108. Christian Theologian Claims Near Death Experience Not Communication With Divine

Oxford Professor of Medicine, and theologian, Michael Marsh finds much he doesn’t like about near-death experience claims of spirit communication.

marsh-bookMany within the mainstream medical community have reservations about near death expereincers who claim to experience an afterlife, but many are surprised to hear the same doubts from Christian theologians.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Professor Michael Marsh, a former Professor of Medicine, at Oxford who returned to Oxford to complete PhD in Theology. Dr. Marsh, who recently authored, Out-Of-Body Experience and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?, rejects claims made by near-death experiencers. When asked if those who claim to encounter Jesus during their near-death experience are communicating with Christ Dr. Marsh responded with and emphatic, “no!”

Marsh also offers his opinion on how near death experiences compare to biblical accounts of an afterlife, “I don’t think there’s much that compares with our ideas of resurrection or theology. We talked a little bit about spirituality, and I don’t think that the sort of disclosures that we have… the inconsistencies of the pictures of so-called heaven, and the pictures of so-called Jesus and all the rest of it are consistent. You might expect them to be consistent if people really had been to heaven and seen Jesus or been in the presence of God.”

Read Dr. Marsh’s book

Play it:

Download MP3 (37:00 min.)

Read it:


Alex Tsakiris: We’re joined today by Professor Michael Marsh, a highly regarded academic biomedical researcher and physician who was formerly a Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and then later in his career returned to Oxford to complete a PhD in theology. Now, his doctoral thesis was on near-death experience and out-of-body experience, and that’s also the subject of his recently published book titled, Out-Of-Body Experience and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality?

Dr. Marsh, thank you for joining me today on Skeptiko.

Dr. Michael Marsh: My pleasure.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, you know, I was fascinated by the book. I have to thank one of our listeners who pointed it out to me. Over the last few months we’ve done quite a few interviews with near-death experience researchers and probably an equal number of interviews with skeptics, people who’ve either come at it from a skeptical position without doing a lot of research or maybe have done a little bit of research and wound up in a skeptical position. So I really find this debate fascinating.

One aspect of the debate that I’ve alluded to several times on the show but have never delved into very much are the theological objections or the theological skeptics of near-death experience. So with that as a little bit of an introduction in some of the ways that you’re coming at this subject, tell us a little bit about your book and your perspective on this area of science.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Okay. Well, the rationale for the book derived from Ring’s book of 1980 and it’s on page 216, Life At Death, that’s his book. And there was a challenge in that he was protesting against any kind of young upstart and neuroscientist attempting to explain the entire complex of phenomena by a scientific approach.

And Ring, I think to my mind, tried to argue that the entire complex of the experience and for Ring, the experience consists of a sequence, an out-of-body experience, paranormal knowledge, a tunnel, light, voices, and a presence, which may be a divine presence or of a deceased relative or friend, beautiful vistas, a life review for the subject, and a judgment. And he was saying it would be impossible to explain that as a consequence of neurally-triggered events.

Now I think that Ring is hopelessly wrong on that and Moody earlier in the same way, 1977, 1978, because there is no authentic core sequence that all these accounts that people give are personally idiosyncratic. And I mean by that that they’re tied to each subject’s individual life history and it has a unique temporal and has a geographic and a cultural setting.

The second thing is that Ring failed to notice and indeed I think seemed not to be concerned about or even ignored, was his own observational data that fewer and fewer of these subjects experienced the later phase of his so-called core experience. So why should that be? Why should it be so difficult for people to go further and further into this sequence? It doesn’t seem to make sense at all to me.

In other words, only for the privileged few, and for those who go further it’s because of their death experience, which I think is equally stupid, because on neurophysiological grounds, one could just say that the number of these experiences depended on the time or the duration of the experience. In other words, the duration of the near-death experience, that is how long it continues, determines what’s sampled. And so that doesn’t necessarily imply a deeper kind of experience just because yours is longer. It could still be bumping along the surface all the way until it comes to an end. So that’s my argument for doing that. Does that sound satisfactory to you?

Alex Tsakiris: You know, Ring’s work is obviously very interesting but when you start going back and talk about Ring in 1980 or Moody in 1977, we’re really talking about some of the very early near-death experience research. It seems to me like the most current researchers like Bruce Greyson at the University of Virginia or Dr. Jeffrey Long, who we’ve had on this show several times…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Who?

