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Molecules and Mourning

Crying

Materialism has always had a difficult time dealing with death, because it has to claim that death is not a big deal. If there is nothing more to life than the matter of the body, once the body dies there is nothing left to “experience” death.

The ancient atomists were explicit in this claim, with Epicurus stating:

"Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not."

While it is debatable how palatable this line of argument can really be when facing one’s own death, it is particularly impotent for comforting those who mourn a deceased loved one. If death truly is the end, then the loss that is felt is not imagined, but complete and final.

For those who espouse a strictly materialist worldview, any attempt to comfort the mourning must be scientific; this is exactly what Aaron Freeman proposes in a segment for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He argues that the First Law of Thermodynamics, the law of conservation of energy, provides a context to give grieving family members the knowledge that their loved one is not completely gone but that his energy is a permanent part of the cosmos, or that her impact on them is not over but that the energy of those interactions carries on in our lives. Most importantly, this is something that those grieving need not simply have faith in. The conservation of energy can be and has been experimentally tested across all ranges of physics, so mourners can examine the evidence for themselves and find how sound it is.

Originally aired almost ten years ago, this little reflection bubbles up every once in a while on blogs or on Facebook. Freeman is right to point out the beauty and interconnectedness of the material world and how we can have an impact on it. It can be astounding to realize that the atoms that make up our bodies were originally formed in the heart of stars that have long since died, or that the breath you just took probably shared some air molecules with the dying breath of Socrates, Julius Ceasar, or even Jesus Christ. Physics can give us an amazing picture of the universe and of our place in it. But to claim that this is all we need for true comfort in the face of death is simply unreasonable.

What Freeman presents about the conservation of energy and about the fact that the energy that animated us in our lifetimes will never fully be lost is true. Nevertheless, just as we do not mourn the loss of nail clippings or hair trimmings, it is not the body or energy as such that we miss, but a human person. We long for the whole person, both the body and that intangible principle that made that body the unique person we so loved, their soul. In death there is a stark change, a true loss, for the body that was once given a unity and a purpose by the soul is now simply a collection of parts that are each going their own way. Freeman admits this but tries to put a positive spin on it in his closing line:

"According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen."

But no one can honestly deny that something real truly is gone, namely the very order that makes you a person. The energy that suffused our loved one in life and that they used to make us laugh and cry and love, though not completely gone, has lost that unity and purpose, that order, that we so prized in their life.

The image that we somehow “merge” with the universe in death as the energy that we expended in life and the molecules that made up our bodies carry on an independent existence can only be comforting if we convince ourselves that all we are when alive is a particular collection of molecules with a particular pattern of energy. It is only by cheapening our understanding of and value for human life that this image can hope to comfort.

True comfort in mourning cannot rely simply on the material, on talk of the persistence of energy and physical parts. It must include reference to the soul, that principle of life that, by its very nature, orders us to something beyond the physical.

Catholics look to the promise that death is not a loss of the soul, that they can still be united to their loved ones in the Body of Christ and that they will one day be restored to the fullness of their personhood, body and soul, in the new creation.
 
 
This article first appeared on DominicanaBlog.com, an online publication of the Dominican Students of the Province of St. Joseph who live and study at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. It was written by Br. Thomas Davenport, O.P., who entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in Physics.
 
(Image credit: Turner)

Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph

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The Order of Preachers, known also as the Dominican Order, was founded by St. Dominic in 1216 with the mission of preaching for the salvation of souls. With contemplative study serving as a pillar of Dominican religious life, the Order continues to contribute to the Catholic synthesis of faith and reason, following the example of such Dominican luminaries as St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. The Friars of the Province of St. Joseph administer Providence College in Providence, RI and serve as teachers and campus ministers in several colleges, universities, and seminaries in addition to serving as pastors, chaplains, and itinerant preachers. Follow the Dominican students at their blog, DominicanaBlog.com.

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  • Gordon Reid

    The irony of this article is that Catholics cannot mourn at all without it being a denial of God's love. My understanding is that for Catholics everything that happens is an expression of God's love for us. This means mourning the death of a child is a refusal to accept the love of God.

    • TomD123

      Jesus cried when Lazarus died. Obviously Catholics don't say you can't mourn the death of a loved one. That's kind of a silly thing to say.

      • George

        okay, but why did he cry?

        • severalspeciesof

          For show... by which I mean it is a literary device/ploy to advance the story...

          Glen

          • Max Driffill

            Its a bizarre story to be sure that makes very little sense.

