Life after death and materialism

Those who believe that natural systems and processes are all that exist commonly reject the idea that there is life after death. Some even suggest that the belief that there is life after death, rather than being merely mistaken, is also dangerous.

For example, Ian McEwan says:

“…no part of my consciousness will survive my death. … and much damage has been done to thought as well as to persons by those who are certain that there is a life — a better, more important life — elsewhere.

(in What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty). The certainty with which such a scientist makes such a claim that cannot be empirically verified by the so-called scientific method is breathtaking.

But note also the element of fear to which McEwan appeals: thought itself is put at risk, and ostensibly the physical and emotional well-being of people (“much damage has been done … to persons”).  In a field in which thought is supposedly open and free, subject to the rigors of logical thinking, apparently all thought is permitted except that which posits the possibility of life after death. Not only is that thought wrong, per McEwan, but it is dangerous. We can already observe the result of classifying certain thoughts and ideas “dangerous” or “harmful.”

It is also difficult to ascertain what damage is caused to persons by belief in the afterlife, as opposed to the supposedly benign — even helpful — effects of denying it. One can readily detect the consequences to a person’s life here, now, when he believes in an afterlife as opposed to those actions made permissible when he believes he is merely the product of blind forces and just another animal.

Speaking of which, the thinking of McEwan and others leads ineluctably to an untenable conclusion. For instance, McEwan continues:

That this span is brief [the length of our mind’s activity], that consciousness is an accidental gift of blind processes, makes our existence all the more precious and our responsibilities for it all the more profound.

Yet viewed in McEwan’s materialist grid, concepts such as “precious”, “responsibility” and “profound” are virtually meaningless. Regardless of the “accidental gifts” they produce, what value is brought about by “blind forces”? Aside from a purely economic understanding, value is not a materialist construct. Attributing value to such things as our existence and our consciousness is not the result of a materialist worldview, but is inherent in worldviews consistent with belief in the afterlife.

McEwan’s appeal to conscience to argue for terminated consciousness is patently absurd: a monkey in an African tree suddenly becomes aware that he is, which requires him to use his awareness to convince others monkey that their awareness ends when they die, and that there is great value in an entire monkey population being aware of the brevity of their awareness.

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