Tag: atheism

226. Acharya S. Examines the Effects of Myth-Making on Christianity

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Interview with religion and mythology scholar Acharya S. (D.M. Murdock) examines the effects of early Christianity on other religions of the time.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Acharya S. author of, Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of The Christ.  During the interview Acharya talks about the religion and myths:

Alex Tsakiris:   One of the things that your work is really important in doing, and it’s something we didn’t talk enough about, is that it’s a really thorough analysis of the power and practices of cultish behavior, of power formation, and power manipulation. I think unless we really come to grips with this we can’t separate out what happened to these religions.
On one hand we have these traditions and these myths and those that made the myths, and on the other hand we have the same characters that we see on the landscape today that say, “Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I can make a buck off of this. Maybe I can control things. Maybe I can make my group superior and win out over the other groups. And maybe I can use these myths to do it.”

Unless we thoroughly understand that stuff, and at the same time appreciate the possibility that there is some genuine non-biological-robot, spiritual experiences that may be happening; until all that’s on the table, we can’t really get our arms around it.

Acharya Sanning: What I’m just doing is writing a factual recitation of what has happened in these places. It’s very empowering to know this stuff.

Also, when we were talking in the beginning about being in the middle between extremists on either side, this mythicism position that I am discussing which looks at supernatural beings in antiquity as mythical figures, not real people who landed on planet Earth and did a bunch of magic tricks. This is really a neutral position because you don’t have to believe in it and you don’t have to dismiss it. You don’t have to be a theist or an Atheist. You can be either one to enjoy this information.

All I’m doing is collecting religious and mythological ideas from as far back as we can tell and putting them together and showing their influences on our thinking today. It doesn’t require any kind of belief or any kind of joining or any kind of control...

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Today we welcome Acharya S. to Skeptiko. Acharya, whose real name is D. M. Murdock, is a first-rate Biblical scholar and an expert in religious studies and mythology. She is also the author of numerous books including, The Christ Conspiracy, Who is Jesus?, and Sons of God. She also runs a website that is absolutely chock-full of high quality articles and research on the topics we’re going to talk about today. That website is at www.truthbeknown.com.

Acharya, it’s great to have you on Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me.

Acharya Sanning:  It’s nice to be here, Alex. Thanks for inviting me. I also have a blog at www.freethoughtnation.com. In fact, I have another one, www.stellarhousepublishing.com. You can search across all my websites and a forum. People are invited to ask questions of me in the forum, as well.

221. Atheist John Loftus Explains Why He’s a Biological Robot

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Interview with atheist and Christian debunker John Loftus examines the philosophy of atheism.

Alex Tsakiris:   When we falsify this idea that you are a “biological robot”, and accept that’s absurd, and once we get past the idea that consciousness ends at death, which again, that’s where the evidence points, then a lot of things start falling differently in terms of how I orient myself to the world, how I orient myself to other people, how I orient myself to morals, purpose, meaning in life.

You are not a biological robot, John.

John Loftus:  Okay. I disagree. I’ve said why.

Alex Tsakiris: You say, “I am a biological robot. I am going to stand by that.” Right? That’s what you’re saying?

John Loftus:  Well, there’s no evidence for invisible beings, right? Entities.

Alex Tsakiris: But you, as you live your life, you live your life like a biological robot?

John Loftus:  Everybody does. That’s all there is.

Alex Tsakiris:  Okay.

John Loftus:  Well, you have to look into the philosophical quandaries with trying to distinguish between mind and body. I mean, I taught the Introduction to Philosophy classes that you would probably be interested in looking at how they’ve tried to relate the mind and the body. They just really can’t do it. It’s really ludicrous to see how they do that.

(interview transcript continued below)

John Loftus - Debunking Christianity

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Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and this episode of Skeptiko is yet another in this series I’ve been doing on Atheism.

Now I do feel a need to tell you a little bit about how I came to do this interview because, as you know if you’ve listened, you just heard a similar kind of debate with philosophy professor Dr. Stephen Law. Actually, these two interviews with Dr. Law and John Loftus came about as the result of my interview on Episode 217 with Gary Marcus, because Gary Marcus is this NYU professor of psychology, bestselling author, writes frequently on consciousness issues, yet if you listen to the interview you’ll hear how he stumbled with some basic questions about consciousness.

Esquire Magazine caught lying. Dr. Eben Alexander’s NDE account prevails |220|

 Interview with Robert Mays reveals a disturbing pattern of misrepresentation and distortion in Luke Dittrich's Proof of Heaven expose published in Esquire Magazine.

photo by Derek K. Miller

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Robert Mays about his recently published article,  Esquire article on Eben Alexander distorts the facts.  During the interview Mays talks about  what his investigation discovered:

Alex Tsakiris:   The Dittrich article in Esquire, it's extremely well-crafted. Let's give them that. And he builds this case with the facts that he has, but he really builds this whole thing around -- this guy's a liar.  He approaches it from a number of different angles, some of which are really substantive to the story like the coma thing, and these other things that he picks at, but they do kind of stick in your mind as you're reading the article.  Like the rainbow thing. Tell us what the rainbow thing is all about and then tell us what you found out.

Robert Mays:   In the book, on Sunday morning according to the story that Dr. Alexander wrote, his sister, Phyllis, and his mother, Betty, were coming into the hospital and saw a perfect rainbow. They felt this was a sign. Dittrich took this as saying Heaven itself was heralding Eben Alexander's return. Dittrich then asked the meteorologist whether there could have been a rainbow then and the meteorologist said, “Well, the day was clear so there couldn't have been.”

I said, “Well, wait a minute. Two people said they saw it.” So I called Phyllis Alexander and she said, “Definitely we saw a rainbow. Betty remarked that it was a perfect rainbow.” They talked about it. Then they went immediately up to Eben's room and there Eben was, sitting up. So that was the time that he had recovered.

Alex Tsakiris:   And just to add a little tidbit that you talk about in your article that I thought was great and is the real kind of journalism that we would have liked to have gotten from Esquire is that you not only talked to these eyewitnesses, which he did not--he just went on some meteorological report--but they also had evidence. It was such a spectacular event that they had written an email.

Robert Mays:   Right. That day Phyllis said she had written to friends in Boston who were praying for Eben. She said, “Eben has recovered and I saw a beautiful rainbow as I was coming into the hospital.” So there's that documentation, as well. So Luke Dittrich's argument there is empty.

Alex Tsakiris:   It's shoddy journalism. If you're trying to debunk something, which I've run across so many times, that's one thing. You're a debunker. You're just out there throwing whatever you can against the wall and seeing what sticks. But if you're Esquire, who still has some kind of legitimacy as a journalistic enterprise, you have to do more than this. You have to talk to witnesses. You have to get their side of it. I think this lays a pattern for what else we're about to talk about.


