Ask An Atheist: Is there an afterlife?

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Q. Is there an afterlife?

A.As someone who is a practical materialist, who does not believe we possess any supernatural spirit apart from the self-awareness generated in our brains, and who furthermore does not believe in any supernatural deities, my answer is a general no. But there are layers to this chain that need some clarifying. The universe is a pretty amazing place as is our own consciousness, and it could very well be (though I suspect it is not) the case that in some dimensional context, the entity that is our personality might in some sense persist. This could be true quite independently of any religious context, simply as part of the natural, material workings, along with quantum physics and relativity.

Likewise, we could exist in a theistically-evolved condition, still totally material in all such ways, lacking an incorporeal soul, but even that would not preclude some deity reconstituting our personal selves in an afterlife (after all, miracles can have no bounds). Again, I don't believe that is going to happen, but it is relevant to remind everyone that afterlives and gods and material brain functions are not logically coupled in the ways that Cartesian dualists might imagine.

Many cultures don't presume an afterlife for all, including the Sumerians and even the Old Testament Jews. Though by the time Jesus came along, the Hebrew tradition had been bumping into a Hellenistic worldview where common soldiers were looking forward to their slot in the Elysian Fields, and had evidently incorporated the general idea as a given. Belief in an afterlife (dealt with exceptional vagueness in the New Testament) suggests to me more how religions can evolve over time, aiming more and more to have a set of tenets that believers would like to be true.



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