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The Case for Life After Death

Life After Death

Can you prove life after death?

 
Whenever we argue about whether a thing can be proved, we should distinguish five different questions about that thing:

  1. Does it really exist or not? "To be or not to be, that is the question."
  2. If it does exist, do we know that it exists? A thing can obviously exist without our knowing it.
  3. If we know that it exists, can we be certain of this knowledge? Our knowledge might be true but uncertain; it might be "right opinion."
  4. If it is certain, is there a logical proof, a demonstration of why we have a right to be certain? There may be some certainties that are not logically demonstrable (e.g. my own existence, or the law of non-contradiction).
  5. If there is a proof, is it a scientific one in the modern sense of 'scientific'? Is it publicly verifiable by formal logic and/or empirical observation? There may be other valid kinds of proof besides proofs by the scientific method.

The fifth point is especially important when asking whether you can prove life after death. I think it depends on what kinds of proof you will accept. It cannot be proved like a theorem in Euclidean geometry; nor can it be observed, like a virus. For the existence of life after death is not on the one hand a logical tautology: its contradiction does not entail a contradiction, as a Euclidean theorem does. On the other hand, it cannot be empirically proved or disproved (at least before death) simply because by definition all experience before death is experience of life before death, not life after death.

If life after death cannot be proved scientifically, is it then intellectually irresponsible to accept it? Only if you assume that it is intellectually irresponsible to accept anything that cannot be proved scientifically. But that premise is self-contradictory (and therefore intellectually irresponsible)! You cannot scientifically prove that the only acceptable proofs are scientific proofs. You cannot prove logically or empirically that only logical or empirical proofs are acceptable as proofs. You cannot prove it logically because its contradiction does not entail a contradiction, and you cannot prove it empirically because neither a proof nor the criterion of acceptability are empirical entities. Thus scientism (the premise that only scientific proofs count as proofs) is not scientific; it is a dogma of faith, a religion.

1. No Reasonable Objection

 
The first reason for believing in life after death is simply that there is no compelling reason not to, no objection to it that cannot be answered. The two most frequent objections are as follows:

(a) Since there is no conclusive evidence for life after death, it is as irresponsible to believe it as to believe in UFOs, or alchemy. Perhaps we cannot disprove it; a universal negative always is difficult if not impossible to disprove. But if we cannot prove it either, it is wishful thinking, not evidence, that makes us believe it.

Now this objector either means by 'evidence' merely empirical evidence, or else any kind of evidence. If he means the latter, he ignores all the following proofs for life after death. There is a lot of evidence. If he means the former, he falls victim to the self-contradiction argument just mentioned. There is no empirical evidence that the only kind of evidence we should accept is empirical evidence.

In most supposedly scientific objections of this type, an impossible demand is made, overtly or covertly—a demand for scientific proof—and then the belief is faulted for not satisfying that demand. This is like arguing against the existence of God on the grounds that "I have not found Him in my test tube," or like the first Soviet cosmonauts' "argument" that they had found no God in outer space. Ex hypothesi, if God exists He is not found in a test tube or in space. That would make Him a chemical or a meteor. A taxi trip through Cleveland disproves quasars as well as a laboratory experiment disproves God, or brain chemistry disproves the soul or its immortality. The demand that non-empirical entities submit to empirical verification is a self-contradictory demand. The belief that something exists outside a system cannot be disproved by observing the behavior of that system. Goldfish cannot disprove the existence of their human owners by observing water currents in the bowl.

(b) The strongest positive argument against life after death is the observation of spirit at the mercy of matter. We see no more mental life when the brain dies. Even when it is alive, a blow to the head impairs thought. Consciousness seems related to matter as the light of a candle to the candle: once the fuel is used up, the light goes out. The body and its nervous system seem like the fuel, the cause; and immaterial activity, consciousness, seems like the effect. Remove the cause and you remove the effect. Consciousness, in other words, seems to be an epiphenomenon, an effect but not a cause, like the heat generated by the electricity running along a wire to an appliance, or the exhaust fumes from an engine's tailpipe.

What does the observed dependence of mind upon matter prove, if not the mortality of the soul? Wait. First, just what do we observe? We observe the physical manifestations of consciousness (e.g. speech) cease when the body dies. We do not observe the spirit cease to exist, because we do not observe the spirit at all, only its manifestations in the body. Observations of the body do not decide whether that body is an instrument of an independent spirit which continues to exist after its body-instrument dies, or whether the body is the cause of a dependent spirit which dies when its cause dies. Both hypotheses account for the observed facts.

When a body is paralyzed, the mind and will are still operative, though deprived of expression. Bodily death may be simply total paralysis. When you take a microphone away from a speaker, he can no longer be heard by the audience. But he is still a speaker. Body could be the soul's microphone. The dependence of soul on a body may be somewhat like the dependence of a ship on a dry-dock. Ships are not built on the open sea, but on dry-dock; but once they leave the dry-dock, they do not sink but become free floating ships. The body may be the soul's dry-dock, or (an even better metaphor) the soul's womb, and its death may be the soul's emergence from its womb.

What about the analogy of the candle? Even in the analogy, the light does not go out; it goes up. It is still traveling through space, observable from other planets. It 'goes out' as a child goes out to play; it is liberated.

But what of the need for a brain to think? The brain may not be the cause of thought but the stopping down, the 'reducing valve' for thought, as Bergson, James and Huxley suppose: an organ of forgetting rather than remembering, eliminating from the total field of consciousness all that serves no present purpose. Thus when the brain dies, more rather than less consciousness occurs: the floodgates come down. This would account for the familiar fact that dying people remember the whole of their past life in an instant with intense clarity, detail, and understanding.

In short, the evidence, even the empirical evidence, seems at least as compatible with soul immortality as with soul-mortality.

2. Argument From Authority

 
According to the medievals, the most logical of philosophers, "the argument from authority is the weakest of arguments." Nevertheless, it is an argument, a probability, a piece of evidence. Forty million Frenchmen can be wrong, but it is less likely than four Frenchmen being wrong.

  1. The first argument from authority for life after death is simply quantitative: "the democracy of the dead" votes for it. Almost all cultures before our own have strongly, even officially, believed in some form of it. Children naturally and spontaneously believe in it unless conditioned out of it.
  2. A second argument from authority is stronger because it is qualitative rather than quantitative: nearly all the sages have believed in it. We must not, of course, answer the challenge 'How do you know they were sages?' by saying 'Because they believed'; that would be begging the question pure and simple. But thinkers considered wise for other reasons have believed; why should this one belief of theirs be an exception to their wisdom?
  3. Finally, we have the supreme authority of the teachings of Jesus. Belief in life after death is central to His entire message, "the Kingdom of Heaven." Even if you do not believe He is the incarnate God, can you believe He is a naive fool?

3. Conservation of Energy

 
Arguments from reason are logically stronger than arguments from authority. The premises, or evidence, for arguments from reason can be taken from three sources, three levels of reality what is less than ourselves (Nature), ourselves (human life), or what is more than ourselves (God). Again, we move from the weaker to the stronger argument.

We could argue from the principle of the conservation of energy. We never observe any form of energy either created or destroyed, only transformed. The immortality of the soul seems to be the spiritual equivalent of the conservation of energy. If even matter is immortal, why not spirit?

4. The Nature of Man

 
The next class of arguments is taken from the nature of Man. What in us survives death depends on what is in us now. Death is like menopause. If a woman has in her identity nothing but her motherhood, then her identity has trouble surviving menopause. Life after menopause is a little like life after death.

4a. The simplest and most obvious of these arguments may be called Primitive Man's Argument from Dead Cow. Primitive Man has two cows. One dies. What is the difference between Dead Cow and Live Cow? Primitive man looks. (He's really quite bright.) There appears no material difference in size or weight immediately upon death. Yet there is an enormous difference; something is missing. What? Life, of course. And what is that? The answer is obvious to any intelligent observer whose head is not clouded with theories: life is what makes Live Cow breathe. Life is breath. (The word for 'soul', or 'life', and 'breath' is the same in many ancient languages.) Soul is not air, which is still in Dead Cow's lungs, but the power to move it.

Life, it is seen, is not a material thing, like an organ. It is the life of the organs, of the body; not that which lives but that by which we live. Now this source of life cannot die as the body dies: by the removal of the soul. Soul cannot have soul taken from it. What can die has life on loan; life does not have life on loan.

The 'catch' in this argument is that this 'soul' may in turn have its life on loan from a higher source, and transmit it to the body only after having been given life first. This is in fact the Biblical teaching, contrary to the Greek view of the soul's inherent, necessary and eternal immortality. God gives souls life, and souls can die if they refuse it. But in any case the soul survives the body's death.

4b. Another quite simple piece of evidence for the presence of an immaterial reality (soul) in us which is not subject to the laws of matter and its death, is the daily experience of real magic: the power of mind over matter. Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic. If there were no mind and will commanding the arm, only muscles; if there were muscles and a nervous system and even a brain but no conscious mind commanding them; then the arm could not rise unless it were lighter than air. When the body dies, its arms no longer move; the body reverts to obedience to merely material laws, like a sword dropped by a swordsman.

Even more simply stated, mind is not part of the system of matter, not measurable by material standards (How many inches long is your mind?) Therefore it need not die when the material body dies.

4c. A traditional Scholastic argument for an immortal soul is taken from the presence of two operations which are not operations of the body (1) abstract thinking, as distinct from external sensing and internal imagining; and (2) deliberate, rational willing, as distinct from instinctive desiring. My thought is not limited to sense images like pyramids; it can understand abstract universal principles like triangles. And my choices are not limited to my body's desires and instincts. I fast, therefore I am.

4d. Still another power of the soul which indicates that it is not a part or function of the body and therefore not subject to its laws and its mortality is the power to objectify its body. I can know a stone only because I am more than a stone. I can remember my past. (My present is alive; my past is dead.) I can know and love my body only because I am more than my body. As the projecting machine must be more than the images projected, the knower must be more than the objects known. Therefore I am more than my body.

4e. Still another argument from the nature of soul, or spirit, is that it does not have quantifiable, countable parts as matter does. You can cut a body in half but not a soul; you can't have half a soul. It is not extended in space. You don't cut an inch off your soul when you get a haircut.

Since soul has no parts, it cannot be decomposed, as a body can. Whatever is composed (of parts) can be decomposed: a molecule into atoms, a cell into molecules, an organ into cells, a body into organs, a person into body and soul. But soul is not composed, therefore not decomposable. It could die only by being annihilated as a whole. But this would be contrary to a basic law of the universe: that nothing simply and absolutely vanishes, just as nothing simply pops into existence with no cause.

But if the soul dies neither in parts (by decomposition) nor as a whole by annihilation, then it does not die.

4f. One last argument for immortality from the present experience of what soul is, comes from Plato. It is put so perfectly in the Republic that I quote it in its original form, adding only numbers to distinguish the steps of the argument:

  1. Evil is all that which destroys and corrupts. . .
  2. Each thing has its evil . . . for instance, ophthalmia for the eye, and disease for the whole body, mildew for corn and for wood, rust for iron . . .
  3. The natural evil of each thing . . . destroys it, and if this does not destroy it, nothing else can . . .
    (a) for I don't suppose good can ever destroy anything,
    (b) nor can what is neither good nor evil,
    (c) and it is certainly unreasonable . . . that the evil of something else would destroy anything when its own evil does not.
  4. Then if we find something in existence which has its own evil but which can only do it harm yet cannot dissolve or destroy it, we shall know at once that there is no destruction for such a nature. . . .
  5. the soul has something which makes it evil . . . injustice, intemperance, cowardice, ignorance. Now does any one of these dissolve and destroy it? . . .
  6. Then, since it is not destroyed by any evil at all, neither its own evil nor foreign evil, it is clear that the soul must of necessity be . . . immortal.

5. The Nature of God

 
We turn now to a stronger class of arguments: not from the nature of Man but from the nature of God; not 'because of what I am, I must be immortal' but 'because of what God is, I am immortal.' A possible weakness of this type of argument, of course, is that it does not convince anyone not already convinced, because it presupposes the existence of God, and those who admit God usually admit life after death already, while those who deny the one usually deny the other as well. Yet, though apologetically weak, the argument is theoretically potent because it gives the real, the true reason or cause why we survive death: God wills it.

5a. We could first argue from God's justice. Since God by definition is just, His dealings with us must be just, at least in the long run, in the total picture. ("The long run" is the answer to the problem of evil, the apparently unjust distribution of suffering.) The innocent suffer and the wicked flourish here; therefore 'here' cannot be 'the long run,' the total picture. There must be justice after death to compensate for injustice before death. (This is the point of Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus.)

5b. The next argument, from God's love, is stronger than the one from His justice because love is more essential to God. Love is God's essence; justice is one of His attributes—one of Love's attributes.

Love is "the fulfillment of the whole law." Each of the Ten Commandments is a way of loving. "Thou shalt not kill" means "Love does not kill." If you love someone, you don't kill him. But God is love. Therefore God does not kill us. We want human life to triumph over death in the end because we love; is God less loving than we? Is He a hypocrite? Does He refuse to practice what He preaches?

Only if God does not love us or is impotent to do what He wills, do we die forever. That is, only if God is bad or weak—only if God is not God—is death the last word.

6. The Nature of the World

 
Whether the premises be taken from the nature of the world, of man, or of God, the last three arguments were all deductive, arguments by rational analysis. More convincing for most people are arguments from experience. These can be subdivided into two classes: arguments from experiences everyone, or nearly everyone, shares; and arguments from extraordinary or unusual experiences. The first class includes:

  1. The argument from the demand for ultimate moral meaning, or long-range justice (similar to the argument from God's justice, except that this time we do not assume the existence of God, only the validity of our essential moral instinct)—this is essentially Kant's argument;
  2. The argument from our demand for ultimate purpose, for a meaningful end, or adequate final cause—this argument is parallel, in the order of final causality and within the psychological area, to the traditional cosmological arguments for the existence of God from effect to a first, uncaused cause in the order of efficient causality and within the cosmological area;
  3. The argument from the principle that every innate desire reveals the presence of its desired object (hunger indicates the existence of food, curiosity knowledge, etc.) coupled with the discovery of an innate desire for eternity, or something more than time can offer-this is C. S. Lewis' favorite argument.
  4. The argument from the validity of love, which insists on the intrinsic, indispensable value of the other, the beloved—if love is sighted and not blind and if it is absurd that the indispensable is dispensed with, then death does not dispense with us, for love declares that we are indispensable;
  5. Finally, the argument from the presence of a person, who is not a thing (object) and therefore need not be removed when the body-object is removed-the I detects a Thou not subject to the death of the It.

From one point of view, these five arguments are the weakest of all, for they presuppose an epistemological access to reality which can easily be denied as illusory. There is no purely formal or empirical proof, e.g., that love's instinctive perception of the intrinsic value of the beloved is true. Further, each concludes not with the simple proposition 'we are immortal' but with the disjunctive proposition 'either reality is absurd or we are immortal.' Finally, each is less a demonstration than an almost-immediate perception: in valuing, purposing, longing, loving, or presencing one sees the immortality of the person.

These are five spiritual senses, and when one looks along them rather than at them, when one uses them rather than scrutinizing them, when they are innocent until proven guilty rather than proven innocent, one sees. But when one does not take this attitude, when one begins with Occam's razor, or Descartes' methodic doubt, one simply does not see. They are less arguments from experience than experiences themselves of the immortal soul.

7. Extraordinary Experience

 
Three arguments from unusual or extraordinary experience are:

  1. The argument from the experience of medically 'dead' and resuscitated patients, all of whom, even those formerly skeptical, are utterly convinced of the truth of their 'out-of-the-body' existence and their survival of bodily death. To outside observers there necessarily remains the possibility of doubt; to all who have had the experience, there is none. It is no more deceptive than waking up in the morning. You may dream that you are awake and in fact be dreaming, but once you are really awake you are in no doubt. Unfortunately, this waking sense of certainty can only be experienced, not publicly proved.
  2. A similar sense of reality attaches to an experience apparently even more common than the out-of-the-body experience. Shortly after a loved one dies (most usually a spouse), the survivor often has a sudden, unexpected and utterly convincing sense of the real here-and-now presence of the dead one. It is not a memory, or a wish, or an image from the imagination. It is not usually accompanied by an image at all. But it is utterly convincing to the experiencer. Only to one who trusts the experiencer is the experience transferable as evidence, however. And that link can be denied without absurdity. Again, it is a very strong and convincing experience, but not a convincing proof.
  3. What would be a convincing proof from experience? If we could only put our hands into the wounds of a dead man who had risen again! The most certain assurance of life after death for the Christian is the historical, literal resurrection of Christ. The Christian believes in life after death not because of an argument, first of all, but because of a witness. The Church is that witness; 'apostolic succession' means first of all the chain of witnesses beginning with eyewitnesses: "We have been eyewitnesses of His resurrection. . . and we testify (witness) to you." This is the answer to the skeptic who asks: "What do you know for sure about life after death anyway? Have you ever been there? Have you come back to tell us?" The Christian reply is: "No, but I have a very good Friend who has. I believe Him, and I follow Him not only through life but also through death. Come along!"

 
 
Originally published at PeterKreeft.com. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Vine and Branch)

Dr. Peter Kreeft

Written by

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher. He is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 60 books including Making Sense Out of Suffering (Servant, 1986); Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian Apologetics (Ignatius, 1988); Catholic Christianity (Ignatius, 2001); The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion (IVP, 2002); and The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings (Ignatius, 2005). Many of Peter's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Find dozens of audio talks, essays, and book excerpts at his website, PeterKreeft.com.

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  • Great Silence

    As a Catholic I obviously accept the probability of an afterlife.

    It is however one component of my faith that I cannot really justify in a manner that really feels rational and comprehensive, at least to myself. I accept the afterlife very much on pure faith.

    One aspect about the concept that bothers me is the question as to why we would have to go through the life before the afterlife, with all its beauty, love, hate, terror, pain, fear and whatnot just so that some of us can be rewarded with an afterlife. Why not just start with the afterlife? To my mind it demeans life terribly if we see it as some sort of test, some lab experiment where the lucky few could prove their worth.