Alex Tsakiris:   Here's what you get from Luke Dittrich's story in Esquire -- Dr. Laura Potter discredits Dr. Eben Alexander's story.  It couldn't have happened the way he described.  He wasn't really in a coma. He was delirious.

So why don't you pick up from there, Robert? You've said you put a couple calls in to Dr. Potter at this point in the story. You haven't heard back. What happens next?

Robert Mays:   I received, from members of the family copies of emails that they had been sending back and forth.  In that was a statement that Dr. Potter had made. Later I learned it was a statement that she had issued to a news organization. Apparently that news organization did not use it. In any case, that statement was that she was misquoted and taken out of context. So I said, “Whoa. This is really quite strange.”

Alex Tsakiris:   In fact, she stated that her account was misrepresented, and that she felt like the questions weren't fair.  And this is backed up by what you heard from the family, right? Because the family talks to Dr. Potter and she's apologizing, saying “Gosh, I don't know how this happened.” That's what I took away from your article. Is that what you got from talking to the family?

Robert Mays:   Right. And basically Dr. Potter expressed to the family that she had been misrepresented and that her words were taken out of context by Luke Dittrich and that he had led her to say certain things.

The question that Luke Dittrich says he posed to her I don't think is a question he actually posed to her when she said, “Yes, conscious but delirious.” It would be very interesting to see what exactly happened in that interview and just understand what she was responding to.

Alex Tsakiris:   I think it would be more than interesting. I think it's absolutely his responsibility, given the damage that this article has done and sought to do from the beginning. There's an added level of journalistic responsibility to get your facts right. These things being called into question this way demands that he really back up his claims.

(interview transcript continued below)

Robert and Suzanne Mays Website

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Today we welcome Robert Mays to Skeptiko. Robert, along with his wife, Suzanne, have been longtime researchers in the field of near-death experience and consciousness studies. They've published quite a few papers and have done presentations for both, the International Association of Near-Death Studies Conference, and the well-known Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson, Arizona. So, anyone who's familiar with this field very well might have bumped into the work of these two very interesting and excellent near-death experience researchers.

Robert is here today to talk about a new article they just published titled, “Esquire Article on Eben Alexander Distorts the Facts,” in which they tell about their investigation into the near-death experience account of Harvard neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who last year published a blockbuster best-seller book titled, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Near-Death Experience and Journey Into the Afterlife. So with that I'd like to introduce you to Robert Mays.

Robert, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko.

Robert Mays:  Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Alex Tsakiris:   Before we dive into this article that you've published on Dr. Eben Alexander's case and then the book and the controversy that's stirred up around that, I thought you could tell us a little bit about the research that you and Suzanne have done. In checking out your website there's a lot of stuff that you guys have published in this field. Tell us a little bit about that.

219. Dr. Stephen Law On How Science Handles Extraordinary Claims

Interview with philosopher and noted atheist Dr. Stephen Law examines the philosophy of science and extraordinary claims.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Dr. Stephen Law author of, Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole.  During the interview Law talks about how science measures extraordinary claims:

Alex Tsakiris: This idea of extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proof, you want to talk about sweeping mystery, sweeping evidence that you don’t like under the rug, here is the mantra for the Centre for Inquiry crowd. I see that as an intellectually feeble pronouncement -- extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof—that is anti-science, isn’t it?

Dr. Stephen Law:   Why do you think that?

Alex Tsakiris:   We’ve built this whole institution of science, the whole process of peer-review, the whole process of self-correction around this idea that we will altogether discover what is real, what is not real, what is extraordinary, what is not extraordinary. So the idea that after the fact, after the results come in, we say, “You know, those are pretty interesting results but I deem that to be extraordinary; therefore, you’ll need an extra level of proof on that.” I think it’s just silly.

Dr. Stephen Law:   Okay, I think I see where you’re coming from. The way I’ve understood that principle, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, says that suppose I tell you that over there, I’ve got a mobile phone and a cup, okay, and I do this, there’s the mobile phone and the cup.
You’re going to go, “Hey, yeah, that’s good enough for me.” Steve’s got a mobile phone and a cup. If I now wield out a fairy which I make dance on the end of my finger and go, “There you go, a fairy on the end of my finger,” you’re going to go, “Yeah, Steve’s got a fairy on the end of his finger. Fair enough. I’ll accept that on the basis of the same kind of evidence that I accepted he’s got a cup with a mobile phone.” I bet you would not.

Alex Tsakiris:   Sure, but we’re talking about science here. We’re talking about peer-review.  The example I sent you and I have personal experience with, because he told it to me on this show, is British psychologist and parapsychology critic, Richard Wiseman.  He has investigated probably more of these paranormal parapsychology claims, like telepathy, than anybody else. Here’s his quote:

“I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing (and he later added in this quote, ESP) is proven. But that begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal?”

So Stephen, this is not a fairy in the cup. This is a guy who has reviewed hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and is saying, You know what? It’s good enough for any other field of science but not good enough here because of the ground-breaking upset it would make for science. This is the best evidence I could give you for my claim about scientific materialism being woven into science as we know it.

Dr. Stephen Law:   I think if I stick my finger out there and it appears to be a finger with a fairy spinning around on the end of it, you’re going to be very, very suspicious. You’re not just going to say, “Yeah, Stephen’s proved to me that there are fairies.” You’re going to require much more investigation before you take my word for it that there really is a fairy spinning around on the end of my finger. Why is that? It’s because the prior probability of anything like a fairy exists is very, very low indeed, knowing what we do.

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Dr. Stehpen Law's Blog

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Alex Tsakiris:   Let me, in that spirit, return to your book, Believing Bullshit, with another quote that I liked: “The more we appeal to mystery to get ourselves out of intellectual trouble, the more we use it as a carpet under which to sweep inconvenient truths or discoveries, the more vulnerable we become to deceit. Deceit by both others and by ourselves.”

Let me juxtapose the quote from your book with a quote from biologist Rupert Sheldrake, author of The Science Delusion, one of these folks out there among many, many that I’ve spoken with and are out there who can see this scientific materialism and the position of folks like Richard Dawkins as a major impediment to really moving forward and answering some of these big questions. Here’s what Sheldrake says: “For more than 200 years, materialists have promised that science will eventually explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry. These believers are sustained by the faith that scientific discoveries will justify their beliefs.”

213. Earl Lee’s Shocking Theory Links Hallucinogenic Mushrooms to Christian Burial Rites

Interview explores theory suggesting that hallucinogenic substances were central to the development of religious thought and practices.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Earl Lee author of, From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead.  During the interview Lee talks about his theory:

Alex Tsakiris:   In your book, you connect the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms by Shaman, depicted in these cave paintings, with some rather shocking ideas about how mushrooms might have been cultivated and used in early Christian. Take us through that.