          • Barry Bozz

            Jesus cried in sympathy with Lazarus' family and friends. The loss of a loved one is real in this life. We will miss the beloved now, until , through faith, we we will be reunited in the after life. Mourning is the authentic response to death. " Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted".

          • David Nickol

            Jesus cried in sympathy with Lazarus' family and friends.

            How do you know?

          • Barry Bozz

            Because it makes sense. He didn't cry for Lazarus because He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knowingly delayed coming sooner so that many would know the Son of Man was the resurrection.and the Life. Lazarus's sister also wept, although she believed in the general resurrection to come.Therefore, Christ could only have wept out of sorrow and in sympathy for her and Lazarus's family loss.

          • David Nickol

            Because it makes sense.

            Here is Raymond Brown's translation from The Gospel According to John I-XII (the first of Brown's two-volume work on the Gospel of John in the Anchor Bible series):

            34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Lord, come and see," they told him. 35 Jesus began to cry, 36 and this caused the Jews to remark, "See how much he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "He opened the eyes of that blind man. Couldn't he also have done something to stop this man from dying?" 38 With this again arousing his emotions, Jesus came to the tomb.

            Brown says this in a note to verse 35:

            cry. The weeping is caused by the thought of Lazarus in the tomb, but the verse is primarily intended to set the stage for vs. 36. . . .

            My point is that what you were giving was your interpretation. Whether or not it was a very good interpretation or a very bad interpretation is irrelevant to what I am saying. It was an interpretation on your part of a text that one of the great Catholic exegetes interprets differently.

            There is an excellent chance, even if everything the Catholic Church claims about itself is true, and even if the Gospel is the inspired word of God, and even if Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that John's account is carefully constructed not to give a journalistic, moment by moment account of what actually happened, but to make a point about the life, ministry, and death of Jesus, without any guarantee or certitude that Jesus actually wept at this particular moment, and that "the Jews," seeing Jesus weep, said, "See how much . . . . etc."

            I don't mean to single you out, but I am often taken aback at how many people here seem to be certain of their own interpretations of what God (or Jesus) did or thought or felt or wanted at some particular moment.

          • Martin Sellers

            It seems to me that Jesus usually becomes emotional as a result of someones lack of faith or frustration out of misunderstanding of his teaching- Perhaps he is crying because what he knows and experiences is so clear (the reason for Lazarus's death and his forthcoming miracle), but those around him cannot see the big picture yet.--dunno just a thought

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think Jesus wept because he was human (true man) and that is what a normal human being does when someone he loves dies. He also probably wept because he saw his friend's sisters' mourning, sisters he loved too, and who were now without their brother. There were probably a lot of other reasons he wept. Maybe part of it was the fact that he was responsible for the sisters going through three days of grief now, even though he was intending to raise Lazarus from the dead. Maybe he was also recalling the death of his foster-father, St. Joseph. Maybe he was crying because death is so effing bad.

          • George

            how bad exactly is death in a worldview in which no one really *dies* and there's such a thing as resurrection powers?

      • Gordon Reid

        I did not say Catholics can't mourn. I said that when Catholics do mourn they are expressing a denial of the love of God expressed in the death of their loved one.

        Further, the author claims in the first sentence that materialism "has to claim that death is not a big deal." I was simply pointing out that Catholics have to make the same claim in order to not deny the love of God.

        • Chad Eberhart

          Right, Gordon. Though many Catholics today have a more modernist bent - forgetting much Catholic teaching prior to Vatican II - used to Catholics were very aware of the grave sin of "despair." In fact, I've heard it said (not sure if it's true but it at least illustrates the popular Catholic mindset of a not-so-distant past) that one reason Thomas a Kempis was not canonized was because when the exhumed his body they found claw marks on the coffin lid from the inside. Apparently, this could have indicated he despaired, thus calling into question his sainthood.

    • LT

      Death wasn't God's plan for us. We brought that on ourselves. The sacrifice of the cross which defeated death is the expression of God's love for us.

      • Gordon Reid

        I did not say that death was God's plan for us. I said that everything that happens is an expression of God's love. I am pretty sure that is what Catholicism teaches. I think I remember articles here at Strange Notions stating that our suffering is an expression of God's love for us. A love intended to bring us back into a relationship with God. Given that, mourning the death of a loved is simply a denial of God's act of love. It seems the author's statement that materialism has to claim "death is not a big deal" must also apply to Catholicism.

