Philosophy & Religion

Logical Impossibility of Divine Cause of the Universe--Prof. Smith
Creationism examined
Intelligent Design dressed in science
Reply to the science dressing





Monroe C. Beardsley, Swathmore College

Elizabeth Lane Beardsley, Temple University         (JK’s Ethics Professor, 1968) 

A religion that includes the belief in a supreme personal god cannot be content merely to work out a consistent and reasoned doctrine about the nature of that god: it must also make up its mind about the relationship between God and man. And this inquiry opens up another interesting and important group of philosophical problems.


A number of theological doctrines are common to the main traditions of the major Western religions. There is the concept of God as the creator, not only of the physical universe, but of human beings, who are therefore dependent upon him for their original and continued existence, as well as for their ultimate fate. God makes himself and his will known to them through revelation or through their reason, and he imposes certain obliga­tions upon them to carry out his will. They, in turn, are expected not only to follow his commandments but to worship him. At certain times, or perhaps especially at some final and decisive date, God judges them, and rewards or punishes them according as they have lived, giving to some eternal blessedness and others eternal torments. Such, in very rough outline, is a familiar view, rigidly adhered to by the conservative Christian sects and certain orthodox Jews, but in many respects (as concerns divine judg­ment, particularly) basically modified or abandoned by liberals in both traditions.


It would be beyond the scope of this book to deal in detail with the numerous and perplexing questions that are evoked by such an account. But a great number of them are connected with, and may be centered upon, two problems that are sufficiently fundamental and of sufficiently general concern to deserve treatment here. A number of elements in the traditional view—the idea that man is specially created and in that way different from all the rest of creation, that something in him survives his natural death and is capable of being rewarded or punished—are related to the concept of a soul. It is a philosophical task to analyze this concept and to examine the reasons that may be given for saying that such an entity exists and survives death. Moreover, a number of other ideas—that God made the world and all that it contains, including man, that he himself is good and wants human beings to be good—lead to a very difficult problem about the relation of God to his creation: how can there be evil in the world?


In this chapter, then, we shall take up these two problems: first the problem of immortality, second the problem of evil. 





One of the most ancient and widespread articles of religious faith, ap­parently, is the belief that there is a part of every human being that con­tinues to exist beyond the death of the body. This is the theory of survival


There are extraordinarily varied ways of conceiving, or imagining, such a life after death, even among the followers of one particular religion. To some philosophers it has seemed enough that the mind, or some of its functions, should remain in rapt contemplation of abstract mathematical truths, freed from the contamination and distractions of sense-experience. At the other extreme, the Garden of Allah may be pictured as the quintessence of all sensuous delights. The Plains Indian asks nothing more than a Happy Hunting Ground where he may pursue his lifelong occupa­tion, only with greater success. The Hindu hopes that—perhaps after many incarnations—his individuality will ultimately be swallowed up in the all-encompassing embrace of Brahman. But, speaking generally, within the Jewish and Christian traditions the characteristics of the envisioned after­life can perhaps be summed up in a few main points.


First, the surviving part would have some sort of consciousness and a sense of personal identity. To most Western theists, there would be no point in survival if it meant complete loss of feelings and thoughts, or the immersion in Being to which the Hindu looks forward so hopefully. Second, life after death would have some continuity with the present life: some of the best of this life (friendships, for example) would resume, though on a higher plane. And third, life after death would be in some respects superior to this life, not a mere rerun of what we already know or further episodes in a familiar story. It must mean coming closer to God and sharing a purer blessedness, which means, at the very least, a rest from weary labor and an end to frustrations and sorrows.


§ 1. The Concept of the Soul

We have spoken of a part of the human being that may survive. But so far we have not given it its usual name, "soul."


The connection between the concept of survival and the concept of the soul is so close in the thinking of most Western theists that it may take a little effort to distinguish the two concepts and the two corresponding problems. But, for philosophical clarity and efficiency, the distinction must be made. We can ask whether there is such an entity as a soul, a special part of a human being. And we can ask whether there is any part or aspect of man that survives death. If there is such a part or aspect, it may or may not be a soul; and if there is a soul, it may or may not survive. But the main form of the survival theory, the one with which we shall be chiefly concerned, is that which rests upon the concept of the soul. And so we shall begin by examining this concept.


