Philosophy Magazine

Responding to NDE Skeptics

By Stuart_gray @stuartg__uk
Responding to NDE Skeptics


The term Near Death Experience (NDE) was first proposed by Dr. Raymond Moody in Life After Life. It relates to an event occurring in three categories of people: first, people resuscitated after having been pronounced clinically dead, second those close to death, and third those describing what happened as they died.[1] These subjects often report similar experiences, containing some or all of the following: one hears oneself pronounced dead while simultaneously navigating a tunnel, landing outside the physical body (OOB) while remaining in one’s original physical environment. The subject observes their resuscitation from above. Other beings come to help the individual, including deceased family. A loving light is encountered, a review of life experiences, and eventually a barrier is reached. Rather than cross it, survivors decide, or are instructed to return to their physical body. On recovery, they find their ineffable experience hard to communicate.[2]

While NDEs were not well studied before Moody, they do appear in history. George Ritchie’s NDE was published in 1955,[3] Anna Atherton’s was published in 1680,[4] and around 300 BC Plato recorded a Greek soldier’s NDE in The Republic.[5]

Moody’s research was followed by Bruce Greyson who constructed a scale permitting the differentiation of true NDEs from other clinical diagnoses.[6] Michael Sabom studied seventy NDE cases, discovering autoscopic NDEs where the patient observes specific details of their resuscitation that could not have been naturally sensed by them.[7] These evidential NDEs suggest the NDE experiencer (NDEer) had an OOB where they perceived events later confirmed by third parties. Kenneth Ring studied NDEs in the blind and eighty percent reported visual impressions. Their observations were corroborated in two cases.[8]

Responding to Secular Skepticism

Michael Shermer claims all NDEs are in Moody’s category two because no physical death occurred. He opines that if a heart stops for ten minutes, this does not make one clinically dead. Successful resuscitation indicates the patient’s low-level bodily processes had not yet ceased. Consequently, the NDEer remained potentially alive even though they had flat electroencephalogram (EEG) output.[9]

I will make four responses to Shermer. First, the clinical definition of death involves absence of clinically detectable vital signs. Moody notes people in this state have been correctly declared dead for centuries, including category one NDEers.[10] The clinical death diagnosis does not preclude the possibility of resuscitation. Second, Shermer seems unwilling to allow OOB experiences. Because the mind is a product of the brain, and Shermer believes science definitively demonstrates that minds cannot exist apart from brains, OOBs are impossible.[11] Yet Moody’s evidential NDE studies support OOBs. Rather than producing mind, perhaps Shermer could consider the possibility that brains receive immaterial minds like radios receive radio waves.

Third, Shermer’s medical diagnosis seems misaligned to the reported heightening of consciousness during NDEs. Jeffrey Long observes surviving cardiac arrest patients generally experience confusion following resuscitation.[12]Shermer’s idea that brain produces mind supports this discovery; a low functioning brain would impede one’s consciousness. Yet Long also reveals a second group of cardiac NDEers who recall a heightened level of awareness during their resuscitation.[13] Shermer’s physicalism fails to account for both the second group, and the contrast between patient confusion in one group and recall of heightened awareness in another. Understanding the brain as a receiver rather than a producer may help explain this difference. Steve Miller opines we can assume an oxygen deprived brain undermines the mind’s activity. However, if the NDEer’s mind has become freed from their dysfunctional brain, this could present conditions that explain their heightened level of awareness.[14]

Fourth, Shermer’s naturalism means NDEs cannot be evidence for minds separate from brains. Yet science is not as definitive as he claims it to be on the relationship between mind and brain. Perhaps Shermer must assess all the evidence before reaching his conclusions.