    I have of course read a lot of the apologetics on the topic, but ultimately ... I have to take this one on faith. If there is ever an opening for old Screwtape to attack me it will be on this one. And natural evil / suffering. And higher NT criticism. And .... :)

    • David Nickol

      I asked my sister recently—who is a lifelong practicing Catholic—if she had any sense that our mother and father (both of whom died a number of years ago) continued to exist in any way. She said she did not, and I don't either. I have no sense that anyone I have known in my lifetime who is now dead continues to exist in any way. This proves nothing, of course, but I would have suspected, giving my upbringing, that I would at least be able to work up some imaginary picture of my parents or others no longer alive existing in some other realm or mode. I know that other people seem to at least speak as if they believe their deceased loved ones continue to exist (e.g., "I know she's watching over me!"), but I have no such feeling. Of course the sense that the dead continue to exist is no more evidence than the sense that they don't.

      I am not an atheist (most of the time!), and now and then I have a fairly strong feeling that God exists and is watching. But I don't feel this about the dead. I am curious as to what the experience of others is, although (as I keep repeating) it proves nothing one way or the other.

      • Linda

        I would think the faith some have in the saints and the intervention they receive should be some sort of proof. They believe if they ask a particular saint for intervention, they will receive it, and often with a sign, like the roses of Saint Terese of the Little Way.

        This may sound silly so please don't mock it, but a few years after my mom died I was having trouble accepting my dad's remarriage. I saw my mom in a dream and she told me it was okay that he was remarried and I could let it go. It has been decades since that happened but I still remember the dream and what she told me. I am convinced she came to help me. I realize this proves nothing to anyone but me but I thought I'd share in case it helps in some way.

        • mriehm

          Wide belief in the power of saints does holds no weight whatsoever. There is also widespread belief in Krishna, and the twelfth Imam, and a host of other deities and spirits and other supernatural figures. There is no more reason to believe in your saints than in another religion's.

          • Linda

            Is there any less reason? Perhaps they are all proof of that afterlife. I don't know much about those other beliefs. Do the believers have similar experiences as Catholics who pray to saints?

          • David Nickol

            I partially agree, but only partially. It seems to me that personal experience really must be the deciding factor in belief in such things as an afterlife (and many, many other things, as well). I include as personal experience not just direct experience of the kind Linda describes, but one's personal inclinations and preconceptions about what the world is like and how it works. There may be no conclusive empirical evidence that one should believe in Christianity as opposed to Islam or Judaism, but there is also no conclusive empirical evidence that one ought to be a Republican or a Democrat (or in the UK, whether one should affiliate with the Labour Party or the Conservative Party). There are endless numbers of things on which human beings can and do have very strong opinions that, for them, are basically equivalent to factual matters but on which intelligent people of goodwill disagree. If we don't demand that people be "reasonable" and evaluate their positions based on "empirical data" about belonging to the political parties of their choice, or listening to Jazz rather than going to the Opera, then I don't see why religious belief doesn't fall into roughly the same category. If I think God and the saints watch over me and help me when I ask them, then if I am so inclined, I may be more than willing to give my reasons and try to convince other people that I am right, but they don't (in my opinion) to claim to be able to tell me I am wrong.

          • mriehm

            Believing in a particular religion is qualitatively different from choosing between two political parties. For one thing, we know that both parties exist ;). This is a choice which rests purely in the human realm. And we know that both provide alternative social and political approaches. And, if we have half a brain, we can understand and accept why others might make a choice different from ours, i.e. that there are no absolutes here. A rich man understands why the poor tend towards liberalism, and a poor woman understands quite keenly the common choice of the rich.

            But believing in a religion is very different. Very few strongly-religious people (like the ones on this website, for instance;) believe that a choice between Christianity and Islam (say) is just a personal preference - they believe that their choice is the absolute right one and that it explains the fabric of the universe, but the other choice is just... fundamentally wrong.

            As an outsider to religion, I cannot distinguish qualitatively between the supernatural claims of one religion and another. I see all these religions - and sects within religions, and factions within sects - all making different claims, and none of them can be proven in any meaningful way. Proponents of each religion are equally convinced of the correctness of their beliefs, and are equally convincing in their justification of those beliefs, and have similar mystical experiences of the supernatural. And, since no particular belief system enjoys a majority of believers, the majority of believers must hold wrong beliefs and be mistaken in their apprehension of the supernatural.

            The only rational approach is to remain outside them all.

          • David Nickol

            Very few strongly-religious people (like the ones on this website, for instance;) believe that a choice between Christianity and Islam (say) is just a personal preference . . .

            It seems to me that very few people who strongly identify with a political party think party affiliation is "just a personal preference." In my personal experience (and I am counting exchanges with people in forums like this), party affiliation or political ideology is so strong it often determines how a person views his or her own religion. Conservatives and liberals will interpret the same empirical data differently. There is the age-old question of whether minimum-wage legislation is helpful or harmful, and whether increases in the minimum wage increase unemployment. Try to get committed liberals or conservatives to agree on the empirical data on this issue.

            Catholic Social Teaching seems very liberal to me, but conservative Catholics claim to abide by it. Liberals will say Catholic Social Teaching requires help for the poor, but conservatives will argue that "welfare" actually harms people and "fosters a culture of dependency."

            There are all kinds of opposing camps people divide up into that cause them to interpret empirical data differently. Look at global warming! Liberals tend to believe it is the result of human activity, while conservatives disagree. It is difficult to think of anything reasonably complex scientifically that is more a matter of empirical data than global warming, yet frequently a person's ideology determines his or her position on this scientific question.

            The only rational approach is to remain outside them all.

            There is a quote often attributed to Chesterton, which I think may actually be a misquote or be based on a misinterpretation, which goes, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason, he is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” I have read fascinating accounts of at least one person (and I believe there are many) with a brain injury that caused him to be devoid of emotions. He is unable to make the simplest "rational" decision, such as what restaurant to go to for dinner. He will list all the possibilities weigh the pros and cons . . . . endlessly. In the end, even the simplest decisions are often made based on emotion and gut feeling rather than reason.

          • Linda

            I think you're right about political parties, though I think for many it is their religious beliefs that are influencing their party choice, which is why it is so easy to equate the two. I think I finally registered as an independent because both major parties have main components to their platforms that are against my beliefs. It is so difficult. Yes, Catholicism leans toward the liberal in its belief that we should care for the poor, but yes, giving a man a fish and not teaching him to fish is a big problem with the welfare programs, so we end up on both sides of the fence.

          • mriehm

            So it is ok, then, to choose your religion based on the emotion of the moment. And there's no real consequences to that decision? Rather like choosing a restaurant for dinner.

          • David Nickol

            So it is ok, then, to choose your religion based on the emotion of the moment.

            Do you really think that is how people become involved with a religion? Do they sit down and say, "Let's see . . . what religion should I belong to?"

            And there's no real consequences to that decision? Rather like choosing a restaurant for dinner.

            I think most people feel more like a religion draws them to it rather than that they choose a religion based on a rational choice. Of course, most people are probably raised in a religion, so they do not choose it.

            Depending on what religion a person belongs to, and how ardently he or she tries to live according to that religion, the consequences can be small or great. But what you advocate ("The only rational approach is to remain outside them all") has its own consequences, too.

          • Great Silence

            Indeed. Making no decision is a decision.

          • David Nickol

            Indeed. Making no decision is a decision.

            It doesn't seem to me that, for the most part, people "decide" what to believe. One might be strongly drawn toward a certain religion or ideology and make a decision to commit to formally adopt it. But certainly few if any people say, "I think I'll adopt a religion. Maybe I'll be a Presbyterian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, or . . . no . . . I'm going to decide to believe what the Catholic Church teaches. I have decided to become a Catholic. Now, let's see. I'll read the Catechism and believe everything I read."

            Likewise, people who are religious and lose their faith don't "decide" not to believe any more. They gradually cease to find what they used to believe to be convincing any longer. Their doubts grow until they simply no longer believe what they used to.

            So when mriehm says, "The only rational approach is to remain outside them all, it seems to me, with all due respect, that this is not a position he has arrived at by reason. It is more a statement about who he is than what intellectual conclusions he has worked out by reason and logic.

          • Steve Willy

            Or there is reason to believe that all of them reflect, in differing ways, the same transcendent reality. So spare us the regurgitated pseudo-intellectual Hitchens-Dawkins parroting blather, neck beard boy. Despite centuries of athestic hand-waving, the fact that belief in the transcendent reality arises independently across time and cultures kicks atheism in the balls and leaves it curled up on the ground in a fetal position gasping for the air that it tacitly knows it doesn't deserve but that it selfishly sucks down anyway to satisfy its solipsistic hedonism.

          • mriehm

            Paraphrasing PT Barnum - there's a sucker born every minute, in every culture.

          • Steve Willy

            Judging by what I have seen here, there is also a Hitchens-Dawkins parroting basement dwelling pseudo-intellectual GNU atheist/protoneckbeard born every minute, across every culture.

          • mriehm

            You sure do set the bar of discourse mighty high, Steve. Sorry I can't keep up with you.

  • David Nickol

    This is just my personal opinion, but It is difficult for me to imagine that this piece and other pieces like it have any appeal to anyone other than someone who already believes what is allegedly being proved. In form, it is "reasonable" and "logical," but—for me at least—there is virtually nothing in it that I find engaging. There was nothing in it that caused me to say, "Now that's something I never heard before, or thought of. I'd like to hear more." The possibility of life after death should be exciting and intriguing, but I found this presentation to be workmanlike and uninspiring.

    Kreeft says, "Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic." But certainly higher animals such as dolphins, chimpanzees, and dogs have at least rudimentary minds that enable them to deliberately move their limbs. Does anyone who truly loves a dog believe it is an automaton? You don't need an immortal soul to move!

    The idea that the brain limits consciousness would seem to imply that the more brain damage a person suffers, the more conscious he or she should be. General anesthesia, which shuts down brain function, should produce astonishing enlightenment. Anyone who has ever experienced it knows that it doesn't.

    The "conservation of energy" argument is extraordinarily weak. The brain consumes about 20% of the body's energy, but it does it in exactly the same way as any other bodily organ. It is a great leap to go from the idea of consciousness consuming energy to consciousness being energy. And of course if at death the soul carries off energy to a realm outside the physical universe, then the amount of energy in the universe is diminished with every death, and the law of conservation of energy is violated.

    Here's something that is really irksome in Christian apologetics. It's a form of the infamous "trilemma" Jesus as liar, lunatic, or Lord):

    Finally, we have the supreme authority of the teachings of Jesus. Belief in life after death is central to His entire message, "the Kingdom of
    Heaven." Even if you do not believe He is the incarnate God, can you
    believe He is a naive fool?

    This is a technique akin to asking, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" It tries to trick you into accepting the premise of an illegitimate question. It invites you to either believe Jesus's sayings about an afterlife or call him a "naive fool." Few of us want to call Jesus a "naive fool," so if we accept the premise of the question, we are forced to accept the words of Jesus about an afterlife.

    What would be a convincing proof from experience? If we could
    only put our hands into the wounds of a dead man who had risen again!

    It occurred to me some time ago that the depiction of the risen Christ in the Gospels is not consistent with the idea of a "glorified body." Jesus, in his appearances after the resurrection still has nail holes in his hands and feet and a pierced side. (This is common in depictions of Jesus, for example, in images portraying the Sacred Heart of Jesus.) And yet the "glorified body" is supposed to be without imperfections.

    • "There is virtually nothing in [this article] that I find engaging."

      Thanks for the feedback. I'm sorry you felt this way (but really, not one part?). Yet the fact that you engaged several parts of the article in your comment makes me wonder whether you weren't just employing hyperbole.

      "Kreeft says, "Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic." But certainly higher animals such as dolphins, chimpanzees, and dogs have at least rudimentary minds that enable them to deliberately move their limbs. Does anyone who truly loves a dog believe it is an automaton? You don't need an immortal soul to move!"

      Your conclusion presumes that animals do not also have immortal souls. Yet many great thinkers disagree, like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and their followers.

      "It is a great leap to go from the idea of consciousness consuming energy to consciousness being energy."

      I agree, and it's therefore a good thing Dr. Kreeft doesn't make this leap. He employed analogous language, suggesting that the immortality of the soul is spiritually equivalent to the conservation of energy—it's like it, in other words. But it's not identical.

      "This is a technique akin to asking, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" It tries to trick you into accepting the premise of an illegitimate question. It invites you to either believe Jesus's sayings about an afterlife or call him a "naive fool." Few of us want to call Jesus a "naive fool," so if we accept the premise of the question, we are forced to accept the words of Jesus about an afterlife."

      Dr. Kreeft never offered an "illegitimate question." He's simply made an argument from authority. It seems you would agree that Jesus is far from a "naive fool." And therefore if Jesus taught the immortality of the soul, that should count for something.

      That's all Dr. Kreeft said. He's not "forcing" you to accept the words of Jesus. That's not what an argument from authority does. It doesn't impose, it appeals.

      "It occurred to me some time ago that the depiction of the risen Christ in the Gospels is not consistent with the idea of a "glorified body." Jesus, in his appearances after the resurrection still has nail holes in his hands and feet and a pierced side. (This is common in depictions of Jesus, for example, in images portraying the Sacred Heart of Jesus.) And yet the "glorified body" is supposed to be without imperfections."

      There's a large, hidden presupposition here. You're assuming that perfection requires the removal of all past wounds. Yet the Church has consistently taught that the wounds, pain, and death suffered by martyrs is their glory. So this presupposition is not one shared by the Catholic Church.

      • Andre Boillot

        Brandon,

        "I agree, and it's therefore a good thing Dr. Kreeft doesn't make this leap. He employed analogous language, suggesting that the immortality of the soul isspiritually equivalent to the conservation of energy—it's like it, in other words. But it's not identical."

        Which is an example of why it's a weak argument - it presupposes a 'soul'. Is there a large group of people that accept a spiritual soul, but deny an afterlife?

      • David Nickol

        Yet the fact that you engaged several parts of the article in your comment makes me wonder whether you weren't just employing hyperbole.

        No, it wasn't hyperbole, nor was it intended to be a harsh criticism. It was just a statement of my own personal reaction. There was nothing I found intriguing or exciting. As I said,

        There was nothing in it that caused me to say, "Now that's something I never heard before, or thought of. I'd like to hear more."

        I think it is partly to do with the nature of the piece. It is more the outline of a comprehensive argument about life after death than the argument itself. One could use the outline and perhaps write an interesting book on the topic, but the outline itself is not particularly interesting.

        Your conclusion presumes that animals do not also have immortal souls. Yet many great thinkers disagree, like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and their followers.

        Aquinas did not believe animals had immortal souls. He believed they had souls of a sort, but that animal souls were not "subsistent," whereas human souls were. Human souls had functions that were separate from the function of the human body, but animal souls had no functions that were not also functions of the animal body, hence an animal soul ceased to exist when the animal died.

        He employed analogous language, suggesting that the immortality of the soul is spiritually equivalent to the conservation of energy—it's like it, in other words.

        Point taken. But it is still an incredibly weak argument. First, the law of conservation of energy was formulated based on observation. It is empirical. No one has ever observed a soul. Second, the law of conservation of energy says energy may neither be created nor destroyed. But Catholic teaching is that God directly creates a soul for each human being conceived. He is not talking about conservation when he talks about the human soul. He is saying it is indestructible once created. And of course there are animal souls (according to Aquinas) that come into being when the animal does and cease to exist when the animal dies.

        It seems you would agree that Jesus is far from a "naive fool." And therefore if Jesus taught the immortality of the soul, that should count for something.

        Kreeft says, "Even if you do not believe He is the incarnate God, can you believe He is a naive fool?" I do not believe Jesus or any other person (especially a 1st-century Palestinian Jew) would be a "naive fool" for teaching the immortality of the soul. The clear implication is that if you do not believe Jesus was correct in teaching the immortality of the soul, then you must believe he was a "naive fool." Kreeft is guilty of the logical fallacy of "false dilemma." It is really quite blatant.

        There's a large, hidden presupposition here. You're assuming that perfection requires the removal of all past wounds.

        It would seem only reasonable. After the resurrection of the dead, will Saint Isaac Jogues still have "mangled hands"? (When I was in grade school, virtually every literate child had read Mangled Hands: A Story of the New York Martyrs by Neil Boyton, originally published in 1926 and apparently now forgotten.) Will Thomas More have a head?

        • "Aquinas did not believe animals had immortal souls. He believed they had souls of a sort, but that animal souls were not "subsistent," whereas human souls were. Human souls had functions that were separate from the function of the human body, but animal souls had no functions that were not also functions of the animal body, hence an animal soul ceased to exist when the animal died."

          After more research, I see you're right on that. My mistake. Thanks for correcting me!

          But it doesn't affect my original response: animals are able to move their limb because they have souls. This poses no contradiction to any of Dr. Kreeft's points.

          "The clear implication is that if you do not believe Jesus was correct in teaching the immortality of the soul, then you must believe he was a "naive fool." Kreeft is guilty of the logical fallacy of "false dilemma." It is really quite blatant."

          Ah, I think I see your point now. I believe Dr. Kreeft was operating under the assumption that most people who *reject* the immortality of the soul (or even the existence of the soul) consider those who *accept* it to be "naive fools." You may not agree with those people--and that's commendable--but they're certainly a sizable and vocal group.

          "It would seem only reasonable. After the resurrection of the dead, will Saint Isaac Jogues still have "mangled hands"? (When I was in grade school, virtually every literate child had read Mangled Hands: A Story of the New York Martyrs by Neil Boyton, originally published in 1926 and apparently now forgotten.) Will Thomas More have a head?"

          Saying "it would seem only reasonable" begs the question since the reasonableness is precisely what we're trying to determine. That assumption doesn't seem reasonable to me.

          If I was to answer your final two questions honestly, I could only reply, "We don't know." Yet we do have many anecdotes and purported visions of beheaded saints carrying around their heads (yet still other saints with their heads re-attached.)

          But regardless of how it plays out in specific cases, it seems you're at least open to the *possibility* of a saint existing in heaven with their wounds evident, but somehow glorified. And if that's the case, then your accusation of inconsistency doesn't necessarily hold.

          • But it doesn't affect my original response: animals are able to move their limb because they have souls. This poses no contradiction to any of Dr. Kreeft's points.

            It seems to violate Kreeft's law of conservation of souls (Argument 3).

          • He's referring there to human souls. The facts that animals have souls, which enable them to move their limbs, does not contradict the fact that humans have immortal souls.

          • Only human souls are conserved? Just like only human energy is conserved?

          • This is why it's an analogy. An analogy to help understand a phenomenon, not identify it exactly with another phenomenon. You're pressing it too far.

          • David Nickol

            This is why it's an analogy. An analogy to help understand a phenomenon, not identify it exactly with another phenomenon.

