Life after death: science vs. faith

This week’s news about Harvard neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander III‘s near-death experience during a meningitis-induced coma has re-energised the debate about what light science can shed on questions about the afterlife. This divisive issue has generated a considerable body of scholarly and non-fiction writing for over a century, exploring the differences between scientific and divine truth, and the possibility of using science to prove definitively whether or not a form of life or consciousness exists after death. From the philosophical rationalisations of Richard Dawkins to the direct challenge by physicist Simon Singh to the television psychic Sally Morgan to undergo a scientific test under laboratory conditions to prove her ability, the burden has remained with believers and practitioners of the paranormal possibilities to provide indisputable scientific evidence of their position. Several institutions are engaged in the disproof from the scientific angle, including James Randi’s Educational Foundation, whose mission is to “help people defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims”, while in the UK one of Britain’s leading psychologists, Professor Chris French, is a leading figure in a larger skeptical movement who have proposed that a very simple test would be able to prove one way or the other if psychics are genuinely speaking to the spirits of those who have died.

Cynics have been quick to note that Dr Alexander has a recently published book to promote which not only details his experiences, but also no doubt provides more scientific detail about how he drew the conclusion that what he had seen was genuine and not a product of brain chemistry, a topic on which he is an acknowledged professional expert. Dr Alexander explains: “There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the Continue reading