Dodgy Ruminations about an Afterlife

“God bless non-scientific narratives,” writes Jacques Belinerblau, a professor at Georgetown University. Of course, this is with tongue in cheek, since, though he’s Jewish, Berlinerblau is an atheist.

He speaks sincerely, however, about a hopefulness grounded in certain non-scientific narratives, for he’d like to believe that there’s an afterlife. Actually, he finds it hard to believe that there is not an afterlife of some kind.

So he believes that God does not exist, and sorta-kinda believes that there is an afterlife.

This lede sets the context for Berlinerblau’s review, titled “You’re Dead. Now What?” of four books on the topic:

Berlinblau is a touch dismissive of D’Souza. But Berlinblau, I believe, is right that there really isn’t good strictly scientific evidence for an afterlife.

If Berlinerblau’s review of Frohock is rooted in a reliable summary of the book, I’d say it’s worth a look. But it sounds like Frohock is working from some sort of pantheist or neo-pagan metaphysics (or worldview). I wish Berlinerblau had said more about this.

This reviewer makes Casey’s book sounds especially dull. But he has positive things to say about it. And I must say that the pages of this book are cloaked in the most impressive cover of the bunch.

Johnston appears to be one of those philosophers who has to be brilliant simply because it’s frequently impossible to understand what he’s saying. I suspect he’s of the “continental” variety. Berlinerblau’s sample quote from the book is almost a dead give-away.

I probably will read Frohock, eventually. He’s supposed to be ambivalent about whether science could yield evidence for an afterlife. And yet, says Berlinerblau, he’s a materialist. Like Berlinerblau, I find this confusing. If an individual person is completely constituted by material stuff and its physical organization, and this stuff dissolves—or its structure breaks down—following death, then what is the nature of the life beyond death?

The review is published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, of all places. This indicates re-entry of the possibility of an afterlife into academic surmise. Until recently, most scholars would rather die than enter a conversation about such things. Possibly, most scholars still have this preference. (It has not always been so.)

It’s equally fascinating that the traditional Christian doctrine of the afterlife is waved off with an almost pious flick of the wrist. (Check out the review and see if you agree.)

Berlinerblau’s book review enters a general conversation that is cautiously making its way back into serious discourse. But this discourse is dominated by a distinctly secular hope for a pleasant afterlife. Does this sound to anyone else like whistling past the graveyard?

Afternotes:

1. Berlinerblau adorns his essay with a choice literary quote:

The flesh would shrink and go, the blood would dry, but no one believes in his mind of minds or heart of hearts that the pictures do stop.

—Saul Bellow, Ravelstei

2. Christopher Benson reviews the Casey book, together with A Very Brief History of Eternity, by Carlos Eire, for the Christian periodical Books and Culture. Benson titles his review “Without End—Changing conceptions of the afterlife.” Indeed.

***

What do you think?

  1. What is the best evidence for an afterlife?
  2. If you believe in an afterlife, what will it be like?
  3. What is the best argument that there is no afterlife?
  4. Would there have to be a God for there to be an afterlife?
  5. Are you hoping for an afterlife?
  6. Are you expecting an afterlife?
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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

6 Responses to Dodgy Ruminations about an Afterlife

  1. Ron Krumpos says:

    Few people, of any age or state of health, want to even consider their own death. All of us, however, realize that death is inevitable. Consider its definitions: death is only the end of this life and the demise of this body. Unless you believe it is The End, death is also the threshold of a new beginning. How many possibilities follow this life? Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine oneness, consider the alternatives. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

    This short life is just a speck in time; it is important to us because it now seems to be our speck. Look beyond yesterday, today and tomorrow, beyond Earth’s 4.5 billion years: consider eternity.

    (from my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org on comparative mysticism)

    Like

  2. Dante says:

    That’s great, thanks sir.

    Like

  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Dante, you may want to Google research that my friend, Gary Habermas, has done on NDEs. He believes the evidence of NDEs is both interesting and impressive. He’s a first-rate Christian scholar.

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  4. Dante says:

    Hi Sir,

    I have never thought of it that way. I realized that I need to look at NDE cases or claims more carefully. Your thoughts are very helpful and cleared things up for me. Thank you.

    By the way, have you ever encountered any NDE case that you find compelling?

    Like

  5. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Dante,

    These and other reports are interesting. The question, of course, is “What are we to make of them?” There are several related questions to consider:

    (1) What is claimed? Is it claimed that person S actually did die and was revived? Is it claimed that while dead, person S had experiences like one would in an afterlife? Is it claimed, rather, that our understanding of what finally determines that a person is dead is still inadequate?

    (2) What evidence do we have to go on? This question has to be asked for each precise claim.

    (3) Who has the relevant evidence? This is especially important. Most of us are limited to testimonial evidence. This is not a bad thing. We rely on testimonial evidence for a great many things. But testimonial evidence varies in strength and must be suited to the claims in question.

    (4) What should I believe given the evidence I have? I’d say that the evidence I have simply does not meet standard for justified belief in most cases. So I’m compelled to withhold judgment regarding many claims concerning alleged NDEs. This does not mean that the claims are false, of course. I don’t make that judgment, either. The justification of my outlook on these claims is determined by the evidence I have, not the evidence others may have.

    (5) What difference does it make whether the claims are true? In most cases, I am unmoved by the importance of the claims. Even if true, I question their relevance. I’m not a naturalist. Nor am I otherwise threatened by the possibility that certain claims pertaining to alleged NDEs are true.

    Thank you for your participation in this post. What are your thoughts about these points?

    -Doug

    Like

  6. Dante says:

    Hello sir,

    I’m not very familiar with NDE literature, but I’ve read a few accounts of alleged NDEs.

    Are you familiar with Howard Storm’s case? What do you think about it?

    There’s a popular case of NDE here in the Philippines. The name of the person is Stanley Villavicencio. Have you heard of him? His story is pretty fascinating. You might want to Google him if you have the time.

    His case was actually documented because he was admitted to the ICU for many days, and what’s amazing is that one of the physicians who treated him actually quit his job and entered seminary after Stanley recovered because he believed it was literally a miracle that he survived. That doctor is now a priest.

    Like

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