Life After Death

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Does death matter?


If you do not believe in life after death, death is not something you experience, because your life ends at death


Death is an unknown

A final parting with people who we love

For religious people it is the beginning of a new stage of life with God, or seperated from him in hell

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The origin of belief in the afterlife

Belief in the afterlife can be traced back to cultures of ancient China, India and the Middle East

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How do you know who you are?

Personal identity is linked to one's body, mind or both


For example: Plato and Descartes

The mind/soul are seperate

The mind (or soul) forms the centre of identity; it is somehow joined with the body

Support for dualism

  • We clearly do experience ourselves as thinking beings distinct from our bodies
  • Reports concerning people having out-of-body experiences
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How do you know who you are? 2


  • People consist of a body and soul
  • The soul is imprisoned in the body
  • After death, wrongdoers would be re-imprisoned in a body
  • Two related arguments to support his belief in an immortal soul:
  • Argument from opposites
  • Argument that education is about remembering

Challenges to Plato's view:

Peter Geach questioned what it can mean for the disembodied soul to see the Forms and whether existence without a body is real human existence

There is no evidence to suggest that death is a state opposite to but analogous to life

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Monism and Materialism

  • The belief that the mind and body are one and inseperable
  • 'Monist' = refers to anyone who believes there is only one substance
  • Typically, monists are materialists
  • The identity of a person is linked to the physical body
  • Identity theory = claims all mental activities are centred in the brain
  • Materialists can only support life after death if that life is physical, such as in religious teaching about resurrection

Richard Dawkins

  • The only sense that humans survive death is through the memories of them in others' minds or through their genes, some of which are passed down to the next generation
  • Human beings' consciousness has evolved because of the survival advantage it gives

Support for materialism and monism

  • It accords with our knowledge of the physical world
  • Some support for claims that mental activity is full explainable is explainable in terms of neurone activity in the brain from recent scientific discoveries
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Monism and Materialism 2

Challenges to this view

  • Stephen T. Davis pointed to the fact identity theory has difficulty explaining intentionality

John Hick's Replica Theory

  • Rejects dualism, whilst presenting a defence of belief in bodily resurrection
  • Human beings are a 'psycho-somatic unity' (Hick, 'Resurrection of the Person'
  • Hick's replica theory is one way to understand Paul
  • Resurrection is a divine action in which an exact replica of ourselves is created in a different place
  • Resurrection could take place instantaneously at death or after a time lapse determined by God
  • The replica exists in a 'different space' from us that is observable by God and not us
  • The replica of the person is not the same as a copy
  • John Hick suggested the example of a person disappearing in London and reappearing in New York
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Challenges to replica theory

  • Identitfication of the replica with the original person - what makes them different? what makes them the same? 
  • Multiple replicas
  • The nature and state of the resurrected body is never addressed
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Religous views on the afterlife

Christianity - resurrection

  • New Testament refers to the afterlife as paradise, a state of continued existence with God after death 
  • Seeing God face to face is called the Beatific Vision
  • Christianity since the writing of 1 Corinthians 15 traditionally believes in the resurrection of the body, not just a person's soul or centre of identity
  • Peter Geach suggests that resurrection is the only meaningful way in which one can speak of life after death
  • At death the soul of a person is seperated from her or his body awauiting the final resurrection and each person is judged by God
  • God offers forgiveness if people really repent, but forgiveness also requires contrition, confession and an act of satisfaction
  • Heaven and Hell

    Christianity and Islam traditionally believe in a state of existence with God after death and a state of seperation from God

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Religous views on the afterlife 2

Heaven is described in Christian tradition:

  • As a state of fulfilment of all human longings
  • As the ultimate goal or end of human existence

Hell is traditionally characterised as:

  • A state of seperation from God
  • A place of punishment by God
  • As an aspect of God's justice

Problems with belief in hell:

  • Images don't communicate idea of true and loving God
  • Eternal nature of the punishment appears unjust; it is not educative
  • If hell is a place of suffering, where is it?
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Religous views on the afterlife 3

Purgatory - a traditional Christian belief in a place where all the people who die in relationship with God, but who are not yet perfect, are purified after death

Heaven, hell and the problem of the evil

  • For some Christians the justification of the existence of God comes from the belief that ultimately God holds everyone to account judges them according to their actions 
  • Within Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions no one is predestined to go Hell
  • Richard Swinburne: universal salvation is not traditional belief (Providence and the Problem of Evil)
  • Many theodicies rely on the concept of God judging people as the basis of moral responsibilty
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Religious views on the afterlife 4

Predestination and Divine Election

  • Some Christians believe in Divine Election
  • By the doctrine of Divine Election Calvin meant some people are destined for a relationship with God, and some are not; this is an aspect of God's sovereignty. 
  • Among some Protestant groups which are offshoots from Calvinism the doctrine of predestination became important
  • Some support for belief in predestination in the Bible in Revelation (Revelation 7:12)

Hinduism - reincarnation/rebirth

  • Soul of a body is eternal
  • Soul is reborn in new bodies generation after generation
  • If in the previous life a person was good, the soul will be reincarnated in a better body 
  • All living thins have a soul or atman
  • The ultimate goal of the soul is to be reunited with Brahman
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Religious views on the afterlife 5

Evidence to support reincarnatiom:

Children who appear to remember events at which they weren't present

People having a sense of deja vu

Challenges to reincarnation:

Remembering a previous life could be explained in other ways or be just a hoax

Swinburne rejects reincarnation if there is no continuity between the brain of the new baby and the old person who died

Geach rejects belief in reincarnation on the grounds that a link with the person who has died cannot be established

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Arguments against belief in life after death

  • No evidence to suggest people do survive death
  • Makes no sense to talk of a person surviving death, since a person is a physical entity
  • Flew suggested 'people are what you meet' - when we talk about a person we mean a particular physical person

Bertrand Russell

  • Belief in afterlife is product of wishful thinking
  • At death the person's memories that make them who they are are also lost because the brain dies and rots
  • Argues the universe is indifferent to people
  • Questions whether people really want those who do conduct events such as witch hunts or pogroms to live forever
  • Suggests that the world is better understood without God and an afterlife
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