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As a student of science I am learning more and more every day about how modern science works and what sort of things science can cover and what sort of things it cannot cover!! After reading “My Proof of Heaven” By Dr. Eben Alexander in Newsweek Magazine, Oct 15, 2012, pgs. 28 – 32 I came out appalled by how unscientific the words of this neurosurgeon, self-proclaimed “scientist” are. In fact, I found some very bone-chilling parallels to the pseudoscience movement of intelligent design. Even some of the wording was the same! But let me begin my critique of Dr. Alexander’s article by presenting his words as written and then pointing out each specific problem in them. These are only excerpts of the article. To see the full thing you will have to look at the article in Newsweek’s issue.
“As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences.” – This is good! Having a healthy skepticism for untested, unscientific phenomena is something to be proud of, not ashamed of!
“Although I considered myself a faithful Christian…” - And here we encounter problem #1. Studies done of neardeath experiences among various religious and non-religious people have found that a person’s belief system will often dictate what sort of “near-death” place they go to and what the nature of the place is.
(He goes on to describe an incredible world of people riding on butterflies and winged silvery creatures that talk in musical tones… etc.)
“All the chief arguments against near-death experiences suggest that these experiences are the results of minimal, transient, or partial malfunctioning of the cortex. My near-death experience, however, took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning but while it was simply off.” - Yes… his cortex did shut off for seven days, but he jumps to seriously unscientific conclusions in saying that his cortex was off when he experienced what he describes or even that his cortex being shut down means that he would not have experienced something that would still be attributable to brain activity! First: Neuroscientists have noticed that the dying brain often has a sort of “death rattle” of sorts… in the moments before the cortex shuts down, it fires off very rapid and often random signals that have been implicated in some cases of “near-death experiences.” What the patient believes happened while they were clinically dead, actually happened in a matter of seconds just before they went into a coma or “died” or (sometimes) just as they are waking up. Dr. Anderson has given no indication that his brain waves were being monitored by EEG (electroencephalogram), fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or PET (Positron emission tomography) which are the various ways that science records activity in the human brain. If he really wanted to provide scientific evidence that this was not a simple rapid firing of the dying brain or (perhaps) activity in the middle and hind brain that could have accounted for it – (the brain is a very complex and still not well understood organ. One of the things we DO know is that perception is not controlled by merely one area of the brain, but rather there are multilevel processing of all of the 5 senses (in a heirarchy that extends from the stimulus of nerves in the Peripheral Nervous System, all the way through the hind-brain/ brainstem and mid brain: amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, hypothalamus, etc – and then finally into the cerebral cortex… but even that complicated heirarchy of processing systems is an incomplete model. You see… the brain doesn’t appear to rely solely on its primary methods of communicating sensation and decoding it into perception! Lesion and brain damage studies have found a phenomenon that is still puzzling (and exciting – scientists love a good mystery to solve! – We would get bored if we didn’t have something else to discover! – seriously we would!) – namely this phenomenon consists of strange perceptions in a subject or patient in a sense (or area of the body) that is supposed to be either gone or destroyed! For example: Phantom Limb – Many amputee patients have the bizarre (but real) experience of feeling pain and other sensations in their lost limb… when there is nothing there. Also… neuroscientists are puzzling quite a bit over the auditory system! Patients that have such nerve or brain damage to their auditory cortex in the temporal lobe that they should not be able to hear anything – are hearing things anyway!
Point is – it is very possible that despite the fact that his cerebral cortex was nonfunctioning, that he could have had perception-related activity going on in the structures of the middle and hind-brain (especially in those structures that are part of the sensory heirarchy!)
“I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone-even a doctor- told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion. But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons.”
- That’s nice… but unhelpful! If Dr. Anderson is a scientist… then he should know that a single person’s anecdotyl experience is not strong enough to infer anything from in science!
“Today many believe that living spirtiual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth.” - Ummm… first, faith is defined as a belief in something without scientific evidence! Religion is a deeply personal thing and all good scientists know that religion has no place in science… the scientific method cannot function if untested, unfalsifiable statements are accepted as “scientists” so all good scientists leave their religion at the lab door! Faith belongs in your church! Science belongs in the lab! And never the twain shall meet!
“The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already [ - Ummm... what is this "new view?" As far as I know the scientific method still dominates and directs all fields of science] This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure [This is an oxymoron! Science and Spirituality are not just different ways of "knowing" they are in entirely different UNIVERSES of paradigms! Science and Spirituality do not mix... they cannot! They are like the opposite ends of a magnet, they repel eachother!] and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth. [He is seriously twisting this! The most important value of science is realizing that our interpretations of the world are fallible and must be subject to constant reevaluation and that what we know of as the truth is subject to change at any time upon further advances in knowledge. In other words - "Truth" is not an unchanging doctrine but rather more like a puzzle that is put together over time]
Later he uses a phrase that is chillingly similar to the intelligent design farce! “In fact, reality is too vast, too complex, and too irreducibly mysterious for a full picture of it to ever be absolutely complete.”
Did you notice the two words he used there? [Bold mine]. Does anyone member what the number one cop-out of intelligent design was? A sciency-babble pair of words that when truly understood were not science at all? “IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX!!” Did anyone else get a chill?
Secondly, he is violating one of the number one premises of science! In order for scientific investigation to be meaningful at all… a scientist ALWAYS takes the assumption that “The facts of the universe can be learned!” He is committing a double-fallacy! 1. He is assuming that we can’t figure out things – which is unscientific at it’s core! Just because we haven’t figured things out now doesn’t mean that we won’t figure them out someday! 2. He is invoking the ever-useful (or useless… take your pick) “God of the Gaps”…. which is so unscientific that it is laughable! While God of the Gaps may be fine for theology… it does not belong in science. In science you can’t simply say that “We don’t know the answer to X, therefore GOD DID IT!”
This man may have been a scientist once… he may even be a scientist now… but if he is one… he is a very bad scientist! His claims are interesting, and relevant to the realms of philosophy and theology… but they are not science. He is not a bad scientist because he made a claim that this happened to him! He is a bad scientist because he said that it was “science.” He broke the most fundamental rules of science! This man’s story is interesting… but he is a pseudoscientist! I highly recommend that you do not buy his book!!
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