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Life After Death
A2 Religious Studies
Examine the main evidence given by believers who claim there is life after death (18 marks)
There are many concepts which aim to explore the controversial issue of life after death. Each take a unique view
about what happens when we die, and there are several. Reincarnation is a common belief held by many in the East
by Hindus and Buddhists alike.
As stated above, reincarnation is a belief held by Hindus and Buddhists, although their understanding of this topic
varies slightly. Reincarnation is the idea that the soul is reborn in to another body after death. According to
Hinduism, each person has an atman, an essential self. It is seeking unity with God all the time throughout life and
when this is eventually achieved, the rebirth cycle (aka samsara cycle) ends. This process of rebirth is controlled by
the law of Karma, which goes according to how well you live your life. If you are a bad person, it will take you longer to
achieve the union with God. Logically, it should not take a good person to pass through the cycle too much before
they meet God, it should happen relatively quickly.
Buddhists do not believe there is an atman (they think it is an illusion), but they believe in the anatta, which
means `soulessness'. However, they still believe in a form of reincarnation and Karma. An analogy of a candle lighting
another candle has been used to reflect this process; the flames are neither the same nor different. Also, it can also
be explained using the analogy of a mango plant, as new mangoes grow from the original plant, and so forth...
Plato, a dualist and well known philosophical Greek thinker argued that life beyond death must exist. Plato said
that the body was composite, and therefore capable of perishing, whereas the mind was simple and therefore
imperishable. He believed that the soul belonged to a higher state of existence, known as the World of Forms. Plato
therefore concluded that it is seemingly natural for the soul to carry on after the physical body has perished.
Swinburne's argument contributed to a similar idea. His philosophy centred around the idea that the soul can exist
without the body; he talked about how when the body is divided, our soul and self is not. There is little evidence for
how we can actually exist in a disembodied state, but there is some scientific evidence which aims to prove this. A
study known as the `Brain Transplant' thought experimented examined the possibility of living without our own
physical body. Swinburne attempts to defeat materialistic views by asking what happens to the self if the body is
divided. In response to this, Hugh Meller said that his brain transplant theory proves `nothing' and it is just as
unable to prove the situation as a materialistic one is.
Aquinas also took a similar view and developed the idea that the soul is what makes the body live; he referred to
this as the anima. Aquinas understands the soul to be a `life force', and it is what keeps our physical bodies alive. At
death, the anima departs the body and continues to live on, taking our personal identity with it.
Another philosopher/mathematician concerned with the topic is Descartes; he developed the idea of empirical
scepticism, doubting one's own physical existence. His point was that he could doubt he had a body, but not doubt
that he exists. This lead him to the assumption that simply because we can doubt something, it does not necessitate
it's non existence.
However, John Hick, a materialist, is another who also studied life after death, in particular, bodily resurrection. This
is the idea that we are reincarnated. He devised his `replica theory' which said that once we die, our soul inhibits
another body. He said that it is exactly the same person, just in a different shell, although they are not conscious of
this. Past life therapy (used for spiritual and emotional healing) has been known to see individuals regress in to past
lives, possible proof of Hick's theory.
Contrary to the above beliefs is Dawkins idea that there just simply isn't a soul. His theory is referred to as biological
materialism. Dawkins theory can be explained using the analogy of a computer; it holds amounts of DNA, mere bytes
of digital information. His view is that living beings are simply `survival machines' which are programmed to replicate.
In his book `River out of Eden', Dawkins said, `The genetic code is not a binary code as in computers, nor an
eight-level code as in some telephone systems, but a quanternary code with four symbols. The machine code of the
genes is uncannily computer-life'. Although Dawkins does not believe we are the same as computers, he notices that
they are very close to how life operates.
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Life After Death
A2 Religious Studies
To what extent is it possible to prove any of these theories? (9 marks)
Each and every one of these theories is not entirely plausible; they all require the simple fact that no one great
number has achieved them and been successfully able to report back with evidence. It has been said the idea of
bodily resurrection is possible, just not probably; it is conceivable.…read more