Tag: Christianity

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.

225. Kevin Williams, Creator of Near-Death.com

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Interview with Kevin Williams creator of one of the leading website portals on Near-Death Experience science.

Today we welcome Kevin Williams to Skeptiko. Kevin is the creator of www.near-death.com,  the #1 website on near-death experiences, both in terms of visitor traffic and in terms of the comprehensive amount of information about near-death experiences, near-death research, and all topics related to this amazing phenomena. Kevin is also the author of Nothing Better Than Death:  Insights from 62 Profound Near-Death Experiences.

Kevin, welcome to Skeptiko. Thanks so much for joining me.

Kevin Williams:  Thank you, Alex. It’s my pleasure.

Alex Tsakiris:   So as I just mentioned, near-death.com is amazingly comprehensive. It pops up on virtually hundreds if not thousands of different search terms. Even if they’re not familiar with the website, people have probably encountered it. Start us off from the beginning. Tell us how you started it, why you started it, and the driving force behind it.

Kevin Williams:  First of all, I’m a big believer in synchronicity and it seems like most of my life I’ve had that. When I was a kid, my dad had a small CRT screen and for some reason I knew that I could build it so that people could ask questions to it and get answers back. I just had that in my mind for a long time. I don’t know why. Then when I went to college and got into computer science, I graduated just about the time when the Internet was taking off.

Before that time I read Raymond Moody’s book, Life After Life. That was the late ‘70s. Since then I couldn’t get enough books to read on the subject. It was kind of a synchronistic time that I just happened to learn how to build websites at a time when I was fully knowledgeable about near-death experiences and a time when I was able to build a website.

I started really early. Part of the reason why I get a lot of hits on different keywords is because I designed my website as a portal, which means that there are usually only two or three levels deep in my website. I built it that way specifically so that it would do that. It has the ability to access a lot of information right upfront and also it would be a lot easier to navigate.

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Alex Tsakiris:   So you did not have a near-death experience prior to starting this, is that right?

Kevin Williams:  Yes, that’s true. I’ve never had a near-death experience. But once you read enough of them you almost feel like this is information that you’ve known before. In fact, a lot of near-death experiencers, during their experience they’ll receive knowledge like that, forgotten knowledge. The more I read about it, the more I realized that this was true for me and that everybody has actually experienced death many times through reincarnation. So that was part of it right there.

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.

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.

Miguel's Aeon Btye Gnostic Radio

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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.

Conservative Christian filmmaker debunks ancient alien theories, but not Noah’s ark |199|

Interview with Ancient Aliens Debunked filmmaker Chris White who swamps the Ancient Alien theories with science, but relies on Biblical inerrancy for core beliefs.

photo by David Hdez
Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Chris White, creator of the popular documentary film, Ancient Aliens Debunked.  During the interview White discusses the film as well as his controversial conservative Christian beliefs:

Alex Tsakiris: Here’s what Ancient Aliens, the TV show says is one of the most compelling bits of evidence for the Ancient Alien proposition, and that’s the site of Pumapunku and the ruins there.  That’s where you start the film.  So, take us through Pumapunku, and how that’s debunked.

Chris White:   The main thing that the Ancient Astronaut theory proponents suggest is that these angles are too perfect and the stone-cutting is too amazing to be anything that any ancient peoples could have done. We could talk about what the site actually was and so on but the main thing is that the stonemasonry there at Pumapunku is not difficult to do.

There’s lots of things that they say are true about Pumapunku that are not. For example, they say that these stones are granite and diorite and therefore they’re too hard. Not only is that not true if they were granite or diorite but they’re not granite or diorite. They’re red sandstone and ambercite. They are not as heavy as they say they are and they’re not as in the right-angles as they say they are.

Later, Mr. White offers opinions on the limitations of Islam and Buddhism, and the primacy of Christianity:

Chris White:  In Islam they have a lot of rules that say, “Give to the poor. Fast. Be nice to people.” Those are rules that they’re following because of threat of whatever.

Alex Tsakiris:   You can’t generalize like that, Chris.

Chris White:  I think it’s dangerous when we say, “Oh, we know that these people are just as good.” I think you can analyze—not their personality -- I’m not talking about whether they’re good or not but you can analyze the very tenants of what they’re trying to do. And I think very few times do people understand Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam or any of these things…

Alex Tsakiris:   Chris, how many Buddhist monks have you met? How many Buddhist monks have you encountered and really sat down and experienced, and talked to?

