Differing views on Life & Death
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For a belief in life after death

Against a belief in life after death

Near Death Experiences are common amongst resuscitated patients – may mean we are more than just physical beings


Belief in Life after Death is more about wishful thinking than reality so it’s simply says a lot about human psychology


Paranormal experiences such as ESP, mediums and psychics


Much of what we used to attribute to the soul can now be explained through neuroscience


Hicks’ replica theory – seeks to establish that Life after Death is a logical possibility regardless of whether humans have souls or not


Hume argues that due to the fragility of the mind, it is more likely to be destroyed by death rather than survive it


Some people are able to recall details of past lives


It is difficult to establish how we can be sure that a person in the next life is the same person as the embodied person who died


Moral perfection requires an afterlife (summum bonum) – Kant

There is no evidence to suggest that people do survive death

There are universal religious ideas about Life after Death – they cannot all be wrong

It makes no sense to talk of a person surviving death, since a person is a physical entity

The monotheistic religions promise a life after death as a reward for adhering to their faith in this life


Anthony Flew in his essay ‘Can a Man Witness His Own Funeral?’ argues that people are mortal and that the minds of humans are united to a physical body and the body is mortal. He explains ‘people are what you meet’ i.e. we talk of physical people, not the disembodied soul.

Talk of life after death is ‘self-contradictory’ – it makes no sense


Evidence for ghostly activity shows that a person’s spirit lives on after physical death


Mental processes do not survive death – they cease activity




Bertrand Russell sees a belief in the afterlife as wishful thinking – “all that constitutes a person is a series of experiences connected by memory and by certain similarities of the sort we call habit.”

A person is the experiences that are connected together in the memory of an individual and at death a person’s brain ceases to function and their body decays thus, their memories that make them who they are are also lost through brain death


Key terms:

  • Resurrection = the belief in an afterlife that involves the embodied existence of individuals
  • Purgatory = a state or place where souls are purged or purified before going to heaven
  • Beatific vision = the immediate sight and vision of God in heaven which imparts supreme happiness
  • Akhira = the hereafter, everlasting life after death (Islam)

This belief is central to Christian beliefs and based on the belief that Jesus rose from the dead and it reveals some important points:

  • Jesus not only dies for people, he also rises from the dead
  • Jesus is somehow changed and different – his followers do not recognise him at first and his body is changed
  • Jesus is not described as a ghost or vision; he is risen from the dead physically, but his body is transformed and different

It is interpreted by Christians as a sign that death is not the end of human existence and that God does not abandon people, even when they are dying - “God will bring with him those who have died” – 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14

The distinctive belief about Christianity is that it traditionally believes in the resurrection of the body in some way, not just a person’s soul or centre of identity.

Peter Geach suggests that resurrection is the only meaningful way in which one can speak of life after death and he states this based on the grounds that a person could not be meaningfully identified with a spiritual existence after death.

According to traditional Christian belief, the resurrection of the body occurs at the end of time when Jesus returns

  • The Bible indicates that the dead in Christ will rise first followed by those who are still alive at the time of his coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  • Many Christians would argue that although the body dies, the soul is immediately united with God and they point to Biblical materials such as the story of the thief on the cross with Jesus when he promised that he would be with him in paradise that day
  • Catholic Christians believe that most souls go to purgatory where they experience punishment or purification in order to prepare them for the beatific vision. These souls are then ready to be united with a resurrection body
  • The timeless beatific vision is the final end of humans and it is the state which Paul described as when we ‘see him face to face’

Questions raised by resurrection

  • It suggests that life after death must happen in some kind of space
  • Peter Cole in ‘Philosophy of Religion’ asks ‘will they have to queue up to see Jesus?’
  • The idea that our post-death existence involves having a body implies that heaven must be a physical place – would it have a climate? Do we need food? Will our resurrected body grow old?
  • It causes problems for those who have bodily imperfections in life – will these imperfections disappear? Would we become more beautiful? Would disabilities disappear?


Religious doctrine/metaphysical belief that the soul survives death to be reborn in another body.

Reincarnation is the transmigration of the soul from body to body and involves the idea that we have lived before, possibly many times and we may live again.

This belief contends that the soul is eternal and lives in many different bodies and literally means ‘to be made flesh again’.

How a person lives when they are embodied affects the next incarnation so a good person may be reborn wealthy and successful whereas a bad person could become an animal such as a worm or an insect.

  • The process is operated by laws of karma (the principle of actions, deeds and effects that our actions in this life affect the next) which determines that any action carried out in this life has an impact on the next life
  • To finish the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) moksha must be achieved (cessation of attachment to worldly desires)
  • Philosophical schools of thought in Hinduism believe that Brahman (God) is pure consciousness and that the created universe is somewhat unreal/illusionary/dreamlike (maya)
  • All living things in Hinduism have a soul or ‘atman’ and the aim of the atman is to be liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth to be united with Brahman who is the ultimate reality

For many Hindus individuality is an illusion and ultimately life after death is not the personal survival taught by the western, monotheistic faiths

  • Soul = ‘divine spark’, ‘higher,’ ‘true self’
  • Rejected by mainstream Christian churches, particularly the Catholic Church in the Catechism
  • Essential tenants of Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh faiths 
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