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Debunking the Pseudoskeptics of Near-Death Experiences

Many people who refer to themselves as “skeptics” of near-death experiences are actually pseudoskeptics. A true skeptic, as defined by philosophers of ancient Greece, is a nonbeliever – a person who does not make conclusions based on inconclusive evidence.

Kevin Williams

Critics of near-death experiences who assert negative claims but call themselves skeptics often think they have no burden of proof. Such critics take this position thinking it is only necessary to present a case for a counter-claim based upon the plausibility of evidence rather than empirical evidence. Such pseudoskeptics are actually believers that survival of consciousness after death is impossible. This article examines some of the tactics such critics use to “debunk” NDEs.

1. What Pseudoskeptics Do

Pseudoskeptics of near-death experiences have done the following:

  1. Pseudoskeptics claim that science already knows everything, and since it doesn’t include the reality of an afterlife, it can’t exist. This is referred to as scientism.
  2. Pseudoskeptics claim that the assumptions underlying consciousness and death are empirical facts that science has already proven.
  3. Pseudoskeptics have already decided that an afterlife is impossible, even though evidence has not ruled it out, and they are not interested in participating in a debate anyway.
  4. Pseudoskeptics make claims such as, “Consciousness cannot survive death” based upon scientific expertise they don’t have.
  5. Pseudoskeptics make negative claims about near-death experiences but do not apply their own critical analysis equally to their own criticism.
  6. Pseudoskeptics make claims which are not true such as, “Because near-death experiences have a brain chemical connection, this means there is no afterlife.”
  7. Pseudoskeptics argue that an afterlife contradicts established theories of nature, and because all other alternative explanations of near-death experiences have been exhausted, claims of the existence of an afterlife are fraudulent.
  8. Pseudoskeptics firmly believe an afterlife is impossible regardless of any evidence suggesting otherwise.
  9. Pseudoskeptics refuse to examine the entire body of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence supporting the existence of an afterlife by claiming near-death experiences are merely hallucinations.
  10. Pseudoskeptics debunk near-death experiences by associating them with something else such as, “If we suppose an afterlife exists, then we might just as well suppose Santa Claus exists.”
  11. Pseudoskeptics resort to personal attacks, such as, “These people are nuts!” instead of focusing on the issue at hand.

By this definition, pseudoskeptics are not true skeptics because they have already made up their minds that near-death experiences are nothing more than chemical reactions producing hallucinations from a dying brain. Such pseudoskeptics rule out claims without a shred scientific evidence.

A true skeptic of the afterlife hypothesis keeps an open mind and does not take a position in favor of one side of the argument or the other until the evidence proves it either true or false using the scientific method.

2. Examples of Pseudoskepticism

Examples of how pseudoskeptics attack unconventional paradigms such as the near-death experience are:

  1. Pseudoskeptics attempted to discredit the research of a researcher, Michel Gauquelin, who yielded evidence that certain astrological signs, especially the planet Mars are associated with champion athletes. Although the pseudoskeptics’ research actually confirmed the findings, they distorted their own data when they published it and caused their statistician to go public stating that the science establishment covered up evidence supporting astrology.
  2. A researcher published a study showing that ultrahigh dilutions of LgE effected white cells in the lab. There were 10 authors on the study and pseudoskeptics investigated and “debunked” the study. The researcher complained they made no effort to replicate his study, but only came and accused him of fraud, without reviewing the evidence.
  3. One particular pseudoskeptic, James Randi, offers a one million dollar challenge to prove the reality of paranormal claims despite several notable attempts. Concerning his challenge, critics of Randi’s million dollar challenge claim the offer is insincere and that Randi has ensured he will never have to pay out. He was quoted in a well-known magazine as allegedly saying, “I always have an out.”
  4. A study was done to understand to what extent psychic mediumship works (not how it works). The study was led by a university professor with impeccable credentials, Gary Schwartz. Using five of the most credible psychic mediums in the country, a test subject underwent a reading by all five mediums including George Anderson. The test subject was selected by the researchers and known only to them. The controls used in the study are the following:

a. The mediums have never met the test subject.
b. 10 to 15 minutes are allowed per reading.
c. The medium and test subject would be separated by a wall so that no eye contact is possible.
d. The test subject is to give only yes or no answers.
e. No information can to be shared between the medium and the subject.

The result of the study were as follows:

(1) All the mediums identified the same six deceased loved ones of the subject including information about them and their passing. These include a son who committed suicide, a father with lung cancer, a mother with lung cancer, and a little dog. Eight other individuals were identified by various mediums.

(2) All the mediums were identical in average performance (in the 90 percentile).

(3) The study didn’t reveal how it works, but suggests it is a phenomenon which can be replicated.

(4) The study launched an ongoing debate between the research and a high-profile pseudoskeptic on this study. You can read about it in this article.

(5) One of the mediums involved in the study is John Edward who performed readings before a live audience on television. His impressive abilities suggested he may actually be communicating with the dead. Pseudoskeptics claim Edward is a master of reading body language to elicit information despite the fact he often does readings by phone and sometimes readings where he cannot see the subject.

Pseudoskeptics also claimed Edward manipulates people into supplying answers which he then builds on. However, Edward comes up with symbols in his head which are “hits” that sometimes even the subject doesn’t know about until they have more time to reflect about it. Edward states he receives symbols that the subject ultimately identifies with.

Pseudoskeptics also claimed there were set-ups planted in the audience even though none have come forward.

Pseudoskeptics claimed that questionnaires and bugging devices help producers learn about deceased family members; but the show’s producer revealed that viewers only fill out a standard release form.

Concerning bugging devices, the show’s producer replied, “Of course there’s microphones, but are they being fed anywhere? No. And John doesn’t see any of this.”

3. Links and Resources on Pseudoskepticism

Skeptiko: Science at the Tipping Point with Alex Tsakiris – www.skeptiko.com

Near-Death Experience Skeptics Running Out of Excuses – www.skeptiko.com

Skeptical of Skeptics, Chris Carter Tackles Near Death Experience Science – www.skeptiko.com

Victor Zammit Grills Skeptics with Lawyer’s Evidence for NDEs – www.skeptiko.com

Atheist Debates Existence of Soul with Near Death Experience Believer – www.skeptiko.com

Dr. Jeffrey Long Takes On Critics of, Evidence of the Afterlife – www.skeptiko.com

Skeptical Investigations: Skeptical About Skeptics – www.skepticalaboutskeptics.org

A Field Guide to Skepticism article by Dean Radin – www.survivalafterdeath.info

Skeptical Fallacies: Pseudoskeptical Fallacies – sites.google.com

SCEPCOP: Scientific Committee to Evaluate Pseudoskeptical Criticism of the Paranormal – www.debunkingskeptics.com

CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview: Article by George P. Hansen – www.tricksterbook.com

The Myth of the Randi Challenge – www.dailygrail.com

Problems with Magicians as Professional Skeptics: See also [2] – www.cfpf.org.uk

On Pseudo-Skepticism: A Commentary by Marcello Truzzi – www.anomalist.com

New Dualism: Pseudoskepticism Links – www.newdualism.org

Twenty-Five Ways To Suppress Truth: The Rules of Disinformation – www.drjudywood.com

The Science Delusion: An Interview with Rupert Sheldrake – www.sheldrake.org