Responding to Christian Skepticism

Norman Geisler rejects NDEs, observing a Biblical definition of death involves leaving the body and not returning without God’s intervention. Cases of final death include Jacob’s wife Rachel dying in childbirth,[15] and the Apostle Paul preferring to be away from his earthly body to be at home with Jesus.[16] Cases of divinely initiated return include Jesus’ raising of Lazarus,[17] and Jesus’ own resurrection.[18] Geisler opines only God can raise the dead.[19] This may be the case. Yet NDEers are resuscitated, not resurrected. Their physical body sustains life once medical intervention has restored it. Second, the possibility exists that God was involved in the resuscitation. NDEer’s commonly encounter a loving being of light. This seems somewhat consistent with Daniel’s vision of God’s blazing throne,[20] and the God who lovingly knits people together in the womb.[21]

Geisler also observes that non-Christians experience NDEs, asking why God would miraculously allow people to resume their unbelieving lives.[22] Perhaps God grants unbelievers the NDE to draw them towards himself? Jesus knew the hearts of those he spoke to; the rich young ruler loved his money,[23] and the hearts of the Pharisees were far from God.[24] It is plausible Jesus also therefore knows the state of every NDEer’s heart, recognizing the importance of a supernatural experience of his love before their ultimate demise. Moody describes changes in NDEers after their recovery; increased moral sensitivity,[25] and spiritual seeking is common.[26] These are often characteristics of those who eventually bow the knee to Christ.

Finally, because scripture teaches people only die once,[27] Geisler thinks the NDE is unbiblical.[28] Yet category one NDEs describe someone who dies but is resuscitated to live in the body a while longer. Their final death still awaits them. The NDE phenomena is therefore compatible with the Biblical observation that people only finally die once.

Importance of NDEs for Apologetics

NDEs evidentially support Jesus’ teaching that the human soul and body are distinct.[29] Gary Habermas explores this by discussing evidential NDEs that involve the patient’s unexpected conscious awareness during resuscitation, and NDEs in the blind. These NDEs contain veridical testimony pertaining to this world that remains unexplained naturalistically.[30] They therefore establish an evidential case supporting Jesus’ teaching about the nature of human beings.

[1] Raymond A. Moody, Life After Life, (London: Ebury Press, 2016), 8.

[2] Ibid., 11.

[3] Ibid., 171.

[4] Donald R Morse, “Another Even Older NDE,” The Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies 31, no. 4 (October 2008): 181-182, accessed September 23rd, 2023,

[5] Moody, 110.

[6] Bruce Greyson, “The Near-Death Experience Scale Construction, Reliability, and Validity,” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 171, no. 6: 369 – 375. 

[7] Michael B. Sabom MD, Recollections of Death, (London: Corgi Books, 1981).

[8] Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper, “Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind: A Study of Apparent Eyeless Vision,” in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 16, no. 2, (Winter 1997): 101 – 147.

[9] Michael Shermer, Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia, (London: Robinson, 2018), 90.

[10] Moody, 135.

[11] Shermer, 13.

[12] Jeffrey Long, “Near-Death Experiences Evidence for their Reality,” in The Science of Near-Death Experiences, ed. John C Hagan III, (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2017), 65.

[13] Ibid.

[14] J Steve Miller, Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language, (Georgia: Wisdom Creek Press, 2012), 27.

[15] Genesis 35:19.

[16] 2 Corinthians 5:8.

[17] John 11:38 – 44.

[18] Matthew 28:1-15.

[19] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics An A to Z Guide, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 260.

[20] Daniel 7:9-10.

[21] Psalm 139:13.

[22] Geisler.

[23] Matthew 19:16-26.

[24] Matthew 15:8.

[25] Moody 84.

[26] Ibid., 87.

[27] Hebrews 9:27.

[28] Geisler.

[29] Matthew 10:28.

[30] Gary R Habermas, “Evidential Near-Death Experiences,” in Minding the Brain: Models of the Mind, Information, and Empirical Science, eds. Angus J. Menuge, Brian R. Krouse, and Robert J. Marks, (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2023), 651 – 673, summarised.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog