An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences, Part 2

If you lose your fear of dying, you also lose your fear of living.

A woman dies and her spirit arises.

I have done two articles on Dr. Michael Guillen’s treatment of near-death experiences (NDEs) based on his podcast, Science + God with Dr. G. Dr. Guillen is an astrophysicist who taught physics at Harvard and earned his degrees from Cornell University under the tutelage of men like Carl Sagan and Fred Hoyle.

He is no slouch when it comes to science, and his beloved science led him to question the materialistic worldview he assumed to be true. As his worldview expanded with the quantum entanglement of scientific discoveries that pushed those once fixed boundaries, he continued on a journey that eventually led him to faith in a Creator, God.

Dr. Guillen’s current interest in NDEs is understandable. It didn’t take much convincing for Dr. Guillen to determine that NDEs are real, but his interviewee in episode #48 of the podcast, Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, was not as eager, initially, to explore them. He didn’t have room in his own materialistic worldview for NDEs, but the curiosity of his scientific mind propelled forward.

Dr. Greyson has studied NDEs, now, for about 50 years, and the data he has accumulated is significant. In this second article on the interview of Dr. Greyson, I want to begin with the question posed by Dr. Guillen to Greyson: whether the near-death stories people tell are “all over the map”? Greyson did not hesitate with his response:

“They are not all over the map. There are similarities in what people tell us, not only between different individuals but between different cultures and religions. A lot of people tell the same stories. We find near-death experiences from people in Ancient Greece and Rome that sound like they could have happened yesterday.”

The consistencies have been categorized over many years by researchers. They have examined the different types of NDEs and tried to correlate them with environmental factors, such as lack of oxygen and over-stimulation by drugs. Greyson says, however, “We don’t find any correlations at all.” His conclusion from these analyses is that categorizations according to environmental factors “don’t mean anything”.

For these reasons, Greyson treats all NDEs as the same phenomenon. He says the same types of phenomena seem to occur regardless of who has experienced them. Gender, ethnicity, cultural background and religiosity (or the lack thereof) don’t seem to factor into it. “Atheists describe the same things as Catholics do,” says Greyson.

It isn’t the differences, but the common outcomes, that intrigue him as a psychiatrist. He says, the most interesting thing to him is the effect NDEs have on the experiencers.

Dr. Greyson says, “I make my living trying to help people change their lives, and it’s very difficult to do.” The NDE experiences that take a few seconds or a few minutes at most “totally transform someone’s attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior. That’s a powerful experience.”

Dr. Greyson says that the data shows that NDEs are a universal phenomenon. He won’t speculate whether NDEs indicate some universal reality, something universally going on with physical bodies, or something that is a universal psychological trait. He says, “We don’t know the answer to that.”

As Greyson continues with the interview, it is evident that his scientific training and the skepticism familiar to his materialistic worldview guide him forward with caution. He is not quick to speculate, but he is candid about the things that appear to be evident from the volume of data.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences, Part 2”

An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1

The first part of an interview with a secular, materialist scientist who studies near-death experiences.

In the second episode of a two-part series near-death experiences (NDEs), Dr. Michael Guillen interviewed Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, on the subject. I wrote about the first episode in which Michael Guillen reviewed evidence that NDEs are “real”.

They really happen, and they happen all over the world, in all cultures of the world, and going back in time. We have enough data to indicate that they are a real phenomenon with certain characteristics that can be studied in the data.

In his second episode focusing on NDEs, Dr. Guillen, an astrophysicist, interviewed Dr. Greyson, who has studied NDEs for decades with scientific rigor and published many articles in peer-reviewed journals. I have linked the 40-minute conversation here:

Guillen began by asking for a definition of near-death experience. Greyson defined them by saying they are “profound, subjective experiences” that people have when they are on the threshold of death.

Characteristics include a sense of leaving the physical body and an overwhelming sense of peace and wellbeing. They sometimes include an experience of leaving this physical realm and an experience of some other dimension or realm. People often describe encounters with other entities they interpret to be deities or divine beings. They often involve a review of their own lives in detail, and many of them conclude with a decision to return to life or being “sent back” against their will. 

