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Immortality and Afterlife

Life is a journey, not a destination.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

So what is our destination?

Immortality is often used synonymously with afterlife however it differs philosophically. Afterlife is the continuation of existence after death regardless of whether or not that continuation is indefinite. Immortality is the indefinite continuation of a person’s existence whether corporally or after death.


Some hypothetical medical technologies offer the prospect of a corporal immortality but cannot of course offer an afterlife. Scientific proof of the afterlife would be impossible since science by definition is knowledge about or study of the natural world, and afterlife is an existence beyond the grave and so not part of the natural world. However, the existence of an afterlife can be acknowledged, at least philosophically, through reason.

First of all, belief in an afterlife usually entails the belief that something exists beyond the material world (see topic title “Things Unseen”) and something survives the body when death occurs such as a soul, spirit, ghost, essence, life-force etc. (see topic title “Oh My Soul” and “What makes Me – Me).


This is not just sentiment.  It is a conviction that has been shared by the vast majority of mankind. Wherever we find traces of human beings such as burial grounds and graves that are even thousands of years old, we find, too, evidence of their belief in survival after death.

The immortality of the soul is a matter which is of so great consequence to us and which touches us so profoundly that we must have lost all feeling to be indifferent about it.   Blaise Pascal 

In 2007 AARP magazine did an article about “Life After Death”. It surveyed 1,011 people aged 50 years and older to see what Americans in the second half of life thought about life after death. It found that 73% believed in life after death.

Huston Smith, Syracuse University professor emeritus of religion and author of “The World’s Religions; Our Great Wisdom Traditions” says, ”Belief in an afterlife has risen in the last 50 years. Serious thinkers are beginning to see through the mistake modernity made in thinking that science is the oracle of truth.”

I believe in the immortality of the soul because I have within me immortal longings.   Helen Keller

The Argument for the Immortality of the Human Soul

As was stated earlier, we cannot rely on science to provide definitive evidence of an afterlife because it is apart from the material world. Therefore this question is traditionally answered philosophically by studying the nature of the actions specific to man, particularly intellectual thought. We can know something about what our human intellect is by considering what it does in much the same way that science defines when life exists by what it does as oppose to what it is. - (see topic: Question of Life)

Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century philosopher and the foremost classical proponent of natural theology influenced Western thought considerably. Much of modern philosophy was conceived in development or refutation of his ideas. Yet these ideas were hardly new but were begun by Socrates and Plato.


It is in Aquinas' Summa Theologica  however that the great teaching concerning the nature of souls is found, and it is somewhat complex. However, in brief, the teaching runs as follows.

Firstly, it can be observed that there are certain abilities of a human person that cannot be explained solely by material substances or processes in the body: abilities such as reasoning, reflecting, or willing.

The possession of free will is only possible if there is something beyond the merely physical within a human being – otherwise we would simply be organic “computers” which just process information and always come to the same conclusions. But this is not the case – human beings demonstrate free will. These abilities are accounted for by the non-material, or spiritual principle of the body, or the soul.

Secondly, a soul has no parts. The body has parts because it physically exists in space, and can therefore be divided into parts. Souls do not exist in space, do not have parts and therefore cannot be broken down into parts. They are what is called “simple”. This does not mean they are easy to understand, but rather they cannot be reduced or broken down to smaller (simpler) component parts. If something cannot be broken apart, it cannot decay. Souls, by their nature, will always exist.
 

Now if a man can have spiritual ideas, then there is something in him that is not material. And that something we call his soul. When the body dies the soul lives on.

Other types of indications of afterlife, besides rational philosophical or theological arguments, could include:

1. Human intuitions

2. Testimony of individuals who are thought to have special insights into the afterlife such as:

a. Holy ones

   b. Miracle workers

  c. Spectacular conversions

3. Testimonies from individuals who claim to have had a near-death experience.

The variety of opinions of what happens to us after death, to include NED (Near Death Experience), will be discussed in a later topic.