As with so many important religious terms, the term "soul" offers us a variety of legitimate meanings; the enormous amount of thinking that has been done about this problem has achieved one thing, at least—namely, the development of divers ways of conceiving and defining the soul. But we must pick and choose. The theory of greatest philosophical interest is that in which the soul is conceived as a substance: an entity in its own right, distinct in nature from the body, and (in principle, at least) capable of independent existence. No doubt the soul has sometimes been thought of not as an enduring thing that retains its self-identity through time, but as a process of some kind—a series of experiences, each growing out of the previous one. And it is possible to conceive of survival after death in this way: there is no special thing within us that continues to exist, but some of our experiences will be continuations of those we have now. This would be the doctrine of immortality without the theory of a soul-substance. Bud­dhists (or some Buddhists) apparently have this view, for they believe that the self continues to exist throughout its rounds of transmigration, though they do not believe in a self-substance.


Let us concentrate here, however, on the soul considered as a substance. And the question is: what kind of substance is it supposed to be? The best way of characterizing it is probably to see how the concept arises and why it has been thought that such a thing exists.


First, men must from very early times have been impressed with the difference between living and nonliving things: between those bodies (men included) that seem to contain some inner principle of self-movement and those that await inertly the power of others. In a very general way, the soul is thought of as the animating, or life-giving, element of the living thing, the source of its inner-direction. That some such element must be postulated in order to account for life is an old assumption (in a more modern form, it will be re-examined in Chapter 10). Ancient and medieval philosophers, in fact, speculated that there may be various kinds or grades of souls, suitable to plants and animals and men.


Second, when we consider the difference between human beings and the other living creatures, it is plausible (on the surface, at least) to mark this difference as one of mental power. Man is thought of, then, as the reasoning animal, and thus necessarily the possessor of a special rational faculty. A great many distinctive human activities have been assigned to this faculty: intelligible speech, mathematical thinking, practical invention. If reason, in this sense, is regarded as a faculty that is part of, or co­extensive with, the mind, then the question arises as to the relation between mind and soul. Some philosophers, like Descartes, have treated them as the same; others have thought of the soul as a part of the mind that is spirit rather than intellect.


Third, the concept of the soul has been connected very closely with the experience of duality in the self and the concept of a higher and a lower self. In every culture, we find men adjusting to each other in some form of social order, with some degree of tension between impulse and inclina­tion on the one hand, and on the other hand, a sense of obligation to external rules or to the group. In some cultures this opposition is relaxed and comparatively gentle; in others it is strong and severe. But apparently in most cultures people sometimes feel in themselves a division, a pull in two directions. The nobler part of the self—that which is awake to moral duty, to unselfish love, to what are taken to be higher spiritual concerns— may be thought of as an entity basically distinct from a lower self with bodily appetites and desires. This higher self may then be regarded as a substantial soul.


We can certainly question whether it is necessary to account for life, reason, and spiritual strength by supposing the existence of a soul that animates the body, reasons, and exerts a moral power. But let us tentatively suppose that such a substance is legitimately inferred. Then the next ques­tion is inevitable: is there any justification for thinking that it somehow survives the death of the body?


As we discuss the problem of survival in this chapter, we shall have in mind some kind of continuing, but purer, life in which the soul remains essentially itself, though parted from its body. We will not necessarily mean eternal life. Some religions, notably Christianity, make a further promise—at least to those who find salvation—namely, that they shall live forever. This is the doctrine of immortality, and obviously it goes beyond survival. As we shall see, some of the arguments that have been offered for survival prove, if they prove anything, immortality as well; out others, if successful, would make life after death probable without giving any assurance at all that the soul, having survived one death (or, in the theory of transmigration, many deaths), can be expected to exist end­lessly. It will be important to bear in mind throughout this chapter the distinction between survival and immortality, and to notice which argu­ments are relevant to one or the other of these beliefs. 


§ 2. Arguments for Survival

Through all the speculations that human minds have engaged in about the question of survival, one can trace dozens of lines of thought, some beginning haphazardly and petering out, some too vague and incompre­hensible to be called genuine arguments. There is much, even in some of the least conclusive discussions, that suggests important reflections and is worth careful analysis. But we find three especially noteworthy reasons offered for human survival, and we shall confine our discussion to these.