        • LT

          Fair enough, maybe I should say that death itself isn't an expression of God's love for us. I am no theologian but my understanding is that death is a bad thing. Suffering, though, is not necessarily bad depending on how we approach it. If we unite it to Christ's, it becomes good because then it takes part in his mission of defeating death and restoring life. I think we can mourn and yet be thankful and hopeful for the greater good it can do. That disposition is an act of the will; it is not necessarily a feeling - and it is based on faith. What this all means is that our mourning (when united with Christ's) need not be a denial of God's act of love; it can be a participation in it. I do not dismiss the difficulty with this. The idea of sacrificing ones self wholly and only for another is counter to what our fallen nature (and frankly logic) would suggest. If you don't have faith (I say this just as a premise, not as a criticism) I grant your position makes sense.

    • I see no contradiction here. Catholics mourn the death of a loved one out of separation not refusal of God's love. Catholic's understand that accepting God's will means that sometimes we have to trust this will even if it is the death of a child. There is great sorrow of knowing all of our dreams an plans for this child will not be fulfilled, but there is great consolation in knowing that God's love will triumph at the end and that one day we will all meet again. For Catholics, death has no sting.

      And another thing, Catholics refuse God's love all the time is called sinning..

      "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
      DHS

    • Blessed are those who mourn. Failing to mourn would be refusing to accept God's love. He wants us to love the person who has died. Yes He wants us to suffer well. To unite our suffering with that of Jesus. To see it as a way we can do good in this world. It is a gift. That does not mean it does not hurt. The point is we can see God in all things, our pains and our pleasures.

      • severalspeciesof

        Yes He wants us to suffer well.

        Do you really mean to say that? That god WANTS us to suffer well? It's sadistic if that's the case... ughh...

        Glen

        • Sadistic is when you enjoy the suffering of others. God does not enjoy it. He cries with us. Yet suffering and love are connected. How do we prove our love? By being willing to suffer for that person. If your beloved chooses to suffer for you, what do you feel? Pain because they are suffering but also joy because their love is so real. God is the same way with us.

          • severalspeciesof

            Yet suffering and love are connected.

            The concept of heaven (if there is one) disproves that... The garden of paradise (before the fall) disproves that...

            Glen

          • In the garden we have a snake. What is the snake doing there? Letting Adam and Eve make a sacrifice for love. Not a great suffering but something. Trust the word of God. Don't trust the word of the snake.

            In heaven? We will be there as those who have chosen to suffer for the love of God. Do we have to keep suffering? No. Once we have proved we are willing to make the sacrifices that is enough. Then our love is more than just theory.

          • David Nickol

            Once we have proved we are willing to make the sacrifices that is enough.

            What about the vast numbers allegedly in heaven who never proved anything, like those who died before reaching the age of reason? If life on earth is some kind of a test, why do so many never have to take it?

          • Martin Sellers

            1) Dying before reaching the age of reason must entail some sort of suffering...

            2) Also this "test" you refer to is not a "1 student taking 1 quiz" scenario- that innocent child's death could be part of the suffering or moral journey of countless others in a complex web that only an omnipotent being could ever comprehend.

          • David Nickol

            God does not enjoy it. He cries with us.

            God does not enjoy. God does not cry.

            It seems to me that one of the methods of apologetics is to use fundamentally different notions of God to explain (or explain away) different problems. So when it comes to suffering, God is the kindly old man with the white beard looking down at the earth and sometimes intervening, but mostly allowing unfortunate events to occur. He desires, he is sorrowful, and he is occasionally angry and wrathful. He wants us to do certain things, but permits us not to.

            Then there is the other God, the one who is "outside of time." The one who is perfect. The one who can't experience human emotions, like sorrow or disappointment. The one whose foreknowledge of events doesn't determine them because there is no such concept as foreknowledge for a being outside of time.

            It seems to me that using the attributes of the second concept of God—basically the God of philosophy—it can be proven that most of what is said about the first concept of God—that he enjoys or cries—can't possibly be true and in fact makes no sense.

          • Martin Sellers

            If we 1) believe there is an omnipotent/all creating God outside time, who experiences/ knows/ creates all out of his own being; and 2) we (as his creation) experience emotion------> then how can we not personify God with human characteristics? He is the source of all those Characteristics.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      A premise of your claim is that "for Catholics everything that happens is an expression of God's love."

      This is false. Sin and death are not expressions of God's love. While Catholics believe that God can bring good out of evil, the evil is still evil and not an expression of God's love. There are other things wrong with your argument, but that first failure is enough to dismiss it.

