A recent poll has found that 1 in 25 people claim to have had near-death experiences. A quick search at Amazon will show many books have been written about near-death experiences (NDEs) claiming the experiences are proof of heaven, an afterlife or even hell. I read my first book on NDEs back in the 90’s. It was Dr. Maurice Rawlings’ book, To Hell and Back. If you ask most people what they think about NDEs they will say it is always like heaven. They will think of beings of light and lush indescribable gardens. However, what struck me about Rawlings’ accounts was that the after-life people were experiencing was not always heavenly; in fact it was darn right hellish. Recently a very popular book came out describing the events of a 4 year old boy who recounts an experience of heaven while his body was in emergency surgery. In Heaven is for Real, Colten explains what he saw and who he met. Skeptics will no doubt discount his experiences because there is no way to verify what he saw. However, Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. The question remains what do you do with stories like that?
In a recent interview Gary Habermas relates what we can and cannot learn from NDEs. Habermas explains that one of the most import aspects of researching near-death experiences (NDEs) is the determination of verifiable evidence. Many people who have had a near-death experience relate that they went to heaven or, in some cases that they went to hell. However, stories like this are subjective. They are subjective in the sense that what they saw may have been true, but there is no way of verifying their experience. This simply means that NDEs don’t prove whether heaven or hell exists. However, some people relate stories where they see or hear something somewhere where their body could not have possibly seen or heard. (For example, seeing shoes on the roof of the hospital or hearing what nurses were saying three floors up.) When those stories relate to things that the person had no way of knowing and that can be verified, it is a good indication that the mind is more than the matter in your head and that our conscious mind is non-corporeal (not physical). Essentially, verifiable NDEs are convincing proof that materialistic naturalism is false and supernaturalism is true.
I don’t know that I would call NDEs proof of heaven or hell. It's not that I discount those stories. For me, I wouldn’t want to overstate what the evidence proves. What is convincing for me is that NDEs seem to be strong evidence that militates against a materialistic naturalistic worldview, where the only conclsion is your mind is nothing more than the material in your head. NDEs prove the mind is not material and that lends strong credibility to an afterlife.
If you plan to investigate NDEs I suggest you start with Habermas’ book, Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality. Then I would move on to Steve Miller’s book, Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language.
- Koukl, Greg and Habermas, Gary. 'What We Can and Cannot Learn from Near Death Experiences?' Stand To Reason Podcast. 25 FEB 2013 http://www.str.org/site/PageServer?pagename=podcast accessed 04 MAR 2013
- J. Steve Miller, Brain Autin. 'Steve Miller Intertview' Apologetics 315 Interviews Podcast http://www.apologetics315.com/p/interviews.html accessed 18 MAR 2013
- Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality by Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland
- Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language by J. Steve Miller and Jeffrey Long MD
- Life after Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon - Survival of Bodily Death by Raymond A. Moody
- Reflections on Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody
- Return from Tomorrow by George C. Ritchie and Elizabeth Sherrill
- To Hell and Back by Maurice Rawlings
- 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man's Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Tormentby Bill Wiese
- 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life by Don Piper & Cecil Murphey
- Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo & Lynn Vincent