Earl Lee:   My theory is that in ancient times there were people who were identified as a Shaman, either male or female, who was the person who would consume the mushrooms in order to prophesize the future, whether it was good crops or they needed to travel to some other place, and that sort of thing. Over time, as a Shaman used the mushrooms, the mushroom spores would get on their clothing and then later when that person dies and is buried, I think there’s a very strong likelihood, especially if they’re in a shallow grave, and a moist grave, for those mushrooms to actually grow, living off of the mixture of the natural fibers plus whatever viscous liquids might be wicked up from the decaying body.

The reason I think this is probably what happened is because I think that at some point the bodies were accidentally unearthed and people saw these mushrooms growing on these bodies and decided that this person was particularly holy and that the mushrooms that come from a corpse are probably particularly valuable in terms of communicating with the gods or the next world or the afterlife. That linked in people’s minds that this is what we use to communicate with the dead.  With the gods that listen to the dead.  And how we have visions of the next world. You can see that idea reflected, particularly in Egyptian religion, but in other religions, too.

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Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with the leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on this episode of Skeptiko I have an interview with a professor from Pittsburg State University where we explore his interesting theory that the origins of many of our religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, can be traced back to the use of hallucinogenic drugs. He even has some startling evidence about the cultivation of those mushrooms but we’ll leave that for the interview.

What I want to do before the interview is to add a little context to this dialogue, particularly since Earl Lee is an Atheist, a rather outspoken Atheist, and as much as I appreciate his scholarship on this topic and the information that he’s brought forth which is really important for understanding these traditions that are so much a part of our culture—I don’t care if you live in Europe and you think you’ve shed yourself from all religious trappings and all the rest of that. Hey, these Abrahamic traditions are woven deep, deep, deep into our culture and there’s no escaping that. So this kind of work, that aims at seriously re-writing or rectifying that history, I think is important to all of us.

At the same time, I’m amazed how academics in general and Atheists in particular can’t look deeper into the psychedelic experience and what it points to in terms of extended human consciousness. I mean, all the current research we have with hallucinogenics, Rick Strassman, David Nutt, all the rest, suggest that hallucinogenics are pointing us not towards the same old mind equals brain paradigm but to this idea of extended human consciousness.

Now, to Earl’s credit, I think he’s willing to go there more than most people are but it still amazes me that more can’t see how this little twist in the story from “tripping early Christians” to “early Christians who are achieving transformative spiritual experiences through the aid of psychedelic drugs”, why that little twist in the road isn’t more obvious.

This was a fascinating discussion for me. I really appreciate the scholarship of Earl Lee, whose work continues to fly under the radar despite its massive implications. I hope you enjoy this dialogue with Earl Lee from Pittsburgh State University:

Alex Tsakiris:   Today we welcome Earl Lee to Skeptiko as a faculty member and honorary professor at Pittsburgh State University. Now that’s in Kansas, folks, but it is called Pittsburgh State. Earl is the author of a fascinating book titled, From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead. Fascinating stuff. Earl, thanks so much for joining me and welcome to Skeptiko.

Earl Lee:  I’m glad to be here.

210. Miguel Conner Explores Gnostic Themes and “Red Pill” Alienation

Interview with author and Podcast host examines Gnostic themes in our modern culture.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Miguel Conner author of, Voices of Gnosticism.  During the interview Conner talks about the limits of Gnostic history:

Alex Tsakiris:   You do a masterful job exploring how these threads of Gnosticism are woven into our modern culture, but what about the limits of history? Isn’t Gnosticism limited in the same way Christianity’s limited in that it’s always looking in the rearview mirror for the next archaeological dig to tell us who we are? Isn’t that an inherent limitation of this kind of historical-based knowing?

Miguel Conner:  There certainly is, but it goes beyond history. I think the scholar, Ioan Couliano, who wrote, The Tree of Gnosis, said that there’s sort of a binary Gnostic code within man and this binary code will always go off.  So, you’re always going to have Orthodoxy on one side believing that the world is going to be fine and that we’re part of this grand history, this providence. But there’s also the other side that’s always there. This side that tells us we are alienated; we are trapped in this world; there’s something wrong with this world. It’s invites us to go on this inner voyage inside and outside of us.

That is why there are many writers and thinkers like Carl Jung and others who before the Nag Hammadi library was discovered were getting some of the Gnostic ideas and concepts. They were getting it very well even with the little information out there. So yes, we are limited by history but again I feel that this Orthodoxy and Gnosticism is within each one of us. That’s why it keeps resurfacing in so many different traditions, whether it’s Buddhist or Muslim and so forth. It’s there.

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Today we welcome Miguel Conner. As host of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio, author of the critically-acclaimed Voices of Gnosticism, Miguel is one of the leading voices of this Gnostic movement that we seem to keep hearing so much about. I should also mention that Miguel is also an accomplished fiction writer, having penned several popular post-apocalyptic vampire novels that have really caught the attention of people.

So Miguel, it’s great to welcome you to Skeptiko.

Miguel Conner:  I’m glad to be here, Alex. Thank you for having me on.

Alex Tsakiris:   You know, I should mention we tried to do this a week ago but we ran into some Skype trouble so we’re going to do it again. In that intervening week I’ve dug into even more of your shows and I just keep wanting to dig more and more. You have such a great insight into this fascinating area of knowledge that is Gnosticism. You weave it into our modern culture and modern contemporary issues in such an imaginative, creative, and entertaining way that I just really wanted to get you on and encourage people to check out Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio.

Miguel Conner:   Thank you very much. I don’t know if I can live up to that billing, but I’ll try.

209. Talat Jonathan Phillips Chronicles His Transformation From Political Activist to Spiritual Seeker

Interview with activist and author explores his personal journey with Ayawaska, ETs, and energy healing.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Talat Jonathan Phillips author of, The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic.  During the interview Phillips talks about finding a balance between the worldly and spiritual pursuits:

Alex Tsakiris: If you buy into materialism, if you think you’re a biological robot and that’s all you are -- you’re lost. If you buy into our materialistic culture and this idea that we need to get all we can, and we need to bomb other people so they don’t get it -- all that stuff -- you’re lost. But as soon as you cross that chasm and you say, “Okay, there’s something more”, then I think you run into this problem what we’re talking about. And that is materialism keeps wanting to creep itself back into the equation.

So, you’re saying, “I need to take action here. I need to go do this. I need to vote for this candidate. I need to do that.” Isn’t there the risk that we get into this back-door materialism, this “we’re in control” thing?

Talat Phillips:   Oh yeah. But I think it’s both. We’ve set up an either/or and I think it’s both/and because if I look at most of my clients, most of them come in and think we’re going to talk about past lives and this and that. But most of them need to get into the material world a little bit. They need to get in their bodies and figure out jobs and live an abundant life. That doesn’t mean buy a mansion but it just means to know how to support themselves and talk with people.

