Presentation on theme: "Life After Death IMMORTAL ? RESURRECT ED? REINCARNATE D? REBORN ?"— Presentation transcript:
Life After Death IMMORTAL ? RESURRECT ED? REINCARNATE D? REBORN ?
Two parts to this A2 topic … Essentially, there are two types of A2 question for this topic. This presentation breaks down into two sections, dealing with each: Firstly – Comparing and analysing different types or modes of life after death, such as resurrection, immortal soul, etc.. Which is best, or most plausible? Secondly – Considering the more general philosophical arguments for and against life after death.
1. Comparing different types of life after death A typical exam question might be: ‘Compare / explain two different beliefs in life after death’. You will be expected to explain in detail and (later) critically evaluate at least two of the different types of life after death which you have studied. You are required to study four different types of life after death, so you have plenty to work with: resurrection, the immortal soul, reincarnation, and rebirth.
Monism Vs. Dualism Looking at resurrection and the immortality of the soul, we will see first of all that there is a debate over the nature of human individuals. Are they single, undivided entities (as in monism), or are they formed of different parts – body and soul (dualism)? This argument has raged over many centuries… Body and soul? Dualism takes its strength from the arguments of philosophers like Descartes, who tried to prove that the mind or soul exists separately from the body in the act of thought: “I think therefore I am”. The thinking self is different from the physical. An advantage of dualism is that it may allow for mental continuity between life and the afterlife – it is the same thinking self throughout. However, this leaves us with a “ghost in the machine” (Gilbert Ryle), and there is a lack of scientific evidence for a separate soul. Some would say that there is no proof at all for this idea. Monism (from the Greek monos, ‘one’) by contrast fits with typical modern neurological views – our minds or selves are aspects of our anatomy, our brains. Unless there is evidence to the contrary, it might make sense to assume that our minds and bodies form a single organism. We can refer to the behaviourism of Gilbert Ryle – consciousness is not caused by a soul but simply is a reflection of complex behaviour. A religious advantage of monism would be the emphasis and value it places on the body. Wrongly, ascetics have denied themselves all physical comforts. Could religion be better off if it celebrates the physical side of life, instead of just thinking about the soul?
Resurrection: what it is From the Latin resurrectus (‘raised up again’). The promise of post-death existence in a re-created (i.e. perfect) human body (not disembodied soul). It is a monist theory, in that a physical body is required for redemption. Traditional ‘eschatological’ teaching of Christianity, Judaism and Islam: concerned with the end of time. The idea of resurrection can be derived from the Bible: - Ezekiel 37: God shows Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and states that he is able to “make these live again”. - Gospels: the resurrection of Jesus is attested in all four Gospels. - 1 Corinthians 15: St Paul argues in favour of the body being “raised imperishable”.
Resurrection: arguments in favour Saint Paul argued in favour of resurrection on two grounds. Firstly, since Jesus was resurrected, so too should Christians hope to be resurrected. Secondly, since God has created many types of bodies in nature, we should believe that he is able to make human bodies perfect (1 Corinthians 15). If we accept that God is creator, then resurrection seems a coherent idea. Thomas Aquinas adopted Aristotle’s idea that the person has no truly independent soul, arguing that: “The natural condition of the human soul is to be united with a body.” We cannot make sense of ourselves without reference to our bodies. This avoids the weaknesses of mind/body dualism.
AQUINAS: “The natural condition of a human soul is to be united with a body” No body = No self Thus: resurrection of the body. SAINT PAUL: “If Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” If Jesus was raised, Christians will be raised. God made everything, so he can make us renewed.
Jews and Christians today have mixed feelings about resurrection. It is a traditional teaching, supported by the Bible. However, many find the idea of a disembodied soul immediately ascending to heaven to be more comforting. Some also wonder whether such a distinctive teaching can be supported in the modern world. ROWAN WILLIAMS: resurrection lies “on the frontier of any possible language”. It is a difficult, mystical idea, but a part of Christian faith. Williams may be right, but is it acceptable to maintain a belief in something which cannot adequately be described? Considering Resurrection
Resurrection: arguments against Christian arguments about creation or the resurrection of Jesus will not be persuasive to non-believers; they are based on Scripture alone. The idea of the physical body being re-made may seem strange or mythological. Is this really plausible in the 21 st century? The body could be seen as the source of flaws and limitations: desire, disease, suffering, etc. We might be better off as non-material souls or spirits. There is no empirical evidence for resurrection. On that basis, supporters of the verification principle, such as A.J. Ayer, would reject it.
Immortality of the soul: what it is The belief that the soul is a distinct and immortal entity within the body (= dualism) which can survive the death of the body and ascend to the afterlife. Although it is not the traditional view of Christianity (which maintains the necessity of the body for ultimate redemption), it has been popular with philosophers in the west. The first major argument in favour of an immortal soul was given by the philosopher Plato. In his dialogue Phaedo Plato sets the scene just before the death of his philosophical mentor Socrates, who decides to talk with his friends about death and the immortality of the soul…
Immortality of the soul: arguments in favour SOCRATES: Life cannot emerge from a dead thing. Something living must have given life to the body: “the soul is that which renders the body living”. The immortal soul enters the body at birth and leaves it at death. DESCARTES: A French mathematician and philosopher, I added my own arguments in favour of an immortal soul. I can prove that my thinking self exists (“I think therefore I am”), so what I am primarily is a “thinking thing” (res cogitans). Thus, basic knowledge of the self is independent of the body; the immortal soul is the source of conscious life.
Immortality of the soul: arguments against The view that the soul or mind exists independently of the body is a form of dualism. This point has been criticised by the philosopher Gilbert Ryle for being a “ghost in the machine” – a speculative spiritual hypothesis. Ryle gives a materialist argument – our conscious life is simply the product of processes in our brains. He argues in favour of ‘philosophical behaviourism’ – the view that supposed mental events (i.e. the thinking self) just refer to complex patterns of behaviour. Modern neuroscience assumes that the mind / self is a product of brain function; otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible to study consciousness scientifically. It is not part of traditional religious teaching – perhaps Jews, Muslims and Christians should reject it? Descartes may have proved that we think, but that is different from proving that our thinking self exists independently.
Reincarnation: what it is It means (in Latin): ‘to be made again in the flesh’. It is the view that the essential self (or soul) will survive death and be born again in another body. It is the traditional teaching of the major Indian religions - Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Hinduism teaches that the soul (atman) is immortal and seeks union with ultimate reality (Brahman). Those who perceive the world for what it is – an illusion (maya) – may achieve release from the world (moksha) and no longer be subject to reincarnation. This assumes the law of karma – the view that we receive the consequences of the morally significant actions we have performed in the past. The chain of past and future lives makes this law fair.
“Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on others that are new, even so does the embodied soul cast off worn-out bodies and takes on others that are new.” (Bhagavad Gita 2,13). The distinction between the body and the soul makes reincarnation another dualistic account of life after death.
Reincarnation: arguments in favour General arguments in favour of dualism may support reincarnation: the idea that the thinking self is more essential than the body, or the view that the body has a non-material cause. Some have claimed that there is evidence of ‘yoga memory’: the experience of people, usually children, who claim to be someone reborn with memories of a previous life. If the soul is independent of the body, then it is logical to suppose that it could have pre-existed. The belief is ancient, tried and tested. It has emerged from a sophisticated body of eastern philosophy and metaphysics (e.g. in the Bhagavad Gita).
Reincarnation: arguments against The arguments against dualism given by Ryle (see above) apply as easily to reincarnation as they do to the immortality of the soul – the mind should not be seen as non-physical. Evidence for yoga memory may be flimsy. Stephen Davies argues that contact between families may allow children to account for a remembered ‘past life’ which they have not really experienced. He asks whether some cases of yoga memory are actually deliberate fraud. Although Hindu philosophy is very ancient, that does not make it right. Incorrect beliefs may be well established.
Rebirth: what it is The Buddhist teaching that we have no essential self or soul (anatta); true selfhood is an illusion. Everything, including conscious life, is forever changing (anicca). This means that there is no personal afterlife, but instead a constant cycle of rebirth (samsara). Rebirth is a fixed principle of reality, not something created by God (not even the Great Brahma understands how or why it happens). The process of rebirth is governed by the law of karma – the principle that ethically significant actions have consequences. Ultimately, Buddhists aspire to escape from samsara by recognising the illusion, thus reaching Enlightenment (nibanna).
Rebirth and the Law of Karma Buddhism understands the consequences of every action as having an impact on those who perform them. However, it needs to be considered how this affects the individual, since in rebirth “there is no ordinary-language self … no empirical self or person” (John Hick). In Buddhism, karma refers to ‘volitional action’ or ‘intentional action’ (i.e. something that is deliberately chosen). For these actions there are definite moral consequences. Buddhists claim that both the intention and the result of an action contribute to its effects. Buddhists distinguish four key types of karmic effect: (1) a fully ripened effect; e.g. hatred leading to rebirth in hell, (2) an effect similar to the cause; e.g. being lied to if we have lied in the past, (3) conditioning effect; e.g. stealing may lead to rebirth in conditions of poverty, (4) proliferation effect; an action in the past will be repeated over and again. Karma immediately affects rebirth, not because it decides our ultimate fate (because in Buddhism there is no true self), but because we are constantly reborn into different states which are largely determined by karma.
Rebirth: arguments in favour This idea is of moral value; since we are constantly reborn we must constantly strive for good karmic effects. We are never just damned or saved. The idea that we have no ‘true self’ will appeal to some, especially to those who find the idea of an immaterial soul to be too metaphysical or doubtful. There is some psychological truth in the idea of anatta, since who we are is something which is constantly changing. I am not the person I was ten years ago. By emphasising the enlightenment of the Buddha, rebirth stresses the importance of personal spirituality and compassion over blind faith.
Rebirth: arguments against There is no hard evidence for the law of karma affecting our lives. It might fall into the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ (G.E. Moore) in that it confuses moral ideas with factual information about how the world works. It assumes a dark view of reality with the inevitability of suffering – must life always be this way? Isn’t life actually enjoyable? It is difficult to live without the idea of a fixed or true self. Surely it’s important to know ‘what we are really like’.
