Scholars to Review Immortality Research in Final Conference

Public forum May 29 will present overview of project results, forthcoming book on near-death experiences

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A public forum reviewing research results from The Immortality Project will be held May 29.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Scholars from around the world who have explored scientific, theological and philosophical questions relating to immortality will meet May 27-30 to present research funded by the John Templeton Foundation through The Immortality Project at UC Riverside.

The project’s capstone conference is open only to scholars. A public forum to present an overview of the research results is scheduled for Friday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Culver Center, 3824 Main St., in downtown Riverside. John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy and principal investigator of The Immortality Project, and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin, the postdoctoral fellow on the project, will discuss their forthcoming book, “No Proof of Heaven: The Significance of Near-Death Experiences.” They will be joined by some of the scholars participating in The Immortality Project.

The event is free. Reservations are requested and may be made online.

The Immortality Project was established at UC Riverside in 2012 with a $5 million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to undertake a rigorous examination of a wide range of issues related to immortality. The project awarded nearly $4 million in grants to researchers to explore issues such as phenomena related to near-death experiences, immortality in virtual reality, genes that prevent a species of freshwater hydra from aging, civic immortality, the nature of heaven, and ethical and social issues raised by the prospect of human life extension. Prizes also were awarded to scholars whose essays related to immortality were published in mainstream and popular media.

“As far as we know, this is the largest research project ever that seeks systematically to investigate immortality from scientific, philosophical, and theological points of view,” Fischer said. “We were very excited about the preliminary results presented at our mid-point conference last year, and we are equally excited about all of the new philosophy and theology research.”

Fischer and Mitchell-Yellin said their book, which is written for a general audience, takes a respectful but skeptical perspective on the supernatural implications of near-death experiences.

“The book is not dismissive of those who have had near-death experiences,” Fischer said. “We have deep respect for these individuals and for the reality of their experiences. The questions we wish to address are about the implications and meanings of those experiences. In particular, do they establish that there is an afterlife? Do they “prove” that “heaven is for real”? We are not dismissive of, or disrespectful to, religion. Nothing in our book calls religion into question. Rather, our target is a particular route to religious beliefs: via near-death experiences.”

Mitchell-Yellin, who will be an assistant professor of philosophy at Sam Houston State University in fall 2015, said their book seriously addresses near-death experiences that are currently of wide popular interest and considers other famous near-death experiences that have been discussed in both the popular and academic literature.

“We follow a novel strategy we develop for providing naturalistic explanations of near-death experiences. We also answer the worries that a more scientific interpretation of near-death experiences will rob them of their awe-inspiring and transformative characteristics,” he explained. “Our book contends that the natural world, including our minds, can indeed be wondrous and beautiful, and that we need not cede the meaning of near-death experiences to those who take them to have supernatural implications. They do not prove that heaven exists, but this does not imply that they are not extraordinary and inspiring. Our book is thus not merely an exercise in debunking. It also offers a way of understanding near-death experiences and their meanings within a naturalistic framework. Crucial to our approach here is the contention that human beings seek understanding of the world through both explanations and stories. Our scientific explanations of the world are completely compatible with the fact that we tell—and live—stories to make sense of the world. Scientific explanation need not crowd out the meaningfulness and beauty of human life.”

The John Templeton Foundation, located near Philadelphia, serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. The foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. It encourages civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers and theologians, and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. The foundation’s vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies its support for open-minded inquiry and its hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

John Martin Fischer
Tel: (951) 827-1524

Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin
Tel: (951) 827-1524

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