I don’t want to deny that aspect because it is important. I denied it for many years of my existence and maybe that was why I was a marginalized activist. On the other hand, I definitely saw this with Occupy. It was very frustrating for me seeing all the projected anger about finances. I do a lot of anger work with clients. It’s good to express anger but when you project it at others it creates more of that fear culture. What I like with Evolver.net is that we’re more like, “How can you create? How can you follow your bliss and your passions and do what you love?”

I think Joseph Campbell talks about this. This is a dance we have of integrating.  So I think what you’ve brought up is a great study that we all do. It’s an alchemy of walking as a human and being as a human on this planet. It’s being and doing and creating a right relationship between that.

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Today we welcome Talat Jonathan Phillips to Skeptiko. Talat is the author of The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic. He is also the co-founder of a rather amazing web magazine named Reality Sandwich and an equally amazing social movement at www.evolver.net.

Welcome to Skeptiko, Talat. Thanks so much for joining me.

Talat Phillips:  It’s great to be here. Thanks, Alex.

Alex Tsakiris:   Well, your book, The Electric Jesus, is just a great read. I mean, I was just blown away at how it pulls you in and just makes you want to turn page after page. It’s a spiritual odyssey, as the name suggests, but it reads like a Tom Wolfe novel. Tell us a little bit about this book and how it came about and what people are going to find when they read it.

191. Dr. Victor Stenger Slams Parapsychology, Calls Dr. Stanley Krippner Charlatan

Interview with Dr. Victor Stenger about his new book, God and the Folly of Faith, and the science of consciousness and near-death experience.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with physicist, Atheist and author Dr. Victor Stenger  about his new book, God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.  During the interview Stenger explains why he believes many parapsychologists, consciousness researchers and near-death experience researchers are charlatans:

Alex Tsakiris: As you mentioned, Stuart Hameroff is an anesthesiologist, so he may be crossing disciplines, but he’s also publishing with a Nobel Prize winner and some of the top people in the field.

But let’s move on from that a little bit because what I really wanted to get to with that is what is at stake for Atheism with this idea of consciousness being more than materialism? Mind being just the brain?

Dr. Victor Stenger:   All the Atheists I know, that is those who are scientists and really understand the scientific method, will say, “You show me the evidence for something beyond matter, then we’ll believe it.” So we’re open to that. It’s not so much that we have any particular stake other than the stake of determining the truth as best as we can.

And that’s the problem. These people are charlatans to be claiming that there’s evidence for a quantum aspect of the mind. That’s just not true. Maybe they’ll find one someday. We’re open to that. But they just do not have the data to support that and they don’t have the theory to support that. And that’s the thing that’s so upsetting about it because they’re able to get away with this because they’re talking to audiences who are not aware of the science, who really don’t know the science.

Alex Tsakiris:   You’re not saying Christof Koch is a charlatan? Or Stuart Hameroff is a charlatan? I assume, right? So who are the charlatans?

Dr. Victor Stenger:   I know that I know Stanley Krippner, I know some of the other people that are on the list of people you’ve interviewed in the past. I saw your list and I’ll tell you they’re not part of any mainstream that I know of.

Alex Tsakiris:   So do you think Stanley Krippner is a charlatan?

Dr. Victor Stenger:   Absolutely.

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Today we welcome Dr. Victor Stenger to Skeptiko. Dr. Stenger is an adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado but that’s really a second academic career for him. He’s also Professor Emeritus in Physics and Astronomy for the University of Hawaii. He’s also a very successful author, having published 11 books including the 2007 New York Times Bestseller, God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, and his latest book, God and the Folly of Faith. Welcome to Skeptiko, Vic. Thanks so much for joining me.

Dr. Victor Stenger:   I’m glad to be here.

Alex Tsakiris:   Great. I’m looking forward to the discussion. Let’s give folks a little bit of a background on you. Quite an impressive academic career, well-respected in your field. Well published, known. But then you also have this parallel career as one of the founders, really, of this movement that’s come to be known as “New Atheism.” Take us through a little bit of that and in particular this interplay between your academic career and then how you got interested in the Atheist movement. And maybe along the way help people understand what a New Atheist is?

183. The Thinking Atheist Backs Down From Science Debate

Interview examines the scientific evidence underlying an atheist worldview and why atheists are reluctant to defend it.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with The Thinking Atheist, Seth Andrews. During the interview Andrews explains why atheists don’t support scientists who believe ESP has been scientifically proven:

Alex Tsakiris:   There is this silly sideshow conversation that always dominates center stage-- “science versus religion, Christianity versus Atheists.” But the science question behind this really boils down to one question -- is your mind purely a function of your brain?  Because if it isn’t then we get into all these other topics that start sounding very spiritual.

Seth Andrews:  To say that the reputable science community is advocating that there must be a conduit of spirit out there that is irresponsible, I don’t think that’s accurate. I don’t think it’s reflected by mainstream, especially secular scientists, who are the majority. I think if you spend that much time playing “What if,” you’ll drive yourself nuts.

Alex Tsakiris:   That is exactly why I wanted to do this interview in two parts, because I have to tell you, in the dialogues I’ve had, we always get to this point, which is we have to dig through all the opinions that we might have, beliefs we might have, get down to the science. Getting down to the scientific evidence and understanding it the best we can.

So that’s my point. If you’re not familiar with Dr. Richard Wiseman – great -- go see what he has to say about ESP. I’m telling you about the near-death experience science and I’m telling you that overwhelmingly hypoxia has been dismissed as a possible explanation. So, go check out the science and then come back so we can have a real debate.

Seth Andrews:   So you’re a believer, then, in extra-sensory perception. You believe in ESP personally?

Alex Tsakiris:   Personally?

Seth Andrews:   I’m not sure why a yes/no question is so complicated for you. I’m just curious.

Alex Tsakiris:   Because I don’t what you mean by “personally.”  I don’t have any personal experience with ESP. I think the evidence is overwhelmingly suggestive that it does happen, that there is some form of extended human consciousness that does occur in this way. That’s what the evidence shows. I don’t know what that means.

Seth Andrews:   I’m still stuck on ESP. I’m still stuck on it.

Alex Tsakiris:   Great, go check out the science.

Seth Andrews:   I’m still stuck on it. I honestly think—I mean, I lump ESP in with astral projection, with visions, with crystals, with—I myself think that this is a profound waste of time and energy. But to me, superstition and religion, they go hand-in-hand. Superstition and science do not. I don’t place them side-by-side. They are not bedfellows. They are not partners.

Alex Tsakiris:   Science is a method. It is not a position. It’s a set of tools, Seth. It’s just a way of inquiry.

Seth Andrews: I think you and I are simply approaching the term “science” from different perspectives.

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Alex Tsakiris: Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on today’s episode I have a dialogue with The Thinking Atheist, Seth Andrews, whose popular YouTube channel has nearly 100,000 subscribers and millions of views.

