Two years ago, Esquire‘s Luke Dittrich wrote a profile of Dr. Eben Alexander, the man who claimed to have visited Heaven while nearly dead, only to come back, write a book about it (Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife), and rake in the cash.
During the course of his reporting, Dittrich discovered that some of the most incredible moments in Alexander’s book could simply not have been true.
Like the time he saw a perfect rainbow:
As [Alexander] nears the end of his tale, every part of his story seems to be connected to every other part in mysterious ways. For instance, his coma began on Monday, November 10, and by Saturday, “it had been raining for five days straight, ever since the afternoon of my entrance into the ICU.” Then, on Sunday, after six days of torrents, just before he woke up, the rain stopped:
To the east, the sun was shooting its rays through a chink in the cloud cover, lighting up the lovely ancient mountains to the west and the layer of cloud above as well, giving the gray clouds a golden tinge.
Then, looking toward the distant peaks, opposite to where the mid-November sun was starting its ascent, there it was.
A perfect rainbow.
It was as though heaven itself was cheering Alexander’s return.
Dittrich spoke to a credible meteorologist, though, who denied a good chunk of that:
“There was nothing on the tenth,” he says. “Nothing on the eleventh…two hundredths of an inch on the twelfth.” The next three days, he says, were rainy and miserable. Then the storm appeared to break on the evening of the fifteenth. The sixteenth was another clear day.
Could there have been a rainbow on the morning of the sixteenth?
“No,” he says.
It was like that throughout the article. Another time, Alexander wrote about how he screamed “God, help me!” in an emergency room. But Dittrich found out that the doctor on duty, Dr. Laura Potter, had stuck a “plastic tube down [Alexander’s] throat” rendering him completely unable to speak, much less yell the words clearly.
Dittrich confronted Alexander with these (and many more) problems, but Alexander just made a plea not to focus on such minor trifles:
By focusing on the inconsistencies in his story, on recollections that don’t seem to add up, on a court-documented history of revising facts, on the distinctions between natural and medically induced comas, he says, is to miss the forest for the trees. That’s all misleading stuff, irrelevant to his journey and story.
Of course, it’s not irrelevant. If the little things were a problem, then open-minded readers would have to be skeptical about the bigger things. If he’s willing to fabricate the details, isn’t it at least possible that he was making up the major points, too?
It might be a wonderful message. It might make for a great story. But it might not be true.
I bring this all up because, when Dittrich’s article originally went up, it was behind a $1.99 paywall. That barrier no longer exists, so you can read the article for free. Though if you want to keep more articles like this coming, you should consider a digital subscription to Esquire.
(via Jerry Coyne. Large portions of this article were published earlier)