112. Christian Apologist Dr. Gary Habermas Skeptical of Near Death Experience Spirituality
Interview with resurrection of Jesus expert Dr. Gary Habermas reveals challenges facing Christians encountering near death experience science.
Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for and interview with distinguished professor of Apologetics and Philosophy, and best-selling author, Dr. Gary Habermas. During the interview Dr. Habermas discusses how we should examine evidence of supernatural phenomena like NDEs, “… let’s just say that we’ve agreed that it looks like Naturalism is the odd man out, so, you go, this is a religious world… where should we go? One thing I would caution against is getting too far away from the evidential paradigm where we say okay, just because there’s a supernatural world it doesn’t mean that everything that’s supernatural has equally good data in its favor.”
Habermas also asserts that while Christian claims of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus are well established, other supernatural claims may not be, “we have specific evidence for specific doctrines, like the Resurrection of Jesus would be the best example, but there are others… but when we’re saying that John has a near-death experience and John perceived that he went to Heaven and met Shiva or met an angel and John’s Jewish and he interprets that in his Jewish context. What is the evidence that John was in Heaven? I could have evidence that John was seeing something down the street and that brains don’t work that way in a Naturalistic context. So now I have some ideas about mind being beyond the brain. But where is the evidence that John spent time with an angel in Heaven? Most of the take-away type experiences and most of the transcendental-type experiences are without evidence. There’s virtually no evidence that NDEs in another world are evidence. Let me put it this way. What if I had a thesis—now this is not my thesis—but what if I had a thesis that said when I have this-worldly evidence I can make a this-worldly conclusion. But when I have other-worldly data without evidence, then I have to let that hang out there until I get some data to distinguish As from Bs. Otherwise, they’re just nice stories.”
Alex Tsakiris: We’re joined today by Dr. Gary Habermas, a distinguished professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University in Virginia. He’s a best-selling author, lecturer, and frequent debater, very open to debating his views in a very entertaining and open-minded way. He’s best known in the fields of the historical Jesus and New Testament studies, and he frequently appears on major radio and television outlets.
Thanks for much for joining us today, Dr. Habermas.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Glad to be with you, Alex. I’m looking forward to a good chat with you.
Alex Tsakiris: I am, too. And I really wanted to jump right into this and pick up on the discussion that we really started last week because it was so interesting and it’s a topic that I think you’re not as well known for but something you’ve researched quite a bit and bring some very unique and refreshing perspectives on. And that’s near-death experience.
Now this is something we’ve looked at quite a bit on this show. We’ve interviewed near-death experience researchers like Raymond Moody, Dr. Peter Fenwick, Dr. Penny Sartori. We’ve also spoken with near-death experiencer, one of whom is also a researcher, Dr. Yvonne Cason. So in our audience you’re going to find people with, like myself, a great deal of interest in this and some familiarity with it. So with that as a launching point in our conversation I thought we might start with can you tell us a little bit about how you became interested in NDEs and then we can lead into what you discovered once you looked into it.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, I’ve been in the general field of what we might say, evidence for religion, wider or more specifically Christianity for-I have to go back and count here-almost 40 years. I’ve done a lot of research, as you said, mostly in historical Jesus studies, but in the early 70s I remember about 1972, there was some breaking information and I thought, “Boy, what’s this with near-death experiences?”
So I started studying some of the real early material, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody. I had a chance in 1980 to go to a meeting-a kind of private meeting but with a number of people, and I got to know Kenneth Ring and Ray Moody and Bruce Grayson, Mike Sabom. Mike was a little bit later. I went down to Atlanta to lecture and you know, later here and there, picking up this person and that interest and this article, and I ended up doing a book and actually went through several editions, but in the late 1990s the final title was called-actually let me back up.
It’s a book I co-authored with J. P. Moreland and it’s a book on evidence for afterlife. And we have three long, detailed chapters on NDEs. So we ask questions like-and we kind of do this in a Christian context. So we want to ask questions like, how evidential are they? Is there enough data to say that something really happened? If so, how would it fit into a world view? Does it evidence a world view at all? Who’s the odd person out of these discussions? Things like that.
Then we had to answer the typical questions Christians often want to know. How does this fit in with their faith? So kind of that whole field. I’ve kept up with it and the NDE part would be about 30 years now.
Alex Tsakiris: Right. I think one of the points that you come away with and make most forcefully is this idea that I would not disagree with at all, and that’s that near-death experience offers us hard empirical evidence against the idea of naturalism or materialism as it is sometimes called. Do you want to expound on that?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah, I think world viewishly, that’s the main move that naturalism is kind of the odd guy out here. If you have that kind of evidence for NDEs, especially if you mix it with evidence from a few other areas, what you start coming up with is a generally religious world view of some sort. I think of a magazine I got years ago from the Hari Krishna folks and I remember opening up this magazine and the lead article was a Cosmological argument for God’s existence. And I thought, ‘ You know, that makes sense. You have an argument for God and that doesn’t stop Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Christians, to say “Amen.”‘ And you went from afterlife data and for the most part, people are ready to say, “Amen.”
But the people who aren’t saying “Amen” are the Naturalists who say there is no religious phenomenon. So I would say NDEs are at present, strong enough evidence that it’s something that Naturalists need to respond to because it’s strong enough by itself–if it turns out to be what it purports to be–to upset the whole apple cart for someone who says there’s no actual religious perspective outside of one’s mind whatsoever.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, I have to jump in. We have a couple of things going on. One, we’re kind of switching back and forth between materialism and what would lie beyond that in terms of a scientific paradigm and then religious thought, and I guess you just mean that more generally in the sense of some kind of experience that what doesn’t fit into the materialistic paradigm. But here’s the other thing I guess I always wonder-and we got into this a little bit last time-is that all we know from what we can take away from near-death experience research and other research?
And I guess I think you say Naturalism is the odd man out, but the other thing we can take away from that research that comes through quite clearly is that no religion seems to hold any superior position relative to any other one. So isn’t that worrisome for Christians when what we would expect if Christianity as a doctrine were to be taken at face value, what we’re getting back from near-death experience research, does it really support that doctrine?
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, yeah, I think that’s real possible. I often say that NDEs are non-world view specific, meaning a lot of groups could jump in, presumably religious or quasi-religious groups, and could kind of jump in and say, “Yeah, me too. Count me in there. That’s comforting,” and “Yeah, my mom was sick last week and as a matter of fact my mom was, and we were sitting in the hospital yesterday and the subject of death came up. It’s the kind of thing you would talk about and people would either be comforted or not comforted. But I don’t think this kind of materialist kind of NDE evidence separates between religious world views.