            Analogies, as you say, are made to help explain one phenomenon by comparing it with another. However, Kreeft isn't trying to explain the immortality of the soul. He is trying to convince us of it. I would say what he is doing is suggesting a false equivalence rather than making an analogy.

            If I say an atom is like a little solar system with orbiting planets, I would say that only to people who already believe there is such a thing as an atom. If I were trying to convince someone atoms existed, I wouldn't say, "You believe in solar systems—stars with planets orbiting around them—don't you? Their existence is an observable, scientific fact. Well then, it's reasonable to believe in a kind of miniature solar system, too, which is an atom."

            It seems to me that Kreeft, by going so far as to title the pertinent section of his post "Conservation of Energy," is trying to make the immortality of the soul seem like a scientific concept. He asks, "If even matter is immortal, why not spirit?" Of course, matter is in no sense "immortal." And we know about the conservation of matter (and energy) because of centuries of empirical, scientific observation and experimentation.

  • I see no evidence here that we have an undying part. The fallacious nature of this piece is revealed by his first reason to believe in an afterlife, that there is no good reason to believe otherwise. The time to believe in something is when there is reason to do so, not when we can't think of a reason not to.

    He then goes on to suggest that there is a multitude of non-empirical evidence to prove it. When I talk about evidence I always mean empirical. It may be indirect, hearsay, opinion, personal, but all of it can be observed and quantified to some extent. Non-empirical proof is argument or logic, it isn't evidence.

    He then goes on to advance empirical evidence and describes out of body experiences. I have investigated some of these claims and they do not seem credible evidence of an undying part to me, nor has he suggested any example of one of these accounts that establishes the existence of a soul.

    Ultimately, I found this piece hard to follow, perhaps one of the commenters could pull out his best proof and try to phrase it in an easier way to understand, because I just cannot follow this.

    • "When I talk about evidence I always mean empirical."

      So what empirical evidence do you have to support the claim that empirical evidence is the only trustworthy sort of evidence?

      • Casey Braden

        Doesn't anything that would count as "evidence" need to be empirical in order for it to be useful? Unless I can verify the evidence I am being presented, it's merely anecdotal. That doesn't mean that it's not true, it just means that it doesn't really help one support his or her position.

        • "Doesn't anything that would count as "evidence" need to be empirical in order for it to be useful?"

          No, it would not.

          "Unless I can verify the evidence I am being presented, it's merely anecdotal. That doesn't mean that it's not true, it just means that it doesn't really help one support his or her position."

          So what empirical evidence do you have—outside of anecdotal evidence—to affirm the claim, "empirical evidence is the only trustworthy evidence to support a position"?

          This is the perfect example of a claim that cannot be empirically tested, not verified. To use Dr. Kreeft's example, it's like a fish claiming to disprove the existence of humans by observing water currents in the bowl.

          Also, this comment poses a false dichotomy. Our choice isn't only between empirical evidence or anecdotal evidence. There are other categories of evidence like logical evidence, by which we can ascertain truths through reasoned deduction, or probabilistic evidence, through which we can increase our confidence in a particular claim.

          • Casey Braden

            I think we are using terms a bit differently here, which is where the confusion is coming in. I was not trying to discount logic or argument, nor was I trying to assert that empirical evidence is the only trustworthy "evidence." Perhaps, for the sake of understanding my comment, I need to draw a distinction between what I meant when I said "empirical evidence" (something that is verifiable or can be experienced first-hand) and reason (logical arguments). I was using the term to refer to facts and data, not the logical arguments that make use of them. I was not using the term "evidence" to mean "anything that can be used to support a position."

          • Ah, gotcha. In that case I think we're on the same page here. We both agree that empirical facts and data *and* logical deductions can be used to support a truth claim. This is exactly what Dr. Kreeft proposes, too.

          • It may be because of my legal background but my understanding of "evidence" is actual physical things in the universe. These can be objects, testimony or testimony of thoughts and feelings.

            The logic, reasoning and argument we use is not evidence, but application of thought to evidence.

          • That's an interesting distinction, and if that's the way you define the words then I would mostly agree. I think we may just be operating with different definitions.

          • Geena Safire

            it's like a fish claiming to disprove the existence of humans by observing water currents in the bowl.

            You seem to keep mixing up "proving" and "disproving."

            The time to believe something is when there is evidence "proving" its existence/truth -- or at least sufficient evidence to support it and not a lot of evidence pointing away from it.

            Just because something is "not disproven" is not support for its existence/truth, especially concepts that are explicitly defined so as to be non-falsifiable.

      • I am saying there is no such thing as non-empirical evidence. It is a categorical equivocation. What could non-empirical evidence be?

        Whether evidence is trustworthy or not is another question.

      • mriehm

        Because it can be repeatedly verified, to the point of being undeniable.

        • I'm curious how you verified, even once, using only empirical means, the claim that "empirical evidence is the only trustworthy sort of evidence."

          This doesn't seem possible. When and where specifically did this empirical verification occur, and under what conditions?

          • mriehm

            I think Brian was exaggerating in his statement that it is the only trustworthy sort if evidence.

            But for sure it is the best.

          • "I think Brian was exaggerating in his statement that it is the only trustworthy sort if evidence."

            Thanks, mriehm. The simple truth here is that empirical evidence either *is* or *isn't* the only trustworthy evidence, exaggeration aside. Brian claimed it was, and I simply asked for empirical evidence to prove that claim. He provided none.

            "But for sure it is the best."

            How have you determined this? And how do you gauge what's best (or worst, or better)? According to what measure?

          • I am saying that only empirical information can be used as evidence. Empirical evidence can be trustworthy if it survives criticism.

            Testimony, objects, documents are all empirical evidence. Depending on what they are and are being used to prove and how they fit with other evidence determines how credible they are, or trustworthy. A blind witness, saying he can identify the hair colour of an accused is empirical, but not credible based on the evidence of blindness etc.

  • Octavo

    The weakest point in this article is:

    "The brain may not be the cause of thought but the stopping down, the 'reducing valve' for thought..."

    This sentence is speculation that runs counter to the findings in neuroscience. His objection to the scientific consensus that the brain thinks is "maybe not." That is not a reasonable objection.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • That may be the weakest point in the article, but did you have any comments on the strongest? It's not hard to crush an army's weakest warrior—it's more difficult to achieve victory..

      • Octavo

        Probably the emotional arguments in 6. It's hard to get past the fact that we really want to live forever and it's nearly impossible to imagine our own non-existence.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Where do you think that strong desire originated from? It certainly doesn't seem to be advantageous to our own survival, which makes it unlikely to be the product of evolution. If we believe our souls are eternal, we're bound to make riskier decisions with our bodies on earth (e.g., martyrdom, heroic self-sacrifice, etc.)

          • Octavo

            "It certainly doesn't seem to be advantageous to our own survival."

            I suspect it's a result of our survival instinct to avoid death combined with increasing self-awareness. There are a lot of drives that result from our evolutionary history that no longer contribute toward survival + reproduction.

            For example:
            We crave fats and sugars that used to be hard to find, but now exist in toxic abundance.
            We seek out sex and love, but contraception allows us to short-circuit the reproductive capability of sex.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • But how would believing in a soul, or the immortality of the soul, or an afterlife, possibly be advantageous to our own survival? How would it help us "avoid death" or "increase our self-awareness"?

            As I explained, it would seem to do just the opposite. The Church's martyr's attest that when you believe this life is not all there is, you're much more willing to give it up.

          • Andre Boillot

            You're using the example of how belief in the afterlife can move fanatics/zealots to early death. However, that the same belief can act as a coping mechanism which helps people endure difficult situations where they might otherwise "give up" on life. Also, as is the case with many religions, the threat of an unpleasant afterlife if they do not conform to certain rules (including a prohibition on suicide, and a emphasis on procreation) could easily help with survival.

          • Geena Safire

            How would [a belief in an afterlife] help us "avoid death"...?

            Such a belief helps avoid the anxiety associated with the fear of dying.

          • "Such a belief [in the afterlife] helps avoid the anxiety associated with the fear of dying."

            But if the anxiety is gone, so is living cautiously. People would naturally live far more dangerous lives if they had little to no anxiety of dying. But instead, death is our greatest fear.

          • Paul Boillot

            " People would naturally live far more dangerous lives if they had little to no anxiety of dying."

            Aaaaand if these new fearless humans still had their adrenal glands and risk-taking neurological apparati.

            Of course, if the same species-wide-partial-lobotomy accidentally affected our pleasure/risk systems, your claim would be baseless.

          • Andre Boillot

            Can we begin by noting that "helps avoid the anxiety" doesn't = anxiety gone or little/no fear of death?

            Can we also note that reducing anxiety doesn't necessarily lead to reckless behavior (eg. opting for extra airbags on a car can reduce the anxiety of driving, while not causing one to become Evel Knievel)?

          • David Nickol

            But if the anxiety is gone, so is living cautiously. People would naturally live far more dangerous lives if they had little to no anxiety of dying. But instead, death is our greatest fear.

            I am not exactly sure what your argument is, but if you are implying that belief in the immortality of the soul or in some kind of afterlife (or no afterlife) is adaptive or nonadaptive when it comes to evolution, I think you are placing things way too far back into human history and prehistory.

            First of all, according to the way Catholic teaching is approached here on Strange Notions by the believers, the idea of belief in an afterlife can have played no role in human evolution, because prior to the existence of (or ensoulment of) human beings, there could have been no concept of the soul or an afterlife, since the soul is necessary for abstract thought. It would be impossible for beings without souls to contemplate the idea of souls or of an afterlife, because those ideas could exist only in a supernatural being or a being with a supernatural soul.

            But if the anxiety is gone, so is living cautiously.

            It is a rare person indeed whose belief in an afterlife is so consoling and reassuring that he or she has no fear of death or concern about dying. Just because the belief that there is an afterlife helps many human beings be a little less terrified of death does not mean they become utterly indifferent to the idea of death.

            Also note that the Christian beliefs about death, the resurrection of the dead, and the afterlife did not come from Old Testament Judaism. The predominant view in the Old Testament is that death is the end of existence. The idea of an afterlife is a late development in Judaism, and indeed Judaism puts very little emphasis on it to this day. The late-Jewish and Christian ideas came from Greek thought, which influenced Jewish thought to a certain extent and almost became the basis of Christian thought.

          • Sqrat

            Is it?

          • Geena Safire

            You answered yourself in a previous comment. The very people who believe in the afterlife the most, the willing martyrs, have no fear of death because they are convinced they are going to glory.

            Further, since the Christian afterlife includes hell as well as heaven, folks who aren't sure of their state of grace can have an even greater fear of death.

            In any case, although denial is a common mechanism, it usually isn't a good mechanism because it doesn't deal with the anxiety but rather tries to mask it.

            Plus, with the prospect of hell, the supposed solution to death anxiety turns out to be even more anxiety-ridden.

          • Geena, first, I don't think I've welcome you and thanked you for your comments so far. So welcome!

            Second, I think we're talking past each other here, and it's probably my fault. I think I confused a couple comment threads a long the way. Mea culpa!

            Please see my clarification to rob above.

          • Octavo

            I'm not saying that it is advantageous to our own survival. Not all evolutionary processes OR their side effects are advantageous. As an undirected process, evolutionary mechanisms include natural selection (the most popularly known mechanism), sexual selection (sometimes thought of as a subset of natural selection), and genetic drift (random mutations that aren't selected against or are attached to genes that have been selected for).

            Because of the above mix of survival oriented and non-survival oriented processes, it's really hard to tell whether any particular biological feature exists because it supports survival. Adding to that is the fact that survival is only important for natural selection up until reproduction. If people are martyring themselves based on side effects from multiple biological and cultural features, but the species is still reproducing, then those features will probably persist.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Sqrat

            The Church's martyr's attest that when you believe this life is not all there is, you're much more willing to give it up.

            And if you believe that your "next" life is going to be much better than your present one, it would be reasonable to long so much for that future life that you wish the present one to be over as soon as possible. Perhaps the traditional Catholic/Christian condemnation of suicide as immoral is in part an "evolutionary" response to this problem: it as necessary to prevent the Church from becoming a death cult. If it did, the rapid demise of the Church could be anticipted. You can't have much of a Church if all of your members have killed themselves in their rush to get to paradise.

          • robtish

            Brandon, you've got a non sequitur going here. To summarize:

            Octavo: "we really want to live forever"
            Brandon: "Where do you think that strong desire originated from?"
            Geena: "It is completely understandable in terms of evolution.The survival drive is one of the two strongest drives in all living things, including viruses"
            Brandon: "But how would believing in a soul, or the immortality of the soul, or an afterlife, possibly be advantageous to our own survival? "

            It's that last bit that's problematic, because Octavo and Geena are saying that a desire to live forever is an aid to surviving and thus explainable by evolution. I don't see them saying that about belief in an afterlife, though, which they are putting forth as a by-product of this desire.

            In other words, Octavo and Geena aren't saying that belief in an afterlife is advantageous to our survival, making your last question into a request to explain a position they have not put forward.

          • "Brandon, you've got a non sequitur going here."

            You're totally right. I must have missed something along the way, and perhaps confused a couple different comment threads.

            To avoid the non sequitur, perhaps I can frame my argument this way:

            1. Most people today believe they have an eternal, immaterial soul that lives on in the afterlife. (Note: I'm not arguing here that such souls actually exist, but that the majority of the world believes in them and wishes them to be true.)

            2. Believing your life extends beyond your earthly existence tends to produce riskier behavior like self-sacrifice and heroic courage. Such people are generally not as concerned with their temporal existence as those who disbelieve in immortal souls.

            3. Evolution filters out beliefs and attributes which threaten survival.

            4. Therefore, it's unlikely evolution hard-wired the majority of people to believe in the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.

            But if the origins of these beliefs are not found in evolution, from where do they originate?

          • Geena Safire

            1.Most people today believe they have an eternal, immaterial soul that lives on in the afterlife.

            I would instead say that most people today are unable to conceive of an end to their existence. They also have a deeply-seated self-preservation drive -- danger automatically triggers fear..

            In addition, as social animals, we have a powerful innate sense of fairness and justice: most people feel frustrated that they won't or didn't get what they wanted during life, while many others got much more, including many by unfair means, and they feel angry that many people who did bad things escaped punishment in life while many good people experienced great suffering. Therefore, it is comforting to believe that some uber-parent will punish the evil and reward the good.

            Also their religions teach them from childhood that there is a specific type of afterlife, but these religious beliefs likely emerged from the same confusion, fears, and frustrations.

            2. Believing your life extends beyond your earthly existence tends to produce riskier behavior like self-sacrifice and heroic courage.

            I've never seen any evidence of widespread self-sacrifice in the world despite the billions of people that you claim believe in an afterlife.

            Therefore, either they don't actually believe their professed belief in an afterlife or the instinct for self-preservation which we share even with bacteria is too basic an powerful to be overcome by a conscious belief. Or both.

            3. Evolution filters out beliefs and attributes which threaten survival.

            No, it doesn't. It selects for attributes that contribute to increased reproduction.

            4. Therefore, it's unlikely evolution hard-wired the majority of people to believe in the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.

            We don't know what hominins believed for the first several million years of our evolution, not even for the first quarter million years of homo sapiens, who had every bit the brain power and emotional richness that we have.

            It's reasonable to suppose that, like all living things, a primary drive was to stay alive. (Self-preservation is still a primary drive in humans, despite any actual or claimed belief in an afterlife.)

            The earliest evidence we have of shamans and supernatural beliefs is about 30,000 years ago. These early religious/spiritual desires seemed to be more about getting more food and more protection and more resources in this life and mourning the dead rather than indicating any confidence in an afterlife.

            But, in any case, we are hard-wired for self-preservation and to avoid pain. Since death is always against the former and generally involves the latter, it can be said we are hard-wired to fear and avoid death. And, since we are conscious creatures, we also fear death years in advance and recognize that we are powerless over it.

            People cope with this reality in various ways. For some people it is annoying and disappointing but tolerable and motivates them to do the best they can in this lifetime. For some people, it causes anxiety to a greater or lesser extent. So it is not surprising that an idea that ameliorates this anxiety by making death not so final is attractive.

          • DannyGetchell

            I would instead say that most people today are unable to conceive of an end to their existence.

            It's always intrigued me that so many humans have no trouble conceiving of the universe before they existed, but find a universe after they stop existing to be unacceptable.

            Nice post, btw.

          • Geena Safire

            The survival drive is one of the two strongest drives in all living things, including viruses. Even bacteria have chemotaxis -- the ability to detect and move toward food and away from poison.

            In addition to the basic fear of danger and pain avoidance in animals with brains, larger-brained animals can also experience anxiety because they can think about fear and pain.

            Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling which humans try to
            eliminate/avoid either by changing the environment (moving away from the anxiety-provoking thing/situation) or by changing thinking.

            Since it is impossible to avoid death, the only option is to think about it differently. Denial is a well-known human mechanism for dealing with many kinds of anxiety.

          • Octavo

            Well put.

          • Paul Boillot

            "we really want to live forever."

            "that strong desire ... certainly doesn't seem to be advantageous to our own survival"

            He didn't bring up "eternal" non-material "souls", you did.

            He was talking about the desire to live forever. What reasoning leads you to conclude that the desire to not die would be a long-term survival liability?

      • Andre Boillot

        I guess it's pretty hard to achieve victory against arguments such as:

        "The first reason for believing in life after death is simply that there is no compelling reason not to, no objection to it that cannot be answered."

        • I agree that's a weak statement, and I wouldn't have phrased it that way. But his claim still holds: Dr. Kreeft is challenging you to provide an unanswerable argument against the immortality of the soul. If you're unable, then that's a strong bit of evidence in its favor.

          • Andre Boillot

            Brandon,

            Yes, I understand that Dr. Kreeft is challenging me to prove a negative, and that in this case you find absence of evidence as evidence of absence.

            However, considering how this article is full of unfounded presuppositions (eg. existence of spiritual souls) and scientific inaccuracies (eg. "if there were muscles and a nervous system and even a brain but no conscious mind commanding them; then the arm could not rise unless it were lighter than air. When the body dies, its arms no longer move"), I'm not going to put that much weight on my inability to do this (prove a negative).

          • josh

            "If you're unable, then that's a strong bit of evidence in its favor."
            This is precisely wrong. No one can disprove a sufficiently elaborate conspiracy (to the conspiracy believer). This is not evidence of a conspiracy.

          • Sqrat

            How about an unanswerable argument against the immortality of the Loch Ness monster?

