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December 05, 2011


That dude with the middle finger is pretty rude. Taking out your existential angst on Christians is one way to deal with the fear of death I guess.

My 27 year old cousin went to the doc with a stomach ache 8 months ago. Turns out he had full blown cancer. Very rare for someone his age. 7 months after diagnosis, he was dead.

That was my first funeral. It was last month. Though i'm 35, I never really knew anyone who died.

I always wondered if the event would change me somehow. Maybe I would experience something profound, and be moved to perceive the world differently.

After about 20 minutes into the mass, all I really felt was empty. I was ready to go. It was clear to me that this little song and dance was really just an exercise in delusion.

We buried his body. Ate catered food. Gossiped with relatives. Got in our cars. And drove home.

I guess I expected something more profound...

Not with a bang, but with a whimper -- that's how his life ended.

During the mass, people kept remarking:

"Don't worry. He's in a better place now."

Were they saying that to comfort his mom?

Maybe they were saying it to comfort themselves...

The whole time, I just kept thinking:

"I wonder if all of these people really truly believe that, following the failure of a couple biological mechanisms, a mind-body dismount is initiated in a trans-dimensional realm, and one's conscious mind is transported to a spiritual domain--where it can reside forever in a state of infinite bliss with the creator of the cosmos."


I don't know what amount of evidence it would take for me to believe something like that.

It would indeed require a fantastic amount.

Anyway, until such a cache is amassed, I think this best describes the state of the debate:


While we should not seek to end our life early (God knowing our # of days), neither should we fear it either (although I will admit to not being keen on a painful lingering dying, though I imagine there are eternal lessons to be learned through suffering), death releases us from the corruption of a mortal body, and prepares us to receive an incorruptible body through the power of the resurrection. And thus, in our resurrected body we are prepared to stand before God to be judged. We should be grateful for every day we have to live in this probationary state called mortality; knowing that mortal life is only one scene of a play in several parts makes death no more terrifying than birth.

There is a definite tone of anger and rebelliousness in Mr. Baker's post. Anger often comes from the root which is fear.

While Mr. Baker boasts in believing that there is nothing after death, it is clear that he hears a nagging voice asking: "but what if?".

I am saddened, and I pray that the Lord will open his eyes to the truth (John 6:44).

Compare with this one:

And settle it in your heart!


You write as if it's somehow weird for people to believe in life after death.

Most people do you know. Really and truly.

The weirdos are folks like Ricky Gervais who think it's a comforting lie.

The reason most people believe in the afterlife is pretty simple. They recognize, if only vaguely, that there is virtually no reason to view their conscious experiences as inherently dependent on any physical facts. They have to be indoctrinated into believing that it has any real dependency on their brains.

As such, the death of the body can't even begin to count as a reason for believing in the cessation of consciousness.

Now, when it comes to what happens to that consciousness after death, I would suspect that most people take a look at the various comprehensive world-views that have something to say about that, giving some preference to the one they were raised to believe. In the end, they subscribe to the whole theory (along with its implications) that is best supported by their experience and that has the 'ring of truth'.

The choice of world-views is not to accept the view like Christianity but without Christianity's claims on the afterlife. There is no such view. The choice is to accept Christianity along with its claims about the afterlife while rejecting other world-views, or to reject Christianity and endorse some competing comprehensive world-view.

Christians believe in Christianity, not because they have a ton of evidence for its claims about the afterlife, but because they think they've got good evidence for enough of its other distinctive claims to accept the view along with whatever it has to say about the afterlife.

Thanks Amy for these two counter perspectives. On the one hand, John feels like giving the finger to a Christian "God fantasy" (and why not flip Santa the bird while your at it John just to really make your point about cultural delusions)... But, if we are "mere mortals" and if "this life is all we have" why are you wasting your time pursing people who believe something else... deluded or not. As for hating Death, well, be my guest. But that is perhaps an even more futile pursuit because, as mere mortals, death has the inevitability of a freight train and we can't get off the tracks. Under atheism we live, we die, and Death wins... thats it.