Now the answer to your question is how does somebody move from a general religious perspective to a specific one, I guess. I would say that depends on whether there are other data that point beyond the general to a specific. I mean, I think about an article I read from The New York Times about a year ago where the guy said that naturalism was dying in his mind. In fact, I think he used stronger language as in already dead but they just don’t know it in the universities. Which was a pretty intriguing comment.
And then he said the new discussion is going to be the hottest discussion to religion. He predicted it was going to be between the generally religious folks who think that general religion is enough. He starts out with a little comment about your soul and so on. So I guess people who would talk about God, morality, prayer, worship, and that could look variously different, afterlife, and then those who say, “Well, yeah, but in addition to all those things are specific doctrines.” And for Christianity that would be trinity, scripture, resurrection of Jesus, and so on.
So the article was saying that new in this new discussion the ground level assumption will be some kind of religion is going on. But now the second level discussion is, is there anything warranting more than a general religion? And I’m kind of thinking that’s a thoughtful way to go after this.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, well let’s jump in and start that discussion. A rather bold undertaking, but I’m going to come back to that point. And that’s that I’m going to assert something and I want you to comment on it and maybe disagree with it.
The evidence that we already have-now at the near-death experience conference here in San Diego just a couple weeks ago and had just a delightful chat with several folks. But one is the guy who’s probably collected and analyzed more of these cases than anyone else, Dr. Jeffrey Long, who is a medically trained doctor and was able to add a medical perspective to these cases and say, “Hey, is this really an accurate, believable account of someone who experienced near death and then, too, able to analyze some of the other factors in the story and in the account?”
So with all that, I think we can approach this data with more than just saying we’ve crossed the chasm from materialism to what lies beyond, you know? And I think we can start saying in broad strokes what is the data telling us? And I’m going to come back to this point. The data is telling us that there are many paths to whatever is this higher consciousness as near-death experiencers talk about it and as most of us would talk about it in terms of God. This all-engulfing, indescribable love.
We’d all probably feel pretty comfortable with the term “God” but what the experiencers are telling us is that there is no one path to that. They seem to be pretty clear about that. So even though I agree with you, we can’t at this point say, “Gee, this is the religion of choice,” or “this is the religion of choice.” I would assert that we can say that there is no exclusive path to God. And I think that flies in the face of Christian doctrine.
Dr. Gary Habermas: If you take it just like that and leave it on the table that way, there will be a few people who say, “I’m a Christian and I have no problem with that.” But the vast majority is going to say, “Christianity is one of the three major monotheisms and more-or-less exclusive religion,” and never want to go further than that. So if they’re going to want to do that, and if they’re going to want to do it evidentially, they’re going to have to go to other avenues.
I guess the move would be to say something like, “NDEs or other type phenomena of various sorts-or even things like successful double-blind prayer experiments or Intelligent Design or Cosmology or new arguments for God and so on-these will be general indications of religiosity. But then the Christian might come along and say, “As far as they go, I’m fine with them. But the issue is, what happens if I have other evidence to put on the table that trumps this because it talks about not about what’s generally true for humankind but what is specifically true in cases X, Y, Z.”
I mean, for me, most of my research-you mentioned historical Jesus-most of my research is in the historical Jesus and particularly in the resurrection of Jesus. Eighteen of my 36 books are on the resurrection. So far from doing this sort of Jesus was raised from the dead because the Bible says he was, or something like that, my argument in a sentence or two is that you can use the data which skeptics, critics, very critical critics, are going to put on the table.
They’re going to say, “Well, look, these hold all these books. This collection called the New Testament. That stuff’s not as admissible as data. But here are 20 things from those books that are because they’re well-evidenced.” And I’ll say, “Well, I don’t need those. The 20′s really too much for me. I’ll just take ten of them. I’ll take five of them. And I’ll argue that the resurrection, Jesus was raised from the dead.”
So if you have an NDE-type paradigm or near-death visions or post-death visions or whatever, you have that kind of data. And then you have somebody come along and say, “And I’ve got evidence in a specific case that a person was raised from the dead individually and bodily.” It sort of plays in the field because you’re talking about the same genre but you’re talking about a very different event.
Alex Tsakiris: Perhaps. And I think you’ve kind of wandered into a very, very interesting point. I’m sure that it’s something you’ve thought a lot about. In fact, I know it is because I’ve heard you speak on it. And that’s the shift that we make when we start acknowledging spiritually transformative experiences and we just start acknowledging that we can take into account and we can start looking at these kinds of experiences that people have. I think that opens up a lot of new areas of inquiry. Do you have any thoughts on how we would do that, why we would do that, and under what circumstances that’s justified?
Because it opens up that other can of worms that we can say, “Okay, this is a near-death experience. We now have all these different data points that suggest that there is some kind of transcending experience, one of them being near-death experience.” So now we go back and we start looking at a whole variety of spiritual experiences. And I think to me, we see the same pattern. We see some incredibly evidential spiritual experiences that point towards a Christian world view.
But we also see an equal number of well-evidenced spiritually transformative cases that point to a completely different tradition, whether it’s Kundulini experiences or whether it’s from another culture or Native American. So what does that landscape look like as we get past this idea that we do have to start looking at something that lies beyond materialism? And then also we have to take into account and we have to take more seriously the accounts that people have about their spiritual experiences which I don’t know how in the heck science has managed to dismiss these accounts for so long.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Right. Now one thing we should say. I think we both agree here before we moved on. We’re saying Naturalism is the odd man out and now that Naturalism is dead we’ll move on to this kind of discussion. I can hear some Naturalists listening to this going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! You guys are only talking about the most influential world view at present, the world view that generally dominates our university system and Western university systems. Some little article in the New York Times isn’t going to upset the apple cart.”
What some of these guys are saying, I think, is that world view is least able to cope with all the evidence on the table. But I’m sure there’s going to be some people who are going to want to say, “Let’s take a look at a Naturalistic view of religious experience, a Naturalistic view of any other phenomena you want to talk about.” They’re going to want to be players in this, too. If we go to the other discussion and say, “All right…”
Alex Tsakiris: Let me just interject before we go any further. You have tons more experience and can speak to this more directly, but I’ve spent the last three years battling with Atheists and hard-nosed skeptics over the scientific evidence for the existence of something beyond this physical mind-brain. I have to say that despite a lot of bluster, and I’ve had these people on the show and interviewed them. They show a real lack of care and attention to critical thinking, and even for the truth. A lot of unsupported scientific claims, a lot of ignoring evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
You just talked about this near-death experience, which is again one of many aspects we can look at. You can talk about death bed visions; we could go into reincarnation; we could go into medium communication; we could go into prayer, which you just mentioned. I just spoke with Larry Dossey, who’s probably compiled more research than anyone else on that, all pointing to the same, same direction. I think that as you alluded to, the people who are really in the know are saying this really doesn’t hold as a paradigm. And you have these kinds of arch-skeptics, really driven by an Atheistic world view, who won’t let it die. But I’m way past indulging those folks with any kind of real thought…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah, they may say to you, if all you’re telling me-and how far for me to argue on their behalf-but maybe they’re thinking, ‘If all you’re telling me is that you and your friends think my view is dead, so much the worse for you and your friends.” This controls Western education. You can’t just click your fingers and get rid of Naturalism.