      • Gordon Reid

        If my premise is false, I would agree with you that my argument should be dismissed. But I contend that my argument is not false. First there is the descriptions of God as being omnipresent and omnibenevolent plus other omni's which makes God present in every thought and action and expressing His benevolence (love) in every thought and action. My argument might fail if God in not omnipresent nor omnibenevolent. Let me know which of the omni's are not part of the definition of God if you wish to argue that my premise is false. Second, as C. S.Lewis argues in The Problem of Pain, “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. .... In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” Lewis seems to be concurring with my argument. Regretting the death of a loved one might be the same as wishing "for a less glorious and less arduous destiny." Finally, I must have heard 50 to 100 sermons (Protestant) making the point that God's love is being expressed everywhere and all the time. Unfortunately, these sermons did not address the conflict you raise between sin and God's love. I certainly do not think sin is an expression of God's love. And I have no idea how to resolve that conflict. However, I am quite certain that my premise is not outside the Christian definitions for the expression of God's love.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, but that
          does not mean that every action is God’s action. God gives persons freedom, so their actions are their own. God giving freedom is an act of love, but misusing that freedom is the act of that person. Again, your first premise fails, and there is no need to deal with your other two arguments.

          • Gordon Reid

            l am not saying every action is God's action. I agree that sin is not God's action. I am saying, and have only been saying, every action is an expression of God's love. And no I cannot explain this. It is like trying to explain the trinity. But if there are actions for which the expression of God's love is not present, it means God is not omnipresent. You have said God is omnipresent so my premise still stands.

  • David Nickol

    Wearing my materialist hat, I don't take any comfort at all from the idea that the energy of a loved one who has died continues on in some form or another. But the fact that most materialists see death as the definitive end of the existence of a person is not an argument against materialism. Just because a great many of us would like for it to be true that we spend an eternity of bliss after bodily death does not in any way make it a fact.

    I once asked my older sister if she has any sense that our parents (both dead for some time) continue to exist in some other realm. She is an observant Catholic who is much more of a believer than me, but here answer was no. Whether or not there is some kind of life after death I don't know. But like my sister, I have no sense or feeling that anyone I have known who has died continues to exist. This, of course, is not proof of anything, and probably not even evidence for anything. But if life after death is a reality, it doesn't affect the way I feel about loved ones who have died. I still feel they have simply ceased to exist. I suppose some intellectual argument might persuade me that the dead continue to exist, but I don't think I will ever feel it or be comforted by the idea.

    Interestingly, the idea of life after death in the Old Testament is basically nonexistent, unless you count the idea of sheol. All the great figures of the Old Testament loved God and were loyal to him without any promise of life after death. In the Old Testament, when you died you were gone, in much the same way as materialists would describe today. The idea of heaven developed after the close of the Old Testament period but before the beginning of New Testament times.

    • Well put, as usual. I'm currently reading Candida Moss' "Myth of Persecution" and it is a truly fascinating look into ancient sensibilities on death and martyrdom. Think you and other commenters here would find it a good read. See also her interview on reasonable doubts and their 3 -part series on martyrdom.

    • I agree with much of what you say. My faith certainly does not take away the grief I experience when someone close to me dies; heck, even someone who isn't close to me. But I have never had a feeling of the person ceasing to exist. This may be because of the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. While I do not feel a connection to them personally, I do feel a kind of connection through prayer and my trust in God.

      This is tangential so I only offer it for consideration. I suggest that there is strong evidence of the idea of an afterlife in the Old Testament though the Israelites certainly did not understand the afterlife as Christians do. A few things: Adam and Eve were clearly not made for death so it begs the question of what would have been had they not fallen. Enoch is said to have been taken by God when everyone else in the geneology was simply described as having died (Gen 5). Moses was filled with the very light of God and an apocryphal Jewish tradition holds that his body has taken by the Archangel Michael. Elijah was taken up to heaven, not Sheol. Finally, in the book of Maccabees there is mention of praying for the dead which doesn't make sense if their condition was permanent. While there may not have been a common understanding among all Jews throughout their history the Old Testament does give testimony to the mystery of death and there being something more than just Sheol. Thanks.

  • David Nickol

    True comfort in mourning cannot rely simply on the material, on talk of the persistence of energy and physical parts. It must include reference to the soul, that principle of life that, by its very nature, orders us to something beyond the physical.

    I just quoted this paragraph from C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed a couple of days ago, but it bears repeating.

    Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand. Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions "on the further shore," pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There's not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the Spiritualists bait their hook! "Things on the other side are not so different after all." There are cigars in Heaven. For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored. . . .. . . Why should the separation (if nothing else) which so agonizes the lover who is left behind be painless to the lover who departs?"Because she is in God's hands." But if so, she was in God's hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body? And if so, why? If God's goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. If it is consistent with hurting us, then he may hurt us after death as unendurably as before it. [Emphasis added.]

  • No, materialism does NOT have to claim that death is not a big deal. I am a materialist and death is a huge deal, probably the most important thing in the human experience.

    I don't know about most atheists or materialists but I utterly disagree with Freeman. I take no comfort in the 1st law of thermodynamics in the face my death or that of loved ones. As far as I can tell, when we die, that is the end of the self, the consciousness. Matter and energy turns into other things.

    This leads me and many others to value our lives enormously and because we are empathetic animals with an interest in others to value their lives too. It is the most valuable thing I know of.

    The contradiction is in the New Christians who place such a high value on human life, when , according to their worldview, as I understand it, this life is literally an episode so short in the human experience that it approaches infinite brevity. This corrupted flesh and brief sinful experience is nothing compared to the eternal bliss that awaits.

    I know why I mourn the death of loved ones, it is because I think they are actually dead, not experiencing eternal life. They are gone. This makes me sad.

    It is also simply wrong and insulting to suggest that "true mourning" requires reference to the soul. ( As if my mourning is somehow less legitimate). Quite the opposite, a genuine belief in the soul and in Jesus' gift would mean the death of a loved one was a joyous occasion of their resurrection to life eternal.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      In my humble opinion, your feelings about the evil of death are perfectly appropriate.

      However, my recent readings of what the Church means by soul--what Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle meant by soul--is simply that which gave life and organization to the mind-bogglingly vast collection of matter that makes up a body. Referencing the soul means we are mourning because what was once there--a living human being--is no longer there. One the remains remain.

      • I do not believe we have an undying part. From your comment I am unsure whether you or the Catholic Church thinks this.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Here are some odd things for your consideration:

          > Catholics don't believe in the resurrection of the soul but of the body.
          > A human person is not just the soul of a person but a soul and body united in life.
          > Aristotle and Aquinas held based on rational arguments that the human soul is immortal because of what it can do. They saw the powers of reason and free will as independent of and irreducible to matter. They constructed rational arguments to show this--they are not just asserting.
          > The Church does teach that each one as a disembodied soul does survive death (I find it hard to imagine what that will be like) and that later we will given new bodies (that will be welcome if you are in heaven).

          • It would be great to have these rational arguments for the soul laid out here as I have not encountered them. But that's another story.

            But presumably, Catholics believe the soul is also the essence of an individual in some way, and that even absent a body, the soul is the true self. It therefore seems odd that Catholics mourn at all if they truly believe the person they loved did not in any significant way end.

            But do I really care, no. I think both atheists and Catholics are genuinely mourning. Maybe we could all just accept this and not suggest that death is not a big deal for the other or that they do not genuinely mourn the passing of their loved ones.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree, Brian. If we don't let our humanity get trumped by some ideology, we will mourn.

            We Catholics really don't (or oughtn't) think the soul is the true self. We are hylomorphs, meaning we see the human person as an ensouled body or an embodied soul. Body and soul go together more than soup and sandwiches. Our emotions, passions, and affections are essential, even though they should be well governed by the rule of reason.

            The idea that the soul is the true self began with Descartes. He created the soul/body split.

          • Interesting. I think you share somethings with transhumanists.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You'll have to explain that one.

          • Transhumanism involves the belief that humans can become immortal through technology. Basically by downloading our brain patterns. The trouble I have with this is that there would seem to be no continuity. This seems similar to what hylomorphism is, that the self is the pattern that makes up the human. I suppose that the difference might be that transhumanists are materialists, where you may not be. But both seem to think that the self can be reconstructed or transferred into a new body. Transhumanists think this can be done on naturalism with a robot body, Catholics with a supernaturally resurrected body.

          • Michael Murray

            > Aristotle and Aquinas held based on rational arguments that the human soul is immortal because of what it can do. They saw the powers of reason and free will as independent of and irreducible to matter. They constructed rational arguments to show this--they are not just asserting.

            Rational arguments built on vastly less factual knowledge of neurology that we have now are essentially useless. That's not A&A's fault but nevertheless true.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Dr. Edward Feser claims that neither the findings of subatomic physics nor advances in neurobiology have any bearing on these arguments.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I imagine he does. I assume he also thinks advances in aeroplane technology have no bearing on the well know logical argument that a heavier than air machine can never fly.