Chris White:   It’s really not about the individual; it’s about what they are claiming that any individual would claim…

Alex Tsakiris:   How is it not about the individual? It’s only about the individual.

Chris White:   Because nobody has reached the very thing that they need which is freedom from Nirvana or getting to Nirvana. Show me a Buddhist that would claim that right now. Everybody’s saying, “Oh well, the suffering is caused by tanha.” Tanha is sin. It’s our desires to do bad things that we don’t want to do. That’s the reason that any Buddhist is trying to do the ascetic practices. They try to eat less rice, go onto a hill, do whatever because they’re trying to defeat the innate desire to sin. Now, that’s their path.

If you understand that they’re hoping that one day, if they do all the right meditations and they eat the less food and they give away enough possessions and they’re nice enough to people, it will happen and they will be diminished in their level of desiring to sin. That’s Buddhism.

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Today we welcome filmmaker, radio host, and podcaster, Chris White to Skeptiko. Chris’ latest documentary, Ancient Aliens Debunked, has caused quite a stir among Ancient Alien believers, as you might expect, as well as skeptics and even Evangelical Christians, as Chris himself is quite public about being a Conservative Christian.

There’s a lot here to unpack and Chris, I’m really glad that you’re joining me today on Skeptiko to do just that. Welcome.

Chris White:   It’s great to be here, Alex. I’m really excited about this interview. It’s a really unique opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.

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.

181. Peter Bannister of the American Church in Paris Sees Hope For Science and Religion Dialog

Interview examines the shortsightedness of the culture war between science and religion.


Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview composer and lecture series co-director Peter Bannister. During the interview Bannister considers whether Christianity has lost it’s mystery:

Alex Tsakiris: Modern Christianity is wed to materialism in some fundamental ways that make it hard to pull it out of there. So this is the problem I have with the dialogue with some of my Christian friends. It gets down to doctrine. I keep pushing saying, “This doesn’t make sense. You can’t really have this doctrine. You can’t really have this belief set as rigidly as that,” but their fallback is, “Well, come on, I am a Christian.”

And I think there’s a direct parallel with the scientists. I think the scientists, whether they say it explicitly or not, is saying, “well, come on, I am a materialist because at the end of the day if I can’t measure it I’m out of business.”


Peter Bannister: I think you’ve made some perceptive points, particularly about the  marriage of convenience, or Faustian pact between Christianity and I would say Rationalism. But what’s curious if you do the history is that that’s a relatively recent phenomenon.  I think that there is a very close tie to the rise of a certain type of science and a religious rationalism which insists that the doctrine really is about questions of proof and questions of discursive knowledge, propositions, dogma in the worst sense.
There are a lot of historians who say that really is a very shortsighted view of what the broader tradition really is about which is much more mysterious and a little bit more fluid than that. But the people don’t actually know this tradition very well because nobody’s ever really told them.  The truth that we’re after is much more relational than propositional.

A lot of people in Christianity and some other wisdom traditions and faiths are saying, “Hang on. One of the big problems in the world today is that we’ve got hooked up with this notion of dogma. It’s dogma in the sense of an effort to control.” I think control is really the key thing because as soon as you have a doctrine which you say corresponds to reality in a sort of one-to-one way that gives you a method of control.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s the bridge we have to cross.  Science is a religion. Atheism is a religion.  And now we’re all on the same playing field.

Peter Bannister: Because it’s our ultimate concern. I think, a very good definition of religion. It’s what is your ultimate concern?  If you go back to the idea of who do we want around this table, obviously the entry fee, as you say, is a certain ability to let go or to say, “Okay, we all bring ourselves to this but we bring ourselves to this in an open way.”  My hope—and you might say I’m naïve in this—is that there is a groundswell of people who have this openness and who are genuinely interested in following and examining the data in an open and intelligent way. And I think there is a big need for the construction of a community like that.

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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Peter Bannister to Skeptiko. Peter holds graduate degrees in music from King’s College, Cambridge, and philosophical theology from the University of Wales. He’s an award-winning composer and performer and is co-directing a very interesting lecture series at the American Church in Paris promoting an increased and enhanced dialogue in the relationship between science and faith.

Welcome, Peter, thanks so much for joining me on Skeptiko.

Peter Bannister: I’m delighted to be with you, Alex.

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.

Dr. Mike Heiser's Website

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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.

