August 20th, 2013
Oh, my, Proof of Heaven is everywhere. In the clouds, riding rainbows, skydiving fearlessly above another jumper at pull altitude, and on the best-seller lists as well. I’d heard friends and acquaintances raving about the book for a couple months, but put off reading it until I finally realized it would be a waste of time. A pretty bad attitude, I agree, but you know us atheists.
In fact, all I’ve read of the book are the parts quoted in the damning Esquire article by Luke Dittrich. It wasn’t the theology that kept me from wanting to read “Proof of Heaven,” it was the multiple revelations of Dr Eben Alexander’s inability, or unwillingness, to hew to the facts of his medical practice, his experiences as a hospital patient, and even his skydiving adventures, that put a sour look on my face (I checked my reflection in the window the other night while reading the Esquire piece).
First I’ll take up the issue that’s unlikely to get much comment. Skydiving. Alexander made 300 jumps during his collegiate skydiving career. I do not doubt that. But in his telling of a near accident with another jumper who pulled his parachute directly beneath him, thus endangering both of them (imagine crashing through another jumper’s open canopy at 120 mph), certain facts don’t add up. Chief among which is the fact that he can’t name any of the other jumpers on the lift. Keep in mind that the parachutists were engaging in what is know as “relative work.” RW is practiced by generally experienced jumpers. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures or videos of men and women in freefall, hooking up into various formations. It takes a substantial level of skill and attention to do it safely. Skydivers usually record their experiences in a logbook. But when Alexander was asked the name of the jumper who pulled in his face, he couldn’t do better than “Chuck.” It wasn’t made precise, but there were about six or eight jumpers on the load. Each one presumably writing it up in their logbooks. I can’t imagine an experience in which somebody does something dumb, like pulling in your face, and you haven’t made a note of it. In addition, nobody else from that group of jumpers seems to have a record of this particular RW jump on that date. Maybe it’s just dumb. Maybe it’s bullshit. Maybe it’s a bit of both.
As for knowledge about the realm above which a Twin Beech can climb, I have less knowledge. My opinions are informed mainly by the conviction that rainbows do not exist beyond Earth’s gravitational field and that butterflies don’t flutter by where the wind don’t blow. The religion in which I was schooled, heavily marinated in monkey drool, had little truck with life after death. I’m still trying to figure out what it did have truck with. That it claimed “science” was evident in its name, Christian Science. Its adherents were satisfied with whatever Mary Baker Eddy taught and, thankfully, it was not science. In addition, she beatified nobody other than herself. I’ve been a clean slate for all my adult life. I’ve filled up on skepticism which has left no room for heaven or hell. Dr Alexander would likely quote that last sentence as his own, uninspired as it might be. but I’ve taken care to copyright it just to be safe. Since so few of his fellow physicians find him trustworthy, I’m not taking any chances, either.
That it was not bacterial meningitis that induced Alexander’s’ dread coma, but Dr Laura Potter, is not mentioned in his book. A week later, after he began to come out of further medically induced comas, he reported himself rapturously crying out, “God help me!” But Dr Potter said it wasn’t likely as he had a breathing tube in his throat at the time. Nor did any of the other doctors on duty hear anything. Maybe they just weren’t keeping their logbooks either.
How many more of these self-aggrandizing bullshitters have to appear on our best-seller lists before the lip-moving, mouth-breathing public realizes they’re being taken in? Frankly, I’d rather hear from the meningitis bacteria — but Oprah won’t book them.