At the Curve of a Waterfall: Matter Flowing Through Us

Harrison Wright Falls at Ricketts Glen State Park by Chris A. Fraley

A person posed this question to N.T Wright: “If my body decays, and goes on to become reconstituted into plants and animals and things, what remains? What is essentially me?” NT Wright responded by noting, first, that Tertullian and Origen discussed this question in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and CS Lewis picked up the same theme in the 20th century in his book, Miracles.

CS Lewis who observed that fingernails and hair, skin and the entire the human body is always in a condition of flux. “Bodies change their entire molecular kit once about every seven (7) years”, Wright summarized.

I am not the same person physically that I was when I was born, or graduated from college at age 22, or graduated from law school at age 31 or when my last child was born when I was 39. I am not the same person, physically, at 60, as I was when I was 39.

All of the molecules in my body have switched out many times over those years, yet I am still recognizably me. Maybe a bit larger, with gray hair and visibly aged from my mid-twenties, but I am still me even though none of the same molecules exist in my 60-year body.

NT Wright re-phrased the question in different ways: If a ship goes into a port and one year later, after all parts of it have been replaced, it goes into port again, is it the same ship? If my grandfather has a spade, and replaces the blade and handle several times, is it the still the same spade?

I don’t know about a ship or a spade, but as for me, I know that I am still me even though I don’t have a single molecule left over from my 22-year old self. I have more experiences; I have gained more memories. People can in my body and mind some resemblance of the “me” they might remember.

Though memories aren’t physical things I can show anyone, I can describe them, and people who share those experiences with me can identify them. Those nonphysical memories are undeniably “part” of “me” – things I have picked up along the way in addition to the extra weight weight in physical body.

CS Lewis says that people are like the curve in a waterfall. There is continuity of form but discontinuity of matter. Matter pours through us. The “us” matter pours through is the real thing – not the matter.

On this day six (6) years ago, Facebook informs me that I posted this quotation from CS Lewis:

“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”

I don’t know if CS Lewis is exactly right, but he is getting at the same idea – that we are something more than our physical selves. We aren’t reducible to our physical selves. Our physical selves aren’t even made up of the same molecules that once existed. Not one molecule remains from my 22-year old self – yet my self remains.

This mystery is extended in death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Jesus, God promises to give us new bodies. Our bodies will be changed, Scripture says, but each one of us will remain the same person and be recognizable. Biblical scholars say we will be more fully us then we were before.

In a sense, it’s like the person who comments about someone who is sick, saying, “He is jus a shadow of himself.” Except, the perspective will be reversed. We will see that our bodies were just a shadow of what we will become. Wright says there is a “real you” that is much more like you, vividly more like you, then you are now.

Getting around to attempt an answer to the question posed, NT Wright says, “Nowhere in the New Testament does it describe a soul leaving a body and going to heaven.” What does he mean?

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On the Near-Death Experience of an Atheist and Speculation on Its Effect

Whatever our experiences, our beliefs often win out. Our beliefs are not always divorced from what we want to be true, though they may be (by the same token) disconnected from reality. 


The subject of near-death experiences is a deep rabbit hole I have come to find out. I have listened to a number of testimonies recently of people who have had near-death experiences. Trying to make some sense of them led me to look up what Gary Habermas has to say about them. Habermas has been involved in the research of near-death experiences (NDEs) for a couple of decades.

This blog piece follows a summary of what Habermas says about NDEs. (See Habermas on Near-Death Experiences) I am picking up here where I left off about the near-death experience of the famous atheist, Sir Alfred Jules (AJ) Ayer, that is self-described in the article, What I Saw When I was Dead. This piece explores beyond the suggestions Habermas makes (that NDEs may be influenced by worldview) and gets behind the public persona of Ayer after his NDE.

To the extent that Ayer is “arguably the most influential 20th century rationalist after Bertrand Russel“, his encounter with a seemingly irrational near-death experience is interesting indeed.

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Gary Habermas on Near-Death Experiences

Many accounts of near-death experiences can’t be explained by the involvement of the central nervous system.


I have recently watched a number of recollections of near-death experiences (NDEs). I also recently listened to a lecture by Gary Habermas, who has studied NDEs for more than a couple of decades. He notes that NDEs have been known for millennia. Some scholars speculate that Plato ‘s Myth of Ur is about a real NDE. There are even near-death experiences recorded in Scripture.

I had no idea NDEs were so common. Habermas says Americans, alone, have reported about 8,000,000 NDE experiences, and they occur around the world in all cultures.

Many NDEs could be made up, though they are many similarities among the reported NDEs. Just listening to a dozen or so of them I could identify the similarities. NDE accounts often don’t fit with worldviews, including the Christian worldview, but naturalists have the most difficult position in respect to NDEs.

How do we deal with them? How do we account for them?

Continue reading “Gary Habermas on Near-Death Experiences”