Evaluation Ideas Which view has the most realistic view of the self? Should we favour dualism, monism, or rebirth? Which view is most likely, or has the most evidence behind it? Do our experiences support certain forms of afterlife? Are certain forms of afterlife more or less moral as ideas? Is it better to believe certain things? Does the background in a faith tradition matter? Is it useful to have established religious support for concepts of afterlife?
2. Philosophical arguments about life after death A typical exam question might be: ‘Consider and evaluate the view that life after death is a meaningless concept’. You will be expected to discuss a few key issues in the debate (such as language meaning, or evidence), and be able to name key philosophers. Weighing the soul
Arguing over life after death The question of whether there is a personal survival of death or ‘afterlife’ is one which has been debated for centuries. Ancient burial practices suggest that societies have assumed that there is continuity between this life and the world beyond. On the other hand, philosophers have long considered the possibility of a terminal end to life at death. As the Epicureans used to write on their gravestones: “I was not, I was, I am not, I care not.” However, it is not just a simple question of whether there is life after death. We might also ask what type of afterlife is considered (resurrection, immortality, etc.); perhaps it is the case that some are plausible and others are not. Still, there remain philosophical issues concerning personal survival of death which apply to many forms of afterlife.
Evidence for life after death Supernatural / psychic evidence. Some claim that there is evidence for spiritual forces working beyond the body. This may imply the individual’s ability to live beyond death. Such evidence includes telepathy, spiritualism, and near death experiences. The latter have been subject to significant studies from neuropsychiatrists such as Peter Fenwick. Revelation / authority. Some regard life after death as a certainty based on religious texts, faith, and teachings. Christians may see the authority of the New Testament as guaranteeing the resurrection of Jesus, for instance. Others may see a weight of historical evidence lying behind such accounts of afterlife. Rational / logical arguments. If we agree with the likes of Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), then we know that our internal thinking self constitutes what is ‘really us’, rather than our physical bodies. Thought is beyond our physical existence.
Criticisms of the evidence The supernatural evidence is controversial. Much of it can be explained away through psychological analysis, or is even sometimes a deliberate hoax. Revelation seems to be a very dubious basis. We may challenge the authority of the Bible; the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are not consistent with one another. Seemingly rational arguments like that of Descartes ignore latest scientific thinking: consciousness is a brain function, not a ‘soul’.
The language meaning debate Philosopher Anthony Flew has questioned whether life after death has any linguistic meaning in his essay ‘Can a man witness his own funeral?’ If a ship is torpedoed, we classify those on board exclusively as ‘dead’ or ‘survivors’. It is accepted that one cannot be both. Flew argues that talk of surviving death is a bit like talking of ‘dead survivors’: a contradiction. Therefore, says Flew, the idea of afterlife is meaningless and untrue. Flew concludes that personal terms (I, you, him) can only apply to living organisms which we can experience or interact with.
Responding to Flew Paul Badham is not convinced by Flew’s arguments. In the case of our personal sense of self (‘I’ or ‘me’) the person word means something a bit different. We do not see ourselves just as the objects of experience: “There is a real difference between our subjective experience of our own selfhood and our objective experience of the individuality of others.” In other words, there is nothing illogical or self contradictory in thinking about ‘me’ without reference to my body.
Continuity and replicas: John Hick Materialists feel that we cannot survive death – there is no continuity between this life and what lies beyond. If nothing survives of the original life form, how can it be considered the same person after dying? This poses a continuity problem. John Hick in Death and Eternal Life answers this with a ‘replica theory’. Hick acknowledges the continuity problem, but gives examples to explain how there could be a juncture between an individual’s life and a perfect replica. What if a certain person ceased to exist in a certain place but then suddenly appeared elsewhere? With this person being perfectly identical and conscious of being the same person in both places, it would be reasonable to speak of both as the same person. Hick’s theory suggests that someone may die at a certain location but then live on in another world, with genuine continuity. The person is ‘an indissoluble psycho-physical unity’, from one space to the next.
The verificationist challenge: Ayer A.J. Ayer, philosopher and author of Language, Truth and Logic, argued that any proposition which is not analytically or synthetically verifiable is meaningless. Consequently, Ayer rejected major claims of religious faith out of hand. ‘God-talk’ was dismissed as nonsense. In the case of the afterlife, Ayer also rejected the idea “that there is something imperceptible inside a man, which is his soul or his real self, and that it goes on living after he is dead.” Ayer thought that there could be no way to verify the existence of a soul, and so talk of the afterlife would be meaningless. On this point, Ayer finds some agreement with Anthony Flew. However, few philosophers support the verification principle today. It is also possible that life after death might be verified, if experienced in the future.
Evaluation Does personal identity transcend the physical body, or are we nothing more than our flesh and blood? Can our experiences in any way contribute to evidence for life after death? Is the language of life after death meaningful? Is it logically possible? Does the afterlife provide genuine reassurance and comfort for those who believe?