Alex Tsakiris: Dr. Jeffrey Long. He just published a book called Evidence of the Afterlife. Anyways, what they seem to be focusing on more or where the debate seems to be centered is that people are having these highly lucid, very transformative, important to them experiences during a time when their brain is not supposed to be functioning at that level. Indeed, there’s this significant amount of evidence that points to people having these experiences when their brain is flat-lined or when we would assume that the brain is flat-lined after like a cardiac arrest. Or when their brain is just not normally generating a conscious experience…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Yes, but they have no evidence of that at all.

Alex Tsakiris: I think there is quite a bit of evidence of that. If you take the accounts and you take them at their face value from what they provide, there’s the chronology of it. I mean, there’s a narrative that continues from the beginning of when they’re going through some kind of medical trauma to a point when they’re clearly normally maybe considered clinically dead, and that narrative is unbroken. It doesn’t break at some point and say “and then there was nothing.” It just continues throughout.

And then some of the research that’s been done that I always point to is some of the research done by Dr. Penny Sartori there in the UK, who went and then said, “Okay, let’s take a more scientific look at the information that these near-death experiencers are giving us and let’s look at how they were able to accurately recount their resuscitation process. Let’s compare that to other research, to other folks who experience cardiac arrest who didn’t have a near-death experience.

When we do that, it corroborates the other findings that we have that says that yes, these folks seem to be able to recount their resuscitation process much more accurately than what we’d expect. So I think there is some pretty good evidence out there that they are forming these conscious memories during a time when we would normally not expect the brain to be able to do that.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Yes, well, that’s something that I totally disagree with and I’ll tell you the answers or at least the reasons for that if you feel I can go on and do that for the moment. I have read five books, two by Moody, two by Ring, two by Sabon, one by Fenwick, and one by another English author called Grey, okay? So there are eight books, and over all that provides a total of something like 700 accounts that these authors have dealt with. Now, there’s one thing that is clear about all those accounts is that the event that is being experienced ends as conscious awareness is regained. That’s a very important point because it means an objective third party opinion can be inserted into what is a very subjective event. We know the time then at which the event finishes and conscious awareness is regained.

Alex Tsakiris: I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I’ve read the accounts of…

Dr. Michael Marsh: I think it is.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me just give you an example and make sure we’re talking about the same thing and then you can tell me if this is included in what you’re talking about. But I’ve read accounts where people said, “Then I saw my resuscitation process and then everything went black and the next thing I remember was waking up in ICU a day later, or two days later.” So I don’t see a smooth continuation between resuscitation and then becoming conscious again.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Yes, but how can we trust that report from people who were unconscious?

Alex Tsakiris: Well, that seems to be a different issue. Before, you were saying there weren’t any reports like this, and now you’re asking how can we trust those reports? I mean, you’ve got to kind of pick which one you’re going for.

Dr. Michael Marsh: I see. Yes, well, from my point of view the accounts that I’ve read suggest that these people are gaining consciousness once the event has occurred or some interval previous to that. Now I think that’s a very important thing. What I’m trying to get at is to try to get some sort of time handle on these events because I find it a very dangerous statement when people suggest that these events are happening when the brain is dead. I think that’s nonsense neurophysiologically because what do we need? We need a person who can recall what has gone on and in order to recall…

Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s-hold on, I think that’s why we’re all so interested in this topic.

Dr. Michael Marsh: No, I’m trying to say-let me just finish this. We’re trying to get a person to recall. If he’s recalling it means that he has to have memory, wherever he is, and memory requires a fair chunk of functioning neurophysiological cortex and if these guys are saying the brain is dead when these things are happening, then that is not consistent with our view of how the brain works.

Alex Tsakiris: Exactly. But Dr. Marsh, I would just interject that that is why we’re all so fascinated with the near-death experience is because it challenges our conventional idea of how consciousness works. But let me…

Dr. Michael Marsh: I don’t think it does at all. We don’t even know what consciousness is.

Alex Tsakiris: I would agree right there, but we’re going to get into a whole other discussion on that. I totally agree…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, you made the statement.