            There's no point in talking about the "immortality of the soul" without first establishing the existence of something called a "soul," which Kreeft failed to do. He seems mostly to conflate "the soul" with "the mind." However, it is far from clear to me that the Catholic Church actually conflates them.

            The Church defines, or attempts to define, "the soul" in the Catechism:

            363 In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.

            So the Church actually has two different definitions of "the soul," one from "Sacred Scripture," and another one, but neither appears to be synonymous with "the mind".

            The first definition is not particularly useful here, because it says that "the soul" is synonymous with "human life," without defining "human life." Understanding, as I do, that "life" is a biological process, which most definitely can and does cease, Kreeft's title, "The Case for Life After Death," could be rewritten as "The Case for Life Not Having Ceased After Life Has Ceased." As it is obvious that no such case could reasonably be made, we might then try to translate Kreeft's title using the Church's second definition of "the soul." If we do, then his title might become something like "The Case for the Innermost Aspect of a Man (That Which is Most Important to Him) Surviving the Death of His Body."

            I'm not at all sure what that means, but if you want to want to try to make the case that my "innermost aspect" would survive both the death of my body and the accompanying annihilation of my mind, go ahead. First, however, you have to tell me what my "innermost aspect" is, because I'm not gettin' the concept.

          • mriehm

            So the argument is, "You can't scientifically disprove that which I can't scientifically prove, and therefore your lack of disproof is my proof."

          • DannyGetchell

            Brandon, I'm quite willing to stipulate that there may, or may not, be an afterlife.

            That stipulation is evidence for absolutely nothing.

          • DannyGetchell

            provide an unanswerable argument against the immortality of the soul. If you're unable, then that's a strong bit of evidence in its favor.

            Brandon, there have now been several posts challenging this, and I really think you should consider and respond. It is one of the dodgiest claims I've seen on this site.

            I assert that there is a complete, fully articulated T. rex skeleton to be found twenty feet under my back yard.

            In the absence of an unanswerable argument that there is no such thing (arguments from the preponderance of evidence considered by definition not to be "unanswerable") would I have reasonable cause to call the Smithsonian and start digging?

    • Hey Jesse - What findings by neuroscientists do you think establish that consciousness is reducible to the brain?

      • Geena Safire

        "Over the centuries, every other phenomenon of initially 'supernatural' mysteriousness has succumbed to an uncontroversial explanation within the commodious folds of physical science. Thales, the Pre-Socratic proto-scientist, thought the loadstone had a soul, but we now know better; magnetism is one of the best understood of physical phenomena, strange though its manifestations are. The "miracles" of life itself, and of reproduction, are now analyzed into the well-known intricacies of molecular biology. Why should consciousness be any exception?" Daniel Dennett

        All evidence points to consciousness being an emergent property of the brain. Injure the brain in certain ways and consciousness is damaged -- sometimes temporarily and sometimes irreparably. And injury to or stimulation of certain brain areas have predictable effects on consciousness.

        • Hey Geena - But I don't see how this establishes that consciousness is reducible to the brain - it only reaffirms the sense of correlation between mind and brain that we've observed since the ancient world. It's fairly obvious that if someone takes a club to the side of my head, my mind will be affected. But this is hardly the establishment of direct causation from brain to mind, let alone a reduction of mind to the material. A favorite analogy of the brain used by neuroscience - the computer hardware analogy - leads me to conclude even though it's true that if I smash this computer, I can no longer talk to you on Strange Notions through it, the Internet - and my Disqus username which explores it - abides.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'm no computer science major, but your internet analogy doesn't seem to hold. If I go an smash the servers which host SN, or better yet, all the computer servers, neither SN or the Internet abide. They cease to be.

          • Octavo

            I think Matthew is saying that when a human skull is caved in, their brains are only livestreaming data from their soul. Of course, it would help if he could show that there is any kind of wireless transmission to and from the brain.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Hey Jesse - Yes, that's right! The brain as a transmitter of the soul rather than the material and efficient cause. Heavy hitters like the American pragmatist William James argued this case exactly, and I also don't think it requires us to fall back into some "ghost in the machine" Cartesian dualism - a common concern of those who argue the opposite. As to the "got evidence?" concern - as Kreeft says above, there is no satisfying empirical proof I can offer you for a non-empirical reality, just as with God. But there are good reasons to believe it to be the case (my favorite of Kreeft's above are those stemming from the nature of man) and the propositions that follow from monism - freedom is an illusion, consciousness is material, etc. - are much harder to defend philosophically.

          • David Nickol

            The brain as a transmitter of the soul rather than the material and efficient cause.

            Isn't the "brain as transmitter of the soul" as problematic as the brain as "material and efficient cause" of consciousness? How can a physical brain pick up signals from a purely spiritual entity? How do they connect?

            I recently read The Master by Colm Tóibín. It is a novel about Henry James—quite a brilliant book, which I recommend highly. In it we find William James quite intensely interested in seances and the "spirit world" and a follower of the famous medium Leonora Piper. This is an accurate depiction.

          • Hey David - Yes, it has problems philosophically - I'd be the first to admit that. (See my article "What Is the Soul" here at SN for a more complete summary.) But it's not nearly as problematic as material monism, which not only obliterates the human freedom that it depends on to assert itself, but also has the quixotic mission of reducing all subjective consciousness and cognition - including the discovery of objective moral norms - to material causes as fixed and predictable as billiard balls. One would utter a Kurtzian "the horror!" if it weren't all so unfeasible and presumptuous to begin with.

          • Octavo

            Philosophy works most effectively when it grapples with the implications of scientific theories and discoveries. Philosophical ideas about the meaning of freedom, consciousness, and the nature of the self are fascinating when studied in the light of neuroscience.

            Simply denying the results of an entire field of science because the results are distasteful or hard to grapple with is just bad philosophy akin to the kind young earth creationists practice in regards to the field of evolutionary biology. They don't grapple with or try to understand the implications of a world that evolved slowly over eons. They just deny that it happened since it doesn't meet their expectations and preconceived beliefs.

            There is no evidence that the brain communicates "wirelessly" to anything outside of the body. When the brain is examined, neuroscientists do not find that it is a communications interface or "mic." They instead find mechanisms for encoding memories, systems for engaging emotion, and structures that communicate with the rest of the body. This is exactly what you would expect to see if the "soul" were mechanistic and generated by the brain.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Hey Jesse - I disagree. Philosophy is not subservient to the natural sciences, and in fact provides a broader context of human knowledge needed to situate and make sense of science at all. Case in point: your statement "philosophy works most effectively when it grapples with the implications of scientific theories and discoveries" is not a scientific theory or discovery. (To be fair, this is tapping into the deepest fault line in philosophy between analytic thinkers and continental thinkers - a distinction which I'm happy to see erode.)

            Also, just a clarification: I wasn't saying that monism is untrue because it's unpleasant, but that it's untrue and a weak position (and many leading atheist thinkers agree) - and also happens to be unpleasant. More importantly, denying materialistic monism does not amount to denying the findings of neuroscience any more than denying neo-Darwinian materialism amounts to denying evolution. It's a distinction between philosophy and science we would do well to parse out. Many believers are very open to everything neuroscience can tell us about the brain and its operations - but smuggling metaphysics into empirical discoveries (the mind is material, the soul is a no-thing, we are slaves to our neurons) is disingenuous.

          • Octavo

            I don't really understand the following statement: "...but smuggling metaphysics into empirical discoveries (the mind is material..."

            That's not metaphysics. That's biology. That's opening up the brain and seeing how it ticks. It sounds like you're saying that the routine work of biologists (finding out what biological, material structures do or how they work) is somehow outside their realm.

            What makes this different than young earthers saying that the evolution is also outside the realm of biology?

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Jesse - To declare that "mind is matter" is or can be shown biologically is, as Sam Harris has pointed out, a brazen contradiction. Biology studies what is external and public, and consciousness is internal subjective experience to which we have private, privileged access. "Life is defined according to external criteria," he writes. "Consciousness is not (and, I think, cannot be)."

          • Octavo

            "Biology studies what is external and public, and consciousness is
            internal subjective experience to which we have private, privileged
            access."

            I highly doubt that many biologists would accept such a restriction on their inquiries. Also, from what I've read, very few thinkers trust Sam Harris on nearly any topic.

            Our internal subjective experience is not the only way to study consciousness, but it can be studied (and its states can be linked to brain states) by neuroscientists. VS Ramachandran, whose work I linked in a previous comment, does a lot of work studying how the minds of brain damaged patients function (or don't function).

            Often, it seems that when philosophers try to rope off fields of inquiry from the "domain" of science, quite a few researchers ignore the boundaries and are nonetheless able to collect a lot of data and make impressive discoveries.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • I don't think it's a matter of armchair philosophers "roping off" free scientific inquiry, but of thinkers, engaging in the kind of critical examination that science cannot ipso facto accomplish, describing the "explanatory gap" between what's in principle (not in attitude) testable and what isn't. The neuroscientist's own consciousness is left out of the neuroscientist's scientific activity - a paradox captured with waggish brilliance time and time again by Walker Percy in his writings. Sure, we can gain some knowledge though people's reporting of their conscious states - but you can't put a person's subjective consciousness into an objective setting. Subjectivity is precisely what objectivity is not. It's not a matter of shifting the goal posts but of different games entirely - and as I said in another comment, the entirety of the scientific revolution hinges on the import of this distinction, beginning with Descartes.

            That said Jesse I've really enjoyed this exchange with you, and will certainly be reading up on VS Ramachandran - very fruitful and interesting discussion!

          • Octavo

            I have also enjoyed the exchange, and I think you make some good points about the degree to which our experiences are testable.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Geena Safire

            Philosophy is not subservient to the natural sciences, and in fact
            provides a broader context of human knowledge needed to situate and make
            sense of science

            I would say that neither is subservient to the other. However, philosophy must give way to science in matters of fact.

            For example, regardless of how wonderful the philosophy was regarding the reasons for the motion (including retrograde motion) of the planets in a geocentric cosmos, it had to be discarded given the fact of a heliocentric solar system and, later, its existence in the Milky Way galaxy and, more recently, that galaxy's existence in the observable universe.

            As another example, vitalism -- the theory that living things are alive because of some "vital force" independent of nonliving matter -- gave way to the findings of chemistry and biology.

            As to monism, I responded to you in a different comment.

          • David Nickol

            but also has the quixotic mission of reducing all subjective consciousness and cognition - including the discovery of objective moral norms - to material causes as fixed and predictable as billiard balls.

            But what does it mean to act freely if our actions are not somehow "determined" by something? If our decisions and actions don't spring from everything that we have learned and experienced and become up until a given moment, then they our not ours. They are random. Acting freely is surely different from acting insanely. If a person does something that is not in keeping with his past actions, we suspect either that something has been hidden from us or that the person has "snapped" or gone insane. If a person's current behavior is dramatically inconsistent with his or her past behavior, we do not suspect that person is "free." We suspect he or she needs psychotherapy and lithium or antipsychotic drugs.

            When a sane human person makes a decision or chooses to take action, it seems to me we take it for granted that what he or she does can be explained reasonably and rationally.

          • josh

            "One would utter a Kurtzian "the horror!" if it weren't all so unfeasible and presumptuous to begin with."

            'To think that the perfect and immutable celestial spheres, composed of that divine element we call aether, can be reduced to the scribblings of a mere geometer and the subject of lens-makers, would be grotesque were it not so presumptuous and impossible.' -Not a quote, but you get the idea I hope.

          • It is much more than a sense of correlation. If you damage the brain you will almost certainly affect the personality, the nature if the person, from psychoactive drugs to Finneas Gauge. The opposite is never true, you can remove huge portions of the rest of the body, the legs the arms, vital organs, you can even replace the heart, and find exactly the same person. You can't swap brains with someone like you could swap livers, doing this would be a body swap.

            If you remove a brain the person dies, every time.

          • Hey Brian - Those who argue in favor of monism tend to offer more complex examples of the brain-mind relationship that not only restate the problem by framing it as a relationship between disparate entities and not an unbroken chain, but also leapfrog the philosophical quagmire of that relationship altogether (i.e., when you do this to the water of the brain, the wine of consciousness changes - restating the miracle of water turning into wine).

            Let's return to the computer analogy. I could list dozens of intricate examples of how, for a computer running some software, this or that virus, spillage, or wear and tear will obviously make the software slow down, malfunction, or even stop running. But the questions remain: is the software reducible to the hardware? Does the hardware cause the software? When the hardware is destroyed, is the software destroyed? No matter how intricate the mapping of the relationship becomes, the "hard problem of consciousness" - the chasm between software and hardware - is the thorn in the side of any attempt to move beyond that mapping and into monism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4SLOr2icnY

          • Geena Safire

            Those who argue in favor of monism ... restate the problem by framing it as a relationship between disparate entities ... Let's return to the computer analogy.

            Your hardware/software analogy commits the major fallacy of confusing the map for the place or, perhaps more apt, confusing the instructions for the activity.

            If you make a list of things to do -- go to the bank, work out at the gym, buy milk and eggs -- that doesn't mean the things have been done. The list is not the action of carrying out the tasks on the list. The instructions are not the activity.

            The list in this analogy is the software in your analogy, in case you are wondering, and you plus the bank and the gym and the market -- these are like the hardware in your analogy, perhaps you here is your home computer and the destinations here are the servers of the sites you want to visit in your analogy. The list -- and the software -- are just instructions.

            The "action of doing the list activities" is analogous to, umm, well, actually nothing in your analogy. They would be analogous to the actual operation of the computer and the software for you to engage in the "activity of accessing and using various sites on the Internet." The software is not the activity of access. The instructions are not the activity.

            In my analogy, if you get hit by a car, the list is not going to go to the bank for you -- the banking will not get done despite the mere existence of the list. In your analogy, if your computer is broken, its software may still exist (unless your hard drive crashed). But you will not be able to perform the "activity of accessing and using various sites on the Internet." The instructions are not the activity.

            Also, if a bomb destroys the town center, the list is not going to go to the bank, nor can you, because the bank is non-functional or non-existent. The list continues to exist, but the actions on the list do not occur. If the SN host server and all its backups are destroyed, you will not be able to access that web site, even if the software and data for the SN site are safely stored as an offsite backup. The instructions are not the activity.

             

            So let's get back to the brain, which is what we are really interested in. The physical matter -- the neurons, glia, blood vessels, neurotransmitters, and their synaptic configuration -- is the hardware. The propensity of each of these parts to act in specific ways in response to specific stimuli, their instructions if you will, are the software.

            But the activity of the brain -- the firing of the action potential, the release of neurotransmitters, their attachment to the next neuron's receptors, the use of oxygen and sugar from the blood to make fuel for these activities, the reception and processing of sensual stimuli -- is completely distinct from the instructions. The instructions are not the activity.

            If the body dies, the physical brain will still exist, for a while, and so will each propensity of that system. A neuron doesn't cease being a neuron (matter) and the neuron doesn't change what it was made to do (instructions). But the brain is not doing any activity. The instructions are not the activity.

            You wrote of monism and describing the brain and the mind as distinct entities. It is you who is viewing them as distinct entities. Neuroscience views the brain and the mind as a thing and the activity of the thing -- the noun and the verb, if you will.

            My car is not its driving. My cat is not its purring. A cloud is not its raining. What a thing is and what a thing does are distinct. But there are not two entities. The motion of a car is not an entity, nor is a cat's purr or the falling of rain.

            The motion of the car does not exist absent the car or if the car is broken. There is no purr without the living cat. No rain falls without a cloud and the right conditions.

            Similarly, there is no brain activity absent a brain or if a brain dies. The mind is an activity of the brain. Consciousness is an activity of the brain. Thinking is an activity of the brain. These are provable scientific facts.

            You are free to posit an immaterial, supernatural soul that somehow constantly triggers action potentials across trillions of neural synapses in particular patterns in order to use the brain to effect its will (or the will of a deity) and therefore be its consciousness. And you can further propose that, if the physical brain is damaged, the soul is unable to use that injured part and so its ability to function as consciousness in that brain is limited. Such concepts cannot be proven nor disproven.

            But it is factually incorrect for you to say that monists claim the brain and the mind are two "entities." And your computer analogy is also fundamentally flawed.

          • Hey Geena - Wow! Thanks for your fascinating and thoughtful (if lengthy) response. I'll try to keep my rejoinder short.

            Your comment revolves around the notion of activity. "The instructions are not the activity," as you say. In reference to the brain, this means:

            The mind is an activity of the brain. Consciousness is an activity of the brain.

            You offer several analogies: a to-do list is not the doing, a car's movement is not the car, a cat's purring is not the cat. In each case, we have what a thing is and what a thing does. Similarly, mind is what the brain does. The being and the doing are distinct concepts but not distinct entities. Is that a fair summary?

            This is a valiant attempt to dissolve the mind-body problem through a kind of functionalism, but I don't think it succeeds, and for the same old reason: qualia and the hard problem of consciousness. Conceivably, we might have a molecule-for-molecule replication of your own self, functionally the same in terms of its neural activity, but without internal, first-person qualia - a "zombie." There is also John Searle's classic "Chinese Room" argument. So if a mind is to the brain as driving is to the car, it would seem that this aspect of consciousness totally resistant to a functional framework would need accounting for somehow.

            Thomas Nagel notes that the family of arguments - causal behavioralism, functionalism, etc. - that seeks to draw mind into the scientific picture all fail for this same old reason: a failure to account for the first-person subjective appearances that were initially excluded from the picture at the birth of modern science with Descartes. (See "Mind & Cosmos" pages 35 to 42.)

          • Geena Safire

            Yes, Matthew, I agree with your summary of my main points. I don't think that in a comment format the two of us can resolve the mind/body problem, although I'm with Daniel Dennett, who I quoted above, in thinking that the problem of consciousness is not as hard as some would lead us to believe. But with regard to what you mentioned:

            I reviewed those pages from 'Mind & Cosmos', and I still don't see any reason why the combination of phenomena we call consciousness could not eventually be explained in scientific terms. All I see is Nagel claiming it is impossible because it is too complicated. And my reply would be that evolution built consciousness without a blueprint and without even a goal, while we have a blueprint (not all of which we can read just yet) and a goal.

            wrt replication: From what I know of neurophysiology, including how memories are physically stored in the brain, if I were replicated molecule for molecule, that replica would have my memories and knowledge -- my language, my personal life history, my physical and mental skills, my relationships, etc.

            wrt Searle: I'm not impress with the Chinese Room argument either. I have traveled extensively in countries where I didn't speak the language but was able to, in advance with a phrase book, write out basic questions or destinations in Roman or Chinese or Cyrillic characters. I have also struggled mightily for years with the limitations Google translate for the languages I do speak. Also, I have some basic knowledge of the Chinese language and how is is fundamentally different in structure from English. I can assure you that if the person in the Chinese room doesn't understand Chinese, there is absolutely no way he could write comprehensible Chinese syntax even if able to generate beautiful Chinese characters.

