Why Near-Death Experiences Are a Flimsy Justification for the Idea That We Have Immortal Souls
Continued from previous page
And that includes the evidence of near-death experiences.
There is not a single account of an immaterial soul leaving the body in a near-death experience that meets the gold standard of scientific evidence. Not even close. Supposedly accurate perceptions of things they couldn't have seen by people near death? Bogus. Supposedly accurate predictions of things they couldn't have known by people near death? Bogus. The "shoe on the window ledge that the dying person supposedly couldn't possibly have known about?" Bogus. The supposed eerie similarity of near-death experiences? Bogus. (The similarities that these experiences do have are entirely consistent with them all being created by human brains... and the differences between them are not only vast, but exactly what you would expect if these experiences were generated by people's brains, based on their own beliefs about death. Christians near death see Jesus, Hindus near death see Hindu gods, etc.)
These claims -- and the claims that these experiences could not possibly be explained by anything other than a supernatural soul -- are anecdotal at best. Second- and third- hand hearsay. Gossip, essentially. And like most gossip, it leaves out the parts of the story that are less juicy, less consistent with what we already think about the world or what we want to think about it... and exaggerates the parts of the story that tell us what we already believe or want to believe. Believers in the soul love to tell the bogus story about the shoe on the window ledge. They're less likely to tell the stories about the people near death who saw things that weren't there, or who made predictions that didn't happen, or who saw people alongside them in their supposed out-of-body experience who weren't actually near death themselves.
And every time a claim about a soul leaving the body when near death has been tested, using good, rigorous methods, it's utterly fallen apart. Every single rigorously done study examining claims about near death experiences has completely failed to show any perceptions or predictions that couldn't have been entirely natural. Again. And again. And again, and again, and again. And again. And... oh, you get the idea.
And I have yet to see a good explanation for a believer in near-death experiences of why they don't happen to everyone: why they only happen to a small percentage of people who are near death. Are they saying that only about 10 percent of people have souls? Really? Is that an argument you want to make?
What's more, believers in the immortal soul, and in near-death experiences as evidence of this soul, consistently fall back on bad arguments and poor logic to defend it. "You can't prove with 100 percent certainty that it isn't true; therefore, it could hypothetically be true; therefore, it's reasonable to think it's true." "Neither side can prove their case with absolute certainty; therefore, both sides are equally likely; therefore, it's reasonable for me to believe whatever I want to." "Science has been wrong before; therefore, it could be wrong this time; therefore, I don't have to provide any good evidence for why it's wrong this time." "Scientists are human, subject to as much human bias as anyone else; therefore, I don't have to show exactly how their bias is affecting their conclusions in order to reject them." "Lots of smart people believe it; even some scientists believe it; therefore, it's reasonable to think it's true."
It seems clear that, for most believers in an immortal soul, this belief is unfalsifiable. It shouldn't be; in theory, this is an evidence-based conclusion that should be open to changing upon seeing better evidence. But in practice, it clearly is. In practice, for most believers, there is no possible evidence that could convince them that they're wrong. They will reject the best available evidence, and clutch at the worst, since the latter confirms their belief and the former contradicts it. (Which is understandable -- death sucks, and we'd all like to live forever and see our dead loved ones again -- but it doesn't make their arguments very convincing.)