So my field is philosophy and in philosophy we’ve dealt with this for hundreds of years. I think where you’re hinting to go, Alex, is where I would hint. I would say with these guys-and when I debate with them I do-I’ll say, “Okay, then let’s quit posturing. Let’s just talk. What do you do with this? How do you explain this?”
Alex Tsakiris: Exactly.
Dr. Gary Habermas: And after a while, I get tired of what I think are side-steps, no data. We tried an experiment where we could duplicate half of that data in the mind. Okay, fine. It’s like take NDEs. We have experiments where if you stimulate the right temporal lobe you can see a tunnel, you can see the light, you can think you’ve seen people who died before from your past memories, you can think this, this, this, and then you break in and you say, “Um, excuse me, but that’s not really the way I’d make the argument. I’ve collected over 100 evidenced NDEs myself. I’ve collected over 100.”
And they’ll say, “Read me the evidence.”
And I’ll say, “What kind of evidence do you want?” And NDEs at a distance, NDEs this way, that way. Flat brain, flat heart. And right away, the discussion takes on a different angle. The person starts straining.
It’s like, “Well, I can explain tunnels and light but I can’t explain data down the street.”
Alex Tsakiris: Or maybe sight from someone who was blind from birth and has never seen, even in dreams, and is suddenly given the ability to see only during their near-death experience and then lose it once they do. I agree.
We talked about this last time, but I’ve talked to enough folks who are in that camp and are just so invested in it. Invariably they always point to Michael Persinger up in Canada, who is really a bright, bright guy. The guy who did the God Helmet thing and was able to create through adding magnetic fields on your head something that approaches that.
And I talked to Dr. Persinger just a couple weeks ago. I’m just stunned at this argument that they come back, and I keep hearing it again and again and again. That’s that hey, maybe the EEG-which we all have to acknowledge, because he’s looked at the data and he’s not a dumb guy-maybe the EEG isn’t measuring this brain activity. Well, if you were presenting that data you would just be laughed off the stage.
It flies in the face of everything we know about consciousness and the brain. It flies in the face of 40, 50 years of animal studies on how the brain works. It flies in the face of just any kind of reasonable explanation for it. And when I offered that up to Dr. Long who’s looked at all these cases and has been in many, many resuscitations as a physician, this is just completely well outside the range of what anyone would accept as being a possible explanation for what’s going on.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, that shows you how far you’ve got to go to accept a Naturalistic angle. To me, I would say to that kind of thing, I have a few publications where I would argue the EEG thing just like you did. But I would also say, “All right, let’s just concede for the sake of the argument there’s some undescribed, unknown brain activity going on. The fellow’s laying on the floor in the room. There are either no windows outside or there’s a blind down. He’s obviously distressed. 911 has been called. The person’s there. I want to know how that person can explain something in detail, down the street kind of experience, that you couldn’t see even if you were standing up walking around the room doing perfectly well.”
Alex Tsakiris: Right. What mom’s cooking for dinner.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah, that’s a good example if you’re talking about a single NDE that did know what mom was cooking for dinner. Yeah. That’s a really good case. How would that explain it? It doesn’t seem to me that minimal EEG, if it’s there, that minimal brain activity could explain data from a distance, coupled with the person saying subjectively, “This is the most meaningful experience I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing like it. You’ll never talk me out of it.” And they’ve got the data for it. To me, it’s almost irrelevant that there is some minor, minor EEG remnant, perhaps.
Alex Tsakiris: It’s just such a really outrageous argument that you just have to step back from it for a minute and go, “Wow, what are you invested in here that you can’t let go of that, because it just really defies logic.”
Dr. Gary Habermas: It’s like a debate that took place in the Journal of Near-Death Studies a couple years ago where Keith Augustine presented, if I recall, a three-part Natural response to the NDEs. And then NDE researchers came back and said, “Well, what do you do with this case? What do you do with this case?” And it was pretty clear who was getting the best of the discussion and who’s not responding to the cases. To me, that’s been kind of obvious.
Alex Tsakiris: Let’s get back then, if we can, to this other point. I have a feeling that you’re really not too far from my view. Let me back up and say I’m not far from your view. I can accept fully Christ consciousness. I can accept, if you want to talk and share with folks the experience of Reverend Howard Storm, who had a near-death experience and was actually transformed from being a hard-core Atheist to being a Christian.
I again move into this idea that spiritual experiences should be taken seriously, should be studied, and if the person is credible and if there’s no alternative explanation and if they have a long-term effect, like they do in Reverend Storm’s case, then we have to take these cases very seriously. And I think it’s…
Dr. Gary Habermas: He had a lengthy conversation with Jesus, he says. And interestingly enough, if I remember the story, it was this discussion with Jesus who rushed onto the scene when Howard called him, when he was in the most difficulty and was in the Hell-type NDE and was in the wrong place and wanted to get out. It was Jesus who came, which led to a rescue, which led to a who-knows-how-long discussion about metaphysics. It’s a very incredible book, a very incredible account.
Alex Tsakiris: So here’s my point: I can accept that as we move into this territory that is almost completely unexplored scientifically, but also is troubling because we have a lot of data out there and it hasn’t really been crunched through and processed just in terms of all of these accounts or data points. We can analyze those the way that a sociologist kind of does to find out patterns and to find out opinions and all these things that we accept as science in our daily life hasn’t really been done on this work.
But one thing that seems clear is that just as much as the Christ Consciousness kind of comes right to our face when we look at this data, what also comes right to us is this idea that there doesn’t seem to be any superior, singular path to this higher consciousness. I just wonder.
You mentioned that when you’re going around in your lectures and your encounters with many Christians, most of them, you say, are open to the findings or the conclusions of the near-death experience research. I would agree. I think most people not only are in favor of it but have an intuitive sense that “Yeah, I always knew that.” But at the same time…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, when I lecture on the subject, I think most people who lecture on NDEs and this kind of experience, there will be many people in the crowd or many people in your own family who’ve had family accounts like this. So you’re kind of cheating your own heritage if you don’t at least look at the possibility that Grandpa or Grandma or aunt or uncle had these types of experiences.
I think we’re back to the topic you raised earlier, the very important topic. In any kind of evidential consideration, be it religion or whatever, we have more general conclusions; we have more general trends and more specific conclusions or trends. So what helps me to say, “Okay, where are we going and what does this point to?”
For me, I spent 10 years as a skeptic kind of-oh, I don’t know, a lot of naturalistic flavor and then years later I thought I was becoming a Buddhist. I ended up not staying terribly long in any of those paths and opting for Christianity. Without a doubt, the thing that kind of impressed me the most on this trek, I’ve done my Ph.D. dissertation at state university and I did it on the Resurrection.
Alex Tsakiris: Let’s mention the name of that university since it’s in my family, as well. That’s the Fighting Spartans up there in East Lansing, Michigan.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Michigan State University, very proud of it. And a lot of the guys on my committee didn’t believe the Resurrection. They weren’t inclined to say, “Yeah, you proved it. It’s true.” They were more like saying, “I’m open. Your job is to show me some great research that we can consider.” So they were, I guess, liberal in that sense of the ‘I’m listening, just show me evidence.’
My dissertation was 350 pages long and I’ve had a lot of subsequent books on the Resurrection and a lot of dealings with people. Like for example, Anthony Flew, the best-known philosophical Naturalist and Atheist in the world. He and I have been friends for a long time and we’ve dialogued on the Resurrection three times. So I’d bump into the cutting-edge guys, all the main guys who argue against the Resurrection. I’ve had dialogues with a good number of them.
And Alex, something is really strange today, but in New Testament studies in a wider field, even with people that are down on the left-hand side of the spectrum, I mean, not parochial, not Christian schools, not private schools, but state universities, big name conference schools. I just did a head count kind of article some time ago and published with “their” press, not somebody who would be agreeing with me. But I did a head count and I argued that more critics today believe in the Resurrection of Jesus than those who don’t. Now that’s major.
Because when I went to school back in the ’70s, I could find almost no one except for real conservative folks who would accept this, that or the other thing about the New Testament claims about the Resurrection of Jesus. And now today, it’s just commonplace.
I mean, one of the best known prophets in the world was a professor at Oxford University and then went to Duke Divinity School. E.P. Sanders, he says in his book, The Human Figure of Jesus, “you give a list of data, not a list of data I, Ed Sanders, accept.” But he said a list of data that scholars in general will almost always accept, he says, is the fact that the disciples saw Jesus after the Resurrection is pretty well established and conceded by most every scholar. He said now how they saw Jesus, what form, we can debate that but the fact that they saw him, that’s pretty widely admitted.
That’s a turn that wasn’t there 40 years ago. Now maybe if you put this back in the earlier discussion, maybe the religiosity, call it New Age; call it whatever, that’s been coming up the pike since 1970ish, maybe the religious epochs in this country that makes us listen to NDEs and prayer experiments and arguments for God and Cosmological debates and Intelligent Design, maybe they just put us in a mood where when we see evidence it takes us less to prove something because we ourselves have moved and see that there’s phenomena out there that points in this direction.
But anyway, last point just for a sentence-all I was saying is that if Jesus was raised from the dead, that to me is a specific argument rather than a general argument. And now you’ve got to make sense of the Resurrection on the world scale or disprove it. But if you can’t disprove it, you’re left with a very significant claim and a significant religious heritage. And that’s where a lot of the critics are today that I deal with.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, I think there’s an interesting twist there. That’s about all I could say on the Resurrection. I’ve read a little bit of your book; I’m adding your position on that. It’s interesting from a philosophical standpoint and from an evidential, historical, scholarly thing, a lot of interesting stuff but I can’t impact the whole thing. What I would say is relevant to our conversation is I think all that looks a lot different once you cross this chasm of materialism and you get to the other side and you say, “Whoa, now I have to say that human consciousness, let alone higher consciousness, is really different than the way that I thought it was.”
And I think the one thing I would say is sometimes some of those arguments, like the ones that you’re making for the Resurrection, seem bound to the old materialistic paradigm, right? So it’s an argument that when you bump up against Materialists, there’s a lot of friction you can create. But you won’t find any friction with me because I’d just point you to and say, “Okay, well yeah, maybe. We’re in a whole different world where we now have to start looking seriously at the claims of many different traditions, and some traditions that aren’t even that old. Some spiritual experiences that aren’t even that old.”
I live here in San Diego County and right up the road is the Yoganandas, the Self-Realization Fellowship. I read that book probably 20, 30 years ago and I was like, “This can’t possibly be true.” Bi-location, transformation of spirits into different kinds of forms, stuff like that. I can’t attest to how well evidenced it is, but it’s certainly more current recent history.
When you cross this chasm and say we have to start taking more seriously the accounts of people’s spiritual experiences, I think it puts us in a different space. And I guess the last point I’d come back to on this whole topic is, you mentioned when you go around and talk to people. I talk to folks, too, and I get the sense that as you do, that they’re very open to the idea of near-death experience. I like the way that you put it, and that’s that to deny it is to deny your family heritage in almost all cases.
But I also get the sense that there’s a deep disenchantment with Christianity. This is borne out of statistics of people leaving the church in large numbers, and a lot of them aren’t leaving the church and going-some of them are leaving the church and becoming Atheists. But a much, much greater number are leaving the church and finding their own spiritual truth.
I think that’s at the heart of what we’re talking about here. If we can’t talk about the near-death experience and we can’t deal with the data and say, “You know what? This is highly suggestive of this point,” Christianity isn’t the only way. Christ Consciousness might be real, but I really, really cannot think that-I don’t know how you would interpret that. That Jesus is The Way, you know?”
But that doesn’t resonate with people. I think when people hear people say, “This is the book. This is my holy book. It’s the only set of holy books. All spiritual truth is derived from these set of books.” People just say, “No, there are too many brilliant minds through time that I’ve seen. That doesn’t sit right.”
Speak to that. Maybe you just fundamentally disagree, but this disenchantment with Christianity because at our gut we feel like there’s more. There’s more than one way.
Dr. Gary Habermas: I guess I’d caution in a way. Let’s just say that we’ve agreed. We’re chatting here; we’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve been putting data all over the table. We’re bringing this up and it looks truly like Naturalism is the odd man out, to use the phrasing we used earlier. So you go, okay, this is a religious world. Where should we go?
One thing I would caution is-myself at least, I can only talk for myself-I am very evidentially driven. I was one in my skeptical days, I was-my position made sense. What I look at, and I’ve looked at a lot of phenomena and pretty much rejected a lot of it because the evidence was lacking. So I don’t know. A friend of mine said I’ve got too much latent Natural purism in me. I don’t know.
But when someone comes and says, “I had this experience, I had this experience, I had this experience,” I think they should put up the same sort of data that we had to put up 20, 30 years ago, 10 years ago, when we claimed there really are such things as NDEs. Or 40 years ago, not too open to the Resurrection, now everyone’s open. That’s an overstatement, but very open if E.P. Sanders is right that scholars across the board much allow the appearances of a dead man.
Alex Tsakiris: What do you mean about-explain a little bit on that first point of put up the evidence for near-death experience.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, when we were dialoguing in the 1970s and this was just coming up, we wouldn’t even be listened to. They would say, “No, no, no, no, it doesn’t work like this. This isn’t the way the world is. The world is Natural.” And in order to make the progress, in my opinion, in order to make the progress we’ve made, let’s say it’s been made at two levels with NDEs.
One is a what do you do with these 100 evidential cases, to use my earlier example. How can the brain do that and give evidential cases on the street? Whereas the majority of Americans, it seems to me, don’t care about that kind of evidence. They’re more hung up with the-”Did you hear about that guy? He went down a tunnel and he said he saw a light and man, he came close to death.”
Alex Tsakiris: More importantly, I think what they really resonate is he saw God and he saw that there was a morality. There was a right and a wrong and he experienced that. So yeah, that’s what people resonate with.
Dr. Gary Habermas: He came back loving others and…
Alex Tsakiris: Exactly. It changed his life, right.
Dr. Gary Habermas: But what impresses a lot of people is just this general ethos, my prayer worked. Somebody else’s prayer worked. I saw an experiment last weekend-your prayer worked; my prayer worked. My family. My experience. But I think we’ve gotten a little bit away from the evidential paradigm where we say okay, just because there’s a supernatural world-I’m actually being a little bit skeptical here-just because there’s a supernatural world it doesn’t mean that everything that’s supernatural has equally good data in its favor.
Alex Tsakiris: Right. I hear where you’re going with that and you’ve gone there a couple times. I’m going to keep turning it around and saying this. Look, if Christianity is the exclusive path, then we should see a different pattern in the data. A pattern that we don’t see. And that’s just good, basic, blocking and tackling science. We can do that with the data we’ve already collected. We don’t need to wait 20 years and collect 40,000 more cases.
We can carefully look at the data, find out which data is well evidenced and that we have the right medical backing behind it. And then we can say okay Christianity, let’s take the claims and let’s apply them. A claim-survival of consciousness, yes. God, yes. Christ Consciousness, yes. Exclusively the Son of God, no. Exclusively the path to God, no. These don’t stand up to the data that we have and I don’t see any other way around that. I don’t see…go ahead.
Dr. Gary Habermas: What are the data we have? For example…
Alex Tsakiris: All these cases. Across culture. We also have a lot of cross cultural cases which is the first thing you’d look at if you’re going to take a serious look at this. You’d say…
Dr. Gary Habermas: You have hundreds, maybe even thousands of cross cultural cases, for sure. But what I’m saying is when you gather data and when you argue with the Naturalists and they want hard data and you say, “I’ve got 100 evidential cases of NDEs.” By and large, the NDE evidential data is going to be this-worldly data. You know, your example was what mom was cooking for dinner. What happened in the car accident down the street? What happened with the tennis shoe on the roof of the hospital in the well-known tennis shoe cases? They’re this-worldly.
When that same guy says, “Then I went up through the clouds and I went to Heaven.” And one person says, “I saw an angel.” And one person says, “I saw Jesus,” I don’t have any criteria. At that point, I don’t have any criteria to say that they met a person, even Jesus. Now, in Howard Storm’s case, he said it was Jesus but Howard’s got a great story. For him, I’m sure it convinced him, but there are no evidential requirements that I’m seeing that have been met.
Alex Tsakiris: See, I don’t think that’s really-I guess I take exception with that because I think again, that’s kind of playing in the Materialistic, Naturalistic playground that they want to play in. But it’s really not the case…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Only in that we want data. Only that we want data, not that Naturalism is true.
Alex Tsakiris: But here’s what I’d say. If we apply the normal measures that we would, the normal good science that we would from a sociological or an anthropological perspective, of course we take seriously those accounts. What we do is we cross-reference them and we’d ask the questions a number of different ways and try and see if we can throw them off. We’d compare them across time, across cultures, across age, sex, and…
Dr. Gary Habermas: How do you know that religious phenomena-okay, here I am, playing the skeptic. When I have this-worldly phenomena that you can see in action down the street when you pass out in the room here, that’s a lot harder data that can be-what tells me-okay, you say let’s get the anthropological and sociological data and let’s interview people and do percentages. Who thinks they say this and who thinks they saw this…
Alex Tsakiris: My point, my point Gary…
Dr. Gary Habermas: That’s not evidence.
Alex Tsakiris: Of course it is. We do that all the time. I mean, just go do a med search on dreams. I mean, anything we do on dreams…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Of what is it evidence?
Alex Tsakiris: I again would point back to all the research that’s done on dreams. I’d make it even more concrete. Pain. Open up the medical journals and look on every experience of pain, right? That’s experience…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah, but pain is pretty subjective.
Alex Tsakiris: Of course it’s very subjective, but we spend millions and millions and millions of dollars not only researching it but then of course trying to treat it and trying to affect it and trying different modalities of doing it, including mind-body. And all sorts of different stuff.
But I’m just saying all this is not outside the reach of science that we accept on a daily basis. And I think if we just apply that same criteria to the near-death experience data that we already have, and again, we’re leaving off the table the death bed vision research, the prayer research, and all that stuff. They all point in the same direction, and that’s that Christianity does not seem to–in the prayer research, in the death bed vision research-it does not seem to hold any kind of exclusive or superior position relative to other belief systems.
It all seems to come back to the same thing that I read in my Yoga book over there. Love everyone and tell the truth. The Golden Rule that’s been passed on through ages throughout every tradition. That seems to be what it’s all about. It doesn’t seem to be about exclusively Jesus, the Trinity, or any of the other fundamental doctrines in Christianity.
I don’t think that’s bad news. I think we can have a plurality of expressions of that higher consciousness. This is purely speculation. I think that’s what we are experiencing. But I come back to this. The data is in. Christianity can’t hold this position of saying we’re somehow the only way. We’re somehow the superior way of experiencing this higher consciousness.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah, okay. Now, I have two thoughts here. One is what about specific evidence for specific doctrines? That would be, like I said, Resurrection would be the best example I would use, but there are others.
And then when we’re saying that John has a near-death experience and John perceived that he went to Heaven and met Shiva or met an angel and John’s Jewish and he interprets that in his Jewish context. What is the evidence that John was in Heaven?
I could have evidence that John was seeing something down the street and that brains don’t work that way in a Naturalistic context. So now I have some ideas about mind being beyond the brain. But where is the evidence that John spent time with an angel in Heaven? Most of the take-away type experiences and most of the transcendental-type experiences are without evidence. There’s virtually no evidence that NDEs in another world are evidence.
Let me put it this way. What if I had a thesis-now this is not my thesis-but what if I had a thesis that said when I have this-worldly evidence I can make a this-worldly conclusion. But when I have other-worldly data without evidence, then I have to let that hang out there until I get some data to distinguish As from Bs. Otherwise, they’re nice stories.
In other words, if I’m going to start talking evidence-we’ve talked evidence to establish where we are now. You and I started out with evidence. But if now we just let it go away to any kind of religious experience, I think we’ve abandoned our own rule.
Alex Tsakiris: Absolutely not. And again, I’d come back to dream research which is exactly the same. We sit down and ask someone what was your dream? Were you able to dream in color? Were you not able to dream in color? You had a lucid dream. What did that mean? How did it affect you later? And we look at the same criteria. What is the credibility of the person giving the testimony? Were there any alternative explanations? Were they sedated? Were they taking some kind of drugs? Were they drunk? Whatever. And then, what are the effects of that? So we’d look at that.
Dr. Gary Habermas: What’s the conclusion?
Alex Tsakiris: But just pain. I think that even makes it more clear. If we did a pain study-okay, describe the pain. What was the pain like? We do this. This standard stuff. And then we’d correlate that data and we’d compare how the pain was described over here.
Well, these are all just subjective experiences. They are no more real or not real than the near-death experience as soon as we cross what we both have already crossed and said, “Look, somehow in some way we don’t fully understand our consciousness seems to survive our bodily death.”
Dr. Gary Habermas: I agree with you.
Alex Tsakiris: Done. That’s over. So now we have to-we have to–it compels us to look at these accounts and apply the same criteria that we do in science. And I come back and say when you do, you can hold the Christ Consciousness, you just can’t hold that it has any kind of superior position or preferred position. It just doesn’t seem to. The data’s screaming that. So you can deny the data and say, “Gee, we have to throw out all that data because it’s somehow subjective or it’s just someone’s account.” And I’d say, “No, we wouldn’t throw out that data if we were in any other area of science.”
Dr. Gary Habermas: No, you wouldn’t throw it out. I would like to see evidence that our-see, we’re all human beings. And we all have brain biology. When the first NDE research came out, the critics said, “How do you know that tunnels and lights and wonderful experiences aren’t part of our common physiology? Our brain chemistry?” And the comeback which is…
Alex Tsakiris: A last gasp of a dying brain kind of argument.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Right. And I think the comeback-I think we both have spoken of this and I think we agree. The comeback that makes the most sense is because we have data that dying brains are live brains that can’t incorporate. We have hard data that they were picking up other material. That material, by definition, is material in the world.
When we have millions of religious experiences, general experiences without hard data, I don’t know how much of that-in other words, I can’t answer the same question I could answer earlier. I can’t answer is that just common to everybody because we are, as a friend of mine says, hard-wired in the brain to have religious experiences? Is that just a general…
Alex Tsakiris: Wait, wait, wait. We’re past that, right? Let’s put that aside because we now have this separation of mind and brain. Because the brain we know is dead. So let’s just move beyond that. Let’s not fall back into that gully. So what’s next?
Dr. Gary Habermas: But see, from start to finish, and somebody can reject my evidential sort of paradigm, but I ask, “What does the evidence say at this point?” I don’t take evidence to be head count or a lot of people have had this experience because, of course, a lot haven’t. Or a lot that have done the same thing don’t perceive the same thing.
We all have similar brain chemistry. The way we mentioned that question earlier to get out of the gully is brain chemistry doesn’t do this because we have data that happened down the street or what mom was making for dinner last night, but the body that perceived it was in the hospital.
Alex Tsakiris: But we’re running around in circles. Let me bring it back to Reverend Storm, okay? I take Reverend Storm’s account seriously. And I’ll tell you why I take…
Dr. Gary Habermas: I do.
Alex Tsakiris: I take it seriously, too. And I’ll tell you why. 1) Because he’s credible. He’s otherwise an honest person and we have no reason to doubt him. 2) We don’t have an easy alternative explanation for his experience. He was in a medical setting. We know that-didn’t he have a heart attack, if I remember correctly?
Dr. Gary Habermas: No, he had a leakage in the stomach and the acid from his stomach went into his abdomen and almost killed him. He had like an ulcer or something in his stomach.
Alex Tsakiris: But we had medical professionals there who can attest to the fact that he was near or at clinical death, so we don’t have a lot of alternative explanations for what could be going on from a neurological, normal brain standpoint.
3) We look at his life afterwards and how he said, “Hey, this transformed my life.” And then we look around and say, “Well, did it really transform his life?” And we do, “Yeah, it really transformed his life. Talk to his wife. Talk to his kids. Talk to the people in his parish. This single event transformed his life.” Well, these are the kind of criteria that not only you or I would accept, not only that the public would accept, but any smart scientist would accept. This is how you look at this data. So I don’t…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Right, except transformed-I’m not picking on Howard here, but what I’m saying is transformed life. I think Howard had a real experience that really transformed his life. But transformed lives don’t-what transformed lives argue is the person believed they went through a change. A transformation says I am very committed to something that I think I witnessed, saw, experienced, and so on. It doesn’t thrill me. As much as I might want it to, it doesn’t tell me that I really saw that. I need an exterior post, you know what I mean? We have that in the earlier NDEs.
Alex Tsakiris: No. But no, it’s kind of like comparing apples and oranges when you talk about the data of what mom’s cooking down the street and then again, I just pound on the same point I’ve been pounding on is the internal experience, whether it’s spiritual in this case, but if it’s not spiritual, is something we can gain access to with science. We don’t have to say this person’s internal experience, what they saw, what they felt in this dream state or in this near-death experience state. We can’t access it. We have all the tools of science that we normally use for that.
