Eleven Million Near-Death Experiences: Do Some Indicate it May Not Be Safe to Die? – Program 1

By: Howard Storms, Nancy Evans Bush, June Langley, Dr. Maurice Rawlings, Dr. John Weldon, Dave Hunt; ©1994
When someone says they have had a near-death experience, what is it that has actually happened to them?

What Is a Near-Death Experience?


The popular movies Ghost and Flatliners describe what more than eleven million Americans have now reported, namely that they have had a near-death experience in which they left their body, traveled through a dark tunnel, recognized friends and loved ones who had died, and encountered a supreme being of light. Are their near-death experiences real evidence for life after death? Some people have reported they found themselves in hell, not heaven, during their near-death death experience. Do their frightening hell experiences indicate it may not be safe for us to die?

My guests who will be answering these questions include : Dr. Maurice Rawlings, a specialist in cardiovascular diseases; Nancy Evans Bush, president of the International Association of Near-Death Studies, one of the most prestigious organizations in America collecting information on near-death experiences; June Langley, a nurse who has cared for over 500 children who have died of terminal diseases; Dave Hunt, internationally known Christian researcher and author of the best-selling book The New Spirituality; Howard Storm, an atheistic professor who, as a result of having a hell experience, believed on Christ and has become a Christian pastor; and Dr. John Weldon, author of more than 40 books on comparative religions. We invite you to join us.

John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. You know, one thing that you have in common with us is the fact that we are all going to die. And it’s very interesting that when we contemplate this experience of death that’s ahead of us, that 11 to 13 million Americans, according to a survey that George Gallup put out, suggested that they have had what is called a “near-death experience.” And we’re going to talk about what a near-death experience is today and what are the implications. What are people seeing? Are there “good,” are there “bad” near-death experiences? And, Nancy, I’d like you to start us off with a definition. This is your area. What is a near-death experience, so that my mother and a lot of other people that might not be acquainted with these terms—what is it?
Nancy Bush: It’s a very powerful experience that happens when people are close to death. It may include, oh, gosh, a dozen or so components: feelings of peace, feelings of moving very rapidly through a tunnel. There’s often a light; often a sense of presences. Sometimes a review of one’s life. A person may feel he’s just saturated with knowledge. Sometimes a choice as to whether to come back, or many people are simply told, “It is not yet your time,” and then return. And it changes people’s lives.
Ankerberg: And “near-death” basically means that they might have been in an accident, they might have been in a collision, and at the spot where they had the collision, all of a sudden they kind of leave their body or, the fact is, they see themselves going through this tunnel and so on, and they see this light and so on. This is where they get this sense of well-being and peace, etc. So you call that a “near” death experience.
Bush: Yes.
Ankerberg: They don’t die, because they come back.
Bush: They come back.
Ankerberg: It’s near death. Alright, Dr. Maurice Rawlings, what is the difference between a near-death experience and a clinical death experience?
Dr. Maurice Rawlings, Sr.: Clinical death is when the heart stops—you’re flat-line, breathing stops and it requires resuscitation. And this is just a short time before the brain dies—the most sensitive tissue without blood supply before biologic death occurs; and now a “resurrection” is required—something we can’t do.
Ankerberg: You don’t do resurrections.
Rawlings: No, not yet. We’re trying. Resuscitation is our specialty.
Ankerberg: So, basically, when you have a guy on the treadmill and he has a heart attack and, the fact is, he goes into unconsciousness and you’re trying to bring him back, you’re talking about a clinical death experience. If you don’t resuscitate him, he’s a dead duck.
Rawlings: He’s dead dead.
Ankerberg: Okay, and so you bring him back, and when he comes back, that’s when they tell you these stories of what they’ve seen.
Rawlings: That’s right. So my experience is clinical death, not near-death experiences. Clinical death, the closest we can come to not coming back at all.
Ankerberg: Alright, Nancy, coming back to you now. The fact is that George Gallup, when he took this survey and found 11 to 13 million Americans had had a near-death experience, and that was quite a few years ago when he took that survey so there’s probably more, and now the medical profession is becoming better at doing CPR and resuscitating people and so you’ve got more people having clinical death experiences and surviving. What is it, 50 percent now?