            Seriously. How can a better understanding of the real world not inform a rational argument about the real world.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Seriously. How can a better understanding of dentistry not inform a philosophical argument? It can have no bearing, as geometry has no bearing on a historical argument or an evolutionary argument.

            Why do you assume these philosophical arguments are based on neurology? They are not and they have to stand or fall on their own merits.

          • Michael Murray

            Why do you assume these philosophical arguments are based on neurology? They are not and they have to stand or fall on their own merits.

            Ah my mistake. I thought A&A were talking about real brains and real free will not some imaginary things that had no connection to reality.

          • Michael Murray

            Of course if you don't like neurology you can consider Sean Carroll's arguments he

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

            arguing that the soul is not possible based on what we already know about physics.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know physicists who have spent their professional lives studying these things and they have no problem believing in God and in the immateriality of the soul.

            Carrol does not make a valid argument against the soul because he does not even define what he means by it, much less show that what he means is what, say, a Catholic philosopher means. He just dismisses the question.

            The import of this video is to establish the claim that we can now explain from the bottom the large-scale physical world that can be detected through the five senses. We all already knew such a world exists and we now know it better.

    • vito

      I totally agree. If it was just separation, the mourning would be short and painless. What is a few years or, at most, decades compared with blissful eternity? Particulary encouraging would be deaths of pre-age-of-reason children, as they all seem to get a free pass to heaven (at least according to the revised Catholic teaching). If a child lives longer he loses that guarantee and becomes a candidate to hell. Any mourning caused by separation would be quickly quenched or overshadowed by immense joy that your child is already with the Lord and will enjoy ETERNITY in Heaven. You just have to wait a few years to join him... Yet, judging by the actual mourning that goes on in case of a child's death... there isn't a parent on earth who really believes all that. Deep down probably everyone suspects that the end is the end...

  • This is what Einstein had to say about a friend who had recently died:

    He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn illusion.

    I must confess I don't understand this attitude. Even knowing that this may be the case, that all things that have ever existed are eternal geometric regions in the space-time block that is our universe, or that all that constitutes death is a rearrangement of matter, does not make death any less tragic. The arrangement of matter that is me is unique and beautiful. It probably has never existed before and will never exist again in the history of the universe. And it is this particular arrangement that can study the universe. We are atoms thinking about atoms.

    When we die, something beautiful in the universe is lost. It cannot be restored, it cannot be rediscovered at any time in the future. It is gone, and there is, as far as we know, no hope of getting it back. That some people can enjoy this miracle of life for decades and others for mere days is so profoundly unfair, it is the largest stumbling block to belief in a benevolent God.

    • Paul, I was nodding until your second paragraph. That is the point of the Incarnation—faith, hope, and love. Something beautiful is not lost. It can be restored. It's natural to want to avoid death. The real miracle is that we can hope for eternal life more beautiful than anything we can know in this life.

      • I have great hope that this is true. I don't believe it. I can't convince myself of the reality of life after death, although I've tried. Maybe someday I can get there. That's one of the reasons I stay with forums like this. If this is true, maybe someday I'll get it through my thick skull. If it's not true, hopefully I can be convinced to stop wasting my time here.

        I suspect, however, that face to face conversations I have had and continue to have with people in my life will be more productive than the time I spend here.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I agree that when we die something beautiful in the universe is lost. If materialism is true, I'll agree with you that "it cannot be restored," unless there is some natural process we are totally unaware of. If God exists, then it certainly can be restored.

      Why do you call life a miracle? Do you mean, for example, that it is beyond the powers inherent in nature that atoms can think about atoms? If that is the case then you might be thinking of a kind of life (soul just means life) which human beings possess which includes reason and free will. Aristotle and Aquinas thought human beings had immortal souls for that very reason, because they had powers which materialism could not account for.

      • I don't know why I call it a miracle. I suppose I'm just trying to express that life is rare and beautiful and wonderful. That it is something to be treasured and preserved. I'll think about it.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Every time I read an account of how some living thing has evolved to have certain features my mind boggles at how it is possible that it really did happen by random mutations.

          A few days ago we saw the hippopotamuses at the St. Louis Zoo. Their heads are perfectly adapted to their bodies being underwater with the eyes, ears, and nostrils located on the flat plain of their faces, perfect for resting on the surface of the water. That is one of a trillion of these kinds of miracles in a loose sense.

