• Return to Cliff's Index
    • Home to Positive Atheism
    • Go to Previous || Next

July,1999

Conceptualizing An Afterlife
by Cliff Walker

Many people talk about the notion of an afterlife of one sort or another. It seems as though they assume that you know what they're talking about. As appealing as it sounds, no components of the afterlife idea make sense to me. I wonder if those who talk about an afterlife have given any thought to what they say.

When we die, do we become disembodied ghosts? Or do we get new bodies at some point? Either model raises perplexing questions that do not satisfy me.

If we become disembodied spirits, how would we see or hear without sensory organs? Could we detect sound, which is simply the vibration of air at certain frequencies? And what spectrums of light would we see? Would we still focus upon a single point (like most carnivores), or would we have all-around vision similar to that of a cow or a horse?

I can think of no way we'd identify one another in such a state. There is nothing to detect, and nothing with which to detect that nothing. We could perceive nothing and we could do nothing.

My main objection to all this is if we could exist in a disembodied state, what is the point of bodies in the first place?

It is very clear that my conscious, aware "self" is established by the structures and processes of my nervous system, which is supported by the rest of my body. My consciousness -- my "self" -- is the result of my body, I am not independent of it.

To say we have a "spirit" or "soul" that "lives" in the body is absurd. How and where does it interact with the body?

This leaves us with the idea that someday we will get new bodies (according to the theory) long after our present bodies have been destroyed. I have two problems with the notion of new bodies.

First is the problem of identification. If memories must be "replanted," how can I know for sure I'm me? And how could I be me (or how could anybody else relate to me) without those memories intact?

The same holds true for physical quirks or idiosyncracies in one's personality. Do seniors become who they were at age 23? If so, how would their grandchildren recognize or relate to them? What becomes of those who had sex-change operations? And what about fetuses? infants? idiots?

My second problem is harder to grasp, but I have pondered this one since I was a boy. If Jesus (or whoever) can replicate me for an afterlife, He could just as easily replicate me ten times. In other words, if He can make another "me" later, He could make another "me" right now. I could be both people at once.

Can you picture your conscious, aware "self" existing in more than one place at the same time? I can't picture this. If it is impossible to think of myself being two people at once, it is equally absurd to think of myself being two people one after the other.

Some say the "spirit" gets a new body and can't be replicated. Again, we have no way to conceive what a "spirit" might be, and have no real concept to believe.

This is why I never tell myself that people actually believe in an afterlife. There is nothing conceivable to believe.

Graphic Rule
Copyright ©1999 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon
[Portions derived from Appendix E of Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief & Evil.]