For the past three hundred years, Western science has been fixated upon the concept that everything in the universe is subject to physical laws and exists only in terms of mass and energy—matter being transformed by energy into a variety of conditions and shapes that come into existence only to pass away eventually in time and space. Death, therefore, is the end of existence for all who succumb to its ultimate withdrawal of the life force.
From time to time, however, highly regarded scientists have protested that such a view of the universe leaves out a sizable portion of reality. British philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) observed that a strictly materialistic approach to life completely ignored the subjective life of humans—or that area of existence which is commonly called the spiritual. It in no way accounted for emotions—the manner in which human beings experience the feelings of love between a woman and a man, between parents and children; the joy upon hearing a magnificent symphony; the sense of beauty and awe in sighting a rainbow; the inspiration of religious thought.
But the major tenets of Western science hold fast. Such human experiences, material scientists insist, are mere transient illusions— things that people imagine for themselves or dream for themselves—while the only true reality consists in the movement of atoms blindly obeying chemical and physical laws.
This soulless "world machine" was created three centuries ago by the genius of Rene Descartes (1596–1650), Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), and their predecessors; and it has proved useful for the development of physical science. The attempts of Whitehead and others to construct an approach to science that could include the experiences of people's inner lives within the framework of reality has made little impression in contemporary science, which remains rigidly devoted to the seventeenth century "world machine." Everything must be explained in terms of the physical action of material bodies being acted upon by external forces.
But even the most rigid disciple of the materialistic religion of test tubes, chemical compounds, and mathematical formulas still cannot answer the ultimate question—what lies beyond physical death?
Some scientists compromise because their instincts or desires prompt them to hope that life goes on, and they point to the research being done with those men and women who have survived the near-death experience (NDE) and the testimonies of medical personnel who have observed individuals undergoing deathbed visions. While some scientists may argue that the answers that come forth from those who have experienced NDE are subjective, other researchers insist that such reports do provide valuable clues to the dimensions of reality that lie beyond physical death.
Throughout history there have been men and women who have been somehow brought back to life after accidents, severe injuries, surgeries, and other physical traumas, and they have related their own accounts of life beyond death, the journey of the soul, and the process of judgment that awaits the spirits of the deceased on the other side. While the various representatives of religious orthodoxy may often look upon such stories as visions wrought by the severity of a painful ordeal and a subsequent misinterpretation of accepted religious teachings, and while the proponents of the material sciences may consider these experiences delusions, those who have survived such near-death encounters cannot be shaken from the testimony of their own personal experiences, regardless of the accepted dogmas and doctrines taught by the various religious bodies or the physical sciences concerning the afterlife.
Father Andrew Greeley (1928– ), who has a Ph.D. in sociology and is a best-selling novelist as well as a Roman Catholic priest, has been keeping tabs on the spiritual experiences of Americans since 1973. Together with colleagues at the University of Chicago, Greeley, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, released the following data in the January/February 1987 issue of American Health: Seventy-three percent of the adult population in the United States believe in life after death; 74 percent expect to be reunited with their loved ones after death.
In the fall of 1988, the editors at Better Homes and Gardens drew more than 80,000 responses when they surveyed their readership regarding their spiritual lives. Eighty-nine percent believed in eternal life; 30 percent believed in a spirit world; and 86 percent believed in miracles.
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