            In addition, I know that Chinese characters are used as the written form for several languages such that, while the spoken language is different, the characters have the same meaning in each language -- the character for chair is chair in Mandarin and Cantonese and others. Therefore, even if the man in the room could generate a meaningful stream of Chinese characters, the Chinese folks on the outside would not assume that he could understand their spoken conversation.

            So that analogy is full of gaping holes.

            But even if we pretend it were valid as an analogy to

            some perceived challenge of developing true understanding of the actual meaning underlying language in computers...

            ...note that It was written in 1980, ancient history with respect to computer capability. Since we don't have a shared definition for what consciousness is, it is more difficult to figure out how to tell whether a computer will have reached consciousness. But as we progress, we'll understand it better and our definitions will change and converge. I don't think Searle could have imagined IBM's Watson winning on Jeopardy by 2011. Not at consciousness yet, but impressive progress.

          • josh

            Searle's Chinese Room argument is like shrinking yourself down to the size of a microchip, pointing at a transistor, and shouting 'Where are the Angry Birds?!'

          • Hey Josh - You write:

            The 'zombies' arguments are like saying that you can conceive of putting two hydrogen and one oxygen together and not having water.

            I don't think the identity theory succeeds at all - functionalism is at least more nuanced. Your example is that H20 = water, just as brain = mind, and that we can't have one without the other. The problem is that water is nothing but H20, and you don't need anything more than H20 for water. This is, as Saul Kripke noted, a necessary truth, whereas "brain = mind" is a contingent truth. Subjective experience is something more, something unnecessary, evidently related to but not reducible to brain states. Thus we can clearly conceive of the mind existing without the body and vice-versa - this is the origin of the Cartesian removal of the conscious self at the birth of the observational remove of modern science, so frankly all of science hinges on the import of this distinction. Chalmers' zombie argument is perfectly conceivable and possible, whereas H20 without water is not.

            Nagel's argument seems to be that he doesn't understand the mind, therefore no one else ever will.

            I've heard this used a lot with regard to Nagel's argument. But Sam Harris thinks alongside Nagel in his article "The Mystery of Consciousness," and he can hardly be said to be the kind of person to lazily appeal to ignorance:

            http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness

          • josh

            "This is, as Saul Kripke noted, a necessary truth, whereas "brain = mind" is a contingent truth."

            But my point was that H20=water is not a necessary truth, at least not in the sense that we couldn't imagine otherwise historically. I mean, if you have a complete understanding of quantum and molecular physics, a deep knowledge of elemental abundances and so on, you could imagine someone deriving that H20 must behave exactly like water. But historically that isn't what happened of course. People can have an idea of oxygen and of hydrogen and no clue that the two put together can fully explain what we call water. So the argument, 'I can imagine these things without these consequences' isn't a good argument that such a case can physically be. I contend that if you (or I) fully understood the laws and interactions of the brain, we would see that something physically identical to a human without an internal perspective is impossible. That's not a proof of course, but you can't disprove it by arguing that you can imagine otherwise, any more than you can disprove conservation of momentum because you can imagine Superman flying through space on sheer willpower.

            Harris, in that article, ends up making the same type of bad argument. It's very vague on what specifically the problem is supposed to be, but strangely confident that no one can solve it. Harris however hints at a much more sophisticated position I think: that human minds by their construction may have limitations. Perhaps we (or some of us) will never feel that we fully understand consciousness, just due to the structure of the brain. This is kind of like noticing that a computer can't run a complete simulation of itself down to arbitrary detail. I don't see any reason to go that far, but the key point is that such a case wouldn't disprove physicalism.

      • Octavo

        Adding to what Geena Safire has said, scientists can directly create memories by manipulating the cortex.
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130910142334.htm

        We know where what part of the brain handles language,

        For more information on neural monism and how the brain thinks and makes up the self, I recommend this series of written essays/lectures by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran.
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/lectures.shtml

        ~Jesse Webster

      • That is the wrong question. What evidence do you have of minds with no material aspect? Gets to the point.

        • Brian, when you ask for "evidence of minds with no material aspect", how are you defining evidence?

      • David Nickol

        What findings by neuroscientists do you think establish that consciousness is reducible to the brain?

        I am wondering what you mean by "reducible."

        I am also wondering if this position isn't something akin to "the God of the gaps." As long as science can't explain everything about consciousness, then technically it can be claimed that consciousness can't be "reducible" to the brain. But couldn't the same thing be done with just about every physiological process, or every phenomenon of chemistry or physics? We might, for example, argue that electricity is a nonmaterial (neither matter nor energy), supernatural force. Sure, wherever we find electricity flowing, we find electrons in motion, but that doesn't prove electricity is flowing electrons. It just means there is a correlation. There is certainly no way to prove that electricity is flowing electrons.

        Kreeft suggests one idea after another, whether they are compatible or not. The body is a womb for the soul; the body is a microphone for the soul; the brain is the inhibitor of consciousness, not the originator or facilitator. If the last one is true, why doesn't general anesthesia set consciousness free.

        If the idea is that consciousness can never be "reducible" to the brain, then whatever science does not understand is "proof" of a spiritual soul, but whatever science does explain is part of God's miraculous handiwork in creating an interface between the physical body and the spiritual soul. It's kind of a "heads I win, tails you lose" approach that can be maintained until there is as much evidence for the brain producing consciousness as there is for, say, evolution or heliocentrism. At some point scientific advances progress so far that they must be accepted.

        This, of course, assumes that no spiritual soul really is necessary to account for consciousness and abstract thought. I suppose it is possible there is a soul, but it seems to me Occam's razor ought to be taken seriously and what neuroscience has discovered so far about the correlation between physical activity in the brain and consciousness should simply be taken to be an indication that the brain produces (not mediates) consciousness. Is it really impossible for God to create a life form that is made up only of matter but is capable of consciousness and abstract thought? The basic argument seems to be that this is something God cannot do, along the lines of making a square circle.

        • Octavo

          Kreeft's method of using every argument possible for a belief regardless of compatibility is useful in that it provides a directory of most arguments for a subject, but I think there's another rationale at work here. Kreeft's plethora of arguments support the idea that it is reasonable to believe. He doesn't settle on a consistent system because he's not trying to convince people what to believe.

          ~Jesse Webster

          • Sqrat

            I certainly thought it odd that he listed so many arguments that he himself admitted were weak. Instead of trying to hit us with his best shot, his method almost seemed to be to fire off as many shots as possible, in as many directions as possible, as though he hoped he might be able to hit something at random.

            Rather than strengthen his case, I think that weakened it. It certainly created the impression in my mind that he was entirely unpersuaded by some of his own arguments. If that was the case, why did he bother to offer them?

  • josh

    So much wrong I don't know where to start.

    • Thanks for the insight, josh :)

      • josh

        Sometimes one just has to take a moment to appreciate a monument to bad reasoning before tearing it down. :)

        • Octavo

          reddit.com/r/atheism is the place for that. Not really classy, though.

    • josh

      To begin:

      0. "On the other hand, it cannot be empirically proved or disproved (at
      least before death) simply because by definition all experience before
      death is experience of life before death, not life after death."

      Bad epistemology right off the bat. By the same type of argument, we cannot prove or disprove conservation of energy because we have never experienced violation of conservation of energy. Of course, one can argue that strictly speaking science doesn't prove things beyond all possible doubt, we could imagine ourselves finding violation of a conservation principle somewhere somehow, but the absence of any observed violation is exactly the evidence that violation does not occur. We have plenty of experience of life and death and it looks like a physical phenomenon, we have no experience of life after death, the reasonable position is that life ends at the death of the body. That's what the evidence points to and that is what it means to empirically 'prove' or 'disprove' something.

      "Only if you assume that it is intellectually irresponsible to accept
      anything that cannot be proved scientifically. But that premise is
      self-contradictory."

      Can we dispense with these sophistic arguments for once? By the same type of argument, the idea that we should only accept reasonable arguments is self-contradictory because it can't be proven without assuming reason and is therefore circular, i.e. unreasonable. First note that this supposed premise of science is trivially amendable to avoid any contradiction: 'It is intellectually irresponsible to accept anything that cannot be proved scientifically except this statement.' No contradiction. And if you think that is a cheap way out then you should realize that it was a cheap objection in the first place.

      Scientific principles are standards of evidence for factual statements, not factual statements themselves per se. But they can be checked for consistency, so that if we found a non-scientific method which proved as fruitful as science, then we would have to revise the standards.

      One can debate the phrasing of scientific principles, but trying to show that an imprecise and overbroad statement about 'accepting anything' is contradictory or not is a red herring. The question is 'should we apply scientific standards to the question of the existence of an afterlife?' And the answer is 'yes'. We are not debating principles here, we are asking about reasonable belief in the factual existence of a thing. There is no reason to except an afterlife from the standards of science. As I alluded to elsewhere, the fact that one can construct a theory which provides no evidence for itself does not excuse one from standards of evidence. If your theory has no evidence then it is in the infinite category of things which provide no evidence, which includes the possibility that your theory is just wrong. It is unreasonable to believe that particular things in this category are true.

      So let's drop the attempt to avoid standards of evidence and instead look at the quality of the evidence offered.

      1. Okay, (1) is mostly more of the same fallacy but I'll pick out some egregious examples.

      "In most supposedly scientific objections of this type, an impossible
      demand is made, overtly or covertly—a demand for scientific proof—and
      then the belief is faulted for not satisfying that demand." There is nothing impossible about it, we can very easily imagine compelling evidence of life after bodily death, we just don't have it. You don't have the evidence, you don't have proof of a reasonable belief.

      "The belief that something exists outside a system cannot be disproved by observing the behavior of that system."

      No, that's exactly the kind of evidence you look for, an effect on a system that can't be explained within the system. We first detected planets like neptune and pluto because they caused perturbations on the observed planets that couldn't be accounted for by that known system. The absence of a perturbation on the system means you have no evidence for something outside it. God is definitely something that 'perturbs' the system in most theologies. Now, we can imagine some unknown piece that doesn't affect the system, but we can't reasonably believe in that piece without evidence from some system that it does affect. This is basic Russel's teapot stuff.

      1b "We do not observe the spirit cease to exist, because we do not observe the spirit at all, only its manifestations in the body."

      We don't observe the spirit at all, therefore it is unreasonable to suppose such a thing exists; that's why you don't observe it cease to exist, it never did. You aren't observing 'manifestations' in the body, you are observing the working of the body.

      "When a body is paralyzed, the mind and will are still operative, though deprived of expression."

      Equivocation on the meaning of 'body'. If the brain is paralyzed, i.e. no normal movement of blood or electrical signals, then the mind and will are not operative. All this about the mind leaving the body behind ignores the fact that we don't have any evidence of the mind and will continuing to operate sans corpus. Do you really think no one can tell the difference between a radio and a record player? You might as well argue that my car's spirit literally continues to drive the road after the car has been dismantled.

      "The brain may not be the cause of thought but the stopping down, the
      'reducing valve' for thought, as Bergson, James and Huxley suppose: an
      organ of forgetting rather than remembering,..."

      Putting aside how this would fit in with Catholic theology (God deprives us of thought?), this is just contrary to the evidence. Injuring the brain ought to make people smarter or improve memory if this were true. Detailed study of the brain can show you that it has structure to produce the functions of thought, visualization, memory, evaluation, etc., not structures to interfere with or suppress these things. (I'm simplifying, your brain does have functions to organize data processing so that not everything makes it to your conscious awareness.) People with near death experiences don't gain new knowledge, although they may have the sensation of reliving memories or details they had forgotten. That is, your brain can contain information that you aren't always consciously aware of, but near-death-experiencers are never without their brains.

      In short, all the evidence is against the existence of an independent soul and for the simultaneous death of the body and mind.

      More when I have time.

  • Geena Safire

    "If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence are you going to
    provide to prove that they should value it?   If someone doesn’t value
    logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of
    logic?"

    Sam Harris, "Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?" – William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris, University of Notre Dame, Indiana, April 2011

    • Geena, can you perhaps elaborate on your point?

      • Geena Safire

        "Empirical evidence (also empirical data, sense experience, empirical knowledge, or the a posteriori) is a source of knowledge acquired by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical evidence is information that justifies a belief in the truth or falsity of an empirical claim. In the empiricist view, one can only claim to have knowledge when one has a true belief based on empirical evidence. This stands in contrast to the rationalist view under which reason or reflection alone is considered to be evidence for the truth or falsity of some propositions.

        I strive to be an empiricist.

        There are many things that I would like to be true or I think ought to be true -- and for many of them my mind can devise possible scenarios by which, given a certain series of assumptions that could each conceivably be true, could construct a possibility to allow me to think that the thing is true.

        But by Bayesian calculation, if each of, say, five necessary assumptions has a ten percent chance of being true, then my desired conclusion has only a one in a million chance of being true.

        I have to conclude that, even though I want the thing to be true, that it is also very unlikely that it is true.

        And even if each of my assumptions is true, there may be many possible resulting conclusions that are much more likely to be true than my desired conclusion, which makes my desired conclusion much less likely, absent other evidence, to be true.

        If you want to conclude that, (a) because many people throughout time have feared death and would prefer that the inevitability of death were not so and(b) our minds can bring to mind our beloved departed in ways that feel very real and (c) some of these people came up with the idea to propose an afterlife that makes death not the end that it seems to be and (d) the strong belief in this idea helps reduce the anxiety about death, therefore the afterlife is actually real, you are free to do so.

        But the much more likely conclusion, based on the evidence from psychology and neuroscience, is that such a belief is merely wishful thinking to avoid death anxiety.

        In my experience, beliefs have consequences. If I allow myself to believe some things on bad evidence merely because I want them to be true, then I am likely to make bad subsequent decisions based on that belief. I am also more likely to believe other false things which will also lead to further bad subsequent decisions.

        "A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything." Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Octavo

    Do Catholics believe in ghosts? Can the dead appear to the living, or summoned by Endorian witches or invoked by prayer? If so, that would end up being more effective proof (to me) than any of the above arguments.

    ~Jesse Webster

    • Linda

      Not ghosts but saints. Isn't intervention by people after death one of the main ways they get to be saints?

      • Octavo

        That was my thinking. If humans can see bodiless apparitions of the long dead, then all that needs to be done is invite all the atheists to church services that the saints could then appear at. I'm sure about half would get saved, and number of deniers would decrease steadily through repeat appearances.

        ~Jesse Webster

        • Linda

          I gotta say I don't think I'd want to be at such an overwhelming event! :) And frankly, the atheists would never believe it anyway. They'd be looking for the David Copperfield/Chris Angel mind freak in it; it would never work.

          • Octavo

            I sure would. If it were real, repeatable, and an open experience that could be verified, I'd believe it. Charlatans aren't usually too hard for skeptics to expose.

            ~Jesse Webster

          • Linda

            So once is not enough? I see the doubt already and you're willing to believe it.

            I would think in the repeatable part we should be in different places each time, to correct for charlatanism, perhaps a cathedral the first time but then I would think we'd need a stadium or open field for subsequent demonstrations. It would attract a crowd!

            Come to think of it, Mary keeps appearing to different people in different countries but with the same message. This fails the open experience, though, since it happens to select individuals. I'm pretty sure they all believe it to have been real, though. :)

          • Octavo

            "I would think we'd need a stadium or open field for subsequent demonstrations. It would attract a crowd!"

            I definitely agree.

  • Lets look at one of these arguments 2 dead cows. The argument seems to be that when we compare the dead and living cow we see little if any material difference in the animals, but we recognize an enormous difference. It seems to us that something is now absent in the dead cow that is present in the living cow. This issuing thing, it is suggested, is life.

    I would agree that what we observe as the difference between living and dead cows is also the same as we observe between living and dead humans.

    What we call life is the aggregate of properties that differentiates the two pieces of meat. One moves, breathes, metabolizes, heals. There are a number of systems that are well understood and when they are all no longer functioning we call the organism dead.

    I observe no undying parts in cows or humans or mushrooms. He seems to be saying that because live and dead organisms are very different, there must be a non-material soul. This is just a baseless assertion.
    Not to mention, wouldn't this argument also demonstrate that all living things have souls?

    • Sqrat

      All good dogs go to heaven. All bad dogs go to hell. Lassie delivers the Last Judgment.

  • Here's my non-empirical argument for why it's reasonable to expect empirical evidence for an afterlife. The only way I find out about whether other people exist is through empirical evidence.

    If someone here gets asked what reasons they have to think Jesus existed, as keeps happening on this site, the person provides some sort of historical document, a physical record that can be read. They don't just say "well, you don't have a good reason to think Jesus didn't exist. That should be good enough."

    If I get e-mails from a secret admirer, and start to wonder whether she is who she claims to be, I'd ask to meet her face to face.

    Relationships typically require some sort of communication, both sending and receiving, via the senses.

    An afterlife implies some people exist as minds without bodies. In order to believe that these kinds of people exist, I'd like to talk to one of them. That doesn't seem unreasonable.

    Peter Kreeft accommodates us with his arguments 6 and 7. The rest of the arguments are unlikely to be very convincing to someone who doesn't already accept an afterlife. Arguments 6 and 7 are more promising.

    • Casey Braden

      I would say that argument 6 is not even really an argument. In order for any of those points to be at all convincing, one already has to believe that there is "ultimate moral meaning" or "ultimate purpose." These arguments presuppose the Christian worldview right from the start.

    • "If someone here gets asked what reasons they have to think Jesus existed, as keeps happening on this site, the person provides some sort of historical document, a physical record that can be read. They don't just say "well, you don't have a good reason to think Jesus didn't exist. That should be good enough."

      We need to distinguish between the First and Second persons of the Trinity. When people talking about proving God exists, their usually referring to the former. When they're talking about Jesus, they're discussing the latter.

      Philosopher maintain that while proving the latter's existence can definitely rely on historical evidence—which we must distinguish from historical evidence—the former cannot be detected, measured, or proven through empirical means.

      • That's a fair point. It could be reasonable to accept that disembodied minds exist without ever having seen one. I wonder what sort of relationship is possible for us embodied humans to have with a disembodied mind that never shows itself or talks back.

