Do We Survive Death? Discussed in One Page

The idea of an immortal soul – For Socrates, this meant something in you that is indestructible. For St. Paul the immortality of the soul meant your non-physical soul would be reunited with a new physical body at judgment day [The idea that you die and then go to a paradise or punishment is a Greek idea; it is not Christian orthodoxy.]

Problems – Doctrines of immortal souls are difficult to accept in the 21st century because: 1) the idea of a soul is useless in science; and 2) consciousness depends on brains. You could just have faith in an immortal soul, or try to find reasons to believe in immortality, or you just give up on the idea altogether. For evidence of immorality you might turn to:

  1. near-death experiences – PROBLEM – NDE, to the extent they occur, provide very little reason to believe in life after death and are easily explained scientifically.
  2. Reincarnation – PROBLEM – the evidence for R is weak or non-existent.
  3. Psychics who communicate with the dead. PROBLEM – anyone who claims to do this is a charlatan. The tricks by which supposed psychics fool people are well-known.

It would be miraculous if our consciousness could survive without our bodies. Perhaps we should just believe in miracles. But David Hume advanced a powerful argument that it is never rational to believe in miracles, it is one of the most famous in all of philosophy.  Hume asks, What is more likely?

  1. that someone in the past actually walked on water, rose from the dead, etc., or
  2. that those who tell such stories are exaggerating, lying, or have themselves been deceived.

Of course, #2 is more likely. Lying, exaggerating, or being credulous are common; walking on water or rising from the dead or not. Thus it is never rational to believe in miracles—defined as actions violating laws of nature—because #2 is always more likely than #1.

While immortality is possible, it is easy to see that it is highly unlikely.

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5 thoughts on “Do We Survive Death? Discussed in One Page

  1. I do not believe in “God” or an “afterlife” as taught by religion. I do know that it takes energy to move or animate anything. Theoretical physics has suggested to us that all material things are vibrating at the atomic and subatomic levels. To me, this means they are spiritual in their essence. When we die, the ego is extinguished and whatever is left returns to the general pool of energy. There would be nothing left of individual consciousness and it would be for each individual as if he or she ever existed. There is absolutely no evidence that any sort of consciousness, awareness or ego can survive death.

    To me, this idea denies individual afterlife without denying that we are spiritual beings and that all beings and matter is infused with spirit because it takes energy to support matter. What is different is the recognition that there is no “personal” God and the universe is truly indifferent. Human concepts like punishment and reward, or morality, or judgments about what is “good,” and what is “bad,” become absurd in this context.

    Finding or working to create meaning is also not as valuable in this context. If centuries roll on and all is forgotten, why work so hard to find meaning? In 100,000 years, no one will remember that Rome, Egypt, or the United States existed, much less any particular person.

    This is not to say we can’t squeeze every ounce of joy possible to a human out of life, and in fact we should. But it is never bleak to face the truth. That would be a value judgment. We can face this reality or anesthesize ourselves with religion, entertainment, drugs, perhaps even philosophy.

  2. Appreciate the comments. Your definitions that ” all material things are vibrating at the atomic and subatomic levels. [and] To me, this means they are spiritual in their essence” and that “we are spiritual beings … because it takes energy to support matter” is highly unusual and not what most people mean by spiritual. I do like your conclusion though, “But it is never bleak to face the truth … We can face this reality or anesthetize ourselves with religion, entertainment, drugs, perhaps even philosophy.” That is what E. D. Klemke had in mind when he wrote “Living Without Appeal.”

  3. The afterlife and heaven or the whatever of most of humanities beliefs leaves me cold and bored. The only afterlife that would hold any real interest for me would be a continuing and ever morphing dreaming like what happens to my world when I sleep. Waking life is very boring to me. My dreams however are stunning most of the time.

    As to if we continue to dream after death (something of our essence lives on) I haven’t the slightest notion. If I had to live another life on a planet like this I’d be praying for nothingness. This is just too boring and mean spirited.

  4. I admire and envy a bit the comments here by those who seem to have no issues with believing it irrational to think we survive death. Unfortunately I was brought up in a very superstitious, religious home where I think magical thinking became hardwired in my developing brain. I’ve spent the better part of 65 years trying to correct this defect without total success. There seems to always be some irrational part of me that still believes that my little consciousness will survive death even though I see no real evidence for this strange notion. Logically I don’t believe in life after death. Emotionally I can’t help it and even hope for it which is really illogical considering how I feel about life. There’s a lot of irrationalities about me that I’ll never be able to fully alter. I have to live in this broken state it seems even after a long and somewhat heroic battle to become a mostly rational human being. It’s a real drag and a total bummer using the lingo I grew up with. lol (laughter is my secret weapon in dealing with all this BS)

  5. We all have residual “irrationalities” despite our best efforts to become educated. Leftover of our reptilian brains. JGM

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