Posts Tagged ‘Theology’
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)
Scientifically, or any other way, we cannot prove anything that is imaginary or simply a thought. Centaurs, vampires, werewolves, philosophers’ stones, elixirs of life, fairies, demons, angels, gods, God—such things can be imagined, but cannot be proved because they are purely imaginary, figments, and so do not exist in reality to leave behind any evidence for them. The absence of evidence for them is evidence! It is evidence against them.
A basis of science, a feature without which it could not work, is skepticism, one does not postulate anything for which there is no evidence. Its opposite is credulity, the inclination to believe anything on the least of evidence or none! Related to skepticism is the principle of Ockham’s Razor, or Parsimony, which says that one postulates only what is necessary and feasible—one does not glibly invent things. Using these principles science has no need to hypothesize God. Nor does it have to disprove God, an entity for which it has no need, any more than it has to disprove centaurs or elixirs of life, etc, or needs them.
An agnostic is deliberately wavering, wavering out of choice and not reason. To claim there is no evidence either way, is simply to say there is no evidence, and so to be scientific and skeptical the postulate of God has to be rejected until convincing evidence forces a reassessment. It is impossible to be simultaneously a scientist and a believer in God, so long as science cannot accommodate credulity. Credulous science becomes religion!
Moreover, if God existed and has the effect on the material world that believers think He has, He is necessarily leaving evidence behind. Science ought to be able to detect it. As Victor Stenger shows, nothing so far suggests anywhere in the universe that we have checked out that requires a God to explain it. Science is highly successful at explaining things without the hypothesis of God. So, if God exists, He is not manifestly changing the world in any discernible way. Worship and prayer are having no effect.
Of course, a purely mental God, a purely imaginary or psychological phenomenon, can effect one. It is a form of autosuggestion. That is probably why people are able to convince themselves that God does answer prayers. It is the Placebo God.
Dr Lindsay Wilson, Academic Dean and Lecturer in Old Testament, Ridley, Melbourne, has briefly reviewed for The Melbourne Anglican The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism, by Marianne J Dacy (Amberst, New York: $119.99). Dacy is a Catholic.
He says her analysis is largely an historical one. That has to be good, for many Christians think fundamental theological differences between the Jewish and Christian religions were the reason for the separation. It is not so. The Jews, many Christians say, rejected God and murdered His son, so they were the people of the Devil, abandoning God, even though He had declared they were His Chosen Ones. Dacy does not think such theological factors had much, if anything, to do with it, and she puts little emphasis on them. Her thesis is that Christianity became Gentile not because of carefully argued theology, but largely because of the increasing number of Gentile converts, the marginalising of practising Jewish Christians, and the change in the balance of power in the Roman Empire.
Surely she is right. Christ was a Jew, and despite the supposed perfidy of the Jews, all the first Christians were Jews, though many were Hellenized Jews. It was through the increasing preponderance of Hellenized Diaspora Jews in Christianity outside of Palestine that gentile godfearers, mainly women at first, were drawn in, then men once the Pauline faction had abrogated the need for circumcision. Jewish Christians seem to have fought with the Romans in the war of 66-70 AD, and sympathized with the ambitions of Bar Kochba, while refusing to recognize him as messiah—how could they—and being unwilling to actually fight.
Even so it was in the period between the two Jewish wars that the Christians outside Judaea began to separate themselves from Jews generally. When Christianity was accepted by Constantine, things began to get harder for the Jews, as Christian prejudice against them was able to be expressed, and eventually the privileges given to Jews by Julius Caesar were lifted by Theodosius, and Jews began to be maligned like all the other non-Christian religions, and their synagogues smashed just as temples to the classical gods of Rome had been. Dr Wilson truly writes:
One of the striking features of this story was to see Christians, when they rose to political and social prominence (fourth to fifth centuries) using the law to impose Christianity and discriminate against other religions. This is the very practice used by Islam today, and widely condemned by Christians. There is value in reading church history!
Wilson is pointing out Christian hypocrisy, with the appropriate degree of coyness Christians feel is necessary when they ever so politely criticize others of their co-religionists, however objectionable their behavior might have been, or still be!
He continues that the rift between Christianity and Judaism was accelerated by the rise of Christianity to a position of political and social privilege. Once Christians had power, they no longer bleated about persecution like that they had received at the hands of a few emperors anxious that the decline of the empire curiously paralleled the growth of Christianity within it. Now they could mercilessly attack pagans, then Jews, then even each other—over metaphysical, nay mythical, doctrinal matters concerning the nature, substance and body of Christ.
Christianity had already declined beyond a savagery that had not been seen in civilized society for a very long time, but which was to persist for over a thousand more years of Christian darkness, before the glimmers of the Enlightenment were seen.