Thursday, February 16, 2006

On afterlife and heaven

An amateur evangelist preaching to the gallery confidently pontificated that whether we believe it or not after our tour of duty on this planet is up we will end up in only two places--in some blissful never-never land with His Royal Heinies (and an endless queue of virgins perhaps?) or some nasty dungeon which He never visits (thank goodness!).

Unfortunately, believing or not believing in the claim that death does not result in death and that heaven and and hell (whatever they are) exist has no bearing on their facticity. One must first substantiate the premiss and provide evidence that they are indeed factually true, with the onus of proof squarely on the party making the (fantastical) claim. Only after substantiation has been presented can others make a rational decision as to how much one ought to believe in this premiss. On the other hand, in the absence of good justification arguments, inferences, conclusions that derive from the premiss remain speculative at best. Therefore, an inquiry into the robustness of the premiss is necessary and would demand answers to such questions as:

What evidence (not mere unsupported claims) is there--from various disciplines--that an afterlife exists? Here of course we are speaking of an afterlife that preserves the idiosyncracies of the individual, i.e., the specific and particular subjectivity remains unaltered (unless of course we are talking of certain Eastern concepts of afterlife wherein the self melds and merges with the collective Self--as raindrops fuse with the sea). Is there a convergence of evidence from these various fields which strengthens the plausibility and probability of the afterlife hypothesis? Or is it that we find a dearth of support and/or even confuting evidence?

What does afterlife consist of? Specifically, what is the process by which a corpse, or some portion thereof, becomes resuscitated or eludes nonbeing? Are there examples of human "souls" which we can scrutinize and which will then confirm the reality of life after death? What investigative, including perhaps medical, methods do we use in analyzing such disembodied "living dead"? What does afterlife mean in the context of current physiological understanding of life? Consciousness/sentience as neurologists tell us is an epiphenomenon of the nervous system, of a brain of a certain degree complexity and integrity, such that genetic and congenital abnormalities, trauma, organic disease, protracted hypoxia, etc. will cause consciousness, including self-awareness, perception, intellect, and the higher functions to become highly degraded if not completely terminated. How then can sentience/consciouness or an intelligent life of some sort exist without the agency of a brain and associated physiological organs, operations, and processes? Unless one can provide plausible and testable means by which one can explain their survival, there is no reason to suspect that disembodied consciousness can exist. On the other hand, should afterlife be defined as a literal resuscitation of (long dead) corpses, then one must show the means by which chemical decomposition (and even petrification/fossilization) can be reversed, a reversal that concludes in the restoration of the various idiosyncracies of the organism before its demise, including the restoration of its memory. Are there known physical and chemical processes by which decomposed, scavenged, disintegrated, or fossilized corpses can become faithfully reconstituted? Positing an ad hoc explanation via an appeal to theogenic magic will not do. One still must be able to explain how the magic works, else one has not in fact offered an explanation.

And moving on, specifically, what is heaven? What empirical evidence--again from various fields--is there to support the hypothesis? Is the evidence strongly suggestive of its existence, or is it the fact that there is as yet a conspicuous paucity of substantation? Is the claim for heaven based on intersubjectively verifiable observations and tests and known processes, or is it merely based on a collective hankering and belief for utopia? Is it a claim that logically and rationally proceeds from our fund of dependable knowledge of the empirical world and existing evidence at hand, or is it an a priori concept that continually begs for empirical support? Is it merely a non-illogical possibility, or is there is a plethora of evidence that compels us to assign it a probability rating much greater than infinitesimal?

Needless to say, all evidence points to one thing--when we finally check out, that's it, we're gone. Thus, to claim the opposite--that life ends not--is wishful thinking. Dewy-eyed Christians just have to face death and accept The End.


Bronze Dog said...

...or some nasty dungeon which He never visits (thank goodness!)

Ramen. Spending eternity with the guy who invented polio isn't my idea of a good time.

Bronze Dog said...

Wish I found this earlier.