Magi Mike's Blog

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The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death

with 7 comments

Heaven may not be what you imagine

Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.

In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.

Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)

Written by mikemagee

13 April, 2015 at 2:01 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Mike: has been down for me for a few days. Is there a problem? Is it coming back?

    Just wondering


    12 May, 2015 at 12:40 am

    • You had me worried, rbh, so checked immediately but it is still there. I’ve no idea why you cannot connect. Let me know if you find an answer.


      12 May, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      • Working again for me. It was unavailable for the last couple days whenever I’d try. It would time out and never connect. Oh well. Glad to see it hasn’t gone.


        13 May, 2015 at 7:48 am

  2. “But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise”.

    This is simply incorrect. Science completely leaves out the existence of consciousness in its description of reality — hence the mind/body problem. This is why people either *identify* consciousness with some physical process, or deny its existence altogether.

    Hence there can be no *scientific* evidence against a “life after death” (I know the authors of myths of an afterlife say otherwise, but they don’t know what they’re talking about). Science involves more than noting correlations between brain events and mental events. And that’s all we can ever have *indeed in principle*. See an essay I’ve written:

    Ian Wardell

    14 July, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    • The essay you wrote and recommend seems to be pure obfuscation on the lines of the stuff put forward by many people who pretend to be arguing philosophically because they cannot argue their case scientifically so what we get is not philosophy but sophistry of the kind that translates into theology. Science does not concern itself with the supernatural (metaphysics) but with the natural (physics) for the simple reason that the natural is all that any inquiry into our world can concern itself with. Nevertheless, science limited to its own realm of competence has filled up most of the gaps that were in the past (as you itemise) considered were filled by God or His many and various supernatural spirits. So too with many of His deeds once considered miraculous. You are simply trying to find in this subject a gap for God and its justification. There are still gaps in science which, again as you say, is relatively new as a human endeavour, but they continue to be filled by natural explanations.
      What that has led to, as a fundamental feature of science, is skepticism. The scientist wants an adequate explanation before considering any hypothesis likely. The fact that a disembodied consciousness has no reasonable natural explanation makes it impossible for any scientist who is not already besotted by religious beliefs to accept that some artefact of the brain can live on after the brain or even some part of it has been damaged.
      As for making a philosophical case to attempt to demolish the scientific one, Ted Honderich, a prominent British philosopher defines his faculty as “no arcane thing, but just intelligent inquiry of a logical, persistent and systematic kind”, and as “trying to arrive at what is the best account of something, since there is little point in examining anything else”. Science is undisputed today as the best account of what we observe in the natural world, and the value of philosophy is necessarily incidental to formulating scientific hypotheses.
      Lastly, as your essay is primarily on the “problem” of consciousness, you do mention experience at one point in this connexion, and this is surely the central fact of consciousness. It is something that has developed through experience over the whole of evolution. Like the physical body the brain has evolved, grown and changed, in response to the experience and environment any animal has found itself in, so the brain has moulded itself to the reality in which it exists. At some point it began to notice itself in the environment thereby becoming self aware. A computer does not have any evolutionary history. It does not inherit features from its parents via genetic encoding, but simply has its memory banks loaded with arbitrary data that do not include itself or its own experience and evolution. That is what consciousness requires, and science will eventually show it.
      So consciousness is a response to the real natural world, and has no reason to continue existing when the animal dies.


      14 July, 2015 at 10:36 pm

  3. Thanks, Ian. Yours is a long post that I haven’t time to read right now, but it looks interesting.


    19 August, 2016 at 10:55 pm

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