Saturday, December 26, 2015

Is It Reasonable To Believe In Life After Death?

Dinesh D'Souza, in Life After Death: The Evidence, gives eight reasons for the reasonability of life after death. Of this book USC philosopher Dallas Willard writes: "An indispensable, electrifying book. Writing clearly, forcefully, and fairly, D'Souza covers an amazing range of arguments. I know of no better way to understand the issue of life after death than to get this book and just follow the argument." 

D'Souza's eight reasons for the reasonability of belief in life after death are:

#1 - "Near-death experiences show that clinical death may not be the end; there may be "something more."" (220) NDEs don't say what life after death may be like. But they do imply the possibility of life after death. (Note: Last summer I personally heard an astounding story of a self-proclaimed pagan in my Monroe community. She died (was pronounced dead in our local hospital), had an experience of being in a garden and talking to a man for an hour who seemed like "my best friend," asked the man "Who are you?", to which the man replied "I am who I am," to which the pagan replied "What the heck does that mean?" She got my phone number and talked extensively to me about this. And, since then she's been coming to our worship services!)

#2 - "Modern physics shows the existence of matter that is radically different in its attributes from any matter that we are familiar with." (220) Therefore, "there is nothing in physics to contradict the idea that we can live beyond death in other realms with bodies that are unlike the bodies we now possess." (Ib.)

#3 - "Modern biology shows an evolutionary transition from matter to mind that does not seem random or accidental but rather built into the script of nature." (Ib.) As nature progresses from the material to the immaterial, so might we. "Minds" are not subject to the limitations of matter.

#4 - "Neuroscience reveals that the mind cannot be reduced to the brain." (Ib.) D'Souza shows that reductive materialism is a dead end. In support of this one would do well to read J.P. Moreland's brilliant and philosophically dense Consciousness And the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. Personally, I find such argumentation persuasive and, by abduction, find scientific materialism improbable.
 (For something academic and very challenging see Robert Koons and George Bealer, eds., The Waning of Materialism. Twenty-three philosophers examine the doctrine of materialism find it wanting. The case against materialism comprises arguments from conscious experience, from the unity and identity of the person, from intentionality, mental causation, and knowledge. From this one can form a reductio ad absurdum argument against atheism-as materialism.)

#5 - "Modern philosophy makes a central distinction between experience and reality." (Ib.) D'Souza employs Kant's transcendental idealism to establish the existence of noumenal reality (i.e., another world beyond phenomenal/physical reality).

#6 - "Morality is best understood under the presupposition that there is cosmic justice in a world beyond this world." (Ib., 221)

#7 - "Practical reason helps us to see that a belief in immortality is good for our society and good for our lives." (Ib.) Of course this doesn't, by itself, imply that there is life after death.

#8 - Someone, in history, has actually died and come back to life. That "someone" is Jesus of Nazareth. D'Souza devotes his final chapter to argue for this. D'Souza presents four historical facts that "have to be accounted for." (223) They are:

1) Jesus was tried by his enemies, convicted, and crucified to death.

2) Shortly after he was buried, Jesus' tomb was found empty.

3) Many of his disciples, to include a few skeptics, claimed to see Jesus alive in the flesh, and interacted with him following his death.

4) These disciples, inspired by belief in Jesus' bodily resurrection, began a movement that proclaimed this event in spite of being persecuted and even martyred for what they believed.

What best accounts for these four historical facts? D'Souza cites N.T. Wright here, whose massive The Resurrection of the Son of God reasons that the best explanatory hypothesis for these four facts is that Jesus was resurrected from death. D'Souza writes: "the resurrection is believable because it makes sense of all the other facts listed above." (223)

D'Souza's book examines each of these eight points in depth, and carefully looks at the major objections to each one.

For every person interested in the question of life after death (which should include everyone), D'Souza's book is a good read.