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The issue of life after death really leaves me genuinely puzzled.
Most peoplestart with what they believe to be a basic understanding of "nothing".Many secular thinkers embrace the idea that there is nothing after physicaldeath, yet at some point in their lives experience angst when they recognizethe logical consequences of what they believe. They seek ways to avoid whatthey think they have discovered by redefining nihilism. I believe that thisalmost universal response to nihilism is misguided because of a fundamentalmisunderstanding of "nothing" as being like the Cheshire cat, notreal yet not unreal. We will discuss what I believe is the true nature of"nothing" and then suggest an appropriate response.
The same logicapplies to the history of individuals not visited by a catastrophic event. Ifyou believe that a human being is nothing more than an individual physicalentity, and therefore that there is no life after death, then at the time oftheir death each human being experiences the identical individual annihilationthat all humankind would experience together if the earth and its inhabitantswere simultaneously "destroyed". If a human being dies at 12:00 noon,and there is no life after death, at 12:01 they are not "around" tobe affected by their death.
What happens to a person immediately after death?
Modern science demonstrates the dependence of consciousness on the brain, verifying that the mind must die with the body. This conclusion is emotionally difficult to accept. Dylan Thomas forcefully expresses the animosity that many of us feel toward the prospect of our inevitable extinction: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light" (Lamont 211). Miguel de Unamuno expresses similar feelings: "If it is nothingness that awaits us, let us make an injustice of it; let us fight against destiny, even though without hope of victory" (Lamont 211). Bertrand Russell comes to a different conclusion: "I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting" (Edwards, "Immortality" vi). I must admit that, when confronted by the death of someone close to me, or contemplating my own inevitable death, I am not comforted by such words of wisdom. Nevertheless, we cannot base our beliefs on what we want to be true; the truth can only be found by weighing the evidence for a given idea. In the case of immortality, the extinction hypothesis is supported by and evidence from the of physiological psychology, whereas the survival hypothesis is supported at best by and anecdotal evidence from parapsychology.
There is a thirdpossibility, that the intuitive feeling human beings have that their physicalpast cannot change or be lost is based on some real, yet unknown, physicalmodel of our universe. As we have said, virtually everyone is certain that ifthey are eleven years old now they have already experienced their tenth year oflife, and that nothing can take from them the past experience of being tenyears old. The intuitive feeling is very strong that our physical life makes apositive or negative contribution to human existence, and that our physicallife is a permanent part of the physical universe. Perhaps there is some singlephysical consciousness that incorporates all of the events along our worldline,and that preserves our physical past, present, and future.
Is there really life after death?
This section describes the diversity of contradictory beliefs about life after death that are found among both Christians and religious skeptics. We recognize that many people of faith derive strong feelings of security from the beliefs about the afterlife taught by their particular denomination. Reading the essays in this section may cause them great distress. If you fall into this group, we recommend that you consider not reading further.
Unfortunately, the Bible seems hopelessly ambiguous on matters related to life after death. This can be shown by the great variety of scenarios, covering the above options and more, which have been proposed by different Christian faith groups and writers over almost two millennia.
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What is the empirical evidence for life after death?
The reason thatwe cannot be more certain that our conclusions are correct is simply because noone knows what physics will look like if and when relativity and quantumtheories are united. Furthermore, there is no way to tell how long it will taketo find answers to the basic questions raised by modern physics. Indeed, it isquite possible that we will never know the answers to many of our mostfundamental questions. We believe that the universe is essentially atemporal,and that physical death annihilates our physical (but not any non‐physical)past, present, and future, but we may simply be wrong.
1973 Jacobson, Nils. Life without Death? New York: Delacorte Press.
If we live in anessentially "atemporal" universe, and there is no non‐physicalexistence after death, then we believe that physical death consumes each humanbeing's physical past, present, and future. This is very difficult tounderstand and accept, yet the idea that there is no fundamental temporality,and that this fact leads to the annihilation of our physical past, appears tous to be the correct interpretation of our physical universe. This isespecially true if, as we believe, a lack of fundamental temporality impliesthat the universe is modeled by a symplectic manifold which accommodates someform of atemporal physical state evolution equivalent to the so‐called"arrow of time". In other words, a model where physical states evolvefrom A to B to C and where if B exists A and C do not exist. Whether or notsuch a model is compatible with a block universe is not known, we intuitivelybelieve it is not, the key problem is what it means to "exist". Ourconclusions are based on very complex and controversial relativistic and quantumscience, we think we are right but we may be wrong.
1975 Moody, Raymond. Life After Life. New York: Mockingbird Books.
As John Hick has argued, whether or not the replica can be identified with the original person is a matter for decision. The "replica objection" assumes that someone's being is a fact that is independent of the existence of any other people. In other words, since the replica would not be me I existed and had not died, there is no room for calling the replica me after the dissolution of my original body. This assumption, however, is invalid. Van Inwagen seems to be playing linguistic games when he argues that reconstituting the person from the same matter would be a replica. The manuscript God creates has the same causal history as St. Augustine's manuscript since they are materially continuous with each other, thus they are the same manuscript. That a replica is materially continuous with the original person indicates identity, but bodily continuity is not necessary for personal identity. If I have my car repaired and every single part is gradually replaced, is the resulting car the same car? Indeed it is. If every single part was disassembled and at some later date the car was reassembled completely from different parts, but with the same exact material and quality and in the same exact configuration as the original, the resulting car would be the same car. It is the same car because it is the closest-continuer of the original. If the original exists and an exact replica is created, then the original would be the closest-continuer and the replica would not be the same car. That the original is destroyed matter. If my body dies and a replica is created, there is room for calling it me; if my body lives and a replica is created, there is no room for calling it me. Thus the replica objection fails to rule out the possibility of resurrection.
1976 Hick, John. Death and Eternal Life. London: Collins.
1989 Sullivan, Lawrence E. (editor). Death, Afterlife, and the Soul (Religion, History, and Culture: Selections from The Encyclopedia of Religion). New York: MacMillan Publishing Company. 282 pp.
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