CHAPTERS 5 & 6: WHY I BELIEVE IN HEAVEN / HELL
After that long analysis of the chapter on creationism, I need a rest! Fortunately, the next two chapters in Why I Believe can be reviewed relatively quickly.
The chapter on Heaven begins by first trying to establish the immortality of the human soul. Let me say that I personally do not reject the idea of a human soul. In science, absence of evidence can be, in many cases, evidence of absence. However, the existence of souls is a question not addressed by science. Therefore I have found no convincing reason to deny the existence of my soul. Indeed, I acknowledge evidence for it. I realize that such evidence is not observable by experiment. Neither is it repeatable in the scientific sense, but the observation of such evidence is certainly repeated, consistently and many times over, by independent observers, a fact which I cannot dismiss.
However, I think Kennedy's fails to justify his reasons for believing in an immortal soul, and he fails to support his opinion about what happens after death. He presents rationales for the idea of an immortal soul based on science, nature, and the universal longing of mankind for eternity. I'll go over these points briefly.
First, the thermodynamics argument Kennedy presents is a non sequitur, meaning that the conclusion he draws is not logically connected with his premise. The First Law of Thermodynamics, which says energy and matter can be transformed from one to the other, but not created nor destroyed, says nothing about the human spirit. That law is still just as valid if humans had no soul. Then, consciousness would simply be the manifestation of all electrical and chemical processes in the body operating harmoniously, which ceases when the physical body dies (and the body's matter then gets converted to energy as it is consumed).
Second, in his analogy from nature, where Kennedy quotes William Jennings Bryan, he gives us another non sequitur. The facts that "cold and pulseless" seeds grow into living plants, or that rosebushes whither in autumn and then recover in spring, say nothing about death. Those facts relate to reproduction and metabolic changes in living physical organisms, not dying.
Third, in considering a universal longing for eternity as evidence for the existence of an immortal soul Kennedy presents still another non sequitur. One could as easily argue that a universal longing for eternity, combined with a subconscious fear that no soul exists, is the reason all creatures embody the desire to reproduce and thus continue their existence the only way possible.
Despite his use of more appeals to questionable authority, reference to Scripture (for which he has so far not established a record of reliability), irrelevant poetry quotations, and the idea that what the majority believes must be true, Kennedy does point out that some elegant philosophical arguments have been put forward throughout human history for the existence of an eternal soul. Having "established" human immortality, he then writes about dying. This is where he really stumbles.
In particular, Kennedy cites the excellent and fascinating book Life After Life, by Raymond A. Moody, Jr. (Kennedy refers to him as "Dr." although Moody wrote his book before getting his doctoral degree - which indicates another attempt on Kennedy's part to appear more authoritative). The book is a collection of accounts of people who had been pronounced dead but returned to consciousness. To provide evidence of Heaven's existence, Kennedy, adhering to his practice in other chapters, takes great care to select only those pieces of evidence which conform to his preconceptions while ignoring everything else. Look at what Moody wrote at the end of the book in his "Questions" chapter:
Through all of my research, however, I have not heard a single reference to a heaven or a hell or anything like the customary picture to which we are exposed in this society. Indeed, many persons have stressed how unlike their experiences were to what they had been led to expect in the course of their religious training. One woman who "died" reported: "I had always heard that when you die, you see both heaven and hell, but I didn't see either one." Another lady who had an out-of-body experience after severe injuries said, "The strange thing was that I had always been taught in my religious upbringing that the minute you died you would be right at these beautiful gates, pearly gates. But there I was hovering around my own physical body, and that was it! I was just baffled." Furthermore, in quite a few instances reports have come from persons who had no religious beliefs or training at all prior to their experiences, and their descriptions do not seem to differ in content from people who had quite strong religious beliefs.
Moody also does not rule out psychological or neurological explanations for the accounts he recorded. For example, the physical and chemical effects of blood loss to neurons in the brain are the same from one brain to the next, so it is not unreasonable to expect people to experience similar hallucinations from such a trauma.
Dr. Kennedy, however, doggedly interprets all life-after-death accounts to support his belief not only in the soul, but in the existence of Heaven and Hell. He imagines that the only alternative is the cessation of existence, which he regards as unthinkable. He doesn't offer any reason whatsoever why we shouldn't believe, for instance, in reincarnation as a possibility for the soul's future. Moody wrote:
Not one of the cases I have looked into is in any way indicative to me that reincarnation occurs. However, it is important to bear in mind that not one of them rules out reincarnation, either. If reincarnation does occur, it seems likely that an interlude in some other realm would occur between the time of separation from the old body and the entry into the new one. Accordingly, the technique of interviewing people who come back from close calls with death would not be the proper mode for studying reincarnation, anyway.
