Life After Death - Beliefs and Evidence

notes on beliefs of L.A.D and the evidence for/against



The nature of life after death is a fundamental tenet of most world religions. As these all follow in different paths of belief, there are various beliefs of what life after death involves.

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In order to have a full understanding of the beliefs of life after death, it is necessary to have an understanding on the soul. 

The founder of Western philosophy, Plato, took a dualist view and believed that the soul and body worked together, but that they are separate. He believed that the soul was the charioteer of the mind and body and that in death, the soul would go onto the after life. 

Plato did not believe in a bodily existence after death as only the soul had gone on.

Plato's teachings were a great influence to modern day teachings of Christianity (Life after death: body, soul and personal identity)

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A main Christian scholar is that of St. Thomas Aquinas; he held a monist view, that the soul and body are united in life however the soul is capable of existing separately.

Aquinas' teachings reinforced the Christian view that the soul goes on into the afterlife, where it will have an eternal life with god. 

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John, a Christian monist believes that out earthly lives are a 'vale of soul-making' in preparation for our eternal life with God.

Hick developed the Replica Theory in which explained that after death, the deceased person is person in their idealised state in a world which is not spatially consistent with Earth. 

However, Hick points out that nothing on the nature of life after death can be certain, and that it is all an eschatalogical verification. 

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The idea of resurrection is a dominant belief within Christianity due to the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after 3 days. 1 Corinthians comments that everyone will be 'raised a spiritual body' .

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The British Philosophy, H.H.Price designed his theory around the idea of a disembodied consciousness, in which Price refers to as being in a Dreamworld, which is made up of mental images that survived death. 

The main criticism here is that Price gives no suggestion of who will experience this, only the implicaton that everyone will. 

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Price's dreamworld has similarities to Heaven, which is the place of eternal afterlife with God in the Christian faith. There are various beliefs which relate to who goes to Heaven and when. 

1 Corinthians 4-5 states that 'everyone will receive their commendation from God' 

This aligns with the belief of judgement Day and that all souls must first be judged before entering Heaven (or Hell).

Luke 23:43 Jesus' death on the cross implies immediate entry into Heaven for all

This aligns with the tenet of God being omnibenevolent

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The opposing place of Heaven is that of eternal punishment in Hell, whcih contradicts the view of an omnibenevolent God. 

Matthew 13 comments that christ will also punish those who reject Christ.

Catholics believes in purgatory, and that this is the waiting place for souls to be judged in order that they are cleansed and pure before going to Heaven. However, the only support in the Bible for this is within Maccabees comment upon the 'absolvement of sin' 

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Rapture and Tribulations

Prior to the Second Coming of Christ, which many believe is when we will all be saved, there are various views of what will happen. 

Daniel 9: 24-7 comments that there will be a 7 year period of suffering, otherwise known as the tribulation.

Whereas through Revelations 9 and 11 there is comment that there will be three woes.

These are all prior to the Rapture which for Christians is the end of our earthly lives and the second coming of Jesus.

Throughout Revelations, the Apostle John, teaches on the importace of the millenniuem. This is potentially when Jesus will come again.

This is an important time for new religious movements and is the reason why many begin at this time and why they are often shortlived. 

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Jehovah's Witnesses

One of the oldest NRMs is that of Jehovah's Witnesses, which are now around a century old. 

Their faith revolves around the belief in salvation and who will be saved. Only 144,000 people in all of the world will be saved and according to the Watch Tower, most have already been saved. 

This belief is based upon John Calvin's teaching of The Elect, where only a certain number of people were predestined by God to be saved, yet they did not know who. 

Hence Jehovah's Witnesses work at living a morally good life in order that they are worthy of having been saved. 

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People's Temple

People's Temple is a world rejecting NRM, (Roy Wallis Typology), and worked towards hulding a utopia, or heaven on Earth.

founded in 1955 by Jim Jones, members were promised salvation when there was a state of divine socialism on Earh. However in November, 1974, Jones hastened salvation through a mass suicide. 

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Branch Davidians

Another world rejecting Nrm, with beliefs focused on salvation is that of Branch Davidians. 

These had foundations in traditional Christiian beliefs, yet their views on salvaton were slightly different. 

Jesus' death on the cross, from the view of the Branch Davidians, only brought salvation to those already born, hence bith just and unjust will be saved at the second coming of Jesus

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In order to have world religious views on the mature of life after death, Buddhism will also be looked at. 

For Buddhists, although not all views and beliefs are upheld by all Buddhists, a universal belief is that there is no soul and this is just an illusion.

Their faith revolves partly around the belief in karma and the cycle of rebirth, Samsara. A person's next bodily life will be determined by the amount of karma gained throughtout their previous life. 

For most buddhists, their ultimate goal is to reach Nirvana, otherwise known as Enlightenment. This is something that cannot be described, only experienced, and once reached Samsara has ended. This is when the end of a person's earthly occurs. 