          • Doug Shaver

            Every time I read an account of how some living thing has evolved to have certain features my mind boggles at how it is possible that it really did happen by random mutations.

            You are misrepresenting evolutionary theory. No scientist claims that it happened only by random mutations.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know. But why don't you give us a more complete account?

          • Doug Shaver

            If you already know, why do I need to tell you again?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I know there are other factors, like the survival of those species that already had features which allowed them to live under sudden new conditions, and selection within a species' genome, as when taller giraffes have an advantage over shorter ones in getting leaves from trees.

            I'd like to understand how the incredible complexity of life has come about, whether it is the face of a hippopotamus or what goes on in single cell. It seems to be teleological, but I understand many evolutionists want to remove all teleological language from evolutionary accounts.

            I'm asking you because you chose to snipe at my comment, so you must feel some confidence in speaking about evolution.

          • David Nickol

            Be careful what you ask for. A full account of the evolution of the hippopotamus is likely to be even longer and more grueling than "The Sunny Side of Suffering."

          • Doug Shaver

            I know there are other factors, like the survival of those species that already had features which allowed them to live under sudden new conditions, and selection within a species' genome, as when taller giraffes have an advantage over shorter ones in getting leaves from trees.

            You seemed to imply that you knew about none of these, with your remark about random mutations. That is why I chose to snipe at you. If you're walking around a lake during duck season, it's a really bad idea to be wearing a duck suit.

            I'd like to understand how the incredible complexity of life has come about, whether it is the face of a hippopotamus or what goes on in single cell. It seems to be teleological, but I understand many evolutionists want to remove all teleological language from evolutionary accounts.

            I cannot give you that understanding in the space that this website will provide me, and I would not have the time if the space were provided. If you're serious about wanting to understand, you're going to have to do a lot of reading. I can offer some suggestions for getting started if you want some.

            Not all evolutionists want to remove teleological language from their accounts, but I agree that many do. It is a fundamental principle of all scientific work, however, that real science is totally indifferent to what scientists want. When the evidence gives them good reason to add teleology to their accounts, then they will be obliged to do so. But not until then.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            That's a fair response.

            I'd nuance your claim that science is indifferent to what scientists want. Human beings want an understanding of the natural world and so have discovered and developed natural science as a way of understanding it. Also human beings want to be able to use the natural world to make physical life better and science answers this need as well.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll accept your nuances. Point taken.

  • severalspeciesof

    Materialism has always had a difficult time dealing with death,
    because it has to claim that death is not a big deal. If there is
    nothing more to life than the matter of the body, once the body dies
    there is nothing left to “experience” death.

    The ancient atomists were explicit in this claim, with Epicurus stating:

    "Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to
    us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is
    come, we are not."

    I believe this is a misinterpretation of Epicurus. It's possible that Epicurus was refering to 'death' as nothimg, not that it was nothing to sneer at. This is evident IMO by his qualification of death: 'the most awful of evils' else why frame it that way?

    Plus, once again SN has pushed a strawman (the VERY FIRST sentence) into the dialogue here as others have already pointed out...

    Glen

  • Danny Getchell

    (1) Argument from consequences. Again.

    (2) The false dichotomy between "materialists" and believers in a quasi-anthropomorphic, micro managing God, as if there is no worldview in between. Again.

  • Michael Murray

    For those who espouse a strictly materialist worldview, any attempt to comfort the mourning must be scientific;

    I really, really, really tire of being told what I "must" do by people who believe in made up stories. If I have to comfort the mourning I do it in terms of the quality of life they had, the great memories they have of them, the suffering they have been relieved of (as appropriate of course). Or of course I could just do something practical to help. I don't insult their intelligence with stock phrases like: "a better place", "watching over us", "with the angels".

    True comfort in mourning cannot rely simply on the material, on talk of the persistence of energy and physical parts.

    So here is the thing. Maybe, just maybe, there is no true comfort for the mourning.

    Catholics look to the promise that death is not a loss of the soul, that they can still be united to their loved ones in the Body of Christ and that they will one day be restored to the fullness of their personhood, body and soul, in the new creation.

    Do they ? If these boards are anything to go by Catholics are very confused about eternal life. Someone the other day was pointing out that time didn't pass in heaven. Now I know it seems like time doesn't pass when I'm with some of my relatives but that seriously doesn't seem like "fullness of their personhood, body and soul".

