Saturday, 4 June 2022

Why are people so certain there's no soul or an afterlife?

Are we essentially souls and will our souls continue on after we die? Both from a philosophical perspective and by virtue of all the evidence, I gravitate strongly towards a "yes" answer.

This is not to say I am certain. For one thing, it all seems very fanciful that at the threshold of death I'll ascend into some other reality, and to perhaps be greeted by dead relatives. We live in a cold, harsh, dreary, material world and it feels implausible, far-fetched, whimsical, and a product of wishful thinking to suppose there's anything beyond this life.

And there's also another reason. The preponderance of educated people, and especially those with a scientific background, emphatically reject the existence of a soul or an afterlife. Indeed, both professional scientists and philosophers appear to be virtually unanimous in this judgement. If so many seemingly intelligent people disagree with me on this issue, and indeed seem so certain in their dismissal of an afterlife, could it be that I am missing something?  That I'm not understanding something?

To be absolutely honest, having extensively read skeptical literature in addition to having thought deeply about this topic for decades, I don't think I am missing anything. I think many educated people are extremely impressed with the phenomenal success of modern science and this has played a pivotal role in encouraging a certain metaphysical view of the world -- namely that the world is wholly material, and that science, at least in principle, can provide a complete account of it. Our fundamental natures, that is what we essentially are, will not be excluded in such an account. Hence, the conclusion is that we are wholly material beings whose behaviour is simply the inevitable consequence of physical laws playing out. In other words, we are no different to any other material object. The existence of consciousness is played down, being reinterpreted as being one and the very same thing as a material process, or even being viewed as simply being an illusion.

Groupthink amongst the intelligentsia reinforces this materialist conception of reality. Even when academics harbour doubts, they are likely to keep such views close to their chests since dissenting views are often ferociously attacked.
One notable example here is the philosopher Thomas Nagel who was ferociously attacked for having the temerity to attack materialism in his book Mind and Cosmos . This despite the fact he rejects both an afterlife and a God.

I think that in something like 500 years time
, an afterlife might well be universally accepted and many people will look back to this time with some bemusement and even bewilderment at peoples trenchant certainty in materialism. They'll be especially bemused and bewildered at those who believe consciousness is an illusion. Indeed, to a certain extent, the behaviourism of the early 20th century is already viewed with incredulity by many. Human beings, including academics, are very prone to believing in the most fatuous things, and it is often only in retrospect that a sufficient number of people recognise this fatuity for what it is.

So intellectually I believe in an afterlife and for the reasons I have expressed in a number of essays in this blog. Nevertheless, the fact that an afterlife feels fanciful together with so many peoples unwavering certainty that this is the only life there is, does give me pause for thought.     

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it gives me pause for thought too. I'm sitting at my lounge window, overlooking a landscape of very solid trees, a cold grey loch and a cloudy sky - all very real and non-abstract - not a fairy to be seen. On the other hand I have the huge mass of folklore about poltergeists, life-after-death experiences, second-sight, very unlikely coincidences, the writings of Jung, etc. etc. - plus my own personal experience of eternity/greater reality. On the whole, I go with the latter, rather than the obvious.


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