Rawlings: Yes. Half the ones of sudden death will come back and talk to you if you know how and you use your bare hands. We teach you free.
Ankerberg: Okay. Let me be the skeptic here for a little bit, Nancy, because there’s probably more doctors and skeptics that watch this program than you would believe in any other kind of a Christian kind of context. And the fact is, they would say to me, “Well, Ankerberg, you’ve got to ask the hard questions.” So let me ask the hard question.
I’ve seen on Donahue and Oprah where a lot of you people have appeared there, they usually bring in a guy that doesn’t believe anything that you’re talking about in terms of this near-death experience being real or having any implications. And this is basically the way they would say it, and I’d like to hear how you would answer this, okay?
How would you answer the materialistic skeptic who says the near-death experiencer, he really didn’t experience or she really didn’t experience anything. “What you saw was only in your mind. You didn’t leave your body. It was just your over-active imagination or like a dream.” Or, the medical scientist, and you guys can jump in here, how would you answer the fellow that says, “Here’s what really took place. At moments of stress the body has its own mechanism. It dumps chemicals into the bloodstream, including polypeptides that attach to the brain’s endorphin receptors and it reduces pain and it creates a euphoria. It’s automatic. So this is probably the cause—you got hallucination, you’ve got dreams going on. You haven’t let your body at all.” How do you respond to that?
Bush: There are about 12 arguments like that. It may be lack of oxygen, any of these physiological bases. And frankly, my bottom line on this is that every human experience is a physiologically based experience because we are physiological creatures. That’s how we work. So simply to say, “Oh, but look, if we tickle this part of the lymphatic system, if we dump endorphins into the system, then you’ve got some aspect of an experience.” You get some aspect of an experience, maybe, but lives don’t change.
Rawlings: It’s the life-changer that counts, isn’t it?
Bush: Yes.
Dave Hunt: Let me get in here also. You can’t explain it physiologically because often they—and it’s documented—they see what’s going on, far away. Their senses couldn’t possibly, the body couldn’t possibly, be involved. I mean, you’ve got many cases like that of the person who is dead and they follow the funeral hearse; they know what’s happening in the home. So it couldn’t possibly be explained physiologically.
Rawlings: But you’re talking about “recall,” and that’s the veracity of these experiences. How can they recall the nurse had earrings on over there; you were standing with your plaid coat; I saw you working on my body and I’m up here at the ceiling or someplace else. Recall, about ten percent. The sequence? How can we all have the same dream? Out of the body, one, two, three, four, the same sequence. Physiologic, yes, but anoxia, CO2, you can’t duplicate these things. Tickling the neurons, as Dave says, you can get pictures but you can’t get sequences.
Ankerberg: Right.
Hunt: But, Dr. Rawlings, I’m talking about seeing something that’s happening miles away from where that body is. That cannot be explained physiologically.
Rawlings: Yes.
Ankerberg: Yes. We’re going to take a break right here, folks, and when we come back, I’m going to ask Dr. Weldon to come in here. There are three examples that have really caught my attention: one that Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross shared with me while she was on this program; one about a blind person. And these three examples we want to share with those who are skeptical about a near-death experience really being something that we ought to look at. So I hope that you’ll stay tuned.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. And we’re talking with this crowd of folks about clinical and near-death experiences. What do they tell us? And the skeptic that is tuned in and says, “Well, it’s nothing more than what is going on in your brain. The fact is, you’re having a dream. It’s just like you’re sleeping at night and you can think that you’re in other places, but the fact is, it’s all in your head.” Or, the other doctor that might say, “Well, the fact is, there are chemicals that are dumped into your body at times of stress and the fact is they’re giving you these hallucinations, and so on.” There are some illustrations that are coming up that would say it’s got to more than that, alright? Howard, give me one illustration.
Howard Storm: Carole Roberts from Independence, Kentucky, had an aneurysm in her brain. She was rushed to the hospital almost unconscious at first. So the doctor was exploring it and she left her body. Her husband was outside in the parking lot praying because they were a good Christian couple. And he was praying as hard as he could silently that God would spare her life. She went out and heard his prayers while she was being operated on, and after the operation they took her to recovery. They expected her to be unconscious for days and mentally impaired. And she became conscious in recovery and told her husband word-for-word what he had prayed. And he couldn’t believe it! He knew at that time that something had happened that there was no accounting for in this world.
Hunt: Did you say that he was praying silently?
Ankerberg: And he was in a different location than where she was at where they were working on her.
Storm: She was in the operating room. He’s out in the parking lot.
Ankerberg: And so, what was his reaction when she told him that?
Storm: He knew that God had spared his wife’s life and brought her back. He knew his prayer had been answered.
Ankerberg: Okay, physiologically you just can’t do that. You can’t hear what somebody’s saying out in the parking lot. Dr. Weldon?
Dr. John Weldon: I think part of the problem with the materialistic view is that all the alternate explanations to an actual being outside the body really don’t explain the data. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who is one of the leading thanatologists—or a person who studies death—relates a story of two young boys who were in a car accident. And one of the boys who survived related a story while he was out-of-the-body that he had actually met his brother out-of-the-body and that this brother had, in fact, died. He relayed this story to Kubler-Ross afterwards. Now, there’s no conceivable way that that boy could have realized that his brother had died unless he had actually met him.
To give another illustration, a young woman was in a coma. During her near-death experience she accurately described in detail what the doctors did, the resuscitation procedures, the location of various instruments in the hospital room. Several hours later, when the family left, she claimed that her spirit was actually following the vehicle to the home. When they got to the home, she described in detail what happened. What the mother cooked; her food that night; the father’s depression and discouragement over the accident that had put her into a coma; the specific toys that her younger brother and sister were playing with; the location of various people in the rooms.
And the difficulty with the materialistic perspective that relegates all of this to something internal is that it really does not adequately explain these kinds of experiences. And by now there are literally thousands of experiences where people have gone outside of the body and actually seen things that they couldn’t even know if they were conscious. I think that considered historically, a materialistic viewpoint really suffers from a lack of evidence. Most cultures historically, most people throughout human history, have believed that there really is another world out there—not just a material world but a spiritual world also where God dwells, where angels dwell and even where demons and devils dwell.
Ankerberg: Alright, Dr. Rawlings, medically, the fact is, I’ve seen studies where people in terms of brainwaves, when you consider a person who has a flat-line in terms of an EEG, the fact is that they’re brain dead for up to how long? Three hours?
Rawlings: Three hours have been recorded by Habermas, but we don’t routinely take brainwave studies. In one case…
Ankerberg: But the fact is, in that book that you’re talking about, Habermas and J. P. Moreland in their book, two philosophers that basically were skeptical about this and looked at it and actually went and categorized these stories by checking them out and corroborated these stories and so on, the fact is, if you have a flat brainwave, EEG, the fact is, you’re not picking up any information, are you?
Rawlings: Your brain is not functioning. And it’s impossible to have these experiences, but they have them. We had one fellow, we routinely put EEG’s on when you’re getting ready to be a donor to make sure he’s brain dead before you take his parts, if you’re taking a kidney out. And he wakes up, “What are you doing!?” He wasn’t brain dead. But the EEG was brain dead for a half hour. Thirty minutes.
Ankerberg: But the fact is, people that have been categorized as brain dead during that time where they’ve been categorized that way, they are out of their body in another situation picking up information that you can actually check. And they have checked and found out that these people were accurate in what they were seeing and hearing.
Rawlings: This kidney case was another one.
Ankerberg: Alright. So the fact is that’s one. Then you have the fact of the EKG where the heart is actually stopped. This is your area. How long can the heart stay stopped?
Rawlings: It’s amazing. Four minutes, we say, but I’ve seen at ten minutes….
Ankerberg: Kids that have drowned and so on.
Rawlings: Longer than that, up to 45 minutes with someone that’s drowned. Preserved. Metabolism was down. It was cold water. Actually recorded. And then they wake up and have this experience. No heartbeat at all. This is all our clinical deaths. This is what we’re collecting. And the mountain of negative cases—and Nancy’s run across them—are increasing all the time. They’re not all good: the beautiful light. They call it “hell.” The others call it heaven.