1. The Argument from utility.  We may begin with the most abstract sort of argument—perhaps the oldest metaphysical argument for survival. This argument may be interestingly compared with the argument from definition in the preceding chapter: it attempts to prove, by an analysis of the very concept of the soul and of the concept of what it is to be destroyed, that the soul is inherently indestructible and therefore immortal. Consider the concept of destruction first. What is it? We are familiar with it in the physical world, where it has a definite and limited meaning. A physical object—a chair, a house, a human body—is destroyed when its parts are separated so that it loses its form and function. This is what we ordinarily mean. It follows that only a compound object can be destroyed: nothing can fall apart unless it has parts. If, then, there are ultimately simple particles, partless particles, they are necessarily indestructible.


Whether or not there are such particles in the physical world, according to the present argument the soul is such an ultimately simple and, therefore, indestructible entity—it is, so to speak, an ultimate spiritual particle.


At first glance this may seem to claim far more than we can afford to admit. For if the soul has in it many thoughts and feelings, then isn't it a complex rather than a simple thing, which may be split into its constituent mental events—its thoughts and feelings—as an atom is split into its sub­atomic particles? But perhaps this is a hasty conclusion. It is true, some philosophers hold, that when you introspect, or look into your own mind, you find there a variety of discriminable feelings and concepts, impulses and desires, and all the rest, but are you not at the same time aware of some single thing, an "I" or ego, that underlies them all, that has these things, but is not they? For example, you recall that yesterday you had very different visual images, desires, ambitions, feelings, and ideas—at least, many of them were different. Yet the you that looks back from today is perfectly certain that it is the same self that had those other feelings yesterday; you are, in short, conscious of self-identity through time, and since you can still be identical with yourself, still be the same self, no matter how much your experiences change, it would seem that your self can be one, though its experiences are many.


Are we really aware of ourselves as single, unitary entities, unchanging despite changes in our experiences? Could we be the same selves tomorrow even if all our experiences were different? These are hard questions, and we shall return to them later (in Chapter 11). At this stage, the argument certainly has something to be said for it. But even if we tentatively allow that there is an entity to be called the soul and that it is simple in the strict sense, perhaps this is not quite enough to establish its indestructibility. Perhaps breaking up is not the only conceivable kind of destruction. The soul might suddenly cease to exist—not going out of existence gradually, existing less and less until it doesn't exist at all (what could that mean?), but existing one moment and not existing the next. Some religious philos­ophers have even regarded the soul as perpetually on the verge of annihila­tion and have concluded that the creative power of God is required at every instant to sustain it in being. In the physical world, the law of the conserva­tion of energy states that the ultimate stuff, whatever it is, of which mass-energy is composed, can be neither created nor destroyed, that its quantity cannot be increased or diminished. But even in this realm, some present-day cosmologists have seriously questioned the truth of this law when applied to closed physical systems within our range of experimentation. Need we then apply a law of spiritual conservation to the soul? Traditional Christian theology accepts the view that God created every human soul and is constantly creating more. If there is no difficulty in conceiving the creation of souls, then how can there be any difficulty in conceiving of their ceasing to be?


2. The Empirical Argument. The most direct independent approach to the problem of survival is plainly the empirical one: let us take as a theory the proposition that the soul survives death, and let us look about to see whether we can find any evidence in favor of it—that is, any well-attested facts that are best accounted for by it.


No doubt there are peculiar difficulties in this assignment. The only direct way of proving the hypothesis would be to die, but we want to test it without dying, for if it is true it may make some difference to the way we conduct our lives. So the question is whether anything happens to us in the course of our lives, or happens to some of us, that would very prob­ably not happen unless the soul were capable of persisting after the molecules of the body are dispersed. Now the best sort of evidence here— the evidence that would satisfy us most—would be to get into communica­tion in some way with the souls of those who have verifiably died and be assured by these souls that they are still in existence, still aware of them­selves as persons, still having experiences, however different from ours.


Of this sort of evidence, two kinds would be especially welcome and convincing. The first is evidence of reappearance. Suppose two brothers grow up closely together, and then, in middle years, are widely separated for a long time and hear nothing of each other. When John last saw James, the latter was clean-shaven, making his living as a secondhand car sales­man, and extremely vigorous and athletic. Then one night, sitting on his front porch in the twilight, John sees, walking slowly across the lawn, his brother James; the face appears very clearly for a few minutes, regarding him gravely, and the voice speaks only a few words: "Good-bye, Jack." But James is wearing a moustache, he is dressed as a priest, and he walks with a limp. Shortly thereafter, John learns for the first time that his brother, who has been in the Near East, died just before the moment of the apparition; that recently he had been in an accident and permanently injured his leg, and had also taken holy orders. Under these conditions, we could say that there was evidence that something of James (including his affection for John) had survived his death and was capable of making itself known to a living man.