Dr. Greyson speculates that the experiences suggest some sort of intermediate state between life and death. All of this may seem particularly unscientific, though.

These conclusions seem like the stuff of pseudoscience or metaphysics, but Dr. Greyson grew up in a scientific household with a materialistic worldview. He had no spiritual or religious familiarity. His background is science, and he still admits that he is more comfortable with a materialist mindset in which the physical world is all there is and everything else is simply fantasy.

Dr. Greyson’s has been trained and works within a scientific framework, but he no longer dismisses NDEs as fantasy. Something happened in his life that caused him to spend the last 50 years studying the phenomenon to try to make sense of it.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1”

Are Near Death Experiences Real?

I recently listened to episode #47 on the podcast by the Dr. Michael Guillen in which he explored the latest scientific research on near death experiences (NDEs). Michael Guillen is a former Harvard physics professor. You can listen to the half hour episode through Spotify at this link:

I have written on the research by Gary Habermas on NDEs. I chased down a rabbit hole to follow the NDE of an atheist. I also did a candid piece on what NDEs prove and what NDEs do not prove. My fascination with NDEs continues in this article with some of the basic conclusions Dr. Guillen notes from his look at NDEs.

He acknowledges from the start that scientific study of NDEs provides few clear answers. Even defining something as seemingly simple as death has become more difficult, rather than simpler, over time. We have gotten so good at reviving people that people we once thought were dead have been brought back to life.

Most people today define death synonymously with brain death. When brain activity ceases is when death is declared. Even patients who cease brain activity, however, sometimes go on living in fashion. Circulation and breathing may continue, the body may continue to regulate temperature, and the body may continue to excrete urine and feces for instance.

Determining the exact time of death is not an exact science. Dr. Guillen calls death “the ultimate mystery”. Death has been the focus of poets, writers, prophets, and scientists for centuries. For millennia, civilized societies have built elaborate rituals around death and the hope of life after death. Recent scientific studies have begun to shed some light on death.

Continue reading “Are Near Death Experiences Real?”

If God Desires All People to Know Him, Shouldn’t All People Know Him?

On logical syllogisms, the hiddenness of God, and unimaginable treasure


Many people make logical arguments that begin with assumptions about God. The latest one I saw was a syllogism beginning with the following premise: God desires all humans to know Him…. As the syllogism goes, it states that all people do not know God, and it ends with the conclusion. “Therefore God does not exist.”

The critical thing about syllogisms on the existence of God is that initial premises make some assumptions about God. Immanuel Kant famously developed a logical syllogism proving that God exists; then he turned around and developed a logical syllogism proving God does not exist. Both syllogisms were well-constructed, and the conclusions logically flowed from the initial premises.

That’s the thing with logic: we need to set the initial assumptions, and the conclusions are dependent on those assumptions. The logical syllogism I saw this morning seems solid at first glance, but it leaves out a critical word that makes all the difference.

Logic can be abstracted from reality and still make sense. The exact terms of the assumptions are critical. If the assumptions are inaccurate or poorly stated, our conclusions will be false, no matter how logical they are.

In this case, the assumption is that God desires for all humans to know Him. For the assumption to make real sense, though, we would need to add one word.

Implicit in this premise is that God desires only for humans to know Him, and He has no other desire, purpose or goal. If the initial premise is that God desires only for humans to know him, that God has no other desire, purpose, or goal for humans, then the logic follows.

If God’s only desire, purpose, goal is for humans to know Him, He could so dominate and overwhelm us that we would have no choice but to know and acknowledge Him. The fact that people are not overwhelmed or dominated by God, and that people do not know God, would prove, on this syllogism, that God doesn’t exist.

We have to ask, though: Is that really God’s only desire, purpose, and goal for humans is to know that He exists? Is God that simple-minded?

If God is really God, God is (at least) as complex as the universe He created. Taking note of the sublime nuances of physics, quantum mechanics, biology and chemistry, we should assume God is (at least) as sublime and nuanced as the world He made with these elements.