Ankerberg: Well, we’re going to get to the experiences and you’ve got a point that in some the cases that you’ve seen, you would warn people: “It’s not ‘safe’ to die.”
Rawlings: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay. But I want to stick with this. Dave, you did a lot of study on Eccles, the Nobel Prize winner, in terms of, we are more than just a carcass and a motor, in terms of our brain up there. Tell us what Eccles found out.
Hunt: Well, of course, he wired the brain and followed the neural activity and would ask a person to do a certain task. And a person that could do it, you can follow the neural activity. When they had Parkinson’s or they had had a stroke and they were paralyzed—they were not able to do it. Something fired in the brain, what he called the supplementary motor area, where he believes the spirit makes a connection. But nothing else happened in the brain. In other words, they wanted to do it; they thought of doing it, and the spirit willed the body to do it, and made the connection, but then nothing happened. And he describes the brain as “a machine that a ghost can operate.” I mean, obviously, psychokinesis is going on right now. I mean, I hope I’m not just a piece of educated beef steak with nerves, you know? You can’t explain love or the moral concepts physiologically—chemical reactions and neural activity in the brain. We’re more than that.
Ankerberg: Right. So let me come to you, Nancy. The fact is, a lot of people out there are saying, “Well, I’m going to die and these folks are having these experiences that go beyond the physiological state.” Would you go as far as to say that this is “proof” that there’s life after death?
Bush: No.
Ankerberg: Okay. Tell me why.
Bush: Because, in scientific terms, you can’t establish proof without a control group.
Ankerberg: And there’s not a whole lot of people repeating this.
Bush: Not a whole lot of people.
Ankerberg: Right. Nobody’s taking the scientist with them on the trip last time we checked.
Bush: No. No.
Hunt: Can I jump in on this. I think Nancy has too high a regard for science. Because science can’t tell you what love is; science can’t tell you why a sunset is beautiful, you see? And science cannot delve into the spiritual realm. If there is more than physiological, if there’s a spirit and a soul of man, science has no equipment for evaluating this, okay?
Ankerberg: I think she would agree that there’s more, but I think the answer of, “Is there proof?” is what I’m going to. Dr. Weldon?
Weldon: I just think that, you know, despite the issue of the definition of science, which can be problematic at times, I think in a broad sense there is strong suggestive evidence that near-death experiences do provide evidence for a life after death.
Ankerberg: Yes. Habermas and Moreland basically, on the basis of, if you have a flat EEG and you have EKG that’s flat and nothing physiologically is happening and they come back after they’ve been in that exact time period and in that exact time period tell you what’s going on outside the hospital in another house or give information about somebody that died in another hospital, you have to say that life continues apart from the physiological processes. Something is going on. So to that extent,… Howard?
Storm: There’s one other piece of evidence. People’s lives by the thousands are utterly, radically, totally converted, changed, during a moment of extreme trauma and terror. What do you call that? It’s irrational to think that they thought that up or they dreamed that up. Something mysterious is happening to people during a crisis.
Hunt: Somebody that puts a gun to his brain and pulls a trigger can be assured of one thing: he stopped the function of the brain cells. That’s all. He hasn’t ended his life.
Ankerberg: That gets us into this whole thing where we’re going in our next program, is we’re going to some of the experiences around this group right here and the majority of the 11 to 13 million experiences—near-death, clinical death experiences—that Gallup cataloged or actually just through his surveys brought in, the majority of them were what? Good, positive experiences. They saw the great light and it was a wonderful feeling. Okay?
But what we’re finding out is that you, Dr. Rawlings, working on patients, you were a skeptic, and all of a sudden one of your patients blew your mind basically while you were working on him. We’re going to tell that story. He had a hell experience.
Howard, you’re here because the fact is you were a university professor, Northern Kentucky, department head, an atheist—didn’t believe in God—and the fact is, you had a near-death experience and almost died and you went to hell. Now, the fact is we’re going to talk about the good and bad and what these experiences are going to tell us. I hope that you’ll join us because next week we’re going to take up the topic: “Is it ‘safe’ for you to die?” We’ll see you then.

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