The Case for Life After Death

Christianity Today has posted an interview by Mark Galli with Dinesh D’Souza, the former policy analyst and political commentator turned Christian apologist. In the interview, D’Souza discusses his latest book, Life After Death: The Evidence (Regnery 2009), and the debate over post-mortem existence:

Why do we need a book on life after death when it appears that most people believe in it?

Life after death is a universal sentiment, but in modern times and only in one civilization—the West—a powerful movement has risen to deny life after death. Ordinarily you could ignore the deniers because they are a small minority, but they tend to be some of the most educated people, and they appeal to the authority of knowledge and science.

This book is different in that it doesn’t attempt to present what the Bible says about life after death. Rather, it’s an attempt to provide secular corroboration through reason and science for what believers have affirmed by faith. There’s a lot of powerful evidence, and new evidence, that shows that not only the afterlife but also the Christian conception of the afterlife can be affirmed by modern science.

What to you is the strongest argument against life after death?

There are two strong arguments. One was made most famous by Sigmund Freud. It essentially says that belief in the afterlife can be safely dismissed because it is a case of wish fulfillment. Freud distinguished between error and illusion: An error is a mistaken belief; an illusion isn’t a mistaken belief, but it’s a belief rooted in what you hope will be rather than what is the case. For example, if a servant girl says, “I’m going to marry a prince,” is she making an error? No, because she actually could marry a prince, but it’s an illusion. The chances of this are preposterously low, so it reflects her wishful thinking rather than any clear-eyed view of the facts. Freud basically said that we all have this juvenile desire to survive our deaths, so we made up this idea.

What is the second strong argument against life after death?

The argument that insists that science has searched for the soul, some ghostly immaterial part of us, and has found nothing. What we call immaterial things—our thoughts, our emotions—are extensions of material objects in our brains, and when the material objects disintegrate, the rest of us goes with them.

Read the whole thing to find out how D’Souza responds to those two arguments.

Life After Death: The Evidence marshals recent findings from quantum mechanics, the AWARE study (“Awareness During Resuscitation”), and other discoveries in neuroscience that suggest the mind cannot be reduced to the brain and that consciousness and free will seem to operate uninfluenced by the laws of nature (read D’Souza’s article at the Huffington Post about NDE’s and the case for the afterlife). He also turns one of the atheists’ favorite arguments against Christianity – the problem of evil – back on the materialist by showing that our revulsion over unpunished evils demonstrates that moral beliefs must correspond to another post-mortem reality. While a recent name in apologetics, D’Souza’s has been impressive in his debates with the New Atheists (watch this one with Christopher Hitchens, for example) and this new book looks like it will be an interesting read.

4 replies
  1. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    There’s a lot of powerful evidence, and new evidence, that shows that not only the afterlife but also the Christian conception of the afterlife can be affirmed by modern science.

    Please………Can you imagine a situation of science actually arriving at the conclusion that there is life after death? The comment above strikes me as being as optimistically blind as past claims of evidence for a global flood, evidence for a young earth, evidence for ID, evidence for miracles. It just seems such a silly position to adopt: despite thousands of years of no scientific evidence for religion, that there is real scientific evidence just round the corner. Really, how naive do you have to be?

  2. Andrew Thomson
    Andrew Thomson says:

    I haven’t read the book, but submit the following:

    Surely, studies by neurologists and other scientists will be monitoring brain and nerve activity which is not yet fully understood. Just because they don’t fully understand how God created us doesn’t prove that there must be some sort of Platonic soul.

    I had the misfortune of fainting a couple of times when I was at school. No one has ever been able to logically explain to me why ones soul is seemingly rendered unconscious by a fainting spell or a blow to the head, but not be the extinquishment of my life. What if a blow to the head eventually results in my death? When will the soul suddenly decide that its time to start thinking?

    A lot of Christians will then resort to so called evidence from near death experiences. However, even a brief Google search of such “experiences” reveals that they are claimed by people from many different religious backgrounds and beliefs, and all seemingly claiming seeing similar bright lights etc. These obviously can’t be true after life experiences unless we adhere to the clearly unbiblical notion of universalism.

    The fact that it is universally believed that some part of us (normally called the soul) survives death is no proof that this is the case, but rather that Satan has succeeded in universal deception. Genesis 3:4 “You will not surely die”. All pagan religions have accepted this lie and Christianity also took it on board very early in the piece (though not all Christians), influenced by pagan philosophy.

    Why is it that during the apostolic period, their listeners were quite happy to listen to them until they mentioned the resurrection from the dead? Is it not because that directly contradicted Satan’s lie and the very basis of their pagan beliefs.

    Of course the other side of the coin that comes with believing that some part of us is naturally immortal is the idea that those who don’t accept Christ as Saviour with suffer eternal torment in hell. Dr R.F. Weymouth had this to say: “My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek language possesses signifying ‘destroy’, or ‘destruction’, are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this.”

    The Psalmist said: “No-one remembers you (i.e. God) when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” Psalm 6:5

    Natural immortality is an attribute that belongs only the God: “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal.” I Timothy 6:15-16.

    My future hope (‘hope’ in a biblical sense – certain assurance) in eternal life is based firmly on the resurrection. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:28-29.

    John Milton has this to say in his “A Treatise on Christian Doctrine”: “It may be inferred, unless we had rather take the heathen writers for our teachers respecting the nature of the soul, that man is a living being, intrinsically and properly one and individual not compounded or separable, not – according to the common opinion – made up and formed of two distinct and separate natures… for man himself, the whole man, when finally created, is called in express terms, ‘a living soul'” “The death of the body is the loss or extinction of life. The common definition, which supposes it to consist in the separation of soul and body, is inadmissible.”

  3. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    As far as I am aware, Dinesh D’Souza has no specialised training in neuroscience. That doesn’t make him wrong of course, but I think that if we want to look at how Christian scholars deal with the evidence produced in that field, we should really be trying to hear from Christians cholars who do specialise in that field. Scholars, for example, like Nancey Murphy who has written or contributed to numerous pieces of work as a Christian who deals with the interface between neuroscience and Christian faith and the doctrine of humanity. Warren Brown is another example.

    Although I am well aware of the way that sceptics sometimes quite wrongly accuse Christians of using “God of the gaps” arguments, I regukarky find that philosophy of mind is precisely where Christian writers (Moreland included) do fall into just that error. If it interests anyone, I’m in the middle of a making podcast series on philosophy of mind from a Christian point of view, and the next episode is on this very subject: philosophy of mind and life after death. Episode one is here, and there are currently three episodes online. The next one will go up this weekend.

  4. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    “… as optimistically blind as past claims of evidence for a global flood, evidence for a young earth, evidence for ID, evidence for miracles…”

    You know, you destroy the strength of any particular objection when you reveal that you’d be equally adamant rejecting any and all arguments for religious conclusions.

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