It’s such a wonderful new vista for Christianity, I think. But so few are willing to go there, which is to say yes Christ Consciousness, but yes we can be open to the fact that there is more. That this one God allows-and this is again me going off on pure conjecture-but this God this all-loving God accepts many paths to a moral truth. To a Good that so many people deny even exists that there is a Good.
Dr. Gary Habermas: You know, and that’s what I’m saying. If we were doing this over coffee and doing it several times over, this is where I would go, “Where is the evidence that there’s more than one path?” I’m not picking on that one but I’m just using that example you give. Where is the actual evidence? Because people have experiences? Because people conceived of a reality of there being another path? I guess what I’m saying is where are the data that would say there is more than one? By data I mean measurable, this-worldly data to confirm that.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, that then becomes theological. Or the way that you would approach it is the way that you’ve approached it in your work on the Resurrection.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah. Right.
Alex Tsakiris: I would then say that there is plenty of room to approach it from that perspective, too. I mean, if you’re a Buddhist you can bring all of the Buddhist texts and you can go through the same-which they have, to the nth degree.
Dr. Gary Habermas: I’ve had those discussions. I love to have them. They’re fun discussions. If people think…
Alex Tsakiris: I think they don’t resonate with people because they just-because what people-you know, I have this creed that’s part of this documentary that I’m doing, and I call it “The Dumb Religion Creed.” I think it’s just people say, “You know what? If you tell me that you have one set of books and all spiritual truth is derived from that?” No. I just say, “No.” That’s what most people say. They say, “No, that can’t be true.”
If I say I believe all spiritual experiences, all religious experiences that anyone has, they arise only from my tradition. Everything else is a hallucination or work of evil forces. People go, “No, that can’t possibly be true. No, that Buddhist guy I saw down there or that Shaolin monk or whatever, that sure seemed like a real spiritual experience.” These are just the basic stuff that people know in their heart. I think the data is just coming in and confirming it over and over again.
I understand where you’re coming from that you don’t want to go there. I don’t know if you could go there. So I don’t know how we could get there.
I’ve taken over an hour of your time, but any final thoughts on why the exclusivity seems to be the final position that you wind up with in this whole thing?
Dr. Gary Habermas: I guess for me personally, it stands or falls on the Resurrection. And if the Resurrection occurred–which I think there’s just incredible evidence for-if the Resurrection occurred, it seems to affirm the teachings of an individual, Jesus. And I think that points up to some very specific channels and not other channels. I think that kind of evidence, in this case historical evidence, or even Shroud of Turin-type evidence which is a different sort, but evidence for the Resurrection would seem to point in a certain specific direction.
Now there are other directions, too, in Christianity but I would say as long as the Resurrection’s around, that is a really tough objection to the many paths comeback. Because I think the many paths and a lot of what you’re discussing, I think is riding a crest of popularity because tolerance is in and that’s what people want to be…
Alex Tsakiris: No, it’s just looking at the data. It’s just looking at the data. The data from thousands and thousands of death bed visions, the data from hundreds…
Dr. Gary Habermas: I think you and I are using the word ‘data’ differently because I would say if we’re talking about mystical, empirical sorts of data then-if we’re discussing empirical data a lot of those don’t even have anything on the table in that category.
Alex Tsakiris: Again, I you know…
Dr. Gary Habermas: You’re talking sociological comparative experience, and I’m saying…
Alex Tsakiris: Uh, what’s wrong with that? Open up any magazine that’s on your desk and we’re just inundated with that every bit of information about psychology and how we work and what motivates us is there. So to suggest that we have to throw that out or that takes…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Oh, that tells me where people are and what they believe. That doesn’t tell me what is true. I mean, what the survey says is not necessarily reality. It could be. And then it may not be.
Alex Tsakiris: So then what do you think of Howard Storm? That’s not-that doesn’t factor into this conversation? Because really, what I hear, I mean, over a cup of coffee and I’m just going to talk honestly-you know totally kind of-not that I’m talking honestly. And totally lay it on the line is I just hear this kind of double-talk from Christians all the time. I think it’s just sad.
It’s just insulting because of course Reverend Storm had a genuine spiritual experience. But of course, this person over here that had a Kundalini experience, that was not real. Of course the prayer experience of these nuns-or maybe it wouldn’t be nuns–because they’re Catholic of course that’s valid. But this other prayer experience of this Buddhist monk, we have to somehow be suspicious of.
And also just in listening to so many of the shows that you’ve been on. People have been willing to accept that God spoke to me, Jesus spoke to me, Jesus transformed me. Again, total acceptance of the reality of these spiritual experiences.
And then to kind of turn it around and say, “No, we really have to discount that. That really isn’t hard evidence.” Here’s my evidence, and this evidence somehow trumps all this other. To me, that’s the same kind of stuff that we were talking about when we were talking about the Materialists. It just doesn’t add up in terms of just the…
Dr. Gary Habermas: The difference is we’d have more trouble with Materialism if they had more evidence. I think Materialism, where Naturalism fails, is that it preys on other world views without providing evidence for its own. It’s not establishable by the same data that it asks for. So it doesn’t play the game the same way. It asks you for your data and then it jumps on your data. It doesn’t present evidence for itself.
So where I think the Naturalists are correct is we should be having evidential pointers that this is more than a private experience. Now personally, I think a lot of people have NDEs that I think have profound religious experiences. It’s just that I can’t do anything with them and work them into a system or a view if I don’t have data that say at that point this is more than just a purely subjective experience.
Alex Tsakiris: But then by definition you’re dismissing all the data. Because you’re never going to have-how would you ever have that? You say you can’t approach it. And I just find that over and over again, and to me it’s just such-it’s kind of a weak argument that we can’t approach it scientifically because we’re never going to have that hard data. Well, of course we can.
Dr. Gary Habermas: No, no, first of all we do have hard data. That’s why I think Naturalism loses because when you have 100 NDE cases-I’m just picking my number, there are many others out there-when you have 100 NDE cases that are well-evidenced, that is data. I think when you have a double-blind prayer experiment that is evidence. When you have spontaneous healing from cancer, that is well…
Alex Tsakiris: Then let’s switch and I’m going to let you go here in a minute. But let’s switch to the prayer research. You have your double-blind prayer research and again, if you don’t show any preferred ethnicity by Christians than other religious groups-again, that’s pointing in my same direction, not in yours.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Most of the prayer experiments have not done well. There are a few that have done well. The two that I’m most familiar with, the prototypical one, the so-called Byrd Study that was published in the Southern Journal of Medicine, which kind of got everybody ticked off on this. The Byrd Study, the prayers were Christians.