148. Satanist Winter Laake Honest About Facing Death

Author and Satanist Winter Laake explains how his experiences with the occult have shaped his views on life and the afterlife.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Winter Laake author of, The Satanic Paradigm. During the interview Laake discusses the hypocrisy of Christianity and Satanism:

Alex Tsakiris: I want to venture into is something that you alluded to when you were talking about the failed proposition that is Christianity, at least from your view, and the hypocrisy of it -- the emphasis on self-denial that gets in the way of personal freedoms and self-development. But I wondered, can’t some of those same problems be reflected back on Satanic practices?

So, even if you practiced Satanism, and you try and live for the moment, or live for yourself, you’re going to die. You’re probably going to get sick and die. No one escapes that. Crowley didn’t escape that; Anton LaVey didn’t escape that. In the end, we all face the same fate.  So aren’t there some of the same contradictions that we see in Christianity?

Winter Laake: It does in a sense, and that is where I feel that a lot of scientists are now trying to even break that foothold. They’re seeking singularity which is coming by about 2040 or 20/50 where it will be plausible to not die. I think we will see it in our lifetime.

But yes, the hypocrisy exists probably even more so in any Satanic or occult practices. To a lot of people it’s a phase they’re going through. They are very destructive and dangerous people, some of them. They are not nice people. Christians can be pretty ruthless, too, but Satanic practitioners on different levels can be very, very dangerous. Probably more so than Christians.  A lot of Satanists don’t like to say that. They want to glaze it over and say, “oh, we’re all nice and get along,” but that’s not necessarily the truth. There’s a lot of hatred. There’s a lot of anger that’s self-created.

I personally don’t have that. I have a Mephistophelian kind of concept of where I’m at with things. But yes, hypocrisy is alive and well. It’s in our nature.

I think people are a summation of their decisions and I think if they make the asserted effort that they can achieve anything they wish.

Winter Laake's Facebook Page

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Alex Tsakiris: Today’s guest is a successful author, a consultant on Hollywood horror films. He’s also a psychic and sometimes psychic detective. But Winter Laake is best known through his association with the occult, black magic, witchcraft, and Satanism.

Winter, thanks for joining me today on Skeptiko.

Winter Laake: Thank you.

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.


124. Near Death Experience Science in Bereavement Rescue

Father Rod Walton author of, Bereavement Rescue with Near Death Experience, discusses the evidence for and uses of NDE science.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview discussing the use of near death experience science in dealing with the loss of a loved one. During the interview Father Rod Walton explains why science is important to his work, "I think people really want evidence. Most people, once you give them evidence, it changes them. I often use Ken Ring's book, Mindsight, about people who have been born blind.  They don't even see in there dreams... they only can smell, taste and touch... but when these people have a near death experience they do see for the first time.  When the bereaved realize that this doesn't add up, it affects them. It makes them willing to listen. They're getting hope based on facts rather than just perhaps and ifs and pie in the sky."

Father Walton also discusses the Christian churches unwillingness to accept this new science, "Many Christian communities have great tunnel vision. They're only looking in a straight line. They don't look left; they don't look right. I don't think they're searching. I don't think they're seeking. I think they're just following tradition and dogma."

Father Rod Walton's Bereavement Rescue

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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.

This show, Skeptiko, has always been about following the data. That's kind of been our tagline. Just follow the data and you'll find your way through these controversial, unsettling, breakthroughs in science and you'll come to a new understanding about who you really are. That's the theme of this show, if you will.

But today's interview with Rod Walton got me thinking about what it really means to follow the data. In particular, the data behind near-death experience science, a topic we've covered a lot on this show. As you know, we've spoken with some of the world's leading researchers and we've spoken with some of the leading critics, as well.

122. Reincarnation of Apostle Paul, Nick Bunick’s Claims Scrutinized

Popular author Nick Bunick claims past-life regression provided remembrances of Jesus, but biblical scholars have doubts.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with bestselling author of, Time For Truth, Nick Bunick. During the interview Mr. Bunick discusses how a chance visit to a psychic revealed his past,  "Alex, I had no idea what he was talking about. Two thousand years ago I walked with the Master? I didn't even have a religion. I'd never read the Gospels. I did have a relationship with God; it was a spiritual relationship. But what happened to me then over the next six or seven years, I had affirmation after affirmation from other sources that indeed, my spirit and soul had manifested itself 2,000 years ago in the person we know as the Apostle Paul."