  • Geena Safire

    But what of the need for a brain to think? The brain may not be the cause of thought but the stopping down, the 'reducing valve' for thought, as Bergson, James and Huxley suppose: an organ of forgetting rather than remembering, eliminating from the total field of consciousness all that serves no present purpose. Thus when the brain dies, more rather than less consciousness occurs: the floodgates come down. This would account for the familiar fact that dying people remember the whole of their past life in an instant with intense clarity, detail, and understanding.

    It's amazing how God created us from clay, with souls that give us consciousness.

    Well, okay, it's amazing how God created us through each step of evolution in the same way that it would have happened without a deity, with souls that give us consciousness.

    Well, okay, it's amazing how God created us through evolution, with souls that give us consciousness by acting through our billions of neurons and trillions of synapses and myriad neurotransmitters that act or, due to injury or illness, cease to act in just such a way that would happen without a soul.

    God of the Gaps, a variant of the Argument from Ignorance.

    I can understand why, two thousand years ago, people couldn't imagine how a three-pound pile of folded jello in a skull could lead to thinking or consciousness.

    But in this day and age, I can't understand why people who could easily, on the web, discover the vast storehouse of knowledge regarding the brain -- its composition, its development, its evolution, and its function -- and still conclude that there must be some outside immaterial entity or force required to act through its molecules to cause thought and consciousness.

    And, for the record, the "familiar fact that dying people remember" stuff may be familiar, but it is not a fact. Some small portion of people, near death, have some experiences that have some features in common.

    The various experiences that people have near death or during other altered states of consciousness -- such as 'wholeness of life memory' or 'significance' or 'connectedness' or 'familiarity' or 'intense clarity' or 'feeling of a presence' or 'out of body experience' -- are coming to be understood as variations in the natural functioning of the brain. And many of these can be induced artificially in the lab.

    I agree that we are made from the stuff of the universe and, when we die, our individuality ceases and our stuff, in a sense, 'returns to' the universe. But, however wondrous, that is not evidence of it being unnatural.

    The more we discover, the more evidence points toward the conclusion that the mind is what the brain does. The mind is to the brain as digestion is to the stomach. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.

  • Jay

    Didn't read all of the article, but what I did was interesting. I think the points that he raises are nice, but as some within the comments have already said, these proofs are more convincing for those who actually already believe. For example, I absolutely believed two of my friends when they said that they witnessed a miracle (tears coming from the eyes of a painting), but skeptics are going to say that there are more plausible explanations for that occurring than a miracle, and the reality is just about any natural occurrence is a better explanation than a miracle occurring. I absolutely believe that I've witnessed miracles in my life and many other people have reported seeing miracles as well, but I don't think that there is a miracle that could ever be reported that could not be explained away through a more worldly and logical explanation.

    • mriehm

      If I could witness just one supernatural event (aka "miracle") I would drop my atheism. And I would be satisfied if it were completely subjective, so long as it was _my_ subjectivity ;). But it never happens

      All those weeping paintings and bleeding statues - next time it happens, just phone Michael Shermer and I'm sure he'd be glad to prove or disprove it scientifically. Otherwise, Occam's razor says: fake, fake, fake.

      There are many supernatural things which, if they occurred, could not be denied as supernatural. But these things never actually do occur.

      • Jay

        Again, I don't believe there is a miracle that could happen that could not be explained away and I would be interested in your thoughts on what supernatural event could occur that could not be explained away through rational thought. In regards to your comment on seeing one supernatural event and that being enough, I'm afraid I'm somewhat skeptical that would actually work.

        When discussing the matter over whether or not miracles are enough to sustain someone's faith (or in this case prove the existence of God), I often speak of the relationship the Israelites had with Moses and God within the book of Exodus. After being freed from the Egyptians, reaching the Red Sea, and seeing that the Egyptians were coming after them, what did the Israelites do? They said to Moses, "Were there no burial places in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?" (Ex 14:11). When they started wandering around in the wilderness they grumbled against Aaron and Moses and God rained down manna from Heaven to stop their grumbling (Ex 16). After that they grumbled about being thirsty so God gave them water from a rock (Ex 17). After all of that, freedom from Egypt, manna from Heaven, water from the rock, they still ended up abandoning God and making an idol in the shape of a golden calf (Ex 32). While they witnessed some huge miracles, it doesn't appear that it really changed their behavior that much.

        This does deal more with faith in God than it does with the belief in the existence in a higher power, I do believe it shows that if their isn't an underlying faith to begin with, the miracle is just going to be a magic trick that really isn't going to affect someone's life that much. I doubt this is actually that persuasive to you but those are my thoughts anyway.

        • mriehm

          A restored limb on an amputee - verified by reputable doctors/scientists.

          During the Superbowl, in mid play, lift both teams up in the air and fly them around for one minute. Witnessed live by 50,000 fans, among them many atheists and reputable scientists; captured by 10,000 smart phones; broadcast live around the world.

          Lift a city into the air, permanently.

          Part the red sea and leave it that way.

          • [---
            A restored limb on an amputee - verified by reputable doctors/scientists.
            ---]

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_Calanda

            http://www.clairval.com/lettres/en/2006/12/08/2061206.htm

          • Jay

            More recent example of a part of the body being regenerated would be the miracle with Vera Marie Calandara in 1968. Bladder was removed. Mom took her to Padre Pio and he touched her on the head. Next time she went to the doctor's they said that the girl's bladder was starting to regenerate and they couldn't explain why this was occurring. Family made the Padre Pio Center in Barto, PA because of the miracle. http://www.padrepio.org

          • mriehm

            I'm looking more for Johns Hopkins in the last 30 years than for Spain in the throes of superstition and the Inquisition.

          • Mriehm, thanks for stopping by. I've really appreciated your comments.

            You say that "a restored limb on an amputee, verified by reputable doctors/scientists" would be miraculous enough to convince you to "drop your atheism."

            If I may ask a clarifying question, why would this necessarily be a supernatural event? Is it because something cannot naturally cause itself to exist, or something cannot naturally come from nothing?

          • Mikegalanx

            No, it's because human arms don't naturally appear from nowhere and attach themselves to human bodies.

          • So would you (and Mriehm) agree that the only way a material entity could appear from nothing is through supernatural intervention?

          • Sqrat

            As everybody knows, per Werner Heisenberg, a virtual electron and virtual positron, each of mass 9.11x10^^-31 Kg, can pop into existence out of empty space and can then remain in existence for up to 3.22x10^^-22 seconds. No supernatural intervention required.

          • Paul Boillot

            Isn't the non-annihilation of one of a pair virtual particles the explanation for Hawking-radiation just outside the event-horizon of black holes?

          • Sqrat

            No no no -- Hawking radiation is a supernatural phenomenon.

          • Andre Boillot

            Why stipulate that the restored limb must "appear from nothing"? Surely, we have evidence of limb regrowth occurring naturally in other species. If such a thing were to occur in humans - unaided by, say, genetic manipulation - I think that would meet Mriehm's requirements (bonus points if you prayed to a saint).

          • mriehm

            No real need to bring metaphysics into the picture. Its just that the human species is incapable if regrowing a limb.

          • Jay

            Why would any of those things occurring make you think that there is a higher power?

            Wouldn't the superbowl thing just be a magic trick?

            What about UFOs or the government just coming up with some amazing new invention that can do all of those things? Aren't those more probable than the existence of God when looking at things from a purely scientific mindset?

            Limb stuff discussed by Brandon and Irenaeus already.

      • Mikegalanx

        Be careful of where you disprove it- the local Catholic Church may try to have you arrested for showing it's just a leaky pipe.

        http://boingboing.net/2012/04/13/indian-skeptic-charged-with.html

        Mike Newsham

  • Geena Safire

    To outside observers there necessarily remains the possibility of
    doubt; to all who have had the experience, there is none. It is no more deceptive than waking up in the morning. You may dream that you are awake and in fact be dreaming, but once you are really awake you are in no doubt. Unfortunately, this waking sense of certainty can only be experienced, not publicly proved.

    It is not true that all who have had a near-death experience have no doubt of the the reality of their experience of the afterlife.

    Many of these people instead believe that their mind acted in a strange way under extreme conditions. The only ones we tend to hear about are the ones who claim an objective reality to their experience.

    There is a function of the brain that helps us distinguish between what is real and what is not. "A hallucination is a perception in the absence of apparent stimulus which has qualities of real perception. Hallucinations are vivid, substantial, and located in external objective space."

    People who have a primary and chronic dysfunction of this ability to distinguish reality are diagnosed as schizophrenic. Many other mental illnesses involve some degree of problem with this function.

    Also many neurotypical people can have unusual experiences that have a quality of seeming-completely-real. And certainly their perceived experience is real, at least in the same way that our thoughts and feelings are real. But their experience may have included misfiring in the parts of the brain involved with distinguishing reality.

    Sometimes the actual non-reality of the experience can be proven. If they experienced a person they know as being dead, but that person now stands before them alive convinces them that, despite the seeming-completely-real of their experience, it was not actually real. The same can be proven false if they experienced the World Trade Center not having been attacked, or if they were shown the cure for cancer, or if they received the ability to fly.

    But sometimes the non-reality of an experience cannot be proven, such as an experience of an afterlife or an experience of the presence of a transcendent being. If (a) it seemed-completely-real and (b) it is something they want to believe or have been taught to believe is real and (c) it cannot be disproven, then people have a tendency to believe that it was real.

    But even many people with non-disprovable experiences, when shown how much hallucinations feel very real and make one very certain about their reality and how so many that can be disproven have been disproven, come to believe that their experience was not actually real.

    (For more information, try the recent, excellent book Hallucinations by neurologist/psychologist Oliver Sacks.)

    • But the "arguments" from no reasonable objection and 4c are not actually arguments. An argument, needs to demonstrate something is more likely than not to be the case. The former makes no attempt to do so, and the latter simply states that humans have minds. Accepting that there is such a thing as abstract thought does not necessitate dualism or free will, much less a soul or afterlife realm.

  • This is a great article to go through because it covers many arguments. It's worth going through to point out which arguments will likely fare better with atheists, and which should be abandoned, and why. Here goes (this may get a bit long):

    THE GOOD ARGUMENTS:

    1. No reasonable objection.

    This is a good argument for the possibility of the afterlife. As a theoretical physicist, I deeply respect this sort of argument, because it's most of what we do. Theorists come up with interesting new ideas, or revive old ideas, and if there are no good reasons against them, we present them as possibilities. I did this a while ago in a comment about the universe causing itself. There's no good evidence for it, but there's no good arguments against it, either. Of course, this argument doesn't show that the afterlife is actual, just that it's a possibility.

    4. Human Nature

    One part of this argument is compelling to me, and should be to others who think that objects like physical laws and quantities are eternal. 4c points out that the human mind can comprehend eternal objects. It is difficult for me to understand how something that is transient can fully grasp eternal objects. I cannot give a good objection to this argument as it is. Of course, others reading this may disagree on the basis that they don't think numbers or sets, etc., are objects. They are welcome to imagine that I included this argument in the lower category. This argument should only be used with those atheists (like Quine) who believe that something immaterial, like sets, are real.

    6. The Nature of the World

    Kreeft says that some of these arguments are weakest of all, at least from one point of view. That point of view isn't mine. Some are better than others, and the best one in my opinion is 6.1. My moral sense screams out for justice, and there's often no justice in this world, so that's a good reason to hope for an afterlife. Saying that there should be something, along with that there could be something (see Argument 1) is a small step closer in my mind to saying that there actually is something. If there is this sort of afterlife, I think the Jewish-Christian God would deserve a long punishment for all the terrible things he's done. I think 6.2 might be an interesting argument for ultimate purpose, but I don't see any reason humans would need to be a part of that purpose, so it's not yet a good argument for an eternity that we'd be part of. I leave it here, though, because it's right on the edge between good and bad arguments. It at least gets as far as an afterlife.

    7. Extraordinary Experience

    All of these are the strongest arguments Kreeft makes, in my opinion. They have the best potential for apologetics. They involve empirical experience and are even potentially accessible with the scientific method. 7.1 is especially strong in this regard, since someone directly claims an experience with an afterlife, and this experience can be compared to other similar experiences. Although this argument is the strongest, it is not conclusive. Until a careful comparison between near death experiences is made, and more than a common psychology is indicated by the common experiences, they will only be convincing to those who had the experience and maybe those who are closely related. For them, accepting the afterlife is entirely reasonable.

    THE BAD ARGUMENTS:

    2. Argument from Authority

    This is a terrible argument for almost anything, and especially for the afterlife.

    2.1 It doesn't matter what people used to think or currently do think. Truth isn't decided by vote.

    2.2 We accept what sages say, not because they are sages, but because they have good reasons for believing what they do. That's what makes them sages. So what are their good reasons?

    2.3 Same as Argument 2.2.

    The one good argument from authority is an argument from expertise. The only experts in the afterlife would be people who have had significant experience with the afterlife, and any in that category would be dead.

    3. Conservation of Energy

    This really isn't an argument about conservation of energy, but about conservation of soulness. This is a bad argument, but it could become a good argument. How? People accept conservation of energy for two reasons:

    1. The time symmetry in the physical laws. They work the same backwards as forwards.

    2. The total energy of a closed experimental system is always constant to within the error of the experiment.

    If soulness is conserved, what symmetry is it connected to, and what experiment measures that in closed systems soulness cannot be destroyed? Finally, if soulness is actually conserved, doesn't that mean my soul existed before I was born? If souls are created from nothing all the time, they're not being conserved.

    4. Human Nature

    Not all of these are so bad, but some of them are. Quick reasons why.

    4a, 4d aren't cogent arguments.

    4b is a compelling argument that there is something about human consciousness that is irreducible to matter, but why think that this emergent quality is a soul? Even if it is a soul, why think that it's immortal?

    4e How does Kreeft know this? Just because a soul hasn't been cut apart before doesn't mean it's impossible.

    4f conflates natural evil and moral evil.

    5. The Nature of God

    Kreeft makes the case against using this argument in dialogue with atheists perfectly himself:

    A possible weakness of this type of argument, of course, is that it does not convince anyone not already convinced, because it presupposes the existence of God, and those who admit God usually admit life after death already, while those who deny the one usually deny the other as well.

    No more needs be said about this one.

    6. The Nature of the World

    This had some good arguments, but it also has some bad ones.

    6.3 argues that our desire for something indicates that it exists. A desire for life after death is simply a desire for more life. This is an argument that life exists. This is as much an argument for eternal life as my hunger for a hamburger is a good argument that there's a hamburger in my hand right now.

    6.4,6.5 aren't coherant arguments for an afterlife.

    • Fantastic comment, Paul. Remarkably clear and fair-minded, which is pretty much the usual for you.

    • Paul Boillot

      Paul,

      I respect your attempt at level-headedness and fair play here, but come on.

      #1, "there's no reason to disbelieve, is an awful, simply terrible, line of reasoning.

      If we were in an intellectual vacuum and someone proposed the idea of immortal, immaterial souls to me for the first time, there would be no immediately apparent reason to reject the idea, it is true. In that same vacuum, if I were to be told that there are fourteen whole teapots, and one with a handle missing, orbiting the former-planet Pluto, I would have no reason to doubt.

      But we don't get these terms 'soul' and 'afterlife' in a vacuum. There are clear psychological benefits to believing in them, and they are sold to us as package deals with religion, and their 'existence' is a clear source of leverage for those who are doing the selling.

      We are not obligated to give equal weight to unknown phenomena when the people presenting the evidence are so heavily biased.

      Section #4 as a whole is so messy, with so many poorly defined ideas, and so island-hopping in nature, that it's not worth a lengthy response. Abstraction is incredibly interesting, but I think the evidence leans towards emergence as it's origin.

      #6 is wish fulfillment.

      #7 is abnormal psychology. I imagine that schizophrenics are really convinced that they're hearing disembodied voices from *others.*

      • I'm happy to respond to your observations, but I'm not sure what we disagree about, just yet. To find out, can you go through all of Kreeft's arguments and rank them, best to worst?

        There's 1 2.1 2.2 2.3 3 4a 4b 4c 4d 4e 4f 5 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 and finally 7.1 7.2 7.3.

        If our rankings look similar, then the difference is one of degree and not of kind. Both of us will agree on what the stronger and weaker arguments are, but you just think the stronger arguments aren't as strong as I think they are. That's to be expected, and the conversation would better be continued with someone who firmly believes that there's an afterlife. I don't want to argue with you about something I'm not convinced of.

        If, however, our rankings are very different, then I'll want to ask why you think some arguments are better than I think they are, and vice versa.

        Finally, about 7. Maybe the experiences are not typical, but I don't think that they're unhealthy or can be dismissed as disorders. At least, I'm not comfortable doing that. I think that people can hear audible voices that no one else can hear, or can experience visions, or the like, and be psychologically healthy.

        • Paul Boillot

          I'm sorry, I was under the impression that you had categorized these around a zero, a tare-point if you will, of logical soundness, with some to the left and some to the right.

          I think that all of these are below the minimum threshold for reasonability, all except the argument "we just don't, and can't, know," though I don't have the patience to wade through the murk to find which sub-paragraph that's admitted to in. Some are more difficult to read or more obviously silly-on-command than others, but there's nothing of substance here.

          "I think that people can hear audible voices that no one else can hear, or can experience visions, or the like, and be psychologically healthy."

          I agree with you...apprehensively. Children with imaginary friends are not, as far as I understand the psychology/neurology, 'unhealthy' but likely in a phase of synaptic growth where the relationship between imagination and reality is not fully clear.

          Experiencing unaided, fully-disembodied, auditory or visual hallucinations as an adult is something for which you and I should get CAT scans to check for neurological problems, and seek therapy for potential psychological issues.

          • You say:

            Experiencing unaided, fully-disembodied, auditory or visual hallucinations as an adult is something for which you and I should get CAT scans to check for neurological problems, and seek therapy for potential psychological issues.

            And I completely agree. At the same time, I would point out (from http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8894_how_to_cope_with_hearing_voices ):

            Hearing voices is often thought of as a symptom of a serious mental illness. But research on the experiences of the general population shows that lots of people hear voices, and the majority of them are not mentally unwell. It is a common human experience.

            That's all I'm pointing out about that part. Maybe it really is spirits, but probably not. Even if it's auditory and just in my head, there may not be anything wrong with me. Just different.

            EDIT: To clarify, I have not yet heard any voices in my head or experienced any visions.