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Overall, it is clear that there are various ideas and beliefs surrounding the concept of life after death. Similarly to Buddhists, not all Christians believe in the views outlined, yet many are predominant such as Heaven. To conclude, there can be no way to correctly predict what happens, hence John Hick's view of the eschatalogical verification. 

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Intro - B

Amongst scholars, both religious and secular, life after death and its evidence is a much debated topic. 

It can be said that in our now more secular society, religious views towards the nature of life after death do not hold as much strength as they would have done previously. 

with science ever advancing, non-scientific views are hard to uphold and proof for life after death is continually weakening. 

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Materialism has started to become much more dominant and materialistic views are being held far more.

Richard Dawkins publicly voices his views that humans just consist of matter; there is no soul, no God and no afterlife.

In his book, the Selfish Gene, Dawkins comments that we are all just 'survival machines', designed only to replicate ourselves, which has no need for an afterlife. 

Dawkins also points out that it can be scientifically proven that we are just matter; the same cannot be said for any notions of an after life. 

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God Gene

There have been numerous studies into whether or not a 'God gene' exists, a gene which makes us religious and allows us to have religious belief. 

Scientists in America have recently found that there is a gene within the brain that for some people can seem to have a religious effect. 

After some experiments, various people did believe that they had then felt a religious experience.

The same experiment was tried on Dawkins and he however did not feel anything, but this may simply have been due to his biased views. 

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A precursor to Dawkins was that of Marx; who believed religion was an illusion and acted as an 'opium to the masses' 

Marx felt that religion was a significant hindrance to human's development and as a result it led to them feeling a false sense of happiness that there would be something better in the afterlife.

Marx felt it was illogical to believe this. 

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Freud had similar views to Marx and felt that to believe in the afterlife was simply wish-fulfilment, and argued that it is only a means of comfort.

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A libertarianist would argue against these claims that the way in which humans are free must point towards a non-physical existence such as a soul.

Although our brains control our actions, Libertarianism demonstrates that freedom, (to act morally or immorally), can only come from something such as the soul. 

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A similar idea to this is that of Out Of Body Experiences, OOBEs.

Many people have been reported as having an OOBE and in which they felt lifted out of their body and could then seem themselves or other things such as family members. 

However most of these reports have come from people at a time of high stress and may not be greatly reliable. 

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The BBC programme, 'The Day That I Died' looked into Near Death Experiences, NDEs and people who experienced them. 

One woman, Vicky Noratuk, who had been blind since birth was in a car accident. Whilst being in hospital she felt herself lifted out of her body and could see herself, even though she had always been blind. She heard the doctors saying that they could not revive her

After the doctors did managed to revive her, Noratuk informed them of what she saw and their only explanation was that it must have been an NDE. 

Many people report that they experience being in a tunnel, or a change in emotional state. 

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Dr. Susan Blackmore

As compelling as this evidence seems, Dr. Susan Blackmore, an atheist (hence may be non-religiously biased), psychologist explains some NDE experiences.

She explains that due to the way visual cells are aligned, with more at the centre, the edges looks darker hence many believe it to be a tunnel. 

The so called 'feel-good factor', Blackmore explains as being due to a surge of endorphins which result in a happy sense of relief, which happens when the body is near death.

She comments that these can only happen when the body is between consciousness and unconsciousness, (borderline consciousness). 

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Although this seems to disprove notions of NDEs, which may be a close approximation of an actual afterlife, there are some religious views which science has not completely disprove. 

Within Eastern religions, reincarnation, (Hinduism), and rebirth, (Buddhism), are central themes. One of the most compelling of these is that of Purinima.

Dr. Ian Stevenson did a large amount of research into this case in his book 20 cases suggestive of reincarnation, yet struggled to find any reasons behind it other than reincarnation.

Purinima believed that she was the reincarnated son of an incense making family who lived north of her village in Sri Lanka. Upon meeting them, Purinima recognised her former family and photos of her former self. She also had an unusual birthmark that correlated to the accident which had killer her former self.

Stevenson struggled to find fault with this case, however with many he said that it was a case of cryptomnesia; where an individual hears a story and repeats it as if they remember it themselves.   

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Psychological Explanations

There are various pshycological explanations which make believing in life after death difficult. 

One main argument is that of religious pluralism. There are so many views of life after death, that these become contradictory and confusing. As religious groups themselves also do not agree, this makes it seem that there is no actual right belief.

Many people comment that people only turn to religion as they get older and nearer to death, hence it is used simply as a comforter. 

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Science has not so much disproved the notion of life after death, but does not prove the existence of a soul or any other similar beliefs.

Religious beliefs are built upon foundations of faith, not empirical evidence, hence those of Heaven and reincarnation are difficult to argue.

Although science can explain some aspects of life after death, it cannot explain what does happen, therefore religious believers hold onto their faith, and for them science cannot disprove any notions of life after death. 

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