BOOK REVIEW: Proof of Heaven; What Lies Beyond...

Science Cannot Go On Ignoring the Clear Evidence That Brain and Consciousness Are Separate...

'Near Death Experience' Causes Neurosurgeon to Speak Out

(A book review of 'Proof of Heaven; A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife,' by Dr Eben Alexander. A 190-page paperback, published in the UK by Piatkus, 2012. First published by Simon and Schuster, USA, also 2012. ISBN: 978-0-7499-5879-4).

R egular visitors to UK Apologetics will know that - over the last few years - this website has cautioned Christian evangelicals against an earlier undoubtedly somewhat hysterical reaction against the NDEs phenomenon.

'NDEs' are 'near death experiences' and some quite remarkable things have been claimed by those who temporarily 'died' upon the operating table, or after some dreadful accident, but then been brought back by the skills of doctors or paramedics.

The earlier evangelical response tended to be something like, 'the whole thing is demonic,' even when many accounts backed up some clear biblical statements. That response was premature, unwise, overly-hasty and dismissive of the testimonies of some very sincere people. For sure, some such testimonies got into the hands of New Age-type and eastern religions-type people who were quick to exploit and even distort what had been claimed, but a more patient approach by the Christian community would have been helpful.

We must remember that the Apostle Paul himself spoke of the possibility of one being 'caught up into heaven.'

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. And I know that this man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows - was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:2-5).

It is now clear that such reports of 'out of body experiences' (which, for the most part, is what is being discussed in the book which I am reviewing) go back for a very long time and may be evidenced from many cultures. I might have initially appeared to suggest that until 'in the nick of time' resuscitations became comparatively commonplace, such NDEs were unknown; they were less likely perhaps, but certainly not unknown. Increasingly, such experiences are now also occurring to well-read, wise and intelligent people who are able to carefully assess and evaluate their experience, or experiences, in a calm, cool-headed and logical fashion. This is what we have here in Dr Alexander's testimony.

Quite often too those immersed in our age's 'scientism' (anti-God philosophical naturalism artfully dressed up as "the latest scientific thinking"), are having such experiences and are being forced to stand back and evaluate some of these things, things which they would have once not taken seriously. Again, this is what this book presents us with.

Dr Eben Alexander is a distinguished American neurosurgeon who had heard about NDEs but had discounted them. Dr Alexander has worked at Harvard Medical School where, during his 15-year tenure, he authored and co-authored more than 150 chapters and peer-reviewed papers on aspects of the working of the brain and neurosurgery. He is also a member of numerous neurosurgery-concerned bodies, such as the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. No fool then, when it comes to understanding the functions and workings of the brain. When such accounts of 'near-death experiences' had been brought to him in the past, the Doctor had learned to discount them, albeit in a patient, quiet and gentle manner.

In 2008, however, Dr Alexander had such an experience himself after being attacked by a most pernicious form of bacterial meningitus. He should have died and his death was clearly expected by those tending him but, in fact, whilst in a coma, he went on a most incredible journey through Heaven, even seeing countless other universes existing outside of our own. Now this distinguished surgeon is in a position to carefully discuss and evaluate his incredible experience. In this book, he goes through all the usual 'scientific' reasons usually offered for such NDEs and - from his professional standpoint as an authority on the brain - discounts them all. This -according to the doctor - far from being some trick of a dying, or chemically-affected brain was no mere illusion - it was real life, and he truly was taken on a grand tour of the spiritual realm. By the way, all tests showed him to be substantially 'brain-dead' at the time - no activity at all!

During the last few years it has started to become increasingly evident that the brain - all on its own - cannot fully account for human consciousness, now Dr Eben Alexander is in absolutely no doubt about this: the brain - all on its own - cannot account for the continual miracle of human consciousness. Naturalistic science had long concluded the tricky matter of consciousness as being entirely reliant upon the workings of a healthy brain, but - increasingly - this has been questioned and more and more scientists are seeing that consciousness may, after all, need to be considered in a different compartment, certainly brain-related, but often independent of the brain. 'Spirit/memory-related' is one suggested compartmental name I have heard.

...I began to move up. Fast. There was a whooshing sound, and in a flash I went through the opening and found myself in a completely new world. The strangest, most beautiful world I'd ever seen. Brilliant, vibrant, ecstatic, stunning...

Dr Alexander states,

"During my coma my brain wasn't working improperly - it wasn't working at all....the neocortex was out of the picture. I was encountering the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain." (p 9, Alexander's emphasis).

Now back to health again, the author describes the sudden onset of the meningitus and its drastic affect on his body. When within his coma, the doctor vividly describes living - at first - in an 'underworld' where he seemed to be on the level of the common earthworm, but then the incredible spiritual awakening as a distant light grew gradually brighter leading to a journey at incredible speed through an upward tunnel (which comes up in almost all such experiences), this leading to a most glorious heavenly place. And, as in several such accounts, one learns of amazingly beautiful music, the presence of angelic beings and the feeling of all-encompassing love. The Doctor describes such things very well. There is much more but I have no wish to spoil this for those who will want to purchase this book and read it for themselves.

