Term Paper: Life After Death Introduction Classical

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[. . .] Each sunset and dawn provides an answer to nature's need for rest and renewal. Dark nights and cold winters come with the awareness that "this too shall pass." If there is nothing beyond the grave, the pattern of nature is stunningly incomplete.

The clinical evidence for life after death is subjective and arguable. It's often hard to assess the significance of "out of the body experiences," encounters with bright lights, long tunnels, or angelic guides. It's difficult to know how to respond to those who speak of temporary near-death visions into heaven or hell. What we do know is that there are enough of these kinds of experiences to create a sizable library on the subject. Taken as a whole, this body of evidence shows that as people approach death, many sense they are coming not to the end of existence but to the beginning of another journey. The human heart hungers for more than this life offers. Each of us experiences what King Solomon called "eternity in [our] hearts" (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

While it is difficult to know what Solomon meant, it is apparent that he was referring to an inescapable longing for something this world cannot satisfy. It was an emptiness of soul that Solomon could not escape. For a while, he tried to fill this inner void with work, alcohol, and laughter. He tried to satisfy his longings with philosophy, music, and sexual relationships. But his disillusionment grew. Only when he returned to his confidence in a final judgment and afterlife could he find something large enough to satisfy his longing for significance (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

The Bible names God as the source of immortality. It describes His nature as eternal. The same Scriptures tell us that God created us in His likeness, and that His plan is to welcome His children eventually into His eternal home. The Scriptures also teach that God introduced death into human experience when our first ancestors trespassed into the darkness of forbidden territory (Genesis 3:1-19). The implication is that if God allowed the human race to live forever in a rebellious condition, we would have unending opportunity to develop into proud, self-centered creatures. Instead, God began to unfold a plan that would ultimately result in the eternal homecoming of all who chose to be at peace with Him (Psalms 90:1; John 14:1-3).

Some have argued that immortality is a New Testament idea. But the Old Testament prophet Daniel spoke of a day when those who sleep in the dust of the earth will be resurrected, some to life and some to everlasting shame (Daniel 12:1-3). An author of the Psalms also spoke of the afterlife. In the 73rd Psalm a man named Asaph described how he almost lost his faith in God when he considered how evil people prospered and the godly suffered. But then he said he went into the sanctuary of God. From the perspective of worship, he suddenly saw evil men standing on the slippery ground of their mortality. With new insight he confessed, "You will guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Who have I in heaven but you? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalms 73:24-26). Whenever we argue about whether a thing can be proved, we should distinguish five different questions about that thing:

Does it really exist or not? "To be or not to be, that is the question."

If it does exist, do we know that it exists? A thing can obviously exist without our knowing it.

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."

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).

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 is empirical entities. Thus scientism (the premise that only scientific proofs count as proofs) is not scientific; it is a dogma of faith, a religion. 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. It can be hypnotized that 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. Observing the behavior of that system cannot disprove the belief that something exists outside a system. Goldfish cannot disprove the existence of their human owners by observing water currents in the bowl.

A 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 epiphenomenona, 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,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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