Science, God, and the Afterlife

By Celia Coates

The weekly British magazine NEW SCIENTIST is one of my favorites. I enjoy the variety of subjects, the extent of the knowledge, and the quirky humor found in its pages. But it has an editorial bias of impenetrable ignorance about some of the subjects most important to WINN.

Here’s an example from this week’s issue (June 8-14, 2019): in his brief article, “Most Atheists Believe in the Supernatural”, Graham Lawton reports,
“Belief in the supernatural is alive and kicking, even among people who don’t believe in a god. Research on atheists and agnostics around the world reveals that almost nobody completely rejects irrational beliefs such as life after death, astrology or the existence of a universal life force.”

 A project called Understanding Unbelief interviewed thousands of people in six countries who had identified themselves as either atheist or agnostic. Lawton continued,

“Among atheists in the UK, for example, about 12 per cent believe in reincarnation and nearly 20 percent believe in life after death. All told, 71 percent of atheists hold one or more such beliefs. For agnostics, the figure is 92 per cent. Globally, the most prevalent supernatural beliefs are in fate –
‘ that significant life events are meant to be’ , – and that there are ‘underlying forces of good and evil.’ In the UK and US 20 to 30 percent of atheists believe in these, and around 40 per cent of agnostics.”

 He also reported that,
“Two-thirds in the UK agree that ‘the scientific method is the only reliable path to knowledge’ versus 46 per cent of the general population.”

 While it is important to avoid foolish superstitions and wishful believing, it’s also necessary to explore the research that has been done for decades on supposedly irrational beliefs.  It is also necessary to distinguish between a belief in something like the concept of fate and an event such as the Near Death Experience. Concepts belong to a different kind of study than do events. This problem of dismissing part of reality has its roots, I believe, centuries ago in the West when theologians and natural philosophers (which is what scientists were called then) divided knowledge between the material and non-material realms. The material world was assigned to science and the non-material realm was left to religion. That went along well producing huge advances in human knowledge and a secure place for spiritual teachings. But now, with the need to know about levels of reality that do not clearly belong to just one or the other area, this division creates a serious obstacle to gaining the information we need.

There is a third area of human experience and knowledge – an area that is both natural and not material, an area that cannot simply be divided between the scientists and the theologians. This is the area of subtle energies and paranormal events.

NEW SCIENTIST jumbles together all sorts of ideas under the label “irrational.” It’s a very common lack of clarity and a way to dismiss the whole field of super-natural events: events that cannot be measured in ways that belong to physical reality. It is not irrational to ask informed questions about experiences that people have had for thousands of years and to use the systematic process of the scientific method to explore non-material aspects of existence.

GOD AND THE AFTERLIFE is a book written by Jeffrey Long, M.D. with Paul Perry, that presents a rigorous study of a spiritual event – the Near Death Experience (NDE). Long, a radiation oncologist, is also the author of the New York Times best-seller, EVIDENCE OF THE AFTERLIFE.

Long wrote,
“Logically, I knew that one person’s description of an encounter with God was anecdotal.”
are easy to dismiss as non-scientific, but a comprehensive collection and exploration of anecdotes can create responsible research, so Long gathered and studied over 1,000 findings from the Near Death Experience Research Foundation. The results are presented in this second book.

He wanted to know what NDErs – not all of whom had encountered God – had learned from their experiences.
Long continued,
“…(T)here are hundreds of NDEs with information about life’s meaning and purpose, and they are strikingly uniform in what they have to say about it.”

“One of the most consistent and important concepts that NDErs learn is that our earthly lives really are meaningful and important.”

 “The evidence from the God Study is remarkable. It presents an incredible consistency among NDErs who experience God, heavenly realms, spiritual beings, and other mystical encounters. There is an oft-quoted basic scientific principle that what is real is consistently observed. In the God Study, the consistency far outweighs any inconsistency.”

 In this short post I can’t include all the findings of his study, but here are some comments by NDErs,
“We need to love and accept ourselves and each other. The actions and choices we make can be from either love or fear – love is golden light, fear is darkness.”

 And, here’s what one NDEr described. Her heart had suddenly stopped before she had an experience in which she encountered God,
“I asked Him ‘What are we? How are we judged? And He showed me interwoven threads that made me ‘me.’ But I didn’t exist alone. My golden energy threads extended throughout the universe and all humanity is woven together. We are all part of God’s tapestry. (There really aren’t any words to adequately describe this.) But in between the golden threads He leaves empty spaces. He showed me we can fill up these empty spaces with light or darkness during our lives. We are made of God, but we are given free will. And He knows how we spend that free will.”

Another NDEr wrote,
“There aren’t any words to say what I need to say! But if every person who’s experienced an NDE could stand together in one place, we would have such a ‘power’ or ‘force’ of love that everything on this earthly plane would be moved by it somehow or feel it in some way! Surely the amount of love, peace, and nurturing feelings I had could change our cold world.”

 I’d like a researcher to find out what keeps a belief in the supernatural alive even for atheists and agnostics. Do they know something they don’t want to talk about?

*     *     *     *     *
NEW SCIENTIST, 8 June 2019, Vol 242 , No 3233, page 14.

GOD AND THE AFTERLIFE, The Groundbreaking New Evidence for God and Near Death Experience, Jeffrey Long, M.D. with Paul Perry, Harper One, 2016

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    So interesting, thank you, Celia. I wonder what a sociopath sees or feels at a NDE.

  2. Jack Stucki says:

    Especially nice–jack

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