The second sort of evidence that would be desirable, though perhaps a little less impressive, would be evidence of mediumistic communication. Let us suppose, while we still have at hand a man so sensitive to para­normal phenomena, that John's father died suddenly many years ago. Before he died there was some talk of valuable ancient coins that he had once mysteriously obtained and supposedly cached away, though neglecting to tell anyone where. Because the talk was mere rumor—purporting to come from an unnamed man who was in on the deal by which the coins were acquired—and because he has very little interest in numismatics him­self, John has never bothered to make more than an unsuccessful, cursory search for them. But in recent years John has fallen on hard times and is badly in need of money; his unnerving experience with the apparition of James has convinced him that it is possible for the dead to communicate with the living; and, since his father has not come to him, he decides to solicit the help of a professional medium. A séance is held and the medium goes into a trance. In the trance, the medium begins to speak in the voice and manner of his "control," a long-dead French Canadian fur-trapper. John asks this voice if he will give a message to his father's spirit and bring back an answer, and the control grants this request. The question asks where the valuable coins are hidden, and the answer is that they are behind the second brick below the chimney pipe behind the furnace in the cellar. When the medium comes to, he of course knows nothing of this communication; but John thanks him, pays him, goes home, removes the brick, and finds the coins. Again, we could call this quite strong evidence that at least one soul continues to exist after death, recalls what it once knew, and is aware of living people.


These two tales are fanciful, to be sure, but only in details, for they are in substance exactly the two kinds of phenomena that have often been reported, some of them investigated by psychic researchers, some of them apparently checked and double-checked and well attested by clear-minded and dependable people.1 Of course it is never possible to rule out all con­ceivable alternatives: for some reason, somebody might have been mas­querading as James; conceivably, the medium was able to discover some­thing about John's father that nobody else had. The present discussion cannot assume that such paranormal phenomena either have or have not occurred, since it would require a long discussion to go into the reliability of the evidence. But if we admit the phenomena, we must ask which is the simplest and most plausible explanation. For example, it is possible that James's apparition is not a genuine reappearance of James but partly illusion (imagining the voice) and partly clairvoyance. John is seeing the way James looked just before he died, the way the ESP (extrasensory perception) subject is supposed to read off the cards in the other room. And it is possible that the medium, unconsciously, knows of the hiding place of the coins in the same way—or he may know of it by telepathy, reading the mind of some other person who, unknown to John, was once told the secret by his father. Clairvoyance and telepathy, however many difficulties they bring in their wake, are simpler hypotheses than that of survival, and there is some independent evidence for them. It is very difficult to design an experiment the results of which could be explained only by survival and not by clairvoyance or telepathy or some combination of them. For if you imagine that a dead person is appearing to you or communicating with you, your first hypothesis must be that you are having a hallucination. If the hallucination is to convince you that it is genuine, it must give you some information you couldn't have gotten in any other way; but any information it gives you you might conceivably have gotten, if not in the normal course of sense-experience, at least by telepathy or clairvoyance. Unless, of course, it is information about the other world itself—but then there is no way you can check on its truth.


The empirical evidence in favor of survival is, then, neither conclusive nor contemptible. We have many reports of such incidents, many of them clearly phony or unreliable, but some of them good enough so that they can't be dismissed offhand. But even if we take them at face value, do we have a really good case for survival, considering the alternative possibilities? And, of course, even if we take them to prove survival, this tells us nothing about how long these souls survive—certainly not that they survive forever, though one might argue that once they get over the first hurdle, death, they stand a good chance of surviving for a long time (some of those who communicate with us through mediums are rather ancient but seem not to have deteriorated).


3. The Theological-Moral Argument. A third direction in which we might seek support for the theory of survival is pointed out by the discussion in the preceding chapter. If we are convinced that the existence of a personal god can be reasonably established by one or more of the arguments sketched there, then the next step would be to see whether the survival of the soul might be in some way deduced from the existence of God.