Now, as you know from listening to Skeptiko, it’s hard to book these kinds of interviews. Despite their claims to the contrary, Atheists and skeptics don’t really like to get into debates about science and about the evidence behind their beliefs. So I was delighted when Seth agreed to come on and come onto my new concept. I had this idea for a two-part format where we’d use the first interview to kind of map out our ideas, map out our thoughts, and then use the second part of the interview to really get into the debate.

So here then is my first interview with Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist.

Today we welcome Seth Andrews to Skeptiko. Seth is the creator of The Thinking Atheist, a very popular website and YouTube channel. Seth is also a former Christian and a former Christian broadcaster who challenges his listeners to “Assume nothing, question everything, and start thinking.”

Welcome, Seth, and thanks for joining me on Skeptiko.

Seth Andrews:   It’s a real pleasure. Thanks for the invite and thanks for allowing me to be a part of the show.

169. Dr. Michael Heiser On Why Christians Are Skeptical of the Supernatural

Interview with biblical scholar Dr. Mike Heiser examines how many Christians approach paranormal claims from curiously skeptical perspective.


Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with biblical scholar and author Dr. Michael Heiser. During the interview Heiser discusses his understanding of ghosts from a Christian perspective:

Alex Tsakiris: What did you mean when you said, “Christians aren’t as open to the supernatural as they think they”, and that they, “think like skeptics.” What did you mean?

Dr. Mike Heiser: …there are a lot of people who basically go through life thinking that unless their pastor or priest brought it up it’s either not true or it can’t be reported.

I’ve had preachers and pastors tell me about doing a funeral service where they or somebody they known and trust saw the deceased person just sort of standing there for a moment.  Well, you start saying things like that and right away our reaction is , “well, maybe you were overcome by grief… maybe you need a physical… maybe you didn’t take your meds that day.”

We tend to think like moderns in that we are very hesitant to accept anything that’s outside the material reality.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, I’m right there with you, Mike.  But what do we do with those encounters? What do we do with the deathbed visions, the near-death experiences, the ghostly encounters? How do we approach them?

Dr. Mike Heiser: Well, I tend to think that these sorts of things are not either/or sorts of categories. I think there are a number of things that ought to be given equal weight. I believe in the supernatural. I don’t really like that term, but basically I believe in a non-human world. Since I do believe in that I’m not a philosophical Materialist. I’m willing to consider the possibility that the experience at a funeral was real. I’m willing to consider that this was really a point of intersection between our world and that other reality plane.

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Today we welcome Biblical scholar and author, Dr. Michael Heiser, to Skeptiko. Mike has a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in Biblical languages and a master’s in ancient history from Penn. He’s a frequent guest on a number of radio programs such as Coast to Coast AM. He’s also the author of a paranormal thriller, The Façade. Mike, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko.

Dr. Mike Heiser: Thank you very much for inviting me.

143. Lisa Miller’s Heaven Book Uncommitted to Afterlife, Spiritual Experiences, and Survival of Consciousness

Author and Newsweek’s religion editor Lisa Miller offers mixed messages about what lies beyond death.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek magazine and author of, Heaven.  During the interview Ms. Miller discusses survival of consciousness:

Alex Tsakiris: Do you believe that the best evidence we have suggests our consciousness survives our death?

Lisa Miller: I don’t believe that’s the best evidence we have. We’re back to where we started.

Alex Tsakiris: So you don’t believe consciousness survives death.

Lisa Miller: I’m saying that it’s possible but I don’t know for sure.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I don’t know for sure either. And no one…

Lisa Miller: Well, that’s where we all are. That’s where we all are on this stuff. We don’t know. We don’t know whether consciousness survives death. We don’t know what Heaven looks like. We don’t know whether our grandparents are there. What we have is a hope.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s not where most of us are living our lives. Most of us are living our life from making some kind of conclusion from the data we have. So why is it unfair to ask you whether or not…

Lisa Miller: I didn’t say it was unfair and I answered your question.  I said I think that there’s a possibility but I don’t know. I think that it’s a great hope of many people.

Alex Tsakiris: Why so noncommittal? I don’t understand that.

Lisa Miller: I’m not noncommittal.  I’m answering your question as best as I can. Truly I am.

Alex Tsakiris: No, you’re not. You’re answering a different question. You’re answering the hope question, but you’re not answering whether you personally, based on the evidence you’ve looked at in doing this work and writing this book and being the Senior Religion Editor at Newsweek Magazine, you haven’t told me whether the evidence that you’ve taken in has persuaded you one way or another.

Lisa Miller: I said just as I think about Heaven, I think that it is a possibility and that it is something to hope for.

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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome award-winning journalist and senior editor for Religion.net, Newsweek Magazine, Lisa Miller. Miss Miller’s first book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife, was published in 2010 and she joins us today here on Skeptiko. Lisa, welcome.

Lisa Miller: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, it’s great to have you. I want to jump right into this because I have to tell you, as I was reading your book and listening to some of your interviews, I couldn’t get past that you as a self-described skeptic and I don’t know if it would be fair to say a non-religious person, why you are the senior editor for religion at Newsweek.

Lisa Miller: Religion has always interested me, from being a very young child. Religion talks about the human experience in a way that I think captures all of the mystery and magic and transcendence that comes with being human--inexplicable things, irrational things.

When you ask people about religion you’re in a way asking them to tell you what matters most to them—what they think about their families, what they think about their children, what they think about their existence, what they think about what matters to them, what’s most meaningful. So religion for me has been a way into what I think of as the most important questions in life.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. But can we really study it from the outside? I guess I think of one of the religious scholars who always inspired me was Houston Smith, from Berkeley, and of course he went and experienced all these different religions. He experienced life and dove as deeply as he could into the religious experience. Can we really understand religion from the outside, from a journalist? I mean, I understand there are these culture war issues that we care about—why people strap bombs to their waist and blow themselves up. That culture war stuff I get. But are we really getting at the core of the religious experience from the outside?

Lisa Miller: I would say I can hear some skepticism in your question, and I would strongly say that trying dispassionately to understand other people’s beliefs is one of the most productive things we can do with our time. I think that in America there are these culture war issues and we know what they are and we can name them and we can turn on MSNBC or FOX and see people screaming about them. But beyond that I think there is dramatic mistrust and fear in the worlds between believers and non-believers and also amongst different believers.

So they say 11 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. What that means is, Atheists think believers are weird and creepy; believers think Atheists are weird and creepy. And not just that but Born-Again Christians, people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, think that people who have a more abstract or intellectual idea of Jesus Christ are weird and creepy and vice versa. It goes on and on and on.

What I’m trying to do in my work and in my book is to say let’s leave all of that weird and creepy stuff aside because that just makes us mistrustful of each other. Let’s talk about what it is we do believe, why we believe it, how we exercise those beliefs, and try to understand it. We don’t have to love it; we don’t have to believe it ourselves. We don’t have to buy into it. We just have to understand that in America, 90% of people say they believe in God. So let’s figure out what they mean when they say that.

