Even if Religion Didn’t Exist There Would be an Afterlife
Posted on 09 May 2023, 14:19
University of Texas philosopher Paul Woodruff recently wrote in an oped, “My death is close. But I do not think of myself as dying.” This is typical of what comes out of philosophy departments these days: You will cease to be at death, so make the most of the present. These are not consoling words, and they are false words.
Countless evidence-based studies that present evidence of an afterlife are now available to anyone who can read. Most academic philosophers shun this evidence. Why is this? Typically male, they might have had a bad experience in church as a teenager or come under the spell of a senior philosopher like Woodruff in college. In short, they have become convinced that belief in an afterlife is religious, and that smart, informed, scientific people have too much self-respect to get seduced by such superstition. They pass on this message to a new crop of vulnerable students in their philosophy classes. The students’ world becomes darker and perhaps frightening. Life’s enchantment dims. Death “grins in at the banquet,” as William James so memorably put it.
The basic mistake our philosophers make is that life after death is a consolation for needy, unscientific, religious people who refuse to confront the evidence that death is the end. In reality, philosophers like Woodruff are the needy people.
They are so dug into their materialist worldview that they refuse to investigate research that contradicts it. They are afraid of getting entangled in a worldview that belongs to a past they “outgrew.”
They are correct, however, to link belief in an afterlife to religion—all religions affirm it—but they fail to distinguish between a religious belief founded on evidence and one spun out of a theological or wish-fulfilling imagination. In other words, they reject good evidence because it’s associated in their minds with religion.
This good evidence is based on contemporary scientific research. Thousands of highly credentialed scientists—physicists, psychologists, doctors, poets, Christians and non-Christians, agnostics, even a few exceptional philosophers, the list goes on and on—are unafraid to look at this evidence.
True scientists read accounts and analyses of the near-death experience and come away with minds opened. They survey the numerous accounts of deathbed visions and rightly conclude they can’t all be explained away as hallucination. They study the vast literature on ghostly apparitions from all over the world and marvel how intelligent men and women can intellectualize them out of existence as if they were all due to a temporary disease of the mind.
These true scientists force themselves to study what perhaps they don’t like: the memories by little children, thousands of them, of a past life that matches the life of a real person.
They look at poltergeist phenomena, much of it utterly unexplainable by conventional material science. They look at evidence that spirits in the afterlife are trying to communicate with us, either through mediums or by radio, telephone, or computer—what researchers call instrumental transcommunication (ITC). They even investigate the unwelcome, frightening evidence of earthbound spirits who attach themselves to targeted souls and inflict real damage.
Finally, they are intrigued by the ability of advanced Alzheimer’s patients with ravaged brains to perk up and momentarily become their old selves shortly before death—impossible to explain by neuroscientists unless they open themselves to the possibility that when the departing spirit loosens its attachment to the diseased brain and is free at last, it can say its proper goodbyes.
I hope it’s clear that none of this evidence is based on religion. Religion affirms some of it and rejects what it doesn’t like, but it doesn’t provide evidence for its truth. If no religion existed on earth, evidence of an afterlife would be unaffected and unimpaired.
Taken together, this evidence, its various strands, all point independently to the same conclusion: Like it or not, fear it or look forward to it, we survive death.
There are many books that tell this story. Most researchers focus on only one of the nine types of evidence mentioned above. I am deeply indebted to them for the in-depth, comprehensive evidence they uncover. For anyone interested in a good survey of all this evidence, I recommend Victor and Wendy Zammit’s A Lawyer Presents the Evidence for the Afterlife, David Fontana’s Is There an Afterlife?, and my own When Did You Ever Become Less by Dying? Afterlife: The Evidence. Michael Tymn’s books and especially his blogs are another source, one I personally treasure, of information on the afterlife.
Paul Woodruff says that he and his philosopher friends worry about death obsessively (“every third thought”). I would too if I had nothing more to look forward to but extinction. I sympathize with him as he lives his remaining days. But I see him as a flawed guide, not someone to impart wisdom, which should be the mission of a philosopher.
Stafford Betty, Professor of Religious Studies, CSUB, is the author of When Did You Ever Become Less by Dying? and Heaven and Hell Unveiled. Stafford’s latest novel, The Afterlife Therapist is published by White Crow Books. His next novel, as yet untitled, will be published in 2023.
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