Alex Tsakiris: You made the statement, too. You made the statement about it defying our current understanding of neurological function regarding the brain and consciousness, so we both have this big gap of consciousness…

Dr. Michael Marsh: No, I didn’t. I think you’re misquoting me. What I’m saying is that in order to recall an event you need to have memory and that requires a brain that’s functioning. I didn’t say anything about consciousness. All I said was…

Alex Tsakiris: Well, that recollection is a conscious memory. I mean, that recollection isn’t somehow separated from our consciousness, right? I mean, it’s a conscious experience.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, how do we remember dreams, then? Because we’re in a subconscious mode of meditation when we’re asleep.

Alex Tsakiris: But my point is the same. You seem to be kind of splitting hairs there and saying that recollection isn’t consciousness. Of course it’s consciousness, so in the same way that…

Dr. Michael Marsh: It’s consciousness after the event. But I mean, while you’re having a dream you’re setting down memories which you then recall when you regain consciousness in the morning or whenever, right?

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, but hold on. I’m just…

Dr. Michael Marsh: There’s no problem there.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. But earlier, and I can’t exactly replay it in my head, but you seemed to take objection to some assumption I made about consciousness and you interjected that we don’t even know consciousness. You’re kind of arguing from the gaps. That was your point to me and then I said…

Dr. Michael Marsh: But we don’t know that the…

Alex Tsakiris: …I said you’re doing the same thing when you talk about the recollections. That’s consciousness. So…

Dr. Michael Marsh: We don’t know whether these people are conscious or unconscious during these episodes and this is one thing that hasn’t been measured and this is all speculative remarks that come from these people who are saying these things. And it’s not necessarily true but they’re trying to insist that their point of view is correct.

Alex Tsakiris: All right, fair enough. Here’s where I want to shift the focus because I think…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Okay. But what I was saying is if you look at the majority of the accounts that are given, those people gained consciousness as the experience stopped. That’s how they tell it.

Alex Tsakiris: Of course. It doesn’t matter. Majorities don’t matter here. If you even have one that broke this mold and defied our current understanding of consciousness, you’d have a scientific revolution. You made that point. Here’s where I want to shift your focus because this is a unique, original kind of topic in terms of the way we’ve covered it. Here’s a quote from your book Out-Of-Body and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality. Let me read this quote. I’d like to get your response and I’d like to share this with viewers because I think this is really going to shift things in a different way. You say:

“There is the possibility that latent or overt brain pathology facilitates an encounter with the divine or that God uses such a pathology as the medium through which to disclose Himself, especially where revelation is understood as the self-unveiling or self-perceiving of God rather than a communication of a message.”

Okay, tell us a little bit-

Dr. Michael Marsh: Was that from the book?

Alex Tsakiris: From your book. That’s on page 227. Tell us a little bit about where you’re coming from about a self-giving God that opens up neuropathways to communicate with us.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Yes, well that involves the question of spirituality, I think here, and the question is how does God communicate with a human being? And how can we distinguish, for example, a schizophrenic who we would probably all think was having a brain-derived message from God which may tell him to go out and murder people. And we know that those people that are given drugs or are operated on are sort of helped and maybe even be cured.

Now, there’s that sort of brain pathology at one extreme and on the other hand we have evidence of direct commands to people from God. St. Paul on the Damascus road, for example. St. John on the Island of Pathmos when he was writing to the seven churches. And also Mohammad, who was also told to dictate. Now those are on the other extreme where people are being, as it were, used as what somebody has called “divine transmitters” to take down the word of God.

Of course, like every form of dictation, one has to understand the language and what’s being said in order to put that down. But between those sort of two theoretical extremes there’s a wide middle ground where God can impose His message and which obviously also has to be understood and appropriate action performed.

Now, what I have done is to look at some of the classical examples of disclosure that are described by William James in 1902 and more recently in 1997 by James Alston, Perceiving God. These people who are describing these near-death experiences don’t seem to be in line with the criteria that James put forward, the four criteria of ineffability, noesis, transience, and passivity.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me make sure I got that right. Now, because first of all, I don’t object in any way to bringing the spiritual or what some people would call the supernatural into a scientific discussion and I don’t dismiss it out of hand or anything like that. But you have to admit, it’s extremely problematic to put these things into scientific terms.

And if I understand that last example you just gave, I want to hone in on that and kind of pull it apart a little bit, because what you seem to be saying is that when God speaks to people, He speaks to them directly and clearly, authoritatively, and that what you hear in the near-death experience accounts…

Dr. Michael Marsh: No, I don’t think so at all. I mean, I’ve said quite the opposite. Most of the people who are described as having classical experiences, St. Richard for example, St. Teresa of Avila and those sort of people, St. Hildegard of Bingen, find it very difficult to describe what they have actually experienced or gone through.

I think that that compares very markedly with the very overt sort of Technicolor descriptions of heaven that we have-flowers and colors and music and soft winds and perfumes and organ music and something like that. We seem to be very anthropomorphic and often geomorphic. And it seems to me none of these near-death experiencers have described anything that we could find consistent with any sort of theological perceptions of the afterlife, even though that may well be.

Alex Tsakiris: Explain that a little bit further. You know, there are a lot of folks who are very atheistic usually, who are objecting to the near-death experience science and saying, “Hey, it’s all bunk,” so it’s really interesting to hear a perspective from a Christian, from a theologian who says, “Hey, that doesn’t fit and it doesn’t fit because it’s not God-like enough in terms of the communication and stuff like that.”

So I want to hear more about what you’re saying because switching over, it seems like I’ve never heard that argument that gee, when people say they died, they went to Heaven, it was totally loving and they met Jesus. And you’re saying “Gee, that doesn’t sound enough to me like what I’ve heard about the afterlife.” Am I hearing you right on that?

Dr. Michael Marsh: That’s right. In fact, Christian Scripture and Revelations don’t tell us a great deal about what the new creation will be. I mean, we have Revelations as the greatest book which deals with that aspect, but it’s very metaphorical language if you are at all familiar with that book.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me just interject-so when you talk about the Bible now and the Book of Revelations, are you talking about this as some kind of source material that we should consider in this scientific…

Dr. Michael Marsh: No, the Book of Revelation by St. John the Divine.

Alex Tsakiris: So that is-that is…

Dr. Michael Marsh: In the Bible. You don’t know that.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, but is that-do you consider that as valid kind of source material in this scientific debate about whether or not these people…

Dr. Michael Marsh: I’m just telling you that that is what the theological material has in part to rest on and it’s not a question of a scientific approach. We have no scientific data on the afterlife.

Alex Tsakiris: But you seem to be making a scientific argument that there are some aspects of the near-death experience that are not consistent with previously reported spiritual experiences. And you started out by talking about James and then you kind of slipped into talking about the Bible and I guess I draw a line there in saying I don’t know that I would feel comfortable introducing the Bible as this kind of source material on spiritual experiences, you know? I just don’t see it.

Dr. Michael Marsh: You did mention Revelations. The Revelations in John is certainly one theological source of what might be the new creation but we have very little idea of what that is going to be. What I’m comparing here are what are thought to be the classical loci of divine revelation in comparison with the kinds of stories that we get from near-death experience people…

Alex Tsakiris: Exactly, but why would we compare the two?

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, what else can you do?

Alex Tsakiris: Well, you can compare the experiences across time of all the different near-death experiencers across cultures, right? We can look at near-death experiences in Christian culture and in non-Christian cultures and all the different religions. That, to me, would seem like much more of a practical, pragmatic way than to…

Dr. Michael Marsh: What would that tell us?

Alex Tsakiris: I think it would tell us what you were alluding to. And I think I don’t agree with what you were stating, but in terms of the cross-cultural influences you said that there were cultural influences in the accounts. I think the other thing we could do…

Dr. Michael Marsh: There are, indeed. I mean, for example, the medieval accounts from the West are quite different from the medieval accounts from the East, and also we have accounts from India which are very much dependent upon Hindu culture, as opposed to the sorts of things that we see currently from English and American near-death experiences.

Alex Tsakiris: I don’t think the research really supports what you’re saying. We just talked about this on a previous show on the researchers who have looked at the cross-cultural-have done a cross-cultural analysis of near-death experience…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, for example the…

Alex Tsakiris: Let me finish, let me finish.

Dr. Michael Marsh: …the account in Bede’s History of the English Church and People, talks about Venerable Bede, this 8th century AD person who has a very medieval kind of walk through Hell and then through Heaven and that’s quite different from the sorts of things that we hear from either English or American people today. Or from people in India or from people in the Pacific Rim.

