Has any documented case of someone returning to life from death ever occurred?

I’m an atheist; my mother is Christian. She asked how-if God doesn’t exist-I can explain documented cases of people who have died and returned to life. I’m sure the entire question is nonsense; I doubt one such case has ever occurred. But as I am not well-read in the Christian “non-fiction” I-died-and-returned-to-life books, I’m not sure what the initial basis for this argument even is. Is she thinking of near-death experiences, or are there books/preachers that actually insinuate people have died and returned to life? I realize the burden of proof lies with the individual who proposes the claim, but when that individual is too stubborn to even look for any such proof, what’s the best way to answer this question?

Posted: June 29th 2008

brian thomson www

The process of declaring someone dead can be a bit hit-and-miss, and has been the subject of court cases in the past. A page on the Dear Death website describes some of the current issues and protocols, and plans for a Uniform Determination Of Death Act in the USA.

It’s important to note that there is no direct way of testing that death has occurred – that is, there is no simple “spark of life” test to indicate life or – in its absence – death. The belief in such a “spark” is a common religious tenet, a “vitalist” belief that has a major bearing on religious attitudes to life-and-death questions.

It appears in opposition to abortion, where pro-life campaigners claim that “life begins at conception”. It played a role in the Terri Schiavo case, where Terri’s Roman Catholic parents insisted on keeping Terri alive in a persistent vegetative state, with most of her brain destroyed. Despite the permanent loss of all the mental faculties that made her a human being, they insisted that the “spark” was still there, and went to court. It would have been simpler had Terri indicated, in advance, what she wanted, but it’s understandably difficult to think about such things if you have no reason to.

Posted: July 20th 2008

See all questions answered by brian thomson

flagellant www

Like you, I am not inclined to read any books purporting to document dying and returning to life. It is clinically certain that, once a certain amount of brain degeneration has taken place, bringing someone 'back from the dead’ is an absolute impossibility. However, the fatal degeneration may take place in minutes (usual after the heart stops) or over several hours. This latter condition arises when someone, usually youthful, is supposedly drowned in extremely cold water. Complete resuscitation is possible after an extended period – sometimes over an hour. But this is hardly 'coming back from the dead’ – it’s being resuscitated after being recovered from a situation favourable to brain preservation.

Then, there are documented cases of people waking up in the morgue, or in a body bag. In cases like this, it’s simply a matter of misdiagnosis: sometimes a pulse can be so weak, or so obscured by e.g. obesity, that a clinician will miss it. Again, this is not 'coming back from the dead’ – it’s being wrongly diagnosed as 'dead’ in the first place.

Finally, I have some personal knowledge of near death experiences. You can read about it here . To save you the trouble of reading the answer, I was unaware of anything untoward, even though my heart was stopped for an extended period – I was on a heart-lung machine. The other patients, undergoing a similar procedure, that I spoke to, had the same experience: none of them would describe waking after deep anaesthesia for a heart operation as 'coming back from the dead’.

When you are dead, it’s 100% finish: there’s no way back. There’s no afterlife, either, even though we wish there were. Atheists have learnt to come to terms with this fact; it is at least as big a source of satisfaction as hoping (and it can’t be any stronger than that) that there’s a heaven.

Posted: July 15th 2008

See all questions answered by flagellant

Reed Braden www

Depending by what you mean by life. Many people have been declared dead and been resuscitated from that state, but in the most common usage of, “return to life,” no. We have no documented cases of a modern Lazarus, Jesus or any other sort of zombie. If we did, everyone would know about it and the entirety of medical science would have to be re-examined and revised.

Posted: July 14th 2008

See all questions answered by Reed Braden


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum