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Eben Alexander Misrepresenting Carl Sagan

Eben AlexanderYesterday, NPR re-broadcast the Intelligence Squared Debate: Is Death Final?, which took place on May 7th. I caught a few minutes of it while I was driving around town, and heard an exchange that caught my attention. Eben Alexander (of Proof of Heaven fame), was trying to argue for evidence of an afterlife, and he tried to use Carl Sagan's reputation to bolster his claim. Here's what he said (transcript from Intelligence Squared):

...for example, a very renowned skeptic and scientist, Carl Sagan admitted that past life memories in children, the evidence for that is overwhelming.

Steve Novella tried calling him out on that, but Alexander doubled down on the claim:

He said that in his book, in his book, "The Demon Haunted World," on page 302, he says exactly that.

And with that projection of certainty and even referencing the page number, Alexander got some laughter from the audience.

Well, I just happen to own The Demon Haunted World, so when I got home, I pulled it off the shelf and opened it up to page 302. Here's what Sagan actually said (I have the paperback version, by the way):

Perhaps one percent of the time, someone who has an idea that smells, feels, and looks indistinguishable from the usual run of pseudoscience will turn out to be right. Maybe some undiscovered reptile left over from the Cretaceous period will indeed be found in Loch Ness or the Congo Republic; or we will find artifacts of an advanced, non-human species elsewhere in the Solar System. At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images "projected" at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation. I pick these claims not because I think they're likely to be valid (I don't), but as examples of contentions that might be true. The last three have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.

Sagan doesn't think the claim is valid, and he thinks the experimental support is dubious. How Alexander goes from that quote to "the evidence for that is overwhelming" is beyond me.

Now, maybe this seems like a minor quibble, but I think it highlights the mindset/tactics of people like Alexander. Not only did he misrepresent what Sagan said, but he did it with total confidence. It wasn't just a vague statement about Sagan probably agreeing with him. He want so far as to even cite the page number from the book.

Oh well, like I've said many times before, I'm no longer surprised by false statements coming from Christians.

Image Source: NPR


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