There is no Afterlife
The existence of an afterlife has been the major selling point for most of the world’s religions, both ancient and modern. Without the promise of an afterlife, the conditions of Pascal’s Wager change, and religious practice becomes a waste of time.
While the afterlife takes on as many forms are there are religions and denominations, all conceptions of the afterlife are based upon the notion that the soul survives the body’s death. However, this is unlikely because of the overwhelming support for materialism.
The personal self is dependent upon consciousness, which is dependent on a functioning brain. Since the brain dies when the body dies, so does the self. There is no “spiritual” event that cannot be accounted for by some material event occurring within the brain. Altering the brain alters the consciousness. Even if self-consciousness is possible without a brain, a brain and sensory organs are needed to experience and interface with the world. If the consciousness could survive death, the deceased person would be unaware of their own existence. Besides the self is uniquely identifiable, but the soul is immaterial -- so how could individual souls tell one another apart from one another? Even the best theologians have to resort to speculations about inter-soul telepathy, which is no different than asking how many angels dance on the head of a pin.
Compounding the strength of the arguments for materialism is the weakness of the arguments against materialism. Many of these arguments are semantic, for example: • If materialism is true, then truth is either unreal or material, since according to materialism, all that is real is material. However, truth has no material qualities. • Materialism is illogical because it cannot be proven via logical arguments, since arguments are not material things. • While I can speak of some thoughts as being my own thoughts, what am I? The “I” that is thinking this is itself a thought. Generating the self can’t just be one of the brain’s tasks, since that means your brain possesses you, rather than you possessing a brain. • Thought transcends matter in many ways -- thought can be in many places at the same time, and within many minds at once. Since no material thing can do that, thought is real, but not matter, and materialism is thus false. • Thought transcends physical laws via abstraction, since abstract, timeless, universal truths (e.g., 2 + 2 = 4, and the notions of equality or truth) have no spatial or temporal dimensions.
However, all of these arguments can be dismissed by viewing thought, truth, consciousness, etc. as being information, which is a physical thing. Death and the resulting decomposition of the brain definitively destroy the self, just like how burning an old newspaper destroys the words written inside.
While materialism does not definitively prove the non-existence of an afterlife, the arguments which support the belief in an afterlife are weak, in that they are based upon logical fallacies, or their effects are also explainable via materialism.
1. The argument from consensus: The vast majority of all people who have ever lived have believed in life after death. It is similar to the “common consent” argument for God. However, this says nothing about the actual truth of the matter; if a hundred million people do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. As my mother liked to point out, “if they jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”
2. The argument from the sages. Most of the great sages and wise men throughout history have believed in life after death, and it seems unlikely that this one belief of theirs should be the exception to their wisdom.
Appeals to authority are not logical fallacies per se, but they are in this case, because these wise men are giving “expert opinions” outside of their experience, which is a non-sequitur. One cannot be an expert on what occurs after death without having experienced it themselves.
3. Argument from the “Spark of Life.” The word for “life” or “soul” in many ancient languages is the same word as the word for “breath.” This is not because life is air per se, but the ability to breathe. This je ne sans quoi is not a material thing, in that it is not composed of parts, because the (unmutilated) dead and the living have an equivalent set of organs. Since this je ne sans quoi is not composed of parts, it cannot decompose, and thus persists. However, this would equally apply to all life, so every animal, plant, fungus, and microorganism also has an immortal soul, which would necessitate their own version of the afterlife. Additionally, there is nothing about this Spark of Life that implies that it is immortal, and it is likely extinguished upon bodily death.
4. Plato’s argument from the soul’s survival of its diseases. In Book 10 of The Republic, Plato describes how everything has its own natural, intrinsic weakness that eventually destroys it, like how rust destroys ironworks, and how the body will succumb to disease. However, the soul is not destroyed by its intrinsic evils (e.g., vice, ignorance, and wickedness), and are thus invincible. However, this assumes that souls and bodies are two separate things. Additionally, this only demonstrates how that the soul is never destroyed while bodies are alive, but it states nothing about what happens after death.
5. Souls are immortal because of God’s love. If you love a person, you don’t want them to cease to exist. But this pre-supposes a loving God, and his conduct and demeanor as recorded in the Bible demonstrates that this assumption is questionable at best.
6. The argument from justice. Christians operate under the assumption that justice is objective, and we live in a just world. While bad things happen to good people and vice-versa. When justice is unfulfilled in the short-term, an afterlife is often necessary to meet this fulfillment in the long-term. However, the truth is rarely black or white, but a shade of grey. While justice may demand immortality to confer an eternity of punishments or rewards, justice is ultimately a human construct, which is why it has many (and often contradictory) definitions. Outside of human civilization, the world is a harsh and unjust, a “nature red in tooth and claw.”
8. The argument from near-death experiences. About twenty million Americans have had some kind of near-death experience, which convinces them of an afterlife. While this could be a hallucination, theologians argue that they are true since because of the invariance of the stories. Almost everyone has a similar experience, in that: • The “afterlife” does not resemble its popular portrayal in art. There are no golden streets, angels, clouds, harps, or halos. • The people in question tend to abstain from psychedelic drugs. • When allegedly out of their bodies, these people remain aware of their surroundings. • These people experience profound, positive personality changes. While they do not become saints, they: o Are convinced of life after death. o No longer fear death. o Have a strong sense of meaning, because they feel as though were sent back for a reason. o They take on a new sense of values, emphasizing truth/wisdom/knowledge and love/compassion.
However, research has shown that the dying brain experiences a flurry of activity and chemical dumps as it attempt to reboot itself and/or deal with the effects of damage. This damage model explains the profound personality changes because due to self’s dependence on the brain -- they are literally changed into different people. Likewise, these common experiences are proof of materialism, since they all involve a common set of hardware (i.e., human brains) entering their failure modes, much like how different units of the same game console model will experience similar glitches.