Afterlife Doubts: There's no Proof!
Updated: Aug 5, 2022
No evidence? No acceptance!
It seems foolish to believe in something if you have no evidence to support it. Yet, life after death may have more evidence than you realise:
1. Near-Death Experiences are a well-documented phenomenon in which people claim to have had an “out of body” experience. Many describe journeying through a tunnel of light; their life flashing before their eyes; feeling overwhelming peace wash over them; being greeted by dead relatives and friends; and hearing a voice speak to them which they interpret as God -- a Being of light, love and compassion. After they awaken in their body, they can often recall previous snippets of conservations throughout the hospital, even when their brains were ‘flatlined’ (not showing any brain waves on monitoring devices) in the surgery room.
2. Other evidence is the testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection. His body has never been found. Either it is still in a cave somewhere in Israel; it was stolen (by the Jews, Romans or the disciples); Jesus was near-death on the cross but recovered in the tomb; or He really did come back from the dead. If the final position is true, then this would count as quite remarkable evidence in favour of an Afterlife.
NDE – Biological Enigma or Proof of Afterlife?
Pam Reynolds had an operation in 1991 which involved draining all the blood from her brain. The doctors monitored her brain waves during this time; there were none – her brain had ‘flatlined’. When she awoke, she was able to accurately describe tools that were used during the surgery and the sounds they made (like an electric toothbrush!). She claimed she floated out of her body.
NDEs have been studied meticulously in recent years as our medical techniques have progressed and we are able to resuscitate more patients after cardiac arrests. The content of NDEs is remarkably uniform: patients report a tunnel of light, feeling of being lighter than air, looking down on the physical body from above and visiting the beyond. Some claimed to see relatives that no one knew were dead (as they lived on the other side of the world) and the fact of their death was verified afterwards. One boy met a sister he never knew he had (the parents had had a previous miscarriage). Another could accurately describe conversations that were happening down the hospital hallway during the surgery. One lady reported that there was a shoe on the hospital roof as she floated up to the sky (the shoe on the roof was later verified). And incredibly, one study led by Dr Kenneth Ring, involved 9 individuals who were blind from birth who described vision during their NDEs[5a].
I argued in my previous post that Christians teach the Afterlife will involve a bodily resurrection; whereas NDEs seem to prove a spirit existence. When Jesus hung on the cross between two criminals, one of them asked Jesus to remember him when He went into His Kingdom. Jesus told the criminal that “today, you will be with me in Paradise”. Jesus also spoke to Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration; they lived during the time of the Old Testament. In Revelation, the martyrs who have been killed throughout history cry out to God asking when justice will be done, and He assures them it is coming soon. These accounts imply that believers who die before Judgment Day exist in some spirit form prior to the bodily resurrection.
Many Christians long to go to Heaven as if that is the end goal. The Bible teaches that Heaven is more of a ‘transition period’ in spirit form until Jesus returns to the Earth at the end of time. The books of life will be opened, the dead will be resurrected, Judgment meted out and a new Heaven and Earth created on which to dwell forever. NDEs can adequately fit this model as it demonstrates some ‘essence’ existing in a spirit form, which is able to return to the physical body at the right time. Therefore, conclusions reached from NDE studies need not invalidate biblical teachings on the Afterlife.
Issues with NDEs:
Could they simply be a biological response to the trauma of death? Maybe the brain hallucinates peaceful scenes as the oxygen levels deplete in order to smooth the transition out of this world. Certain types of drugs have been known to cause heavenly hallucinations/trips. Does this prove that NDEs are a wish fulfilment safeguard that the brain has evolved to overcome the fear of death?
But, why evolve this? If you are going to die anyway, what’s the point in smoothing the transition to supposed annihilation? Bodily mechanisms are supposedly selected via evolutionary processes because there is some survival advantage -- what survival advantage do NDEs give? It's lazy to claim that different human aspects have randomly evolved for some unknown purpose that is mere conjecture with no evidence to back it up. Regarding the criticism about drugs causing NDEs: not all the patients were given drugs at the time of the experience, particularly cardiac arrest victims, some of whom were resuscitated by CPR on the side of the road – drug free.
Researchers at NYU's Langone Medical Centre have conducted extensive studies of NDE patients. Their findings contradict the view that NDEs arise from oxygen levels depleting in the brain. Fifteen medical centres across America and Europe took part in the largest study of its kind, led by Dr Sam Parnia. Two thousand resuscitated cardiac arrest victims were interviewed – all had gone beyond the threshold of death (their brain and vital organs shut down). Yet, 40% of them reported NDEs. Out of that 40%, 10% of them had a deep, profound mystical experience. Parnia concluded from the study that consciousness does not seem to be annihilated after bodily death.