          • Paul Boillot

            @Paul & Geena:

            Of course you are both right in pointing out that:
            a) many people hear 'voices'
            b) 'voices' are not necessarily pathological
            c) there is no reason to be ashamed of hearing 'voices,' you are not alone.

            The words surrounding these issues can be perceived as unnecessarily scary, and I didn't mean to add to anyone's potential fear or shame by my use of "scans to check" and "potential" issues.

            ----

            During the last....two? three?...'horror' movies that I've watched in the last months, I've found myself amused by how many of the demons/possession/magic/evil/witchcraft tropes are pulled directly out of medieval Catholic beliefs about the embodiment of the devil(s), and how much damage they have done to people needing legitimate psychological and psychiatric help over the years.

            When I used the phrase "unaided, fully-disembodied...hallucinations," I was hoping to use layman's (being completely unschooled in the subject(s) I have little other recourse) to indicate the phenomena of a person experiencing something as utterly foreign, failing to perceive or accept that it originates within.

            The website that you quoted, Paul, also has this to say:

            you need to accept your voices – they are real
            your voices come from you and belong to you
            your voices are related to your life history
            accept yourself as who you are, with your voices.

            Accepting these phenomena as manifestations of your own neurology is a key factor in gaining a handle on them and managing their causes. In severe cases they can be extraordinarily damaging to a person's life, culminating in personalities so damaged as to be deranged or seem 'possessed.'

            I have no desire to inflate the potential for danger, but it seems to me that openness and acceptance of these phenomena, and their potential for harm if left unchecked, is the only way to move from a benighted culture where crypto-spiritualism dominates our understanding of abnormal psychology.

            I suppose that's what I was trying to get at, though admittedly in an imprecise manner.

          • Geena Safire

            Experiencing unaided, fully-disembodied, auditory or visual hallucinations as an adult is something for which you and I should get CAT scans to check for neurological problems, and seek therapy for potential psychological issues.

            This is probably good advice. And yet hearing voices is not exclusively a symptom of mental or physical illness. Some neurotypical people also hear voices, and neurological and psychological evaluations find no abnormalities.

            The voices can be chronic or intermittent and the condition is usually ideopathic (without a known cause/source). They can also be a side-effect of certain medications such as L-dopa for Parkinson's disease.

            As you can imagine, this situation can be a source of fear, confusion and shame for those affected. So you may know someone who has this experience but you are not likely to know about it.

            There are at least two support groups set up for folks with this condition. Intervoice and Hearing Voices.

          • Paul Boillot

            I replied to you and paul above.

          • Guest

            @Paul & Geena:

            Of course you are both right in pointing out that:
            a) many people hear 'voices'
            b) 'voices' are not necessarily pathological
            c) there is no reason to be ashamed of hearing 'voices,' you are not alone.

            The words surrounding these issues can be perceived as unnecessarily scary, and I didn't mean to add to anyone's potential fear or shame by my use of "scans to check" and "potential" issues.

            ----

            During the last....two? three?...'horror' movies that I've watched in the last months, I've found myself amused by how many of the demons/possession/magic/evil/witchcraft tropes are pulled directly out of medieval Catholic beliefs about the embodiment of the devil(s), and how much damage they have done to people needing legitimate psychological and psychiatric help over the years.

            When I used the phrase "unaided, fully-disembodied...hallucinations," I was hoping to use layman's (being completely unschooled in the subject(s) I have little other recourse) to indicate the phenomena of a person experiencing something as utterly foreign, failing to perceive or accept that it originates within.

            The website that you quoted, Paul, also has this to say:

            you need to accept your voices – they are real
            your voices come from you and belong to you
            your voices are related to your life history
            accept yourself as who you are, with your voices.

            Accepting these phenomena as manifestations of your own neurology is a key factor in gaining a handle on them and managing their causes. In severe cases they can be extraordinarily damaging to a person's life, culminating in personalities so damaged as to be deranged or seem 'possessed.'

            I have no desire to inflate the potential for danger, but it seems to me that openness and acceptance of these phenomena, and their potential for harm if left unchecked, is the only way to move from a benighted culture where crypto-spiritualism dominates our understanding of abnormal psychology.

            I suppose that's what I was trying to get at, though admittedly in an imprecise manner.

  • mriehm

    As soon as you discard empirical, rational methods (i.e. science), you open the door to... anything and everything. Buddhist reincarnation? Why not? The Hindu god of Ganesh? Sure! Manitou; the healing power of crystals; norse gods; shinto spirits; transubstantiation; the FSM - they're all equally good.

    Give up science, and you can believe anything. This is why religion splinters so much - because anyone can come up with his or her own ideas, and no-one can be proven wrong.

    Science is the only anchor we have.

    • Horatio

      "The Hindu god of Ganesh? Sure! Manitou; the healing power of crystals; norse gods; shinto spirits; transubstantiation; the FSM - they're all equally good."

      I've never cared for this Jesus = Thor = spaghetti line of argument. Is a painting by Thomas Kinkade equally good as a painting by F.E. Church? You can't score them objectively, you can't prove with data that one is superior than the other. No, it's because there's something elusively more True about a superior work (I don't deny the subjectivity of that experience, but neither do I deny the subjectivity of my perception of the color red or the sensation of pain). Some ideas have more power than do others, and some speak to us about what is True more than others. I can regard the mythos of Scientology as clear nonsense, but I can't do the same with the greater ideas in --to use your example-- Hinduism. That religion contains much that speaks to the soul, even if I don't believe in all of its tenets. My point is that to anyone with sensibility for such things, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism are not "equally good" as a pile of spaghetti.

      "Science is the only anchor we have."

      I am a great believer in the power of scientific knowledge and human reason to illuminate and solve problems, and I've devoted my life and career to such endeavors. I am a lifelong Catholic who has always been more interested in science than religion, but here I feel the need to speak to the fact that I don't experience tension between them in my life; they are not mutually exclusive (even if there is dichotomy by degrees in some areas).
      But I ask you: what facts do you know --scientifically-- which you feel obviate Faith in general, because I have never learned a one which does.

      • Great Silence

        I like this guy. We can keep him.

      • Geena Safire

        I don't experience tension between [science and religion] in my life; they are not mutually exclusive (even if there is dichotomy by degrees in some areas).

        The processes of the Scientific Method have been designed, over the years, to avoid human bias and wishful thinking to the greatest extent possible. "The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself, supporting a theory when a theory's predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false." The other main feature is full disclosure: rigorous documentation and publication of methodology and data to allow reproduction of results.

        Hypotheses must be stated in terms that are clearly falsifiable -- that is, there may not be a way to prove a thing is true (but rather can be supported by evidence), but there must be a defined way to prove it false.

        According to this process, one should not believe something without sufficient evidence. Faith, in this model, is believing something without good evidence.

        ----------------------------------------------------------

        In contrast, religious faith -- especially the Catholic faith -- is completely centered on "belief" -- belief in the deity, belief in the scripture and tradition, belief in the deity's granting its power on earth to the Catholic clergy and its hierarchy, and belief in a large amount of dogma and doctrine that Catholics are required to believe. Further, in the case of doubt, one must avoid any occasion of doubt or anything or person that challenges belief by going to one's priest and immersing oneself in prayer and engaging in processes that strengthen belief. Untreated doubt is a sin and anything that one cannot understand should be chalked up to one's limited human nature in the face of the almighty as a mystery that must be accepted despite any apparent conflict or confusion.

        All the major reasons for excommunication -- apostasy, heresy, and schism -- are for expressing lack of belief or for actions that might tend to cause lack of belief in the faithful. Belief without evidence is, in fact, elevated, per John 20:29: ""Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

        God is defined in such a way as to be non-falsifiable. The fundamentals of faith and the authority of the church are not allowed to be challenged. Every kind of occurrence is by definition to be considered more proof of God and/or his attributes -- answered prayer and unanswered prayer, success and failure, hope and despair, rescue and tragedy, health and illness, life and death...

        Faith, in this model, is belief without provable evidence -- by normal human standards -- and, in fact, every atom and every event and existence itself should be considered to be evidence.

        ----------------------------------------------------------------------

        Therefore, Horatio, it is difficult for me to see how you do not experience a tension between them or find them to be mutually exclusive.

        • Horatio

          "Therefore, Horatio, it is difficult for me to see how you do not experience a tension between them or find them to be mutually exclusive."

          Geena,
          I am a disciple of Gould, as opposed to Dawkins. Gould's notion of nonoverlapping magisteria is what I apply when thinking about religion and science. In short, I believe that science, religion and art are all different aspects of a complete life experience, which converge only at some point we are too myopic to appreciate. We make so many of our decisions in life based on belief: belief that we will live through the night, belief that our cars' breaks will work on the road, belief that we can trust the words of people we love. What kind of a life would one have if one only held to what was concretely known and eschewed all feelings about things we don't?

          As the apologist Fr. Robert Barron has said often --and which I agree with-- faith is something which goes out beyond empiricism and reason. It's not at odds with either, but instead uses that hard knowledge as a starting place. As our empirical knowledge has grown, so too has the combined reach of our faith and our science towards perceiving Truth. The religious person should therefore --in my view-- be keenly interested in science, as was the case in Europe and the Middle East when modern science arguably began. That there's been such a knee-jerk reaction against religion in modernity I think is a memetic propagation of the general anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism that were peculiarities of the Radical Enlightenment.

          "God is defined in such a way as to be non-falsifiable."

          Of course, I am compelled to agree. God is not empirical proposition I can prove in the same way I can prove the specific gravity of water. I can't make anyone perceive the reality of God any more than I can make a person perceive horror at Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, but you'd never say that the latter reaction is somehow at odds with empirical knowledge; to me, neither is the former.
          In an obtuse way, my own life experiences and the subset of knowledge I posses compel me to believe in God (and even a Divine Christ) as surely as I am compelled to horror at the Goya painting.

          • Geena Safire

            Thank you for your sincere reply, Horatio. I am familiar with Gould's concept of non-overlapping magisteria.

            I am pleased for you that your faith is deeply satisfying and congruent for you.

            What kind of a life would one have if one held only to what was concretely known and eschewed all feelings about things we don't?

            That would be a sad kind of life. That's nothing at all like my life. Although I have deep feelings about things unknown, that doesn't drive me to select a set of answers proposed by others. They seem to try make a 'known' out of this 'unknown,' and then turn around to describe it as some 'known unknown' or 'unknowable known.'

            When someone says to me that God is the name they give to this vast, deep, meaningful unknown, I reply that there already exist words for that, like 'vast' and 'deep' and 'meaningful' and 'unknown.' I see no need to reify it. And that's apart from the considerable baggage that comes with the term 'God.'

  • Paul Boillot

    There are so many flaws of:

    -basic logic
    -semantics/vocabulary
    -human anatomy
    -neuroscience
    -biology in general

    in this...piece...that one hardly knows where to begin.

    So, with a glut of choices, I'll avoid the fate of Buridan's ass and choose my favorite sliver of wrong:

    Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic. If there were no mind and will commanding the arm, only muscles; if there were muscles and a nervous system and even a brain but no conscious mind commanding them; then the arm could not rise unless it were lighter than air.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_nervous_system#Evolution
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chordate#Origins
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagellum

    Do I need to post more wiki-links, I think you get the idea.

    • Octavo

      To paraphrase Buckley, Kreeft seems to stand athwart biology, yelling "Stop!"

      ~Jesse Webster

    • Paul, I think the operative word is "deliberately". There is a lot packed into that word. This implies an ability that is not easily identifiable outside of the human species. The mind and the will are distinct. He could just have easily said the "magic" is that our will sometimes disobeys the mind.

      "Whence is this monstrous thing? and why is it? The mind commands the body, and it obeys forthwith; the mind commands itself, and is resisted. The mind commands the hand to be moved, and such readiness is there that the command is scarce to be distinguished from the obedience. Yet the mind is mind, and the hand is body. The mind commands the
      mind to will, and yet, though it be itself, it obeyeth not. Whence this
      monstrous thing? and why is it? I repeat, it commands itself to will, and would not give the command unless it willed; yet is not that done which it
      commandeth. But it willeth not entirely; therefore it commandeth not entirely...."
      -St. Augustine of Hippo c. A.D. 397 - 398

      • Paul Boillot

        If you want to focus on "deliberation", I'm not going to stop you from adding more twists to your own hangman's noose.

        Are you saying that no other animals practice deliberation, forethought, intentionality? That when they "move their [appendages]," no magic is taking place because there is no...what?

    • Horatio

      Your postage of these links is a little obtuse for my tastes. Please explain in detailed terms how an impulse to move your arm arises when "You" want it to move. Start wherever you like: anterior horn, corticospinal tract, internal capsule, motor cortex, posterior parietal, or elsewhere, but take me back to the Initialization of that action potential.
      Do that, and you will have defeated his larger point utterly.

      The neuroscientist who trained me began his career because he was fascinated by movement. He once gave a lecture in which he freely put forward that at the beginning of the 21st century, we don't know how this initial impulse to movement originates, even if we know a thing or two about motor homunculi, motor neuron tracts, motor planning in the basal nuclei, etc etc. I agree that doesn't mean it's "magic", but it does mean posting links to the Wikipedia articles for CNS, chordata and flagella (especially this. Why this?) isn't particularly helpful.

      • Paul Boillot

        Horatio, my friend, I don't doubt that you're a just man, like your "namesake. (real name?)

        Not, myself, being a neuroscientist, I don't mind acknowledging your superior knowledge and experience of these physiological and electrochemical phenomena, though I share in your apparent delight and awe of synaptic activation.

        On the other hand, I don't doubt that my posting was obtuse for your taste. I imagine that in composing your spirited defense of the good Doctor, you failed to notice the third link that I posted.

        I am afraid I won't be able to find what part of the posterior parietal the action potential arises in, when a Helicobacter pylori bacterium moves it's flagellum. Even so, I'm fairly confident that my original observation 'defeated' the point Kreeft actually did make, despite not touching whatever "larger point" you imagine he was aiming for.

        " we don't know where or how this initial impulse to movement originates" -- this is no doubt fascinating, and worth studying, and utterly beside the point. The good Doctor K is contending that movement is 'magic,' that without a functioning 'conscious mind' he would not be able to perform that magic.

        He's got a lot of explaining to do, re: what "maximum human will percentage" every organism capable of movement, all the way down to bacteriophage viruses, is exerting when they move their arms, or proboscises, or flagella.

        • Horatio

          Horatio, my friend, I don't doubt that you're a just man, like your "namesake. (real name?)
          I'm allergic to using my real name on the internet because I am a coward.

          "I imagine that in composing your spirited defense of the good Doctor, you failed to notice the connection between the three links I posted, since you're arguing against a point I'm not making."

          Well, I guess they're connected in the sense that all things are connected. For example, both the flagellum and Kevin Bacon are related to the Initiation of Voluntary Movement. You might also have linked the article on Comb Jellies or T-tubules.

          "when a Helicobacter pylori bacterium moves it's flagellum."
          I assumed you were thinking of the eukaryotic flagellum. The bacterial flagellum has even less to do moving the human skeleton.

          "The good Doctor K is contending that movement is 'magic,' that without a functioning 'conscious mind' he would not be able to perform that magic."

          Whatever his larger point, I'm frankly more interested in defending a short statement which has been used as emblematic of his overall "wrongness", which I don't think is particularly "wrong" at all, at face value. One can call it "magic" or "science" or whatever one wishes, but until we have a more complete, mechanistic picture of the neurobiology at play, he has at least some ground to argue the metaphysics of it all. You can call it an argument from ignorance, and you'd be right; but there's not a lot of knowledge on the subject, and I suspect there won't be for some time. To quote a neuroscientist I greatly respect: "Behavioral neuroscience is the last frontier of the last frontier of science. In 100 years we will know more about parallel universes than we do about the universe between our ears."

          • Paul Boillot

            "which I don't think is particularly "wrong" at all, at face value"
            ----

            the power of mind over matter. Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic. If there were no mind and will commanding the arm, only muscles; if there were muscles and a nervous system and even a brain but no conscious mind commanding them; then the arm could not rise unless it were lighter than air. When the body dies, its arms no longer move; the body reverts to obedience to merely material laws, like a sword dropped by a swordsman.

            If deliberate human motion is evidence of "mind over matter," then whence non-human motion? If he's right that his body "reverts" to "merely" material laws when he's dead, and thus the lack of motion....what laws are bacterial flagella operating under?

            Above you mentioned that seizures, tics, etc. aren't counter examples because they're not deliberate. But light limbs moving spontaneously, is that deliberate non-volitional movement?

            No no - it was a nice try, but it's clear: he's trying to use poetic language to illustrate how marvelous the connection between intention and actuality, and indeed it is marvelous.

            But we have access to numberless examples of things he claims are impossible: brainless movement, volition-less movement, 'deliberate' movement in animals who have 'minds' we understand very little. (I do apologize that my choice of links was so poorly elaborated as to confuse you. I would've assumed there might be some sort of intelligible progression (regression?) down the line, examples of less and less complex movement, less and less 'mindful')

            As evidence of a 'soul' or an 'afterlife' or a disembodied consciousness surviving death and tied to the human body, movement (volitional or otherwise) is not a reason to assume that spirit exists.

            Unless, that is, you're comfortable sharing the same metaphysical essence as that helicobacter pylori you so callously ignored earlier.

            If my typing this is proof that I have an immortal soul, the fermenting action of the yeast which made my beer is proof that they too share in life eternal.

          • Horatio

            As evidence of a 'soul' or an 'afterlife' or a disembodied consciousness surviving death and tied to the human body, movement (volitional or otherwise) is not a reason to assume that spirit exists.

            He doesn't cite just all movement, he's clearly just using an explicit example of voluntary movement in Man as an easy-to-picture surrogate for the experience of conscious choice: the exercise of the will, which is a concept undergirding the Christian idea of the soul.

            If my typing this is proof that I have an immortal soul, the fermenting action of the yeast which made my beer is proof that they too share in life eternal.

            I'm not connecting A to B to C here. Please walk me through your reasoning. Honestly, If a yeast typed that, I would probably believe it had an immortal soul.

            "helicobacter pylori you so callously ignored earlier"

            This made me laugh, because I spend a large portion of my workdays looking for H. pylori under the microscope, and they are very hard to see, and easy to overlook.
            These organisms don't decide to do what they do like you or I might decide to get a beer at Busch Gardens. They don't do anything voluntarily; everything they do, they do because they are molecular machines that respond in predefined ways to given stimuli. If we ever arrived at an understanding of human behavior that was equally mechanistically simple & understandable, we (the author, myself, everyone) would indeed be forced to give up on the notion of the soul. But we're simply not there, and in all likelihood there's a problem of infinite regress when contemplating the origin of choice in the brain.

