I was listening to a debate between Dan Barker and Dinesh D’Souza.  They eventually got to the afterlife as D’Souza has recently written a book about it.  D’Souza explained his evidence for the afterlife as follows:  There are thousands of people who have experienced a Near Death Experience, or NDE.  Where are they?  They are walking around, driving cars, going to work, etc.  If the mind is producing hallucinations at the time of death, how did the brain reverse this death process?  How can you explain these thousands of people having very similar experiences and ALL of them have had their brains shut off and come back?  Why does the atheist dismiss all these thousands of examples and evidence?  That’s crazy!  Yes, D’Souza, that is crazy.  Crazy wrong.  Let’s begin at the beginning.

Have you ever seen a magic trick?  It’s an illusion.  A mind trick performed by someone who’s goal is to make you think you see one thing, while doing another.  You don’t actually need a performer to trick you mind.  Ever seen one of those optical illusion pictures?  You know, is this circle bigger than the other?  No, they are both the same size.  Is this picture moving?  No, it is your eyes playing tricks on you.  Ever heard of “phantom limb syndrome”?  This is when an amputee feels pain or an itch on the missing limb.  An arm has been removed, yet the person feels the missing hand clenched tightly in a fist. To solve this issue, you can’t convince the brain that it is wrong, you have to trick it again.  You set up a mirror so the person can see the reflection of the other hand relaxing a clenched fist. 

Now my point in all this is that you have seen a circle before.  In other words, you have a good frame of reference to be able to see if one circle is bigger than another.  The illusion is actually using that against you.  You have made a fist in the past.  You know what it feels like to clench and relax a fist.  And still your brain has been fooled.  Still you have seen things that are not there; felt things that are not real.  How many times have you died?  Indeed if there is ANY experience that we should expect our brains to misjudge, it is death.  We have no real reference to it until we have died.  Thousands of examples, D’Souza?  There ought to be MILLIONS or BILLIONS of examples.  This isn’t exceptional; this is mundane.  This is as common as the awful fart that stunned unsuspecting people in the room.  This isn’t evidence for an afterlife.  It’s a bad fart joke.

Now I know the NDE is common.  We can actually produce them on demand.  In training for space travel, astronauts are placed in a centrifuge that spins them so that the force is equal to several times that of normal gravity.  The usual reaction is the passenger passes out.  They often describe an NDE.  You can do it on your own, but I don’t recommend it.  But have you ever lost consciousness suddenly and seen flashes of your life, or a light in a tunnel or something like that?  I bet you have.  In fact I bet most people have.  But I think most people just don’t bother to mention it, like the stinky fart that cleared the room.

And what value does an afterlife have, anyway?  This is the life that is worth living.  This is the life we have to make a difference.  We are charged with leaving the world better than how we found it.  Because god isn’t here; we are.

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Comment by MCT on February 8, 2011 at 10:36pm
While I, of course, agree with overall assessment of fairy tales, I wouldn't even give the after-life the esteem to call it an illusion. It's not even that convincing. Very similar physiological things happen to cerebral cortices when they are deprived of sugar, oxygen or blood or bathed in CNS depressants, whether drug induced or excess carbon dioxide and acidosis from being really sick or getting compressed by a physical force or an extreme of temperature; they begin to malfunction. There is a spectrum from no consciousness to full consciousness and anyone who can read this comment knows what it is like at both extremes. Some goofy shit goes on when you're 'out'. Many people every day lose consciousness in a way that resembles the death process; they just don't die. There are a multitude of different levels of consciousness as well as levels in the death process. Certain parts of the brain can malfunction while others don't. It's a free for all, thought-wise. It is the rare person that comes out of this traumatic brain insult, after undoubtedly experiencing all sorts of visual and auditory stimulation that could not possibly be reasonably integrated within a milieu of fear, pain and confusion, with a goofy story about a sky daddy. It is people's poorly preconceived ideas that dream up something out of nothing. At least an illusion shows us something that we have to figure out isn't there. Those sounds and sights and thoughts that occur during the least functioning moments of the brain don't suggest an after-life at all; it's their idiocy! So many many more people chalk it all up to 'getting hit in the head with a baseball bat.'
Comment by John Camilli on February 8, 2011 at 10:22pm

I'm gonna play devil's advocate and ask what you think it is that life accomplishes which non-life does not? If staying alive only provides the opportunity for more living then it is not inherrently worthy on its own, since not living similarly produces more opportunity to not live.

 Unless there is something else that life accomplishes, I cannot see there there is any real value in it. And what does it mean to make the world "better?" Was there something wrong with existence that needed to be fixed? Was existence miserable until humans came along and started fixing it up?

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