Does it make sense that God has one singular desire, purpose, and goal for humans? Is the entire thrust of creation summed up by an unconditional desire by God for humans to know Him and acknowledge His existence?

The problem with logical syllogisms is in the initial assumptions. We have to presume to know the mind and purposes of God. If we are wrong, even if God really does exist, we will come to the wrong conclusion.

As finite, limited creatures of an infinite Creator of the universe, we do not have the capability of knowing on our own why God created the world such as it is and what His purposes are. I believe we have no capacity to know these things apart from God revealing them to us.

The Bible purports to be that revelation from God to man, so let’s take a look at what it says. If we are going to be “scientific” about the Bible, we shouldn’t come to it with preconceived notions. We should consider what it says on its own merits and come to our own conclusions.

Continue reading “If God Desires All People to Know Him, Shouldn’t All People Know Him?”

How Should Christians Live Out the Gospel in a Post Roe v. Wade World?

What does God do with babies who die in the womb?

Davide French has expressed some of my own angst at the news that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a recent article, Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready. Like him, I have championed the pro-life cause. My wife and I marched in Washington. We protested at an abortion clinic. We supported a crisis pregnancy center. I have largely been silent, however, for the past 30 some years.

In 1988, the year I entered law school with two children, financial difficulty, and a very uncertain future, my wife became pregnant. It was the most difficult year of our lives. She was severely sick, living in a strange place 1000 miles from her family under extreme pressure.

When the doctor told her the baby tested positive for spina bifida, and she should consider an abortion, she changed doctors. I supported her fully. We were committed to life.

My son who was born in 1989 is 33 years old now. He bears the scar tissue at the base of his spine where his spinal cord once looped outside his spinal column. He was born that way – with the scar tissue, healed over, fully formed and perfectly healthy.

He became a champion wrestler, All-State, many times All-American, many times national finalist, multi-time national champion. My wife might not have been born if abortion was legal in 1961, and my son would not have been born if we we listened to our doctor.

We were very fortunate, and we are very grateful, and I realize the story could very well have been different. Many people are not as fortunate.

There is a constitutional issue with abortion, a moral issue, and then there is the issue of how the body of Christ demonstrates God’s love in this broken world. I have some thoughts on each of these issues, and I feel compelled to weigh into these turbid waters despite my hesitation.

The constitutional issue has been settled… for now. As an attorney and having studied the Roe v. Wade decision in law school, I can say with some degree of confidence that it had thin precedential support. It’s foundations were shadowy and wispy as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, relying on a medical understanding of the day, and not legal principles, to shore up a lack of solid, legal precedent.

In the David French article he quotes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who seems to admit the same point. She once “declared Roe ‘breathtaking’ and warned that ‘Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable.’” Her prescience was accurate. It stood for one year shy of 50, but those doctrinal limbs have given away under their own weight.

“The Court’s job is not to determine which rights we should possess but rather which rights we do possess,” says French. (Emphasis in the original) So, it should be. So, the Constitution is written. So, the jurisprudence informs us.

Lawmaking is the province of Congress, not the judicial branch. Ironically, though, the instability of that decision haunts not just the left today. Framed on the back of a politically motivated opinion for which little precedent existed for support, that one decision has greatly politicized the Supreme Court to our jeopardy.

That most people perceive the opinion that struck down Roe v. Wade as a political accomplishment is proof, and that should not be comforting news. A Supreme that can be lobbied and jockeyed and filibustered to do the majority’s bidding is a threat to freedom and sound government.

And, of course, the recent decision was just as political as the decision it overturned – maybe more so. The Court that decided such a progressive decision as Roe v. Wade was largely appointed by conservative presidents. Richard Nixon appointed Justice Blackmun, who write the majority opinion.

There was a day when Presidents made an attempt to appoint the most impressive legal minds to the high court. Confirmation hearings focused on their credentials and legal acumen. The justice appointees and the senators who vetted them knew well and respected the value of impartiality that is essential to true justice. In an odd way, Roe v. Wade, penned by a conservative appointee is proof.

