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Can Atheists See the ‘Forrest’ for the Trees?

Posted on 18 April 2016, 11:59

There seems to be no doubt that Forrest J Ackerman was a lifelong atheist. “He did not believe there is a God,” Dr. Gary E.  Schwartz, professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry and surgery at the University of Arizona, offers in the Preface of An Atheist in Heaven, a 514-page book just recently released.  “He did not believe there is a heaven.  He did not believe there is an afterlife. He did not believe humans have spirits or souls.”  Yet, Paul J. Davids, (below) the lead author, and co-author Schwartz offer some very convincing evidence that Ackerman survived his physical death.


Whether Ackerman survived in the “heaven” of orthodox religion or was at a more earthbound level of the afterlife spectrum is another question, one on which the reader can only speculate. “We are using the word ‘heaven’ in its more abstract, generic and spiritual meaning – a ‘higher place’ of existence that is typically more loving, joyful and peaceful that what we experience on earth,” Schwartz clarifies.

Ackerman, who like President Harry S Truman had one letter for his middle name (no period after it) and was known to many as “Forry” or “Uncle Forry,” died at age 92 on December 4, 2008, after a long career in which he created and edited Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and became known as “Mr. Sci-Fi.”  Davids, a sci-fi enthusiast during his youth and now an award-winning Hollywood film director, met him in 1963 and remained a friend through Ackerman’s lifetime.  “And I believe I have learned over the past eight years that friendship does not end with death,” Davids offers.

Strange as it may seem, a mere “ink obliteration” on a page printed from Davids’ computer triggers the whole story.  It was not a smudge or a blot, but some meaningful words mysteriously blocked out on the page that was first of many signs that suggested Ackerman was trying to let Davids and others know that he was still around.  And there is something of a paradox connected with this ink obliteration.  It has to do with replication – that part of the scientific method that the fundamentalists of science rely on to reject evidence strongly suggesting the survival of consciousness at death.  These fundamentalists claim that the abundance of psychical research favoring survival is not acceptable because it can’t be replicated under the strictest conditions. In the case of the ink obliteration, however, it is the fact that science has been unable to replicate it that gives it special meaning and lends itself to the survival hypothesis. In other words, the paradox here is that replication of the ink obliteration, something two chemists devoted much time to, would have run counter to the main message of the book, that we do survive death.


Davids, who grew up in a non-religious home, then encounters numerous anomalies, many of them synchronicities, taken by Davids as possible signs from Ackerman.  They include a wide range of weird things, including inoperable clocks chiming, phones crawling along a counter, a very unusual CAPTCHA code on a computer, bowls moving themselves across a room, many disappearing objects, meaningful spider bites, voices from a dead computer, blue jeans dissolving in front of many witnesses, meaningful computer glitches, manipulation of electromagnetic fields, alarms sounding unexpectedly, and “dozens” of other strange phenomena suggesting that an invisible intelligence is causing them. In fact, Davids chronologically lists 142 of them in the Addendum to the book. 

For the skeptic and debunker, including Michael Shermer, the arch-skeptic who was consulted by Davids, all of these little happenings are “mere” coincidences, but the Davids argues “that when you detect patterns in seemingly unconnected events, those patterns very possibly do have meaning, do reveal intention and are the result of some source of agenticity.” 

Jack Kelleher, who had interviewed Ackerman some years earlier, also experienced some strange anomalies related to Ackerman and contributes a chapter to the book.  He mentions telling a skeptical friend about his experiences and friend discounting them all.  “Like many other skeptics, this friend tends to examine each one of the coincidences as a separate entity and dismisses it, without taking into account their collective pattern,” he writes. “While he is a highly competent systems analyst with a scientifically trained mind, and I respect his right to this viewpoint, I am frankly bewildered by the narrowness of vision it betrays.  I felt he was limiting himself by majoring in minor details and should look at this case through a lens of wider focus.  I retorted with the humorous metaphoric pun:  “You can’t see the Forrest for the trees.’  I deliberately spelled it with two r’s, as in Forest J Ackerman.” 

At some point during his many odd experiences, Davids consulted Schwartz, author of The Afterlife Experiments, The G.O.D.  Experiment, The Energy Healing Experiments, and The Sacred Promise, who encouraged him to further document his experiences and write about them.  In addition, Schwartz recommended that Davids sit with two mediums, both of whom provided evidential information suggesting communication from Ackerman.  Schwartz contributes seven very interesting chapters to the book, discussing Davids’ experiences, skepticism, mediumship, and survival research.

Davids concludes “that the inkblot that appeared on my document, though very small physically, is a potent, loud and scientifically profound occurrence that signals the existence of invisible intelligence that can manipulate things in our world.”

I’m not sure that what Davids offers in this book amounts to the “ultimate” evidence for life after death, as the subtitle indicates, but I believe it leaves much to ponder on.  As Davids states:  “To me, the fact that these things happen, and happen repeatedly, demonstrates the extreme limitation of the human brain and human consciousness.  They demonstrate that much greater forces than we can fathom are at work in our lives – or at least in this case, in my life.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I. His forthcoming book Why the Afterlife is Beyond Science will be published later in 2016 by White Crow Books.

Next blog post:  May 2


The spiritual agency allegedly communicating here does not seem to have personally identified itself as being Forrest Ackerman, at least not according to Michael Tymn’s summary of the case, so the possibility exists that it could simply be some kind of anonymous poltergeist entity which happens to be sharing space with Davids. On the other hand it could be Ackerman, but there is no way of knowing one way or the other. I have to agree with Michael Tymn that this does not really constitute “ultimate” evidence of survival.  I think there are much more impressive case studies than this one in the published literature.

rex fleming, Tue 26 Apr, 06:06

Excellent article and thank you for bringing the book to our attention.
We have always found that it was for the most part spontaneous physical and/or spirit messages,
visions and other signs received that are always the more meaningful and much more indicative of a purposeful intelligence behind them, rather then just information received by any general requests for phenomena and/or other paranormal communication.
Yvonne Limoges

Yvonne Limoges, Tue 19 Apr, 20:52

Great article! I have had many communications and signs from my husband, since he’s been on the other side, that I cannot refute! Messages on my mobile phone, mysterious late phonecalls with only 0’s on the screen, and static when I lift the receiver. His clear voice, speaking my name, in my ear.And many many other signs, too numerous to write here!All within the first two years since his passing.Now these have slowed right down, and as my grief softens, I am aware of him in other more meaningful ways.

Sheree Fenwick, Mon 18 Apr, 20:25

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Fallen Soldier Convinces His Famous Father of Life After Death – On September 14, 1915, Second Lieutenant Raymond Lodge, the youngest of six sons of Sir Oliver Lodge, a distinguished British physicist and pioneer in electricity and radio, as well as the former president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, was killed in WWI action in Flanders. Read here
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