Alex Tsakiris: I’d be happy to send you references to some current research that has cross-culturally looked at near-death experiences and found that the major differences that exist are with regard to language and specific or maybe religious traditions so that people who are Christian see Jesus. People who are Buddhist see Buddha; Muslims see Allah. You see those kinds of differences, but other than that…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, I think…

Alex Tsakiris: Hold on, let me finish. Let me finish. But other than that the core experience remains consistent. It’s the traveling outside of the body; it’s the meeting of relatives, always dead relatives, always deceased relatives, way over-like 90% of the time. You never see living people. This experience of an all-embracing, all-encompassing love, life review, all these components are found to be the same across culture and across different religious traditions.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, I don’t agree with that. I think that’s sort of a bulky…

Alex Tsakiris: That’s the data. That’s the data. You can not agree with it, but that’s the data.

Dr. Michael Marsh: It’s what?

Alex Tsakiris: That is the data. That’s the data-I don’t…

Dr. Michael Marsh: That is the data? I think those data can be interpreted in another way and those things are interpreted in my book. You didn’t say you’d read my book, did you?

Alex Tsakiris: I’ve gotten as much of a glimpse of it as I could, but I’ve not read the whole thing, I have to…

Dr. Michael Marsh: From where?

Alex Tsakiris: From online.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, maybe you really need to read the book, too, and see the arguments in my chapter on spirituality and the cross-cultural changes.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, that’s what we have you here for. But what you just told me is you’re quoting from an 8th century medieval account and I don’t know why we would go and look at an 8th century account when we have…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Because it tells us and there’s a cultural influence which is based on the sort of perceptions of people in the 8th century which are quite different from the 21st century. And so the interpretation of the data that you talk about have to take that into account in the same way that it has to take account of the 5th century Buddhist traditions that Becker has talked about.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me ask you this. Let me take this in a slightly different direction. Dr. Marsh, as a theologian, does the near-death experience as it’s typically reported contradict Christian dogma? Christian doctrine, let me say. I take that word back.

Dr. Michael Marsh: I don’t think it contradicts Christian doctrine at all. It just doesn’t sort of seem to measure up to what a Christian would possibly think of Heaven.

Alex Tsakiris: In what way?

Dr. Michael Marsh: And the afterlife. I’ve just been telling you all these sort of highly-colored, Technicolored visions of fields and trees and flowers and music and breezes and sort of perfumes and all we have to go on is to be able to compare that with classical spiritual disclosures that for example, James and James Alston talk about.

Alex Tsakiris: Right. See, because I think it’s an interesting point because the average person on the street, at least here in the States, you know if you talk about the near-death experience they immediately associate it with being a positive thing with regard to religion. And I think they find it quite surprising that Christian theologians, and we’ve spoken to a couple on this show, are really against the near-death experience.

What I hear from Christians of that ilk a lot of time–and I guess I’m including you in that category–is yea for Heaven, yea for God, but no for the near-death experience as it’s currently reported. So I like the fact that these folks are dying. They’re saying there’s an afterlife. Yes, I agree with that. But when it contradicts with my doctrine, my book, my view of what the afterlife is, then I have to say no. And there seems to be a divide there between looking at the evidence scientifically and then…

Dr. Michael Marsh: There’s not a lot of science to look at. [Laughs] That’s the problem. All we’ve got is sort of speculative things like Ring’s core experience and death experience and mystical things. Words that are not defined and so we have great difficulty here as Saborn showed for example, the experience of having a near-death experience has a very positive effect on the religious attitudes of people subsequently, whereas those who don’t have a near-death experience, even though they come close clinically to death don’t have that kind of advantage. And what I’m saying theologically is that could be well seen as a sort of source of grace.

Alex Tsakiris: So explain what you mean by that. So you’re saying that the near-death experience isn’t a true Christian spiritual experience but it somehow avails them to a greater spiritual understanding? Is that what you’re saying?

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, it has-I mean, I think the experience is just bringing back recollections of people’s cultural acquaintances, for example, the idea that Heaven is probably sort of very nice and we get those ideas from stained glass windows and sources of information that may be Hollywood films or things like that.

Alex Tsakiris: So hold on. This is the interesting part. I mean, where do you draw the line? Clearly you’re a Christian so you believe that there’s a genuine Christ-conscious experience, that Christ-consciousness can communicate with people as in that quote that I just read from your book. So you would, I think, without putting words in your mouth, agree that there’s this real possibility for communication.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, I don’t know about communication, because you don’t have to have communication to be a recipient of God’s grace, and that would be so I think, for any religious person.

Alex Tsakiris: How can you say that? How do we know that? What’s your evidence for that?