On the other hand, Jerram presents a radically different worldview. Under Christianity, death stings but it doesn't win. Under Christianity, through the sacrifice of Christ, a gift is given whereby redemption and salvation are available for all who choose to accept this gift. Some do and some don't. And how this all parses out is a matter of some mystery to me. But here Death is not the end; for better or worse, it is a new beginning, a yet Undiscovered Country where God awaits. Two radically different ideas... one offers hope whereby John might still be able to joyously reunite with family members.. The other offers...nothing.

So John, flip the bird to Death, or delusion, to religious nonsense or whatever else makes you feel better, because, in a real sense, doing so is meaningless and accomplishes nothing. As the song goes "All we are is dust in the wind"; or maybe we are meant for something far more, something wonderfully extravagant and beautifully purposive! I know which one I am hoping for... Cheers and Merry Christmas all.


Totally I think, by default, one would assume a spiritual component to consciousness.

Problem with default human positions is, they're often wrong.

I think it took me several years to believe that a perfect clock on my roof would fall behind a perfect clock in my basement.

Flys directly in the face of human experience.

And yet, is true.

"The weirdos are folks like Ricky Gervais who think it's a comforting lie"

Too true. And he thinks he's being oh so rational and smart while he is spouting his nonsense.


You say, "Totally I think, by default, one would assume a spiritual component to consciousness."

The question would be why, by "default" would one make that assumption?

Why by "default" would one assume the above-outlined assumption about clocks?

Default human positions are almost always true (most of them go completely unnoticed as well). There are rare occasions where they are, indeed, wrong. Your clocks are a case in point.

But there's a good argument for the claim that the clock in your basement would fall behind the clock on your roof (an argument that's really only good on the assumption that God exists and designed the world, BTW. Without God you've got no reason to trust the inductive evidence).

There is still no good argument for any connection between mental experience and brain events. As such there is no remotely challenging reason to think that physical death would result in a cessation of mental activity.

Scratch that, there is one challenging argument for a connection. It is given by the likes of Russell and Berkeley. To wit, the connection is that brain events are logical constructions of mental experiences and have permanence and reality only insofar as minds continue to have the experiences that the brain events are constructed of (Russell and Berkeley, of course, differ about whether any mind continues to have mental experiences of things).

But I don't think that connection helps Ricky Gervais much. The death of the body is still no evidence for the cessation of consciousness.


>> "There are rare occasions where they are, indeed, wrong."


I only need one.

>> "The death of the body is still no evidence for the cessation of consciousness."

I don't know if there can be evidence that consciousness doesn't continue to exist.

nor evidence that my sister's invisible friend doesn't exist.

I have consciousness now.
And I have it now
And now.

I have lots of good inductive evidence to think that consciousness continues through time: it always has in the past. Because of this evidence, if you want to tell me now that something will cause that consciousness to stop at some point in time, you're going to need a pretty good reason to convince me.

To put the same point a little differently, I believe that I will still have consciousness after dinner. That confidence is based on the fact that there is no good reason to think that it should end before or during dinner.

How is death different from dinner?

You have admitted that there is no good reason to think that I will lose consciousness at death. And I agree with you about that. And for the same kind of reason that I have for thinking that I'll be conscious after dinner, I think I'll also be conscious after death: There's just no good reason to think that consciousness should end before or during death.

I hear you saying "But you still might lose consciousness at death". Let's say I grant that point. OK, the future might indeed, not be like the past. That's all you are saying. So your argument boils down to a general skepticism about induction.

That's a heck of a poison pill to swallow, so that you can view the afterlife as a comforting lie. And you really can't quite say that. The most you can actually say is that it's a comforting non sequitur. And you have to make virtually everything else into a non sequitur as well to do even that.

Tony, in reply to your statement, "Why by "default" would one assume the above-outlined assumption about clocks?"

Well, one wouldn't.

So my question still remains, if you would choose to answer it. It isn't leading anywhere, isn't a "gotcha!" question in a series of clever steps.