Alex Tsakiris: I guess that’s my point. To me, you’re not setting that all aside. You’re really making that front and center of the debate. To me, the interesting thing is what is the spiritual experience?

In your book, Heaven, you talk about a visitation that you had from your Jewish grandfather before your wedding. Then you quickly kind of brush that off as well, I don’t know if that’s real or not. Do you believe there’s such a thing as a genuine spiritual experience? Do you believe the encounter you had with your grandfather was, in fact, real?

Lisa Miller: I think you’re asking the wrong question. I don’t think that religious experience and transcendent experience and spiritual experience can be measured empirically. I just don’t. Otherwise, we would know for a fact what Heaven looks like and where it is and whether it exists or not and who is there. And we don’t know those things. We just simply don’t know them. So I can’t measure whether this visit I had from what seemed to be the spirit of my grandfather was real, whether it was more real than a dream…

Alex Tsakiris: Why can’t you? I mean, I think that’s such a copout. We measure these things all the time. This is the whole basis of psychology. Open up Newsweek Magazine and every article on psychology asks, “Do you like this more or this? Was this experience dream-like? Was it illusionary?”

These are questions we ask people scientifically all the time. Why can’t we ask you about that experience and whether you think it was real, whether you think it was a hallucination, what you think it was. Doesn’t your experience matter?

Lisa Miller: Um, yes. It matters very much. And it felt real to me, as I said in the book. Do I actually believe that my grandfather came down to Earth from some other place in a physical form? No. Do I believe I saw or felt something like him in that moment? Yes.

Alex Tsakiris: So why do you believe that he did not come down in some kind of physical or spiritual form that was able to interact with you?

Lisa Miller: Because I don’t believe that people come back to life. I say that very clearly in my book.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Let’s delve into that topic right there from another angle because I think, to me, that’s the other thing that’s missing in this discussion, and that’s science. If we do have any chance of sorting through this spiritual stuff and getting some distance from it, some objectivity on it, we do have to look at the tools and methods of science. In your book, Heaven, you say “Near-death experiences I view as inspired stories, not factual accounts.”

I’ve got to tell you, near-death experience is something we’ve covered quite a bit on this show. We’ve had a chance to talk to many, many of the world’s leading researchers as well as skeptics. Skeptics I’d say on both sides, religious skeptics and Atheistic skeptics.

But your opinion there just doesn’t really conform to the scientific evidence we have on near-death experience. It really says just the opposite, that these accounts do seem to be factual, do seem to be verifiable. I mean, that’s what the science is telling us.

Lisa Miller: No. Actually, the scientists don’t completely know what these experiences are. And there are some scientists—I’m thinking particularly of a group at the University of Virginia—who study near-death experience.

Alex Tsakiris: Bruce Greyson you’re thinking of, right?

Lisa Miller: Yeah. Well, not him anymore but his acolytes, the people who picked up where he left off.

Alex Tsakiris: Why not him anymore? He’s still an active researcher.

Lisa Miller: He has people who are much more active than he.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Go ahead.

Lisa Miller:   Working in his lab. And they say, when you push them the way you’re pushing me right now, they say, “I can’t say.” And I commend you to do so. They say, “I don’t know what that was.” I know these experiences seem really real. They will say exactly what I just said.

Alex Tsakiris:   No, they won’t because all you have to do is listen to a dozen of our shows where we’ve had them on from Jeff Long to Sam Parnia to Peter Fenwick. And I’ve talked to Bruce Greyson on many occasions. Haven’t had a chance to interview him. And you’re just simply not correct. Again, the point I was making was whether these accounts are factual, and the evidence comes in over and over again that these accounts are factual, verifiable. We may not be able to…

Lisa Miller: Verifiable how? Excuse me. Verifiable how?

Alex Tsakiris: Verifiable in the way the research I…

Lisa Miller: Can you go to the place where the people said they went and corroborate their visions?

Alex Tsakiris: Well, that’s what folks have done. I mean, if you look at the research…

Lisa Miller: No.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I was just going to share with you some research. I don’t know if you’re aware of Dr. Penny Sartori in the UK. She’s a colleague of Peter Fenwick and Sam Parnia, two of the most well-known NDE researchers in the world.

Dr. Sartori did a very simple project where she interviewed near-death experiencers that had survived cardiac arrest. She asked them to recount the resuscitation and everything that happened during it. Then she was in a medical ward, a cardiac arrest ward, and she interviewed folks who had experienced cardiac arrest, recovered from it, but had not had a near-death experience. She compared the two. This is the kind of science that folks do all the time.

She found a statistically significance in the group that had a near-death experience. They really did know what happened during the resuscitation and the other group didn’t. Greyson published a similar study in his most recent book. So there is scientific evidence that verifies that the information that’s coming back is accurate, is factual.

Lisa Miller: I spoke to many scientists, both before my book and since then and I have not found a scientist who can tell me that he or she knows for sure that there is another realm. All they will say is that there’s a possibility that there is another realm.

Alex Tsakiris: Sure, Lisa, but I’m just telling you where the research is pointing us. This is science. No one is going to come out and say conclusively…

Lisa Miller: I’m going to have to disagree with you. I’m sorry. I think the most they will say is that there’s a possibility that there’s another realm and that we need to open our minds to that possibility where some kind of consciousness exists without bodies. But that is a non-mainstream belief among scientists and there is no corroborating evidence that the visions people have when they are not conscious actually describe something that is, as you say, real. There is no evidence of that.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I just presented to you some evidence of that. I actually cited two different studies. What you’re relying on is the conclusions of these scientists which have to be guarded and have to be measured. But if you really look at the evidence as it’s presented as it’s published, it’s consistent with what I’m telling you. And I’d go on to say that really when you say this mainstream view—what we’re talking about here, and what I’m giving you is the mainstream view among near…

Lisa Miller: No. It’s really not.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, you can jump in there and say it’s really…

Lisa Miller: Among people who study near-death experiences?

Alex Tsakiris: Exactly. This is the age of specialization. Why would we expect a neuroscientist who hasn’t studied near-death experience, hasn’t studied end of life, to be an expert? Why would we go to him on what happens to people when they die? Wouldn’t we go to well-qualified people?

Lisa Miller: Well, because there is a range of scientific expertise and my book is not for people who fervently believe in near-death experiences. It’s for people who are struggling with that they think about Heaven, which is a completely different thing. If people want to read the so-called science on near-death experiences, then I commend them to the experts that you just quoted to me.

If people want to think about what they believe about Heaven, if they were brought up with a belief about Heaven that they aren’t sure they’re comfortable with, if they yearn to believe in Heaven but don’t know what their tradition tells them, if they have visions of Heaven but they don’t know where they come from historically, culturally, sociologically, then my book is for them.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. And you just drew out another distinction that you make in the book and that’s the difference between Heaven and the afterlife. Maybe you want to tell us a little bit about how you see that distinction and then we can talk a little bit about that.

