Before an inquiry into this topic can be initiated, it would be of benefit to establish what we know about life.
Science has clearly demonstrated that we homo sapiens are an end product of millions of years of evolution. It also has shown that our species is not in itself the end result of all evolution, but merely the successful adaptations able to talk about it. There is in excess of ten million other species on our planet, with humans as one of the latecomers. Each and every one of the other creatures have adaptations that assure their survival, with many having occupied Earth for many hundreds of millions of years, some in their present form.
The great proof of the truth in evolutionary theory is the very fact, that of the numerous species, every individual will eventually die and species themselves will one day disappear forever. The DNA of all creatures predetermines this to be so. Each new life carries with it the chance of some small difference that might enhance the survival characteristics in continual changing circumstances of environment and/or social structure. Death is the engine which promotes better survival variation. It is a necessary process.
Fact one: Every creature is “programmed” to die in the name of evolutionary adaptation. That is the naked truth.
It follows from this that the knowledge of our own demise, and that of our friends and family, has never been seen as something to accept willingly. None of us actually want to return to the Universe as lifeless individual components. One of our greatest fantasies is to have at least a choice on whether we would like to live forever, or for a very long time.
Fact two: We have a strong yearning for immortality.
One of the very interesting parts of our makeup is the ability to live in a state of denial concerning things we do not wish to believe and a ready acceptance of that which we want to believe. The example of flying a plane into a building for the eternal reward of having 70 virgins at one’s disposal is the extreme, (As well as being a tad sexist!) but it clearly demonstrates that as humans, this is how some people think.
Fact three: Humans will do almost anything for the perceived reward of “eternal life”.
Unfortunately, there is not a skerrick of truth in the promise of the Muslim religion that inspired the flying of a plane into a building. This fact applies to all religious promises. There is no credible empirical or reliable scientific evidence for the truth of any religion. The books of old were not eyewitness accounts and were written long after the supposed events. They were written in days of ignorance, by peoples ruled by superstition and changed throughout history by the powerful to suite their own ends.
Fact four: Religions do not represent any kind of objective truth and therefore their “supernatural” element cannot be trusted to be at all factual.
Countless billions upon billions of individual lives, both human and non-human, have existed and died over the millennia. There is no evidence that any have returned to make credible the notion that an after-life exists, excepting in the fantasy stories already discussed.
Fact five: There is no concrete evidence or even an inkling of a suggestion of evidence that we live after we die.
If we were to have an after-life, what would it be like? Would we have the body and mind at the moment of death, or would it be the body and mind of a time of peak health? Would it be no body and only mind, an impossibility to reasoned thinking, (for a mind requires a living brain) or would it be something totally different? Just because we are able to think of these combinations does not give any of them, or indeed any other such thought, some kind of credibility.
Fact six: After-life thoughts are just thoughts.
Even though there is a case for religion being a necessary part of our social evolution, we have now reached a time when the use of reason and not superstition is the only hope of our happy survival. Eons of ethereal teachings have primed us to want that which is not obtainable as of yet – eternal life. Maybe one-day science will overcome this “problem” to some extent, but right here and right now, regrettable as this is, we all must die and that is the end – goodnight.
It is a sad occurrence that religions are still fooling so many people into accepting that they will go to a heaven (If they are nice???) or a hell (If they’re naughty???) and that they should waste the one and only life they have in this hopeless venture. Not only do the religious miss out on the imaginary after-life, but the present life they have can be so distorted as to make it none too worthwhile or even totally wasted.
The Universe is an entirely natural process and scientists have not detected one super-natural atom. That our imagination can lead us in directions guided by nothing but fantasy is no reason at all to accept the convenient doctrines of an eternal life.
There may well be something we cannot even conceive of about the Universe, but that statement is self-explanatory. If we cannot conceive of it, we can therefore make no assumptions or predictions about it, nor claim that we can. Religion is of such a serious concern to planet Earth, that its guessings are no longer good enough.
Reaching a full potential of life before death is only afforded to those who reject the notion of life after death.
By David Nicholls