out. After all, I want to learn the truth, and if there's something to this, I want to know.

But my default position is skepticism, because I've seen stories like this over and over, and so far, none of them have amounted to anything. The same goes of course for claims about astrology, alien abductions, and any number of similar supernatural events. But as I said, I'm open to wherever the evidence leads.

cheers from sunny Vienna, and drop me a line if you're ever out this way: lunch is on me.

The Catholic Apologist said...

Dr. Raymond Moody. Google his research, and I think it will take you to his website.

Now- yes, his research has some flaws, but none of those flaws discount someone seeing a red tennis show, or the blind being able to see.

zilch said...

Catholic Apologist: I found Dr. Raymond Moody's website, but was unable to find any of his research there. I did find that he charges $200 an hour for phone consultations, which to my wicked atheist mind immediately suggested a motive for his "research". Fleecing the bereaved is despicable in my book; how about in yours?

cheers from sunny Vienna, zilch

Mike said...

Interesting dialogue, I must say. I'll honestly admit that I'm still "on the fence" on this issue. I haven't been thoroughly convinced either way. However, I lean a bit more toward the viewpoint of what Gregg said...