    Oh and while we are at it here is Sean Carroll again explaining why physicists know enough now to rule out an "immaterial" soul:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

  • Max Driffill

    "Materialism has always had a difficult time dealing with death, because it has to claim that death is not a big deal. If there is
    nothing more to life than the matter of the body, once the body dies
    there is nothing left to “experience” death."

    Materialism has no problem dealing with death. We just don't offer assurances for which the evidence is unsupportive. There is no reason to suspect there is anything to experience death once the central nervous system of a human being shuts down for good. It will be exactly like it was prior to awareness accruing in the individual's brain. That is to say, for 13 billion years or so, there was no person there, and for billions of years after there will be no person there. There is little to fear in that. What I think bothers us about death, and here I paraphrase Hitch, is not that we have to leave the party, but that we have to leave and the party will be going on without us. We all have a great many aspirations and curiosities and no desire to exit stage right on the oblivion express to nowhereville. We want to see our children, friends, grand-children grow. I have movies to watch, books to read, friends with which to drink, loves to have and no where near enough time to do it in. Epicurus was right, death is nothing to us. We won't experience it. What we mourn for when we contemplate our own deaths is brevity of our own lives and the fact that we will not get to see all that we want to see. Life is interesting after all.

  • Tyler

    If an aged old grandmother was on her dying bed I would completely agree with the writer of this article that providing comfort to someone takes precedence, especially if this is something she had always believed. However I do not see the justification for someone living a lifetime of irrational belief in a moments comfort, and I would resent anyone who would make that decision for me. Pain and discomfort is just part of life which we all have to experience, and the pleasures and joys are that much greater because of them. Hopefully the pleasures and happiness in one's life is sufficient to make any tribulations or suffering worth the effort of enduring. I know for me it certainly has been and I would like to think that if I continue on the path that I am on I will be content even in my last moments of suffering, not believing there is any great likelihood of anything beyond.

  • we are information and that information is essentially removed by decay of the body. moreover, the materialist thesis assumes that mind is material and that is a proposition that has yet to be demonstrated. there is a soul, which materialism/scientism does not take into account.

    • Tyler

      What has yet to be demonstrated is that there is any element of consciousness which extends beyond the physical. I am open to this evidence, but you cannot fairly put the onus on science to prove the nonexistence of an idea which is nothing more than that. An idea, with absolutely no evidence, nothing to incline the rational mind towards it as a reasonable explanation. It is simply an appealing idea. How do we go about taking an intangible idea into account while doing controlled scientific experiments? It is not a limitation of science that it does not make claims about things which are clearly beyond our understanding. We can't study what we can't observe. This is why science works and we have all the wonderful (often life saving) technologies that we do. A scientific world view does not require a belief that there is nothing which we could refer to as a soul, or nothing which isbeyond our ability to understand, but it may incline people towards rejecting ideas which are based more on feelings than any logical reasoning. I have considered the likelihood of an element of consciousness beyond our physical selves and it seems unlikely but this has little bearing on my actions. I would be curious to know how those you would label as "materialists" are failing to take this idea into account. Seems to me you are merely perturbed by those who call your worldview into question.

      • tyler, I'm not a great enough thinker to have this thought on my own. Read Thomas Nagel, "Mind and Cosmos" or David Chalmers, "The Conscious Mind--In Search of a Theory"... By the way, both are non-believers, so they aren't trying to defend theism. And, in this case the burden of proof that mind is only material is on the materialists/scientismists.

        • Tyler

          With all due respect my friend perhaps if you cannot defend this idea yourself then it is you who should go back and try to understand it more clearly. In which case you could be satisfied that the ideas you are sharing actually have some weight behind them, or not, and we could have a much more engaging/interesting conversation than you just deferring your argument to a book. We are not static, our brains change, but when we decide on some absolute truth about ourselves (perhaps in regards to intelligence), that truth will generally remain as such. I may not believe in God, but in spite (or perhaps because) of this, I am a true believer in the power of belief, which has incredible power. Especially when you figure out how to manipulate it to your own advantage instead of wasting it on a comforting idea.

          • Ah Tyler, this bear of little brain really doesn't understand your line of reasoning other than it's to say "I'm right you're wrong". Unfortunately not all propositions can be put into one-liners for web comments, except perhaps by Oscar Wilde. Again I suggest to you: broaden your horizons, smooth down the sharp edges of your prejudices and read a book. I have, and it's changed my outlook considerably. And I do agree, this conversation is not enlightening. You're not saying anything new that I can learn from, so I will terminate this exchange.