The Doctor states this,

"The view of human consciousness held by most scientists today is that it is composed of digital information - data, that is, of essentially the same kind as computers. Though some bits of this data - seeing a spectacular sunset, hearing a beautiful symphony for the first time, even falling in love - may feel more profound or special to us than the countless other bits of information created and stored in our brains, this is really just an illusion. All bits are, in fact, qualitatively the same. Our brains model outside reality by taking the information that comes in through our senses and transforming it into a rich digital tapestry. But our perceptions are just a model - not reality itself. An illusion. This was of course the view I held myself...[but] the brain itself doesn't produce is, instead, a kind of reducing valve or filter, shifting the larger, nonphysical consciousness that we possess in the nonphysical worlds down into a more limited capacity for the duration of our mortal lives." (p 80-81).

So this highly-qualified neuro-scientist now sees the brain - not as the source of consciousness at all - but, at least partly, as a 'reducer' or filter enabling us to focus on our present physical lives unencumbered by the limitless spiritual vastness of true consciousness. Wow! What a thought!

Dr Alexander relates other things in his life as well, such as finally making contact with his birth mother (he had been adopted) and describing how he had come to see himself as a lapsed Christian. Upon his return to health he was keen to take communion and is now back on the Christian path. Having stated that, there are one or two things about this book which evangelical Christians will not be entirely happy with:

  1. Occasionally the author uses 'Om' to describe God (this is a construct from Hinduism).
  2. His wife's friendship with a psychic who believed she could contact Eben during his deep coma (don't laugh because it seems that she did).
  3. One or two New Age-sounding statements from the Doctor such as, "I understood that I was part of the Divine and that nothing - absolutely nothing - could ever take that away." "The (false) suspicion that we can somehow be separated from God is the root of every form of anxiety in the universe..." (p 76).
  4. 'Jesus' is mentioned once or twice, 'God' many times but 'Jesus Christ,' as a full name and title is (as far as I can recall) never mentioned once (but bear in mind this is a short book of under 200 pages).
  5. I might have missed it but it seems to me that 'sin' never gets a mention. That, I admit, is worrying.
  6. The Bible is never quoted. Again, worrying.

But, in defence of Dr Alexander against these six points, we must remember that this man does not claim to be a Christian theologian (if he were, he would know all the correct names, terms, adjectives etc.). Likewise, if I started writing about the human brain, I would not know all the correct terminologies to use. So - in enthusiastically seeking to communicate his incredible experiences of 'Heaven,' or the heavenly realm, our Doctor occasionally slips up upon the correct words or expressions. Theology is not his forte; he is a doctor of the brain. For sure a Christian, but possibly not a deeply knowledgeable one. We should forgive him that. His experience, I believe, is genuine. His Christian theology? Sincere, but a little weak. Possibly even occasionally a little confused? But we cannot reject this book on that score alone.

So in generally endorsing this fascinating little book I am not upholding the author's theology, what I am saying is that here again is yet more evidence (of quite a powerful nature, one may say) that consciousness exists independently of the brain, thus biblical theology is upheld - men and women do indeed possess a 'soul' or 'spirit essence' attached to the body but not constrained by it; surely the day is growing closer when science will have to admit this fact, a fact now based on quite considerable evidence. Moreover, if consciousness exists independently of the functionings of the physical brain, then we surely have to admit that the existence of God is a supreme reality. Yes, I think we can all see that science will not be quick to admit something which will surely shatter the assumptions of naturalistic science to the very core! Just think of the implications if modern, naturalistic, evolutionary science was forced to admit that consciousness remains a mystery which cannot be fully explained by the brain - all on its own; that there is something else out there - extra to the brain - which is needed to facilitate the incredible power and scope of the human mind and human consciousness. Where would that leave the sort of narrow reductionism which insists that nothing exists out there outside of the purely physical?

Christians have the answer to this. Why does mankind experience the supreme power and wonder of human consciousness? Because a Supreme God has made us In His Image. (Genesis 1:26-27). Animals too experience consciousness but not on the human level. It is the divine origin of us homo sapiens which allows us to write great novels, great symphonies, to design great cathedrals, weave beautiful cloths, to even be able to contemplate the mind of the God of Heaven and earth Himself.

But let us allow Dr Alexander to have the last word here:

"Science - the science to which I've devoted so much of my life - doesn't contradict what I learned up there. But far, far too many people believe it does, because certain members of the scientific community, who are pledged to the materialistic worldview, have insisted again and again that science and spirituality cannot coexist." (p 72).

Robin A. Brace. November 9th, 2012.