String Theory and Heaven
Life After Death: The Evidence
In his latest book, conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza says that thanks to recent scientific discoveries (think dark matter) and new theories (think the big bang), the idea of resurrected bodies and realms like heaven and hell don't seem so outrageous. CT senior managing editor Mark Galli spoke with D'Souza about Life After Death: The Evidence (Regnery Press), and about how modern science presents no stumbling blocks for the Christian view of the afterlife.
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.
So how would you refute Freud's argument?
Heaven is a place where you live forever, and there's no suffering or pain. Wish fulfillment does fit the notion of the adult Disneyland. But what about hell? Hell is actually a lot worse than what we endure in life—sickness, even death—because while death is just the end, hell is eternal separation from God. It would be dubious for a group of people who are trying to make up a better life to compensate for the difficulties of this one by inventing the idea of hell. In other words, when you look at what religions actually believe about the afterlife, the wish fulfillment thesis doesn't hold up very well.
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.
So how would you answer that?
In Plato's Phaedo, Socrates argues that human beings are made up of two kinds of stuff. We're made up of material stuff—arms, veins, legs—but we're also made up of immaterial stuff like feelings and ideas. Socrates argues that the body does deteriorate and perish, but that the soul—the immaterial stuff—lives on.