There’s been another study published in a medical journal, I believe in ’98, about nine years after Byrd, and the prayers were Christian. Now, let me make something real clear. I don’t think-I am not teaching that only Christians get their prayers answered. I don’t think that’s true. I do not think that’s true. I’m just saying-I’m only responding to the prayer data per se.
Alex Tsakiris: I’ll get to the data beyond that is very highly suggestive of prayer being effective. I’ll get you the data beyond Christians, but I don’t think that’s going to be convincing to you. I think you’re going to fall back and say, “Well, they’re still going through Christ.” And then we’ve kind of hit a no-man’s-land.
Dr. Gary Habermas: I think God can answer prayers from whomever He wants to answer them. You don’t have to be a particular belief to have prayers answered.
Alex Tsakiris: Absolutely. I think the data is highly suggestive of that. And I think the data’s highly suggestive that you could say that exact same thing about whatever this experience is after we die and are received by this all-loving being. He doesn’t seem to care whether you’re a Christian or whether you’re not a Christian. It has to do with whether you’ve lived by The Golden Rule.
And even then, we’re really spiritual brothers here and arguing over the small stuff. To me, the most amazing thing that needs to come out of the near-death experience is the transformative experience of complete love and acceptance.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Sure, and that’s important.
Alex Tsakiris: It seems to be everything. I mean, to the people who come back from the NDE, they say that’s what it’s about. And you talk to them about judgment and they say it’s not God judging me. It’s me being empowered with the love of God to see my life and to see where I could have done better and where I could have been more loving and compassionate. I think that’s not only a feel-good message but it just seems to come through in just a resounding way from the data, in a way that our social sciences model. Any social scientist would just jump up and down and pound the table and go, “That’s the message!”
Dr. Gary Habermas: That’s the message of what we should be doing. The earlier point that doesn’t seem to please you very much is that what I don’t know is–the general message as you just said is fine. But the message of “I saw so-and-so.” Even if they say they were Jesus, I mean, I don’t say the experiences of Jesus are wonderful and the experiences with everybody else are no good. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying other-worldly, when the NDE leaves–when the NDEr zips out of this world and says they go to a heavenly world, I don’t have any contact point. I don’t know who they were with, what they saw, what their angle was, how their brain was operating. I don’t have contact evidence.
Alex Tsakiris: Actually we do, though, right? Because part of the evidence that we have there is they say they’ve encountered beings in their family who have died. In several occasions they’ve encountered people that they said are dead, and they said no, this is an error because that person’s actually alive and then they’ve found out subsequent to that that hey, the person actually had passed and they were…
Dr. Gary Habermas: Yeah, and that would be evidence. In cases where there’s evidence I say we take the evidence and move on from there. But unfortunately, the other-worldly stuff, the heavenly stuff, is very seldom accompanied by data. Okay, let me change my words-very seldom accompanied by evidence, evidential data.
I mean, that compares to what was mom cooking for dinner last night? And very seldom do we have those kinds of checks and balances. Sure, if you say you saw your sister and someone says, “Honey, your sister’s fine. She’s over here.” And then you find out she died last night, that’s a better kind of evidential data. I think that counts for something.
Alex Tsakiris: It counts for what? We could go into the other person I spoke with just a couple weeks ago is Julie Beischel at the Windbridge Institute has done all this very tightly, very well-done control on medium communication. People who connect with folks that have passed on. Highly evidential in just the kind of way you’re talking about in terms of personality, body characteristics, all these things that are verifiable in that way. A large body of research again points the same way. No exclusive path for Christianity. But I mean, yes, yes to Christ Consciousness. Yes to Jesus. Yes to God. But no to it being the only path.
Dr. Gary Habermas: I hear you.
Alex Tsakiris: You know, you’ve been extremely generous with your time. Take a couple minutes and tell folks what’s coming up on your near-term horizons. You’re very prolific in your writing. What’s coming up there? And you also do a large number of presentations that I’m sure a lot of people would be very interested in. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s going on and how to find out more about your work?
Dr. Gary Habermas: I guess maybe the easiest point would be to check out my website, garyhabermas.com. I have a lot of things in there from a lot of perspectives. It’s a subject we haven’t talked about today. Most of what I do is on the Resurrection, but I have a whole lot of material on religious doubt. We have a lot of people in our day and age who are just churned up about can we believe anything? Is anything worth believing? I have a lot of lectures on my site about things like that.
As far as my own travel, the first three weeks in November I’m out to three different conferences. One is to a conference in Southern California, which is some of this. It is evidence of apologetics, evidence for Christianity in this case.
I have a conference coming up in Charlotte the week after that. Now, that conference is going to be a major debate between one of the new Atheists, Christopher Hitchins and Dinesh D’Souza, and What’s so great about Christianity? is his book.
Alex Tsakiris: Wow, that would be great.
Dr. Gary Habermas: That’s down in Charlotte. And then my last one before the holidays is down in New Orleans and that’s a huge philosophical conference with thousands of attendees and papers being read and so on. In fact, I’ll let it out of the bag. I’ve got a paper to give and I haven’t written it yet, so I’d better get working.
By the way, in that paper, I deal with pain and suffering. So I do try to deal sometimes with more existential things and what we learn and how we apply these. I think I’ve titled it “The Worst Suffering You’ll Ever Face.” My wife died of stomach cancer in 1995 and a lot of what I do in this area is conditioned by what my children went through, and other people who have connected with me because of what they’ve gone through in their own lives. I do more than just the evidence, evidence, evidence. I do try to ask a more pastoral, what difference does it make, how is it going for you, and how you’re coping sort of questions.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, we certainly appreciate your spending all this time with me today. I’ve really found your writing to be extremely enjoyable, engaging, and as well as your presentations. I just appreciate the openness, the true openness that you bring to these topics and you don’t shut down, which I experience so often with folks who are willing to go only so far and then not willing to engage. And we’re all hungry for the truth, here. As I said before, spiritual brothers. And that’s how I consider you even though I don’t know you but through your writings and your talks. I mean, you’re asking the tough questions and you’re really willing to face all the data and embrace it in your own unique way. You just deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Well, thank you, Alex. You’re very, very kind. I appreciate that. You told the folks that we did have a discussion that wasn’t taped last week. And we just seemed to hit it off like gangbusters, and so this is an extension of that. I enjoy your position and I’m not threatened by your views. Neither do I steer away from chatting about them. So I enjoyed hearing about your perspective.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. Thanks again, Gary.
Dr. Gary Habermas: Okay, Alex.