Lisa Miller: Okay. Heaven, the way we use it for popular discourse, means a lot of things that the ancients didn’t mean it to mean. It means a place in the sky where God lives; it means the place we go after we die; it means the place where our grandparents and our pets go. And it also means something about the Resurrection, although what it actually means is unclear.

So in the broadest popular definition, Heaven is all of those things. We’re up there with our bodies and our grandparents, with God in the sky forever and ever. But that, I argue, is a very unserious vision of Heaven and it’s sort of perpetuated by greeting card manufacturers and sort of thin spiritual purveyors of sort of a shallow spirituality.

I argue that in ancient times all of those different definitions meant something else, meant something specific, and that you could believe in one without the other. You could believe that you would live with God forever and ever but that place would not be populated with the souls of other people. Or you could believe that you would have some kind of body in Heaven but it wouldn’t necessarily be like your flesh-and-blood body. You get what I mean. We tend to lump all of this together.

Afterlife is a much, much older concept than Heaven. I mean, almost every creature before Biblical times had some kind of afterlife where pre-humans buried their dead with seeds and tools and stuff that they might need in another life. So the difference between afterlife and Heaven is everybody’s always having some kind of afterlife and Heaven in this place in the sky with God and other people and your body maybe.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. But I guess that gets us back to the first topic we were talking about, these culture war issues and the way we parson and hammer out the semantics. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of differences that need to be explored there. Those definitions do matter and they certainly fuel this debate and they polarize us when we don’t really know what we mean when we say “Heaven” or “God.”

At the same time, I have a sense that we are getting away from the real issues that drive most of us, and that’s that we don’t care about the definition of Heaven. What we care about is this continuation of consciousness that is captured in this idea of an afterlife. So are you really drawing a distinction there that matters very much to people?

Lisa Miller: I think so. I mean, I think that my book forces people to grapple with all of this. What you’re talking about—the two questions that really interest me in the area that you’re talking about and the sort of the continuation of consciousness is individuality—if you continue in some way are you you in a recognizable way? And if you’re not, how do you understand the continuation of consciousness?

And the other thing which is part of this conversation that I find very interesting is this question of eternity because in all ancient and medieval conversations and writings about Heaven, about afterlife, Heaven is eternal, right? It’s forever and ever and ever. In many descriptions of Heaven it’s changeless. So what does that mean to an organism that biologically is characterized by change? We change every second. We learn things; we forget things; we grow old; we fall in love; we have children; our bodies change; our memories change. What we know changes. How does that exist?

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, but Lisa, now you’ve thrown me for a loop because you’re interested in continuation of consciousness. Do you believe that the best evidence we have suggests that consciousness does survive our death?

Lisa Miller: I don’t believe that’s the best evidence we have. We’re back to where we started.

Alex Tsakiris: So you don’t believe consciousness survives death.

Lisa Miller: I’m saying that it’s possible but I don’t know for sure.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I don’t know for sure either. And no one…

Lisa Miller: Well, that’s where we all are. That’s where we all are on this stuff. We don’t know.

Alex Tsakiris: No. That’s…

Lisa Miller: We don’t know whether consciousness survives death…

Alex Tsakiris: …that’s unsatisfactory.

Lisa Miller: We don’t know what Heaven looks like. We don’t know whether our grandparents are there. What we have is a hope.

Alex Tsakiris: No. We have……that is not where most of us are living our life. Most of us are living our life from making some kind of conclusion from the data we have. So why is it unfair to ask you whether or not—you just said it’s the…

Lisa Miller: I didn’t say it was unfair and I answered your question.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, how did you answer it? Do you believe that…

Lisa Miller: I said I think that there’s a possibility but I don’t know.

Alex Tsakiris: You think there’s a possibility—well, that would kind of cover all the bases, wouldn’t it? Well, what would you think the possibility is? Would you be leaning more towards the evidence that you have suggested that consciousness does survive death or would you be leaning towards the evidence we have that suggests that consciousness doesn’t survive death? Where would you weigh in?

Lisa Miller: I think that it’s a great hope of many people.

Alex Tsakiris: Why so noncommittal? I don’t understand that.

Lisa Miller: I’m not noncommittal. I’m telling you what I believe. And I don’t think…

Alex Tsakiris: But it’s indirect. It’s not answering a direct question, which is--you can choose not to…

Lisa Miller: I’m answering your question as best as I can. Truly I am.

Alex Tsakiris: No, you’re not. You’re answering a different question. You’re answering the hope question but you’re not answering whether you personally, based on the evidence you’ve looked at in doing this work and writing this book and being the Senior Religious Editor at Newsweek Magazine, you haven’t told me whether the evidence that you’ve taken in has persuaded you one side or another or if it’s left you…

Lisa Miller: I said just as I think about Heaven, I think that it is a possibility and that it is something to hope for.

Alex Tsakiris: I don’t get it.

Lisa Miller: Well, you’re just going to have to move on to the next question.

Alex Tsakiris: I will, I will. I’ll move on.

Lisa Miller: That would be great.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay. So you were saying a minute ago that you think I’m skeptical and I guess I am skeptical. And I’m skeptical in a different way than you are because I’m skeptical of the real message behind your book, because I hear this hope message and I read it in the introduction that it’s really about hope. That sounds really good. And then I watch you on media outlets like the Colbert Report and you say, “Heaven is a silly idea yet everyone…”

Lisa Miller: No, that’s not what I said.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s your exact quote. I’ll play it.

Lisa Miller: No. I say that in our culture Heaven has become a silly idea. I do not think Heaven is a silly idea. I think it’s a very important idea. I think it’s a fundamentally important idea which is why I wrote the book.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, tell us what you mean then when you say that in our culture Heaven has become a silly idea, yet everyone says they believe in it.

Lisa Miller: Right. So what I mean is when a pollster calls somebody on the telephone and says, “Do you believe in Heaven,” 81% of us say yes.

But I think that if you ask them, “Okay, what do you mean by that,” I know for a fact that they’ll say something like this: “Oh, Heaven is that feeling I get when I’m walking on the beach and it’s a beautiful day and I feel the sand between my toes.” Or, “Heaven is just like this trip I took to Disneyland with my family and we had all the cotton candy we could eat.” Or here’s one you hear a lot. “Heaven is a place where you can eat as much as you want and never get fat.” Or even, “Heaven is a place where the streets are paved with gold and there are gushing fountains and trees that have a million kinds of ripe fruits.”

Okay, so those are fantasies of human life that have nothing to do with some of the more important questions about Heaven like, What happens to our bodies? What happens to our individuality? Where is God in this picture? Does God exist? What does it mean to live eternally? What does it mean to see your parents again?

That’s what I mean by silly and I think that our culture perpetuates these silly ideas of Heaven in jokes, in New Yorker cartoons, in movies, in popular fiction. And I think that what that does is it stimulates a lot of people to go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I believe that. I believe that Heaven is a place with white shag carpeting. It’s like a penthouse or apartment.” Or any number of examples.

