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Lifeafterdeath Immortality


The question of survival of bodily death concerns whether some aspect of an individual (usually one’s personality or consciousness) continues to exist after the death of one’s normal physical body. Immortality concerns whether that surviving aspect continues to exist forever. While evidence for survival is not necessarily evidence for immortality, evidence against survival is clearly evidence against immortality. Thus articles advocating pure mortalism or “the extinction hypothesis”—the thesis that death is the complete, permanent annihilation of the person—reject immortality in virtue of rejecting survival after death. Since there is little difference between impersonal survival and complete annihilation, the articles below generally only concern the notion of personal survival—the idea that persons will survive death as distinct individuals.

Of the articles listed below, those listed under conceptual arguments primarily concern conceptual or logical arguments against (all or certain kinds of) survival of bodily death, or critiques of conceptual arguments in favor of (all or certain kinds of) survival after death. For instance, some have argued that disembodied existence is inconceivable or incoherent (e.g., Terence Penelhum). Others have argued that resurrection in a new body would merely be the creation of a replica of you, and thus “you” could not survive death through that sort of resurrection (e.g., Antony Flew). Survival proponents, by contrast, have occasionally offered conceptual arguments in favor of a kind of substance dualism which, if true, would allow discarnate survival or even make it probable (e.g., Richard Swinburne), or defended the viability of bodily resurrection (in the absence of a soul) as a way to survive death (e.g., Peter van Inwagen).

Articles listed under empirical arguments generally concern scientific evidence against (some or all kinds of) life after death (such the mind-brain dependence argument or mortalistic argument from physical minds), as well as critical investigations of phenomena (such as near-death experiences) alleged to provide evidence for the survival hypothesis. Where both conceptual and empirical arguments are considered, I have categorized articles according to their emphasis.

— Keith Augustine

Conceptual Arguments

Could We Survive Our Own Deaths? (1998) by Antony Flew

Flew argues that we do not survive death.

David Chalmers’ Principle of Organizational Invariance and the Personal Soul (2014) by Clifford Greenblatt

David Chalmers argues that conscious experience is a real but nonphysical feature of nature. However, he also believes that all particular facts about any conscious experience supervene (naturally, but not logically) on physical facts, such that physical facts fully determine any conscious experience. His principle of organizational invariance goes even further to claim that fine-grained functional organization fully determines any conscious experience (naturally, but not logically). This principle has powerful implications for artificial intelligence, allowing for the possibility of fully conscious digital computers. But the principle of organizational invariance is not compatible with the concept of a personal soul. This paper does not attempt to prove or disprove the existence of a personal soul, but defends its conceptual coherence against the challenge presented by Chalmers’ principle of organizational invariance.

Problems with Heaven (1997) by Michael Martin

“Belief in Heaven is an essential part of the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Famous theologians have written about it and ordinary theists hope to go there after death…. However, the concept of Heaven is neither clear nor unproblematic…. [T]here are three serious problems with the notion of Heaven. First, the concept of Heaven lacks coherence. Second, it is doubtful that theists can reconcile the heavenly character of Heaven with standard defenses against the Argument from Evil such as the Free Will Defense. Third, Heaven is unfair and, thus, it is in conflict with the goodness of God.”

Trouble in Paradise? Michael Martin on Heaven (2003) by Tom Wanchick

“In a sampling of his Internet publications, Prof. Michael Martin has argued that, when closely evaluated, the concept of Heaven as historically construed by Christians is found to be a veritable mare’s nest of philosophical difficulties and confusions. But his arguments are aimed largely at conceptions of Heaven that the vast majority of the Christian community would reject. And even those that are relevant are less than impressive. If Dr. Martin wishes to uphold his thesis that Heaven is without philosophical merit, he needs to revamp his arguments–for, to date, none of them work.”

More on Heaven (2004) by Michael Martin

Martin contends not only that there are serious problems with the Christian concept of Heaven, but also that although belief in Heaven may sometimes be liberating, it has more often been politically and socially repressive, hindering social change and making people complacent about poverty, political oppression, and injustice.

Review of The Evolution of the Soul (2005) by Yujin Nagasawa

In The Evolution of the Soul Richard Swinburne makes a courageous attempt to defend (Cartesian) substance dualism–the thesis that the mind (or soul) is distinct from the body, yet interacts with it. Nagasawa’s review critically analyzes two of Swinburne’s arguments: (i) that one’s conscious existence entails the existence of one’s soul; and (ii) that a dualist has no obligation to explain how interaction is possible between ontologically distinct minds and bodies. At the very least, Nagasawa concludes, Swinburne has an obligation to explain why such interaction is inexplicable–and without invoking the existence of God.

Substance Dualism and Disembodied Existence (2000) by Nicholas Everitt

Richard Swinburne defends substance dualism–the idea that mind and body are two radically different things–throughout his various works, including The Coherence of Theism, Is There A God?, The Evolution of the Soul, and Personal Identity. Nicholas Everitt’s critique focuses on the latter two books, as Swinburne appears to believe that the argument from the possibility of disembodied consciousness he develops there is his most persuasive argument. After much philosophical reflection, Everitt concludes that Swinburne’s primary argument for dualism has no force because it simply assumes what it is trying to prove.