Dr. Michael Marsh: The evidence comes from Saborn and that’s very clearly indicated. He’s done several questionnaires and shown that people’s religiosity and their allegiance to whatever creed that they belong to, not necessarily within any particular church, but that kind of allegiance and belief is made more manifest and becomes deeper as a result of the near-death experience. And that doesn’t happen in people who are near death but do not have a near-death experience.

Alex Tsakiris: I’m still not hearing an answer to my question about the Christian connection to the near-death experience. As a theologian, as a Christian, do you believe that the near-death experience is a way that Christ communicates with people?

Dr. Michael Marsh: No.

Alex Tsakiris: And why don’t you believe that?

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, I don’t see any communication. I mean, there’s very little recorded conversation between the very few people who actually sort of come into contact with Jesus or think that they’ve seen Him.

Alex Tsakiris: I think this is fascinating.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Why do they have the capacity to…?

Alex Tsakiris: Hold on, I think this is fascinating. Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying. You said that you don’t believe any of these near-death experiences are genuine Christian spiritual experiences…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Not necessarily Christian, any religious experience, really.

Alex Tsakiris: But you said-I asked you specifically as a Christian, which is fair.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Okay.

Alex Tsakiris: I want to know from you as a Christian and you said no. And you said some of the reasons you thought supported that is you didn’t see a consistent-they weren’t coming back with a consistent image of Jesus. They weren’t coming back with a consistent image of Heaven…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: …and that the messages that they were getting, to you didn’t seem like genuine revelations. They were just messages. You always get a message of love and unconditional…

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, it’s not that at all. It’s just a question of being told to come back where there is a conversation with Jesus.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, told to come back. So you don’t-the messages that you get you don’t find very persuasive in terms of being what Jesus would say to somebody, right? You would expect Jesus to say something other than what you’re hearing from these…

Dr. Michael Marsh: [Laughs] Maybe, yes. One might expect it from the sort of way He spoke to people in the gospels.

Alex Tsakiris: Right. This is interesting, interesting. I mean, I don’t know how you get there. I don’t know how we really get much beyond that. I think that’s fascinating.

Dr. Michael Marsh: Okay. Well, we seem to be at a sort of a great disagreement. We need to continue or not.

Alex Tsakiris: I don’t think we do, but I would like to kind to step back and let’s talk about the book in general. Out-Of-Body Experience and Near-Death Experiences: Brain-State Phenomena or Glimpses of Immortality. We’ve hit on some of the points I think you raise in the book about the neurophysiology of the brain and how that doesn’t seem to support, in your idea, the near-death experiences. What are some of the other major parts of the book that we should at least touch on here in the minutes we have left?

Dr. Michael Marsh: Well, the book is in two parts, the neurophysiology and neurophysiological approaches to what might be going on in the brains of these people who are waking up, which is what I sort of say. I don’t believe in dead brains because dead brains don’t form memories. And if there are no memories then there can’t be any recall of the incident. So I think that these things are happening when people are waking up.

Alex Tsakiris: Very good. And part two of the book?

Dr. Michael Marsh: And so the second part deals with the theology. I don’t think there’s much that compares with our slim ideas of resurrection or theology. We talked a little bit about spirituality, and I don’t think that the sort of disclosures that we have, the inconsistencies of the pictures of so-called Heaven and the pictures of so-called Jesus and all the rest of it are in themselves inconsistent and you might expect them to be consistent if people really had been to Heaven and seen Jesus or been in the presence of God.

And they are most unlike the kind of nuanced statements that are very difficult for true spiritual recipients of the presence of God to describe, as indicated in the books by James and by Alston.

And so while these experiences do influence people’s minds afterwards as also has been the case with people who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, if you read the psychiatrists who interviewed those people who survived. Their lives have changed, as well, and for the better.

I suppose that theologically one could say that might be a source of divine grace, but for the rest of it, I don’t think that any of these experiences have enlightened us as to what the afterlife is like. And I think even more importantly, have influenced the way in which we form our moral characters on it. There are still many occasions of that where there could be a moral reorganization in this world as we see it today. And so those are my views and they’re there for people to read.

Alex Tsakiris: Fascinating. Fascinating discussion and again, thank you very much for joining us today.

Dr. Michael Marsh: All right, thanks. Bye-bye.

we welcome someone who-let me get this straight-has three PhDs, is that right?

Dr. Massimo Pigliucci: That’s correct.

Alex Tsakiris: [Laughs] So Dr. Massimo108