But those ideas of Heaven are shallow and they are not intellectually serious. If you study the religious tradition, the Christian tradition, the Jewish tradition, the Muslim tradition, if you study scripture, if you study narratives of Heaven, you will see that there are these questions that keep coming up over and over and over that these silly 21st Century conceptions don’t cover.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah. Well, it’s certainly an interesting book. Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife. Lisa, thanks for joining us today.

Lisa Miller: Thank you so much.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, take care.


125. Atheist Debates Existence of Soul with Near Death Experience Believer

Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris and atheist blogger Greta Christina square-off for a debate on near Death Experience (NDE) science.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview discussing the existence of the soul and the science of Near Death Experience. During the interview Tsakiris points out the lack of research among NDE skeptics, "And really, if we're going to play the kind of credential game, you really wouldn't want to stack Dr. Bruce Greyson, Dr. Jeff Long, Dr. Pim Van Lommel, one of the most highly regarded cardiologists in the world who's been studying near-death experience for 30 years-you wouldn't want to stack them against Keith Augustine, who really doesn't have any kind of medical credentials. So I'm talking to you about published research in these cases."

Ms. Christina responds, "There is what seems to me to be extremely shaky research and there's no consensus about it in any sense-in fact, the overwhelming consensus among neurologists is that no, these people are, I'm not going to say crackpots, that's too strong a word. But these people are mistaken. They're being led down the garden path by their wishful thinking. And again, when you look at the history of thousands and thousands and thousands of years of human knowledge, where supernatural explanations consistently get replaced with natural ones and it's ultimately when the research has been really done and it's been really examined, it's never been the case that it's happened the other way around."

Near the end of the debate, Ms. Christina sums up her argument "...even if I conceded everything that you've said in this whole conversation, all that it proves is that consciousness is weird and that we don't understand it. That's all that it proves. It doesn't prove anything about there being an immaterial soul that animates consciousness. It doesn't prove anything about immaterial soul surviving death."

Tsakiris responds, "I don't mind hearing your opinion, but you've got to back it up. You're saying that every time somebody gives you research you go and look at it and it's debunked. Well, tell me. Tell me what's been debunked. You haven't cited any real NDE research. You cited Keith Augustine and then you want to say Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptical Magazine?"

Greata's Blog Post: Why Near Death Experiences Are a Terrible Argument for the Soul

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Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris.

For a while on this show I've maintained that there really isn't a good, solid, scientific argument against near-death experience science. If you've followed this show  and you've listened to the guests that we've had on, people like Dr. Jeffrey Long, Dr. Pim Van Lommel, Dr. Peter Fenwick, Dr. Bruce Greyson (who we haven't actually interviewed but who has contributed by email), if you stack them up against the skeptics we've talked to, Dr. G. M. Woerlee, Dr. Kevin Nelson, Dr. Susan Blackmore, Dr. Steven Novella, or even Dr. Sam Parnia (who's kind of in the middle of this issue but we really have to put on the side of the skeptic) if you stack up the two arguments there's really no comparison.

116. Dr. Sam Parnia Claims Near Death Experience Probably an Illusion

Interview with NDE researcher and AWARE Project leader explores limits of experiments on near-death experience.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with the NDE expert and author of, What Happens When We Die?, Dr. Sam Parnia.  During the interview Dr. Parnia is asked why he suspects NDE is an "illusion", and a "trick of the mind".  When pressed, Dr Parnia stated, "...It may well be. You're pushing and I'm giving you honest answers. I don't know. If I knew the answers then I don't think I would have engaged and spent 12 years of my life and so much of my medical reputation to try to do this. Because to appreciate people like me, I risk a lot by doing this sort of experiment. So I'm interested in the answers and I don't know. Like I said, if I was to base everything on the knowledge that I have currently of neuroscience, then the easiest explanation is that this is probably an illusion."

While Dr. Parnia's position regarding the validity of the NDE phenomena stands in contrast to most other near death experience researchers he continues to push forward.  His AWARE Project asks cardiac arrest patients who experience a NDE to recall hidden pictures placed above their bed.  This methodology has been criticized by NDE experts who give it little chance of yielding positive results. Dr. Parnia responds, "I don't know if be successful or not. That's an important point to make. As I said, I don't have a particular stance. It's possible that these experiences are simply illusionary and it's possible that they're real. Science hasn't got the answers yet. So we have to go fair-minded. Right now what we have is a setup that can at least, we hope, objectively determine an answer to the question."

Dr. Sam Parnia Bio

Video lecture at Goldsmiths in London

Is Dr. Sam Parnia’s AWARE Study of Near Death Experience Doomed to Fail?

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Alex Tsakiris: We're joined today by the author of What Happens When We Die? He's a leading expert on NDE research. He's best known as the lead investigator of the AWARE Project. Dr. Sam Parnia is a Fellow in pulmonary care at Cornell University and he's a doctor. I mean, in addition to being a researcher, he's also there in the ICU saving lives. Dr. Parnia, thanks so much for joining me today on Skeptiko.

110. Christian Atheist, Dr. Robert Price, Champions Fairness In Argument Against Bible Accounts

Interview with Dr. Robert Price reveals why biblical scholar, and former Baptist minister, turned  away from Christianity.

With battle lines in the culture war over science and religion firmly entrenched some Biblical scholars are still hashing out the Bible facts with logic, reason and historical scholarship.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for and interview with noted biblical scholar and Christian-doubter Dr. Robert Price. Dr. Price is a noted theologian and writer who well known for his debates with Christian apologists (those who defend the faith on intellectual grounds).

While Price doesn’t take a stand on the possibility that miracles and paranormal events like those described in the Bible can happen, he’s firmly against the position most Christian theologians take, “they argue again and again that if miracles are possible theoretically, then legends are impossible, which doesn't follow… there approach is that if we can say miracles might have happened then there should be no problem in accepting all the ones the Bible mentions and none of the ones in any other scriptures. Wait a minute. What you're really saying is you just want us to believe what the Bible says, period. You're not really suggesting any new method of inquiry.”

While Price is skeptical of traditional Christian theology he remains opens good arguments, “fairness in argument and getting all the evidence together and trying to address it, that was crucial to me because even as a college sophomore, junior, Apologist, I was reading all this inter-Varsity stuff and such. I wanted to witness and I did witness to people about my faith and tried to defend it. But I felt like I have to be honest about this. I'm only going to present it if I find it convincing. And to do that I'm going to have to put my faith on the side for the moment… then when I was getting into my master's program at Gordon-Conwell Seminary I realized this has been misrepresented. These arguments are just bad.”

Dr. Robert Price

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Alex Tsakiris: Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics. I'm your host, Alex Tsakiris. On today's show I have an interview with Dr. Robert Price, who despite having two Ph.D.s in Biblical Studies, describes himself as a Christian Atheist.