Professor John Fischer said in an email to Yahoo News, that he and Dr. Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin will teach related classes over the next three years, adding, “I have frequently taught classes on death, immortality, and the meaning of life both at Yale University and UC Riverside.”
The Immortality Project, as it is called, will include research proposals from scientists, philosophers and theologians. Fischer will analyze findings from the project and include them in a book — the working title being, “Immortality and the Meaning of Death.” The research will look at a range of phenomena, including cultural variations in reports of near-death experiences and beliefs about heaven, hell, purgatory and reincarnation.
Fischer said, “We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions. Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous.”
Fischer added, “Many people and religions hold there is an afterlife, and that often gives people consolation when faced with death. Philosophy and theology are slightly different ways to bring reason to beliefs about religion to evaluate their rationality.”
Bringing “reason to beliefs about religion to evaluate their rationality” is an interesting concept and Fischer’s search for truth amid ideologies of afterlife and immortality should be commended. Why? Because these differing beliefs about what happens when a person dies cannot all be correct, can they? Is there a rational, scientific explanation for why some people, but not all, see lights and images in near-death experiences?
For example, Canadian neurologist Wilder Penfield, a pioneer in neurosurgery decades ago, found that by stimulating different parts of the brain with an electrode, he could cause patients to have the feeling of being outside their own body.
The stimulation points of the temporal lobe triggered what Penfield called “psychical hallucinations” and “perceptual illusions” which he named “interpretative responses,” according to an article titled “The Role of the Temporal Cortex in Certain Psychical Phenomena,” published in The Journal of Mental Science in July 1955.
Dr. Richard Blacher of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston wrote, “I suggest that people who undergo these ‘death experiences’ are suffering from a hypoxic state, during which they try to deal psychologically with the anxieties provoked by the medical procedures. We are dealing here with the fantasy of death, not with death itself.”
If this is true, then studying people who were experiencing something while still alive, but not actually dead, will offer no real proof of life after death. Dying is said to be a process where chemicals in the brain can be released to produce vivid images influenced by a person’s subconscious or core beliefs. This may be especially true when at the brink of death. But biological death is different.
The oldest book in existence describes death simply as the opposite of life at Genesis 3:19, when God handed down the first death sentence to the first man, Adam. He said, “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” — New King James Version. Certainly, if an alternate destination was part of Adam’s eternal punishment, this would be the time and place to mention it.
Instead we find further support that death is without any conscious awareness of life. Ecclesiastes 9:5 states “the dead know nothing.” — New King James Version. Psalms 146:4 states, "In that very day his thoughts perish." — King James Version. Daniel 12:2 likens death to sleep. Jesus Christ also compared death to sleeping at John 11:11-14.
According to Scriptures like John 11:23-25, Acts 24:15 and Hebrews 11:35, the hope of returning to life was by means of a resurrection. As Bible Translator William Tyndale wrote in his foreword to his translation, “In putting departed souls in heaven, hell, or purgatory you destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection. If the soul be in heaven, tell me what cause is there for a resurrection?”
To answer Tyndale’s question one might start by researching the fact that in the second century certain Christians adopted the Greek philosophy of Plato, who believed in an immortal soul, over a promised resurrection.
While the Bible does speaks of “immortality” at 1Corinthians 15:53, it does not speak of it as something inherent in humans, but as a special gift bestowed by God on those who will be with Christ in heaven. Otherwise, Scriptures like Ezekiel 18:4 made it clear that, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” — King James Version.
One would hope Fischer will include the Bible’s view of death and resurrection in his report. Admittedly, three years and $5 million to research one of the greatest mysteries of all time may not get to the bottom of this issue for everyone, but it may produce the kind of research that can shed more light in a theological tunnel that has been too dark for far too long.
*For a copy of The Little White Book of Light featuring more Wright Way columns, visit barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com and amazon.com.