Now, if we take these two propositions—"God exists," and "The soul survives"—simply as they are, we must, of course, admit that there is no direct logical connection between them. That is, one can believe either and reject the other without contradicting himself. Some Western philosophers have believed in the existence of God but doubted the survival of the soul. On the other hand, the Jains of India evidently believe in a community of eternal souls but in no supreme supernatural being. If, however, certain other propositions are added to these two, then a logical connection does begin to take hold. Two such propositions are often cited. The first is that God is supremely good, or benevolent—that is, he intends the realization of the greatest possible good, including the good of human beings. And the second is that human survival is in fact a very great good for human beings; that to live on after death, perhaps to live forever, is something that man desires from the bottom of his heart, and it would therefore be a cruel and wicked act (of which a supremely good God would be incap­able) to create man with this deep desire and yet frustrate it by denying him immortality.


Whether it is really to be desired that we should exist forever is often heatedly discussed. Perhaps it is to some degree a matter of taste. Perhaps those who say they do not crave immortality are simply blind to their own needs, or perhaps those who say they would welcome immortality are simply lacking in a vivid imagination of the horror of existing forever. Lucretius, whom we have quoted before, praises Epicurus for refuting the theory of immortality—the belief, he says, that is the source of our fear of death and of what may lie beyond. We are "oppressed at times by fears as baseless as those horrors which children imagine coming upon them in the dark."2 These fears are the worst ills of life—and also the source of many others.


Let us hold off that issue for the present, and assume that survival is a good, and a great good. By combining this proposition with others, we can construct the following argument:


1. God exists.

2. God is supremely good and powerful.

3. Survival is a great good for man. Therefore, man survives.


If the three premises are true, there is some reason to believe the conclusion —perhaps it even follows necessarily.


It is possible to reformulate this argument in another way, using premises that some believers in survival have felt to be somewhat stronger. For Premise 2 we substitute the proposition that God is just. Now, justice, in this context, means that people will, in the long run, get what they deserve. A just God will wish to insure (and if he is omnipotent, he surely will insure) that virtue is rewarded and vice is punished, that the noblest efforts to help other people and to live up to high ideals will be appreciated in the general scheme of things. Let us define a just universe as one in which happiness is proportional to moral merit. And let this definition replace Premise 3. We need only one more premise, then, to draw the conclusion we are after. It is very obvious that justice in this sense is not always realized in human life: there are innumerable examples of wickedness and

|  even viciousness flourishing, while good men are ground down or killed. Consider the get-rich-quick operators in Washington, making their hay

I by secret deals, by peddling influence, by various ingenious forms of crookedness. For every one of them who overextends himself and gets caught and exposed, there must be a number who go happily on. And when we reflect upon it, this is likely—if, as we are assuming now, God

I is to permit evil in the world at all. Only if man, or the most important part of him, is able to live on after death, can the balance be restored and justice be done. There is just not enough time and opportunity in this world.


The second form of the argument, then, is this:


1.   God exists.

2.   God is just and omnipotent.

3.   Justice requires that happiness be proportioned to moral merit.

4.   This proportioning cannot be attained exactly within the span of an

earthly lifetime.

Therefore, man survives.


Personal theists who accept these four premises will certainly have a very I strong reason to believe in survival—though not necessarily in immortality, since it is not evident that an infinite time would be required to achieve justice.


It is interesting to note that the third premise, or one somewhat akin to it, was used by Immanuel Kant to support the belief in a deity sufficiently good and powerful to insure that the good will is rewarded with happiness.  This is another moral argument for the existence of God. Kant's own argument for immortality relies on the need of an infinite time in order for the self to achieve the moral perfection that is demanded of it.


§ 3. Some Difficulties in the Survival Theory

That a philosophical or religious theory is widely subscribed to, or even that it has a long history and has been held by many great thinkers, is of course not very strong evidence that it is true. But it perhaps entitles the theory to some initial respect and to a careful hearing. In this chapter, we cannot do more than suggest some important lines of thought for your consideration. These must include some of the negative features of the theory, in particular two serious difficulties that it must overcome.


The first difficulty is a purely empirical one. Once again, let us take the survival theory as an empirical proposition, but ask this time what evidence might be found against it. No direct evidence is available, of course, for no one can return from death and testify that he did not survive, or that there is nothing beyond but nothingness. Moreover, even if all the alleged evi­dence from psychical research turned out to be worthless, we could not count this against the theory, at least in its more sophisticated forms. It does not necessarily follow from the survival theory that some departed spirits will in fact make their existence known to human beings—not even that the most deeply beloved wives and husbands will communicate with their spouses—and therefore the failure of spirits to return will not refute the theory.