          • Paul Boillot

            This is a simple matter, which we have spent too much time dancing around.

            Kreeft's assertion is that willed motion is a special case, a supernatural event. He provides no evidence, or even cursory logic, to explain why his (human) movement is supernatural while all the other movement we observe is not.

            After several leaky-sieve metaphors, he makes the intellectual leap that death is the mile-marker where a body changes from being supernaturally controlled to one of Galileo's gravitation experiments.

            He ignores all the counterexamples of lower minds causing deliberate movement, non-minds causing deliberate movement, non-minds causing non-deliberate movement, or indeed human bodies with functional human minds producing non-deliberate movement.

            This is a 'serious' intellectual trying to give evidence of supernatural souls based on 'willed movement', and he writes a shoddy puff piece....which you defend as factually unassailable.

            Well done.

          • Horatio

            , to explain why his (human) movement is supernatural while all the other movement we observe is not.

            It may be a puff piece, and his argument may not be compelling, but if you still can't appreciate a difference in kind between a voluntary, conscious, willful decision to move an extremity and the automatic, reflexive pulsations of a flagellum, then I have indeed wasted your time and mine.

            Well done.

            I see no need for such sarcasm.

          • Andre Boillot

            I think Horatio is right, Paul. Quit wasting his time - his magic fingers are desperately needed elsewhere.

            On the other hand, if you're going to edit your post to high-hell, you should make a note of it, Horatio. Poor form, my good man.

          • Horatio

            I know, it's a problem but I'm never satisfied with what I type :(

    • Geena Safire

      I second your choice. "Every time I deliberately move my arm, I do magic." Amazing indeed. But not magic. (Well, not real magic, which doesn't exist, in contrast with stage magic, which does exist but is not real...)

      "The nervous system is the part of an animal's body that coordinates the voluntary and involuntary actions of the animal and transmits signals between different parts of its body." It serves both to detect input from the world outside the organism and within the organism, to process and coordinate these inputs, and respond appropriately.

      The nematode C. elegans has 959 cells, of which 302 are neurons, and these neurons have 7,000 synapses. We've been able to study how that each neuron in that nervous system is involved in chemotaxis (movement toward food or away from poison), thermotaxis (movement toward better temperature), mechanotransduction (converting sensation into chemical signals), and mating.

      So actually no, Dr. Kreeft, it really doesn't take much magic to feel a desire to move and, in response, to move. And it certainly doesn't require a conscious mind.

      In contrast, humans each have 85,000,000,000 neurons (300 million times more) and 10^14–10^15 synapses (150 billion times more) of these neurons to each other and to all our muscles and other parts, plus 4 trillion supporting glial nerve cells. And Dr. Kreeft thinks that intentional movement is the pinnacle of our immensely more complex brains and our emergent human consciousness.

      The vast majority of what a human brain and the rest of the nervous system does has nothing to do with consciousness – managing our heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, salivation, perspiration, pupillary dilation, urination, and so much more, including reflex actions such as coughing, sneezing, vomiting and swallowing.

      "If the sensory nerves were evenly distributed over the whole [human] body, each square inch (6.5 square cm) of skin would have about 50 heat receptors, 8 for cold, 100 for touch, and 800 for pain." Each of these receptors -- plus each receptor from our internal organs -- sends signals to the brain which considers what to do with all that input at every moment of every day, whether we are conscious or unconscious.

      Of the specialized neurons that are the photoreceptors in our eyes, there are 120 million rods and 7 million cones, in addition to the all the eye's many conducting neurons and interneurons. The brain is considering all of their input at every moment our eyes are open. (A Textbook of Neuroanatomy, Maria Patestas, Leslie P. Gartner)

      Compared to all of the neural activities that are out of conscious control, such relatively simple activities such as consciously moving one's arm or even ballet dancing seem quite pedestrian.

      Oh, but did I mention how amazing our 'not movement' system is? For every tiny bit of us that is 'consciously moving', every other part of us is not moving, and the latter is by unconscious control of the brain. When this non-movement control is not working right, the result is any of a number of dyskinesias.

      I could go on. And on and on, because there are literally millions of
      articles and thousands of books that have been written on neuroscience
      and neurophysiology, human and otherwise. As a professor at Boston College, he could wander over to talk to Drs. Kirschner, Seyfried, Williams, or Burdo, biology faculty doing neuroscience research there. He could ask them for some basics about the nervous system so he wouldn't make such elementary misstatements.

      • Horatio

        Again, the author's point is left undefeated by a lengthy, tangential comment. Yes, the human nervous system has a lot of synapses. Yes, cytotaxis, autonomics, and the coordination of muscle tone are all things which are physiologically important. Yes, C. elegans, Drosophila, and Hirudo can all move without a cortex. Why should these things compel us to conclude that the origin of human choosing is a totally settled matter, neurologically? (And that is what he is really talking about, unless I am misreading him)

        Addendum:
        "Compared to all of the neural activities that are out of conscious control, such relatively simple activities such as consciously moving one's arm or even ballet dancing seem quite pedestrian."

        "Pedestrian." Is that a pun off of the footwork in ballet?
        Well, I guess this is matter of perspective. I'm much more impressed with Michelangelo's ability to sculpt David than with his ability to thermoregulate, or his ability to secrete GnRH in a pulsatile fashion, or his ability to extort his eye when tilting his head. But I guess even that is less impressive than the concept of The Nervous System of the Human Body, taken as a whole.

        • Geena Safire

          I didn't say the matter is settled. I said Kreeft made a terrible argument and was completely factually wrong in his 'example.' If it were a sermon, I'd let it pass. But this is apologetics -- or at least an attempt at apologetics.

          However, since you brought it up, in rational discourse, the burden of proof is on the claimant. We have proof of nervous systems from nematodes to humans, and they are all based on neurons and so forth in increasingly complex configurations. Their evolutionary, genetic, morphological and functional relationship is a matter of record. Also, many of the capabilities that have been previously claimed to be uniquely features of human consciousness have been proven to be present in other apes, in cetaceans, and in elephants. This evidence we are compelled to accept.

          Therefore, the default position is that what results similar effects in most animals by similar processes in similar brains is caused by said brains.

          Therefore, the burden of proof is on Kreeft and other apologists who claim that there is some immaterial force acting in some invisible, non-physical way on or in or through or with the physical brain that results in human consciousness. It's his job to convince me, not my job to presuppositionally be convinced unless I can disprove the claim.

          • Horatio

            "I said Kreeft made a terrible argument and was completely factually wrong in his 'example.' "

            I dispute this, and I can't appreciate why that example was singled out. It seems pretty uncontroversial to me.

            To break down the part of his example which was quoted:
            "If there were no mind and will commanding the arm, only muscles ... the arm could not rise."
            "if there were muscles and a nervous system and even a brain but no conscious mind commanding them...the arm could not rise."
            In the context of human anatomy and physiology, these are both quite true. Clinically, I have seen patients who indeed have brains --even a nervous system with functional autonomics, deep tendon reflexes, etc-- but bereft of a conscious mind. They do not engage in voluntary movement of the extremities.

            If anything, I can only press him here on the implied double-standard he must then apply to brainy nonhuman animals (such as those you mention), which his tradition holds are soulless (though I'm not sure how rigidly held this tenet is). He has indeed backed himself into a corner on that issue.

          • Geena Safire

            He has indeed backed himself into a corner on that issue.

            I would say so. In fact, I kinda did. That was one of my main points. C. elegans, with 302 neurons, has purposeful motion. If you'll note, I didn't dispute that he can lift his arm. I disputed that it was a magic consequence of consciousness nor require consciousness with respect to other animals and their nervous systems.

            My other main point was that voluntary limb motion is hardly terrific given the vast number of tasks our brain coordinates every second at a completely unconscious level.

            (By the way, that's twice in a row you've wrongly accused me of making a claim or conclusion that I did not make.)

          • Horatio

            But he isn't in a corner with regard to C. elegans, or any comparably simple organism. As far as I see it, he's in a bind with respect to animals with clearer behavioral homology to us (elephants, dolphins, apes, etc etc). You can chalk movement in C. elegans or Hirudo (in which must more interesting work on motility is being done than in C. elegans) to a complex series of reflex arcs, modulated by sensory inputs. You can't really say that with seriousness about animals with more complex brains, humans included. So, it seems like he needs to describe the "soul" in different terms than that which initiates voluntary movement, if he is to preserve the notion that these other animals do not have such a thing.

            "My other main point was that voluntary limb motion is hardly terrific given the vast number of tasks our brain coordinates every second at a completely unconscious level."
            I don't know, even in that context I still think it's pretty terrific.

          • Geena Safire

            I didn't say 'voluntary'; I said 'purposeful', which involves detection and response. No cortex required, so he's still in trouble. (We are somewhat inferior to nematodes in that context.) And your point is also valid wrt our charismatic megafauna cousins.

            Plus, I agree with you that it's all pretty terrific. I just don't like when folks tend to focus on the big stuff and forget the huge base without which the big stuff could never happen.

            (FYI: If you want to quote text here with that bar at the side, use the tags <blockquote> before your text and </blockquote> after it. Italics are done with <i> and </i> (before and after). (I used the html code for the left angle bracket here so that you could see the tags.) )

          • Horatio

            I didn't say 'voluntary'; I said 'purposeful', which involves detection and response. No cortex required, so he's still in trouble. (We are somewhat inferior to nematodes in that context.) And your point is also valid wrt our charismatic megafauna cousins.

            Plus, I agree with you that it's all pretty terrific. I just don't like when folks tend to focus on the big stuff and forget the huge base without which the big stuff could never happen.

            (FYI: If you want to quote text here with that bar at the side, use the tags

            before your text andafter it. Italics are done with and (before and after).

            Thanks

          • Paul Boillot

            Such terrible reasoning and obvious callousness toward facts.

            "In the context of human anatomy and physiology, these are both quite true."

            Is there a conscious will directing the movements of people undergoing, let's just take at a glance, epileptic seizures? What about any of the other myriad of medical conditions which cause people to move in ways they wish they wouldn't?

            Tourettes?

            Parkinsons?

            Sleep walking?

            No one doubts the beauty and interest of the relationship between intentionality and actualization, that connection is awesome enough without people bending logic with terrible analogies in it's defense.

          • Horatio

            "Is there a conscious will directing the movements of people undergoing, let's just take at a glance, epileptic seizures? What about any of the other myriad of medical conditions which cause people to move in ways they wish they wouldn't?
            Tourettes?
            Parkinsons?
            Sleep walking?"

            None of these things is voluntary motion (with the exception of sleep walking, which might be intentional at the time, but with retrograde amnesia). Clearly, he's not talking about tonic-clonic seizures, motor tics, or pill-rolling tremors

          • Paul Boillot

            If all the man had said was that voluntary motion requires volition, a simple identity phrase, an entirely uninformative tautology, then you're right, I should probably just let his un-thoughts be.

            It seems probable, given the context, that what the man actually means is that voluntary motion is unique to humans.

            He presents no logic to support this lofty, yet precarious, claim...why don't you let it go and just admit that he's blowing smoke?

  • Great Silence

    Humor me and assume for the sake of discussion that the Christian God exists. That an afterlife exists, one which is essentially a good, positive experience. While you are in that good mood, also grant me for the moment that God interacts with us via prayer and so on (I know, I know, I am asking for a lot).

    Would it be reasonable to expect God to give us empirical proof of that afterlife while we are still living and undergoing whatever purpose life is supposed to have? If we had actual proof of the afterlife, of a positive afterlife, would we not all rush off to get there?

    If the Christian afterlife exists, it should be kept a mystery, an article of faith. To prove it to us in any empirical manner while we are alive could have very negative consequences.

    • Mikegalanx

      Hamlet, you're supposed to use your real name when posting.

      • Great Silence

        I know. I've just been using Great Silence (from the movie) as a Disqus name, and it is also my Twitter name, so I did not think anyone would insist on my real name. My real name is Andre Vlok, I live in SA, and I hope you will allow me to keep using my alias.

        • Mikegalanx

          Sorry, wasn't complaining about your use of a username at all ! - it's a policy I don't care about either way.

          I was just trying to make an obviously too roundabout reference to the similarity between your view and that of a certain melancholy Dane.

          'To die, to sleep--
          To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
          For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
          When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
          Must give us pause. There's the respect
          That makes calamity of so long life.
          For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
          Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
          The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
          The insolence of office, and the spurns
          That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
          When he himself might his quietus make
          With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
          To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
          But that the dread of something after death,
          The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
          No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
          And makes us rather bear those ills we have
          Than fly to others that we know not of?"

          • Mikegalanx

            Though obviously as a Christian you have a firmer belief in what awaits than H. did.

          • Great Silence

            My belief may be firmer than the good Hamlet, but I must say that (as far as I can tell) the whole afterlife debate does not feature too strongly in my Catholic belief. It is not the reason (or the main reason then) why I live my life the way I do. The whole reward / punishment carrot and stick argument is interesting, in my view, but it does not determine my overall belief system. So, I like to consider the possibilities, but after all is said and done I will have to wait and see what happens when the final whistle blows.

    • Sqrat

      Would it be reasonable to expect God to give us empirical proof of that afterlife while we are still living and undergoing whatever purpose life is supposed to have? If we had actual proof of the afterlife, of a positive afterlife, would we not all rush off to get there?

      Yes, it would be perfectly reasonable to do so. I made precisely that point, in slightly different terms, elsewhere in this discussion when I suggested that the traditional Catholic/Christian prohibition against suicide as a sin may have been necessary to prevent the religion from turning into a suicidal death cult (which in my opinion could have resulted in it swiftly dying out).

      If the Christian afterlife exists, it should be kept a mystery, an article of faith. To prove it to us in any empirical manner while we are
      alive could have very negative consequences.

      What I'm hearing you say here is that, if the Christian afterlife exists, it must be necessary for even the Christian to doubt its existence -- perhaps even to doubt the existence of God himself -- or Christianity would be at risk of becoming a suicidal death cult. Maybe. I certainly can't speak to the percentage of self-proclaimed Christians who doubt that there is actually an afterlife.

      I read an interesting comment on an atheist blog a few years ago that made me stop and think. It came from an atheist nurse, who wrote that in her experience in the hospital, it was the nonbelievers who were most accepting of their own imminent deaths, while it was the believers who were the most likely to be terrified of death and to insist that the hospital do whatever was necessary to prolong their lives as long as possible. That observation might be congruent with your argument here, if in fact many Christians are actually doubtful that an afterlife exists and they have been unable to come to terms with and accept that their imminent deaths will mean the permanent end of their existence.

      On the other hand, it could instead be that, while they do believe in an afterlife, they are suffering from "salvation anxiety," being uncertain about whether they are bound for heaven or hell. When I was growing up, I knew that my father had once been a Catholic, but he never attended church or gave any particular sign of being religious. It was quite a surprise for me, therefore, to discover that on his deathbed he was absolutely terrified of going to hell. An older sibling said that was because he had married a non-Catholic and had allowed his children to be raised as non-Catholics. As a result he did not feel that he was welcome within the Church (perhaps he had even been told that he was not welcome). This sense of alienation from the Church, perhaps, was what led to his horrible bout of deathbed salvation anxiety.

      That makes sense to me, because it does seem to have been precisely what the Church taught in his day (for example, Pius XII, Encyclical Mortalium animos: "The Catholic Church is alone in keeping the true worship. This is the fount of truth, this the house of Faith, this the temple of God: if any man enter not here, or if any man go forth from it, he is a stranger to the hope of life and salvation." The pope was quoting here from Lactantius, a fourth-century Christian apologist.

    • David Nickol

      If we had actual proof of the afterlife, of a positive afterlife, would we not all rush off to get there?

      Most devout Christians (and also Muslims, I believe) don't doubt for a second that some kind of paradise awaits them in an afterlife, and yet they don't "rush off to get there."

      • Andre Boillot

        David,

        From my experience with believers (myself formerly included), even qualifying them as "devout", I don't know that most of them "don't doubt for a second". Perhaps this is a quibble.

        • David Nickol

          Perhaps "don't doubt for a second" is an overstatement. Mathematics is about as certain as anything can be, and every once in a while when I keep getting an obviously wrong answer to a math problem, I begin to suspect, if only for a second, that I have stumbled on an anomaly in numbers where the ordinary rules just don't exist.

          I think many people firmly believe in life after death, but of course it is possible to have occasional doubts about almost anything.

  • Slocum Moe

    The definition of life has scientific requirements that Christian eternal life after death probably doesn't satisfy but that is quibbling. It isn't provable. One of those many aspects of religion you have to take on faith.

    It's the "Let the Mystery be" that they sing about and probably that's what everybody who is religious should do. We don't know what Heaven is like, what they do there or the nature of the inhabitants, should they exist. Then there is also Purgatory and Hell to contemplate and a new wing in Heaven to contain those that used to be consigned to Limbo

    It really shouldn't concern the engaged and sincere Christian. There are so many other real things to concern oneself with before dying. As far as we know, everyone who ever lived has died, so far. After that probably is something different, if there is anything at all.

    It might be good to mention here that belief in some kind of afterlife is common across all religions and cultures, including many atheists.

  • vito

    I do not believe that people, Christians or not, believe in real afterlife. And there are two main indications for that. First, the way they live their lives. In short, it seems all their minds and actions are clearly concentrated on THIS life (careers, jobs, families, money etc etc) with very little or no concern for eternity. Second, and most importantly, is our attitudes towards death. Two aspects here. First, religious or not, people are pretty much terrified of death or at least very sad about the prospect (although some pretend/say otherwise). I have yet to meet a person who, upon hearing a cancer diagnosis, would light up with excitement and happiness about the approaching eternal bliss...I'd like to see a doctor telling a kid's parents"hey good news, you son's got cancer, he'll be with Jesus soon". Second, our reaction to the death of our closed-ones. I have never heard the phrase "he is in a better place now" said in a cheerful tone, and it has never really convinced and consoled anyone either. Look at all those grieving parents, children, spouses... Does anyone of them seem to be really enjoying the fact that their close one has just met God and entered the best place of the greatest happiness you could imagine? And think of the resources and energy we spend trying to prolong our lives... Look at all those efforts people put, whatever their religion, in trying to postpone "meeting their Maker" as much as possible. It seems to me that eternity (and the reward and punishment it brings) remains one of those ideas we would like OTHERS to believe, so that they would behave nicely to us.