Parnia also documented how the 10% who had mystical experiences went on to drastically alter their lives for the good. Their family and friends attested to the changes in their personality which made them more caring and peaceful, more committed to altruistic activities and feeling a greater sense of purpose in their lives. Descartes proposed the Causal Adequacy Principle, which rests upon the assumption that you can’t get something from nothing. If there is a substantial effect, there must be an equal or greater cause behind it. If someone drastically alters their personality, there must be a viable cause (otherwise you’ve got an effect out of nothing). What caused the change in personality in this scenario? It was the NDE. So the logic goes, the NDE must be real, or at least it was so convincing to the individual that they were radically altered by it. You could just dismiss the experience as a mirage but would a fleeting, fabricated experience provide an adequate explanation for the lasting effect it creates?
Did Jesus Resurrect?
Assuming the eye witness accounts from the Gospels are true (see earlier posts), Jesus died on a cross; was pierced in His side to check He was really dead; placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and some of His female disciples; a huge stone sealed the entrance; and a group of Roman soldiers guarded it for three days to prevent the rumours of His resurrection coming true. On the third day Jesus was seen by the female disciples, the main disciples, Jesus’s brother James, over 500 people at one time, and his disciples on the Emmaus Road. Did this really happen?
Did the women get confused in their grief and go to the wrong tomb? Well, they weren’t the only ones to visit the tomb – after they told the disciples what they had seen, Peter and John ran to the tomb to look for themselves. The Roman guards also knew where it was as they were told to guard it! Finally, would Joseph of Arimathea forget the location of his own tomb? While it is not documented in the Bible that Joseph went to look in the tomb, I think it highly likely that when the rumours were abounding about Jesus’ resurrection, he would visit his own tomb and have a look for himself.
Did someone steal the body? It is proposed that either the Jews or the Romans stole the body because they knew of the whisperings that Jesus would resurrect. Maybe they stole the body to prevent the disciples from stealing it and then lying about the resurrection. When the disciples would go around preaching the message, the Jews/Romans could simply roll out the body and humiliate them as liars. The Jews and Romans never did this. Instead, it is reported that they started a rumour that the disciples stole the body! Obviously they couldn’t find the body either. So, they concluded it was a hoax, that the disciples must have stolen it and then burnt the evidence in order to preach resurrection without any evidence existing to the contrary.
However, why would the disciples steal the body? Ten of the twelve disciples were executed for refusing to stop preaching that Jesus resurrected. If it was all lies, why didn’t they confess to save themselves? It wasn’t like the lies brought them an easy life – they were persecuted and driven far out of Israel right from the beginning of the church movement. It was a hard calling to teach others that Jesus was alive, but they wouldn’t quit, even to stop their own deaths. Also, how did they get past the Roman guards undetected? The guards wouldn’t have colluded with them – the guards would have been killed for failing in their duty. The Gospels report that the guards and the Jews came up with the rumour about the disciples in order to save their own necks!
Did Jesus not really die on the cross? The Romans were experts at crucifixion (they invented it!). It was a brutal, efficient form of execution. While it may not be impossible that someone could survive it, the chances would be minimal. Plus, the Romans had methods to ensure it worked – they would break the legs of the victims to speed up suffocation. However, with Jesus they pierced him with a spear and saw blood and water pour out the wound. Crucifixion typically resulted in death through one of two ways: the first way was hypovolemic shock. The prolonged rapid heartbeat resulting from hypovolemic shock can cause fluid to gather in the area around the heart. This is called pericardial effusion. When the soldiers pierced Jesus' side, this would have ruptured the pericardial sack, resulting in a flow of both blood and water. The second way death often occurred during crucifixion was due to asphyxiation. This means the person is unable to breathe in enough oxygen to survive. Crucifixion victims typically had to pull their weight up with their hands or wrists that were nailed to the crossbeam along with pushing up with the feet or ankles that had another nail through them. Over time, the ability to push up to breathe would end and oxygen flow would be restricted or sped up by breaking their legs. This asphyxiation can also result in the build up of fluid around the heart. All in all, this blood and water gushing from his side was proof that Jesus had died on the cross. When the disciples saw His resurrected form, He wasn’t the same old Jesus with his wounds newly healed – he looked different, and could appear and disappear at will; His body was possibly made of a different type of matter entirely (see previous post).
I favour the view that Jesus really was resurrected. He demonstrated that he had the power to resurrect the dead during his ministry. He claimed to be God. If both of these aspects were true about him then the resurrection is the next logical step to accept.
References  https://youtu.be/iky5tSZ04lE  https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2014/10/07-worlds-largest-near-death-experiences-study.page https://www.victorzammit.com/evidence/nde.htm#:~:text=During%20his%20NDE%20Dr.%20Eben%20Alexander%20met%20a,he%20had%20met%20in%20the%20afterlife%20(Alexander%202012).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vxidRCL4-8  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPXK2Ls-xzQ
[5a] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172100/  Luke 23:39-43  Luke 9:27-37
 Rev 6:10