Empirical Arguments

Another Case Not Made: A Critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator (2005) by Paul Doland

In this chapter-by-chapter critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, Paul Doland comments on the general direction of the book before analyzing Strobel’s interviews with his various experts on specific topics. Topics include the origin of life, evolution, the relationship between science and religion, the origin of the universe, the alleged fine-tuning of the universe, whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, intelligent design, information theory, the origin and nature of consciousness, and whether consciousness can survive the death of the brain. Particularly noteworthy is Strobel’s silence when his experts make conflicting claims (e.g., Wells and Dembski on evolution).

Book Review: Whatever Happened to the Soul? (2000) by Keith Augustine

Augustine reviews the book Whatever Happened to the Soul? edited by Warren Brown, Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, which attempts to reconcile Christian doctrine with the scientific evidence against the existence of a soul.

The Case Against Immortality (1997) by Keith Augustine

Defining the Problem

The Philosophical Case Against Immortality

The Scientific Case Against Immortality

Postscript on Survival

Criticism of Immortality (J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas) (1993) by Jim Lippard

A page-by-page critique of the book (recently reissued with a few additional chapters as Beyond Death) which was sent to the authors, and a reply to their responses.

Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences (2003; revised 2008) by Keith Augustine

Even if we disregard the overwhelming evidence for the dependence of consciousness on the brain, there remains strong evidence from reports of near-death experiences themselves that NDEs are not glimpses of an afterlife.

Mind-Brain Dependence as Twofold Support for Atheism (2001) by Steven Conifer

Conifer presents a pair of parallel (evidential) atheological arguments whose basic premise appeals to the empirical and conceptual implausibility of disembodied consciousness. He critically examines and refutes numerous objections to his two arguments. Accordingly, he concludes that both of them constitute potent demonstrations of God’s nonexistence.

The Near-Death Experience: Unanswered Questions (2009) by Gerald M. Woerlee

Since the publication of Raymond Moody’s Life After Life in 1975, several investigators have performed outstanding studies of the incidence and properties of near-death experiences. Unfortunately, many authors have enticed readers to accept uncritical supernaturalistic or paranormal explanations for NDEs, causing many good studies to languish unread by mainstream scientists. Despite over 30 years of public interest and scientific endeavor, many promising lines of research have not even been touched upon, while others have not been followed up. This article considers a select inventory of the gaps in our current knowledge of the causes and genesis of the NDE, with particular emphasis on whether NDEs represent scientific confirmation of life after death, or simply manifestations of brain function. The latter is implied by what is germane to the NDE itself, the psychological and sociocultural influences on NDEs, and what it would take to make it possible for something to leave the body during out-of-body experiences and see and hear events going on in the physical world.

Review of Owen Flanagan’s The Problem of the Soul (2005) by Thomas Clark

While tradition holds that the soul is an immaterial essence which can survive bodily death and choose independently of physical causes, science reveals that we are wholly physical beings. Jettisoning a “philosophically diseased” dualism inherited from Descartes, The Problem of the Soul notes that our neuroscientific understanding of cognition leaves little room for an immaterial self inhabiting the body, and that philosophical reflection demonstrates that contra-causal free will is conceptually incoherent. By naturalizing the soul, Flanagan argues, we secure what matters to us most–our individuality, rationality, genuine freedom, and moral responsibility–on a much surer footing.

Review of Patrick Glynn’s God: The Evidence (1998) by Michael Martin

Martin reviews, among other things, Glynn’s claims that out-of-body experiences and near-death experiences are evidence for the existence of an afterlife and a soul.

Review of The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain (2011) by Dan Ferrisi

Professor of Neurology Kevin Nelson has long had a fascination with near-death experiences. In his new book, The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain, Nelson provides a deeply neurologically driven interpretation of these extraordinary and often spiritual episodes. In this review, Dan Ferrisi analyzes Nelson’s principal arguments about how unusual brain activity might explain near-death experiences and finds them quite persuasive. The human brain, the most highly evolved organ of which we know, is capable of bizarreness far greater than we could ever imagine, and Ferrisi finds that Nelson’s scientifically literate book has much to teach us about it.

Is Science Killing the Soul? (1999) (Off Site) by Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker

A transcript of a seminar by Dawkins and Pinker in which they discuss the scientific evidence against the existence of souls.

Why I Am Not a Christian (2006) by Graham Oppy

Graham Oppy explains the ways in which his reasons for rejecting Christianity differ from those offered by Bertrand Russell in his famous paper of the same title. In section I, Oppy considers how Christianity should be characterized, the best way to build a case against theism, and the nonrational reasons why people believe in God, among other things. In section II, he offers an account of his journey to unbelief and the philosophy of religion. By section III, Oppy explains why he is not a Christian, as well as some of the things that he does believe. Here he pines in on appeals to contingency and causality in theistic arguments, the problem of evil, free will, the mind-body problem, the history of the universe, human history, and the historicity of the Gospels–outlining his “supervenient naturalism” along the way. Oppy wraps up by considering the meaning of life and whether virtuous behavior relates to Christian belief.

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