Keep in mind that personal death experiences show no evidence Heaven, Hell, or reincarnation. However, outside of these experiences, one finds substantially more evidence supporting the idea of reincarnation than for the concepts of Heaven and Hell, even if one ignores the deep personal revelations experienced by individuals like Carlos Castañeda and Shirley MacLaine. The Tibetan Book of the Dead not only recounts with remarkable accuracy the stages of near-death encounters (in agreement with Moody's observations), but it also says that reincarnation does occur. Naturally, Kennedy neglects to mention anything about it. He suggests that the idea of an immortal soul is valid because so many people believe it (the argumentum ad numerum fallacy) -then, by his own flawed logic, the concept of reincarnation has validity also.
In the experimental technique of hypnotic regression, a subject under hypnosis is made to go back to successively earlier times in life. When told to go back beyond the earliest present-life experiences, many subjects tell stories about previous lives in earlier times and different places. Some of these stories can be checked, and have turned out to be amazingly accurate, even when it is definitely established that the subject could not have known about the events, people, and places described so accurately. Many impressive and well-documented cases of hypnotic regression exist (see, for example, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Ian Stevenson, MD).
Another body of evidence for reincarnation comes from documented accounts of young children who, when they learn to talk, report knowledge of relationships to other families in distant places, with uncanny accuracy. I remember one case where a young girl described her memories as an elderly man in a tiny rural English community. She was able to describe the man's relatives and friends (many of whom still lived), and details of the town. She eventually had a reunion with her "previous" friends and family, who welcomed her as the spirit of the man they knew. Reincarnation, as one explanation, appears more reasonable than Christian interpretations of such cases, because it requires only that the soul exist without having to introduce other entities like God and the Devil. Occam's Razor! Of course, one might also argue that not requiring the existence of a soul results in the simplest explanations.
Still more evidence for reincarnation, although more indirect, comes from accounts of the deceased communicating with loved ones, a phenomenon known as After Death Communication, or ADC. This is direct and spontaneous communication that does not include a third party like a psychic or a medium. ADC experiences are fairly common, discussed freely in many other parts of the world; anthropologists run across them often.
I recall one case where a Christian mother lost her teenage son in a drunk-driving accident in which he was a passenger. For a while afterward, she could hold conversations with him, and he told her things about his other friend in the accident which she did not know but which were later confirmed, as well as where in the wrecked car to find his class ring, which the police could not find. He reported that neither he nor anyone else he met in his realm knew anything about a "god" as described by many religions, and told her he was deciding where to go for his next life, saying that even other planets were possible options.
Kennedy refers to probably the best-known author on this subject, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, who spent much of her career helping the dying. She now lives in the desert of Arizona, where she moved after surviving a religious-motivated attack on her house in Virginia following statements she made about life-after-death experiences. Now isn't it ironic that churches also teach the doctrine of life after death? Why do so many fundamentalists become irate about ADCs? The reason is that they believe the devil speaks through all people who have those experiences. These misguided Christians believe anything not Christianity is evil. But why then do people become better people (many of whom are Christian) after ADC experiences? Perhaps some Christians should re-think their worldview.
Regarding Hell as Christians define it, I notice that the concept is often used as a threat against non-Christians. This tactic is nothing more than a variant of Pascal's wager, which was refuted several different ways near the end of my commentary on chapter 3. Besides, I find that the threat has scant Biblical backing. Hell, in the medieval sense of fire and brimstone, is described primarily in the dream of Revelations. The literal concept of it probably got started in the Middle Ages when the Church wanted to keep the population under their control, toeing their line. Paul mentions God using flaming fire to take vengeance on unbelievers, although we don't know where he got this concept (from the author of Revelations, perhaps?). In any case, it's hard to take Revelations seriously when it claims the events described will "shortly come to pass" (1:1). The events in the dream have not come to pass, least of all "shortly," even after nearly 2,000 years.
The main point here is, regardless of what you believe, there is much corroborating evidence for alternatives to the Heaven/Hell dichotomy. Heaven and Hell, in the original sense, may be interpreted simply as allegories for what one might experience in future lives. Or, of course, we might simply just cease to exist when we die. The issue is not settled, in my opinion. Soon enough I will know anyway, so I don't fret about it.
 Raymond A. Moody, Jr., Life After Life (Atlanta: Mockingbird Books, 1975), p. 133.
 Ibid, p. 134.
 William and Judy Guggenheim have spent the last six years documenting more than 3,000 first-hand accounts of ADCs from people who have been contacted by a deceased relative or friend. Many of these accounts are discussed in their book, Hello From Heaven! (1996).
The authors recommend several references for further reading, especially Life After Death by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, and Return From Tomorrow by George G. Ritchie, MD. The latter book is an inspiring account of one man's prolonged near-death experience.
 A paraphrase of something Robert A. Heinlein wrote, most likely in Time Enough For Love.