I was just genuinely curious about what you would say.

>> " "Why by "default" would one assume the above-outlined assumption about clocks?"
Well, one wouldn't.

yes one would.

One would assume time on your roof behaves like time in your basement.

However the clocks would be different.

This reveals an example of how reality does not jive with human experience.

I think by default, human experience would indeed substantiate some flavor of dualism. And science doesn't have an answer to consciousness yet so I am sympathetic to anyone who would subscribe to it. But I think ultimately it will simply be shown to be one of those unfounded human beliefs - like our naive default understanding of time.


>> "You have admitted that there is no good reason to think that I will lose consciousness at death."

you cannot offer evidence that my sister's invisible friend doesn't exist

one could never prove consciousness doesn't continue on and on

As i watch brain damage victims, or conscious patients changing as they undergo brain surgery, or people change their personality as tumors grow in their head, or even as i take psilocybin mushrooms, its fairly clear to me that consciousness is anchored in the physical.

But i think it will take several more decades of research.


I don't have excellent inductive evidence about your sister's friend. I do have excellent inductive evidence that consciousness continues through time. (Oooh just got another datum. And Oh...there came another).

How is it that you observed the consciousness of the brain damage victim or the mushroom eater?

Insofar as you have any evidence at all for their consciousness, it's based on some overarching theory...not on any direct observation.

This of course, is also true in my case. I don't have direct evidence of anyone's consciousness other than my own. As such my best evidence is for my own life after death. I have every reason to think that my consciousness continues on and on and no reason to think that that will stop at death or at any other time.

I also happen to believe in a uniformity of nature because I believe in an intelligent designer. Based on that, I assume that other people are conscious and that their consciousness will survive the death of their bodies.

And if you are thinking that I do have some evidence of cessation of consciousness, because my consciousness ceases while I'm asleep, or in a coma or under anesthesia, I have two things to say.

First, while I'm sleeping, I do remain conscious, because I dream.

Second, even if that were not the case, or even if I can't apply the same reasoning to me under anesthesia, all that shows is that I have excellent direct evidence that all cases of my own unconsciousness are temporary. Assuming a uniformity of nature, I think that goes for all people.


Indeed, there was a time when your body did not contain a brain--when you were very young.

At this time, you did not have consciousness.

In a few decades, your body will not contain a brain.

Based on prior experience, its a reasonable bet that your consciousness will be no more as well.


How do you know that I did not have consciousness when I was very young?

I don't even know that.

And I'm in a privileged position to know whether I am conscious. I'm the universe's second greatest expert on the subject.

Now, I don't know that I did have consciousness before I had a brain either.

My consciousness may well have a beginning in time, perhaps about the time of the formation of my brain. Or it could be that I was conscious before the completion of that process and have forgotten most of that.

Apart from some overarching theory, justified by evidences other than my immediate experiences of my own consciousness, I don't have good evidence one way or the other.

I do know that materialism can't be that overarching theory. There's just not enough in the materialist's conceptual kit bag to get you from atoms in the void to consciousness, whether continuing after death or not.

Indeed it may be the case that magical angels blink your consciousness into existence at the instant that your physical brain was completed.

Given the prolife movement's stance on life, one wonders why God wouldn't make you conscious at previous events -- like fertilization.

In any case, the only datapoints I have to work with that dictate when I wasn't conscious-are sleep, and the time when my body did not house a brain.

So its a safe assumption that, tonight after bedtime, I won't be conscious. And, when my brain is eaten by worms, I will lost it then too.

The two data points are quite different.

When you sleep, you wake up. Even if consciousness does disappear while sleeping, it always returns. Every time.

But the issue of whether consciousness disappears at brain death is quite different. That's a jam-down from a controlling theory. There is not, nor can there be any experience that justifies it (except insofar and the theory that's jamming it down is justified by experience).

"insofar as", not "insofar and"


what on earth is a "jam-down"?

In this context, it means that the view comes as a pronouncement that's forced into your belief set by a controlling theory rather than a belief that simply arises from experience.

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