For the last 40 or more years, however, most confirmation hearings on appointments to the high court have been political circuses. No question is off limits, including the direct question of how a justice will decide an issue that comes before him or her. It no longer matters that the Rules of Professional Responsibility that govern all judges forbids that very thing.

Pro-life champions are notching the recent decision as a win, but the battle rages on. This decision pushes the battle to the legislatures of the 50 states.

More fundamentally, though, pro-lifers may have won this battle, but the Republic may be losing the war. The more our Supreme operates by political fiat, the less stable we become.

As for morality, it seems that many people assume the pro-life position is a religious view. While many religious people are pro-life, many religious people are pro-choice also. I have seen many of my religious friends categorically criticize the decision in the last few days.

At the same time, the pro-life crowd includes non-religious people, including atheists, like Kelsey Hazzard, who says, “The abortion industry would have you believe that people like me do not exist.” Reducing the abortion issue to a religious category is scapegoating and insulting to people who claim not to be religious.

No other modern issue offers less common ground for compromise. A fetus is either human life with intrinsic value, or it isn’t. A women’s body is either an inviolable vessel subject to her self control, or it isn’t. A fetus in a woman’s womb is part of her body, or it’s an unborn baby with separate and distinct personage, value, and legal status.

I find the arguments for life to be compelling, but the arguments for choice are compelling also. The stories are real. The fact that women, alone, bear the burden of the consensual (or non consensual) act of sex is reality.

A man can and often does escape all responsibility, but a woman has nowhere to hide. The fact that man are not compelled by the state to bear their responsibility is criminal.

Yes, many states have laws on the books that allow a woman to prove paternity and make the man pay support, but that’s on her dime! Some local prosecutors will take those cases, but those positions are too few, too overworked, and have insufficient resources to take on all cases.

I have slowly come around to an uncomfortable angst on the morality of abortion.

Thirty four years ago, our conviction about what we should do when faced with the probability that we might have a physically deformed child was unwavering. We chose to protect the life God gave us. I still think abortion is morally wrong.

It doesn’t matter whether that life might be deformed or have down syndrome. It doesn’t matter what the economic, social, and other circumstances are. I am not saying there are no exceptions, but most exceptions do not justify taking a life.

This is the black and white, analytical position I believe in, but I know the challenge is not in the black and white, but in the grey. The exceptions to the rules are always where the difficulty lies. Life is complex, and complexity is nuanced.

I am not going to say much more about the morality. I know where I stand, but I know good people who share my faith – people I have prayed with – who do not share my position.

About 18 months go my view of things shifted through the unlikely coincidence of my annual Bible reading and a serendipitous sermon on Sanctity of life Sunday. (See Thoughts on the Sanctity of Human Life….” I hope you will take the time to read it, because it informs my questions to the body of Christ.

Does God hear the cries of unborn babies? Does God hear the cries of women who have been abused and misused? The answer is certainly, “Yes”.

There are people on both “sides” of the abortion story. I believe Scripture warns us about our focusing on the “sides” and urges us to consider the greater purposes of God. Do you remember what the angel of the Lord told Joshua, when Joshua asked which side he was on? Go ahead and check it out.

Do you think God rejects innocent babies who have not yet taken a breath? How you answer that question may well reveal how you perceive God.

How you answer that question likely influences how you respond to this issue. Read Exodus 2 and Exodus 3. Whose cries does God hear, and what cries prompt Him to respond?

I hope you don’t gloss over these questions. I hope you wrestle with the implications. Who is it that God is concerned about? And why?

Go back to the question about how God handles the death of an unborn baby who has yet to take a breath. Does He receive them? Or does He reject them?

I urge you not to gloss over these questions.

How we answer them informs how the Church should orientate itself on the issue of abortion. Our answers suggest the priority of our focus and how we should live out the Gospel on this issue.

How we do that individually is a matter of the gifting God has giving each of us, the burden He has put on our hearts, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will only make our way forward as the salt and light God intend us to be with much prayer and humility and trepidation.