Saturday, October 13, 2012

Heaven in the air

Sorry, I meant CASTLES in the air but I suppose I'll just let the title stand.  I was quite disappointed to read in Newsweek an article that made its cover page "Heaven is Real".  It's about the experience of one Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who had a near-death experience and claimed to have "experienced God".  When I read that, I asked myself how low Newsweek was prepared to sink to.  Everything about that article is so obviously wrong.

Here's the link to the article in Newsweek:  CLICK HERE

I felt my heart strangely warmed when I found this marvellous article in a blog by a neurologist who dismantled everything Alexander says.  It's very comforting to hear the voice of reason.  Here's the link:  CLICK HERE

To summarise, Eben Alexander's chief blunder is his ASSUMPTION that his dream occurred when his cortex was completely inactive.  What Dr Steven Novella pointed out is the brain does not go in a split second from inactive to normal.  There's a gradual transition process that can take hours or a whole day or even more.   You really have to read Dr Steven Novella's article yourself.  It's short, succinct, lucid and perfectly rational.   His explanation is so clear and concise I'd be butchering it if I tried to paraphrase it.

What some may find inexplicable is why a neurosurgeon like Eben Alexander would make such a wild claim that is so obviously ludicrous and unscientific.  Why could he not see that he was making a huge nonsensical assumption to give credence and respectability to his dream?  Why can't he see what we all can see (and blush with embarrassment) and which Dr Novella has explained so beautifully?

I really don't think Alexander was dishonest or less able than Dr Novella or less rational.  I'm sure when you can divorce Eben Alexander from his religious beliefs, he can be perfectly rational and competent.  But like all people of faith (and here, I speak as a person of faith myself), we are always grasping at straws to give legitimacy to our faith.  Some of us have searched for evidence or at least some rational construct to give our faith some ground to stand on but alas, our faith can rest on no logical stand and there is absolutely no evidence or rational argument in favour of it.  It's a personal struggle for me to come to terms with this and to this day, I still live with the hope that I will one day see at least a tiny drop of evidence to validate my faith.

It's hard to have faith in today's world where there are so many rational people and those loud and strident New Atheists as they are usually called.  They are very quick to remind us that we have no sane logical leg to stand on while we build our castles in the air.  We split hairs in theological seminaries about the colour and size of these castles and the New Atheists mercilessly laugh at us and tell us we're all deluded.  We begin to doubt ourselves.  If there are castles in the air, where is the blooming evidence?  We've been through 2000 years without an iota of evidence and we can't expect to go on for the next 2000 years this way.

So when some strange experience comes our way, we jump at it and draw whatever conclusions we can to prove that our castles exist.  It certainly isn't proof of anything at all but we'll just shout from the mountaintops and soon enough we'll gain a following.

Rational atheists should look at Eben Alexander and the rest of us poor religious folks with sympathy.  When you next see us gazing in the sky, just tell us what beautiful castles we've built in the air.  That's at least polite even if we all know it's not true.

Edit [8:45pm, 14 Oct 2012]: I have since read Sam Harris' blog  on this matter and I'm sure anyone who's read it will dismiss Eben Alexander's claim as totally preposterous  and it does him no credit as a neurosurgeon. 

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