But, as Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris explains during the interview, biblical scholars take exception with some of Mr. Bunick's claims, "I've tried to get a sense for biblical scholarship in general and it surprised how much we do know about the Bible. It is the most studied document in history.  Millions of man-hours have been spent scouring the earth, finding every copy we can get our hands on. Scholars have gone through and scrutinized every word and every letter.  I don't think these scholars would agree with your account. Secular scholars like Bart Ehrman and Robert Price, as well as Christian Biblical scholars don't find any support for your claim that the Bible used to support reincarnation."

According to Bunick transcripts of past-life regression sessions, "gave information about the life of Paul never before known before, as well as the life of Jesus never before known. And also, it conflicted in many places with what is written in the New Testament."

Nick Bunick

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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 I have to tell you that in preparing for this episode, in particular the introduction to this episode, I was really challenged. I was trying to figure out how to wrap my arms around what I wanted to say. And then I was going through the forum and I came across a video that one of our listeners had posted.

117. Spencer Burke’s Controversial, Long-Term View of Christianity

Interview with author and influential thinker in the Emergent Church movement looks at Christianity 10,000 years from now.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with the author of, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, Spencer Burke.  During the interview Mr. Burke is asked about the future of Christianity in light of discoveries regarding the nature of consciousness, "I take a long view of history. So let's say 10,000 years from now the Christians look back at us in the early, nostalgic age of early Christianity in the year 2000. Think about all the understanding and knowledge they will have. This perspective gives us a little bit of freedom to hold things a bit loosely.  If I say, 'what I have right now, if I lose it I lose who I am'... that's a difficult place to be. But if I say, 'here's who I am today', now I have the freedom and strength to continue to move forward without the fear or worry of discovering, learning, growing, evolving... whatever words you want to use... maturing in 'the way'... why are we so afraid of that?"

Mr. Burke also examines the future direction of the Emergent Church movement he helped found, "...you know the pendulum swung so hard in some ways with the Emerging Church, and I love that, but it's also got to find some reality and that's my quest. Like in my book, Making Sense of the Church, I was struggling with the idea of saying all evangelism is just evil. And I'm like, no, just evil evangelism is evil. Leadership's bad. No, bad leadership is bad. Isn't there good leadership? Good evangelism? And I think what Skeptiko is doing with this in a beautiful way is maybe creating that hybrid. I think that's what this next thing is."

Learn more about Spencer Burke

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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 for those of you who have been following this show for a while, you might realize that we've kind of been going down two tracks.

112. Christian Apologist Dr. Gary Habermas Skeptical of Near Death Experience Spirituality

Interview with resurrection of Jesus expert Dr. Gary Habermas reveals challenges facing Christians encountering near death experience science.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for and interview with distinguished professor of Apologetics and Philosophy, and best-selling author, Dr. Gary Habermas.During the interview Dr. Habermas discusses how we should examine evidence of supernatural phenomena like NDEs, “… let's just say that we've agreed that it looks like Naturalism is the odd man out, so, you go, this is a religious world… where should we go? One thing I would caution against is getting too far away from the evidential paradigm where we say okay, just because there's a supernatural world it doesn't mean that everything that's supernatural has equally good data in its favor.”

Habermas also asserts that while Christian claims of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus are well established, other supernatural claims may not be, “we have specific evidence for specific doctrines, like the Resurrection of Jesus would be the best example, but there are others... but when we're saying that John has a near-death experience and John perceived that he went to Heaven and met Shiva or met an angel and John's Jewish and he interprets that in his Jewish context. What is the evidence that John was in Heaven? I could have evidence that John was seeing something down the street and that brains don't work that way in a Naturalistic context. So now I have some ideas about mind being beyond the brain. But where is the evidence that John spent time with an angel in Heaven? Most of the take-away type experiences and most of the transcendental-type experiences are without evidence. There's virtually no evidence that NDEs in another world are evidence. Let me put it this way. What if I had a thesis—now this is not my thesis—but what if I had a thesis that said when I have this-worldly evidence I can make a this-worldly conclusion. But when I have other-worldly data without evidence, then I have to let that hang out there until I get some data to distinguish As from Bs. Otherwise, they're just nice stories.”

Dr. Gary Habermas

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Alex Tsakiris: We're joined today by Dr. Gary Habermas, a distinguished professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University in Virginia. He's a best-selling author, lecturer, and frequent debater, very open to debating his views in a very entertaining and open-minded way. He's best known in the fields of the historical Jesus and New Testament studies, and he frequently appears on major radio and television outlets.

Thanks for much for joining us today, Dr. Habermas.

Dr. Gary Habermas: Glad to be with you, Alex. I'm looking forward to a good chat with you.

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.

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.

Many 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

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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.