A.J. Ayer was a professor of logic at Oxford University, Britain's most eminent philosopher and most famous atheist.
Recuperating in hospital after a heart attack that nearly killed him, Professor Ayer choked on some smoked salmon smuggled into him by well-meaning friends. He was 'clinically dead' for four minutes.
The doctor who treated for the heart attack returned to Ayer's bedside
“I came back to talk to him later that evening,” he told Cash. “Very discreetly, I asked him, as a philosopher, what was it like to have had a near-death experience? He suddenly looked rather sheepish. Then he said, ‘I saw a Divine Being. I’m afraid I’m going to have to revise all my various books and opinions.’
“He clearly said ‘Divine Being,’” said Dr. George. “He was confiding in me, and I think he was slightly embarrassed because it was unsettling for him as an atheist. He spoke in a very confidential manner. I think he felt he had come face to face with God, or his maker, or what one might say was God.
While he never spoke of this conversation publicly or to his family, he had changed.
When Ayer was released by his doctors a month later, friends and family did notice that he’d changed.
“He became so much nicer after he died,” was the mordant way my mother-in-law, Dee Wells, put it to Cash. “He was not nearly so boastful. He took an interest in other people.”
What she also noticed is that as his life ebbed away, Ayer began spending a great deal of time with Father Frederick Copleston,
“In the end, he was Freddie's closest friend,” said Dee. “It was quite extraordinary.”