The debate arising from Eben Alexander’s experience of heaven is now fairly well known in the philosopher/psychologist/neurologist blogger world.
For those of you who are yet to encounter Mr Alexander’s moment of paradise Sam Harris provides a very good summary and critique here.
As an atheist I agree with Harris’ critique of Alexander’s experience. I would even go further to say that if he experienced ‘heaven’ then this must have been either before his cortex was “shut down” or just as it restarted, because whilst it was shut down he would not have been able to experience anything at all. Do you remember what it was like before you were born ?
However, as a student of Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology Mr Alexander’s experience raises questions which seem more interesting than whether his experience was “Heaven”.
1. Do we need him to have experienced ‘heaven’, and if so, why do we have this need ?
2. Does he have a need to have experienced ‘heaven’ ?
Some anthropologists say that you can start to understand a society by looking at their creation myths. Eben Alexander gives us a very beautiful portrayal of heaven.
3. Does science provide us with an adequately beautiful creation myth ? (my Chem lessons never seemed to touch on beauty too much !).
4. What is the role of hope ? Hope in all realms. Do we need hope to motivate us at an individual and social level ? or does hope limit our daily experience ? (a wise adviser pointed me in this direction).
Is atheism the ultimate lose-lose deal ?