Afterlife, near death experiences, fundamentalism and Christianity

Alex Tsakiris, the creator of the paranormal website Skeptiko, interviewed recently a new guest on his show, Kevin Williams, the author of one of the main websites aiming at scientifically defending the existence of a life after death.

In many respects Kevin is a very interesting fellow. I greatly admire his courage to have admitted suffering under a bipolar disorder at the beginning of the show. Having myself ADHD, I know all too well that coming out having a psychiatric or psychological disorder can often be much more risky than coming out as gay within a Western society completely obsessed by performance.

Kevin is a former Christian fundamentalist, who was traumatized by the idea of hell and left the faith behind. However, unlike most people in such a situation in a American context he did not become an angry and resentful atheist but adopted a kind of New Age philosophy where eternal bliss is the inevitable fate of everyone.

I believe that the existence of eternal conscious torments is logically incompatible with the love of God, given the definitions of words, this concept is as meaningful as a married bachelor.

So if Kevin was honestly persuaded this is what Christianity is, then I am very glad he has stopped worshipping such a fiend even if this meant giving up the faith altogether.

While I believe that a small minority of Near Death Experiences seriously challenges materialism, I think we have overwhelming grounds for thinking that the numerous contradictory accounts of heaven (or hell for that matter) are creations of the mind.

It is therefore as unwarranted to use NDEs as proof of heaven than it is to use them as evidence of reincarnation or of widespread torture by gruesome demons.

But I do believe that this feeling of unconditional love experienced in NDEs and in many other contexts is a genuine reflection of God’s love.

And this leads me to a tension in the worldview of Alex and Kevin. Like me, both believe in libertarian free-will, that is that the soul is a necessary and sufficient cause of many things. But if it so, what should God do if he encounters a person (like, say, the late Christopher Hitchen or for that matter Fred Phelps)  who utterly rejects his love? If God is the ultimate love, goodness and joy, spending eternity without him would logically entail ever-lasting torments.
God could turn him (or her) into a new creature who could do nothing else than desiring Him. I find this solution very unappealing, both rationally and morally, because I cannot consider love to be a meaningful concept if the lover coerces the loved one into loving him.

This is why I consider it extremely likely that God will respect the wish of an individual not desiring Him and that he or she will eventually cease to exist.

Is John Loftus a consistent biological robot? Can he avoid redefinitions?

Alex from the website http://www.skeptiko.com

Image

dealing with paranormal topics interviewed the militant atheist John Loftus.

Image

I am going to offer my random thoughts as the dialog went forward.

John is a former conservative Christian who has been emotionally abused by Christian fundamentalism which taught him he had to worship an evil God along with an inerrant Bible.

He became a resentful atheist and now seek to destroy the whole Christendom at all costs.

The topic of the interview was the so-called Outsider Test of Faith (OTF) which aims at pushing Christians to evaluate their religion in the same they critically considered other religions.

As a progressive Christian, I completely agree with that!
Actually, when conservative Evangelicals from the website “AnsweringMuslims.com” point out that the Koran is false because it includes immoral stuff, I evoke worse atrocities in the Bible and tell them with love that they ought to treat Muslims as they themselves would like to be treated by Antitheists. Alas I have never gotten any kind of response from them.

I believe that the Biblical Canon is not MORE inspired than book outside the Canon and when discussing with fundamentalists, I often get answers from folks wanting to prove the Bible by assuming (without any reason) that other parts of the Bible is true.

So progressive Christian do the same experience as non-Christians when dealing with fundamentalists trying to prove their very specific worldview.

That said I believe a valid OTF should mean we are agnostic about every worldview for avoiding biases. I am not sure this is possible to do that while still being able to consider evidence and thinking logically.

Alex agrees with John that Christianity ought to be debunked and dismissed some Christian miracles such as the virgin birth and the empty tomb as nonsensical.
For someone open to the serious investigation of anomalous data, this is strange, to say the least. The empty tomb is a well attested fact accepted by most critical scholars. It is its explanation which is uncertain and heavily depends on worldview commitments.

Alex did not contest any of John’s argument against Christianity (and most of them are actually aimed at Conservative Evangelical Christianity and are very weak against other forms of Christianity) but focused on the problem of materialism and biological determinism.

This is certainly the weakest point in John’s worldview and one he is not well equipped to deal with, since his specialization is in theology, anti-theology, and a bit of philosophical theology.

He was humble enough to recognize this and referred to other naturalism defenders such as Victor Stenger and Keith Pearson. Exposing some fallacies of these authors will be the topic of future posts here…

Alex is a non-Christian theist strongly rejecting materialism and wanting John to defend his own worldview, namely Reductive Materialism (RM) to an outsider like himself.

John is misleading as he said that atheism makes no positive claim at all. This is even worse for Reductive Materialism (RM).

Saying that everything which is real is IDENTICAL to material processes is clearly a positive claim, which not only (given the existence of countless unknown parallel worlds) cannot be reasonably proven but is also probably inconsistent.

John agreed that in one million years (let alone in one trillion years) nothing humans can do matters.

But he emphasized that his actions and his love matter now.

But is John really capable to love, act morally, combat injustices if he thinks at the same time that his love is IDENTICAL to a bunch of molecules, atoms and more elementary particles moving within his brain?

Is that compatible with the way humans over the centuries in the entire world have felt about love?

Would it be not more honest for John to accept the fact that love is an illusion, just a bunch of physical processes leading a self-reproducing chemical system to produce offspring?

John is persuaded that an objective morality exists, and that many stuff described in the Old Testament are wrong (and I partially agree with him about that).

But if everything which is real is identical to particles, and the proposition “Genocide is always wrong” is real, then to what neutrons, atoms, molecules, currents is it IDENTICAL to?

The overwhelming majority of humans would find it absurd to reduce the moral wrongness of an atrocity to a bunch of particles without completely redefining the word.

And when John speaks of making a choice, he is just expressing the fact that his brain molecules are going to push his body to act in a certain way, according to purely physical causes which can be traced back ultimately to the big-bang.

Is that not a striking redefinition of a “free choice”?  How can it be freer than a choice predetermined by God?

John rightly pointed out that fundamentalist and many conservative Christians have a harmful influence on them and others and ought to lose their faith.

I agree and interact a lot with such folks as a blogger. But why should progressive Christians like myself worshiping a God who is perfectly good and loving and rejecting any kind of human dogmas (both outside and inside the Bible) give up their faiths?

And anyone taking a look at my blog, at those of Randal Rauser, James McGrath, the Naked Pastor, Rachel Held Evans, Kimberly Knight and many others won’t fail to see that the antitheistic meme (Liberals and Progressives legitimize fundamentalism) is completely wrong.  We constantly oppose fundamentalism.

John thinks apparently that deism and the belief we live in a very complex computer simulation are not irrational. Great, but if that’s the case, he should view himself as an agnostic rejecting traditional religions.

Considering this whole debate, I regret that Alex did not show slightly more respect to John who was very polite. But I understand it is very hard not getting emotionally involved during such discussions  and I am unfortunately no exception.

I don’t agree with Alex’s final claim that science shows us that consciousness survives death. While sometimes very intriguing, the results of parapsychology and NDE researches are far from being conclusive.

I am much more convinced by philosophical arguments showing that consciousness is not the same thing as material processes studied by science.

Now I am looking forward to receive critical and approving comments!

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)