But there is another, more indirect kind of evidence that we can obtain about things we know little or nothing about directly. It is based upon the extrapolation, or extension, of well-verified laws of nature to new cases. What we know about birds or snakes in one country we can, cautiously, circumspectly, and riskily, extend to birds and snakes in other lands. What is true of certain nuclear reactions on earth is probably true on the sun. Now we have a tremendous amount of evidence about the dependence of mental behavior upon physical behavior: seeing depends on eyes, pain upon troubled flesh, thinking upon brain-events, and so forth. And this suggests to us the generalization that all mental behavior depends upon and requires bodily behavior. Do we have one clear-cut and authenticated case of mental behavior without bodily behavior? Perhaps we are in a position to say, with some confidence, that probably no mental events occur in the absence of physical events—from which it follows that the soul cannot exist, or at least cannot act, after the body dies.


The conclusion is not absolutely unquestionable, of course, but does it not have a very high degree of probability, considering all the evidence in its favor—evidence that every day increases? In any case, this is surely a powerful objection for the believer in survival to cope with. To get around it, he may have to insist that the activities of the soul after death are very different from those we are familiar with in this life: that indeed life after death is unimaginably different. Then it would not be surprising that, while ordinary mental events depend upon physical events, the extraordinary soul activities do not.


The direction in which this reply is moving, however, brings us directly up against the second serious objection to the survival theory. As long as this theory is simply stated, with no auxiliary explanations, it may not puzzle us, but when we ask for it to be expanded, worked out in detail, it plunges into a nest of difficulties. It is all right to say that the soul survives death, but what does that involve? Does it have sense-experiences or recollections of its earthly life, memories, ambitions, hopes for improve­ments, concern about loved ones still on earth? There is a deep ambivalence in the theory here. The ordinary person who cherishes the belief in survival undoubtedly gets most of his comfort from imagining the souls living very much the sort of life they lived here, only much improved: no rent to pay, Aunt Bertha's rheumatism no longer troubling her, plenty to eat and drink, and so on. But these are just the sorts of experiences that we can be pretty sure no soul could have without a body. Such a view won't do at all, philosophically. Now suppose we cast out these imaginative projections and make the view more sophisticated and abstract. The further we go in this direction, the less we are able to say. And if someone should, finally, declare that the soul after death has mental activities utterly different from any we can experience or even conceive, we may question whether he is saying anything at all. If he can't tell us what the soul does, he has no theory. He can't be refuted, but that is because he is committed to nothing. "I believe in an X that X's in an X-like manner" is not a theory.


In short, the words used to describe the soul, if communication about it is to be possible, must be given a meaning somehow—and how except by reference to some experience that we can have in this present life? Take any description you like of life after death, however metaphorically ex­pressed; for example, the magnificent words that open the Requiem Mass:


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis (Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and let a perpetual light shine upon them).


The kind of "rest" that the Christian may have in mind in praying this prayer will, of course, vary a great deal; but surely it includes a cessation of the most gnawing ills of life, of worries and aches and hopeless hard labor. But whatever content is given to this figurative language, it must involve some kind of feeling, or it means nothing. Suppose it is the kind of feeling you get after a hard day's work when you sit down in a comfortable chair—can this feeling be dissociated from the physical elements of the experience, the relaxing muscles, the slumping back, the aching legs? To have that feeling—isn't it precisely to respond to certain physical conditions in a physical way? And if so, then a way of life in which there are feelings but no bodies would be not merely an improbability, but a logical im­possibility—like hearing without sound, or falling without moving.


It may be partly out of a sense of this difficulty that many theological theories of survival—including the orthodox Roman Catholic theory and that of traditional Judaism—have been supplemented by another theory, the resurrection of the body. This involves subtle distinctions that we can­not stop to consider here, for the body that is restored to the soul after death—thus enabling it to be appropriately blessed in heaven or tortured in Hell—is not the physical body, but a “spiritual body” that somehow substitutes for it.  But the concept of a body that can be overjoyed by light or burned by fire, yet is not material, is difficult one.  Whether it can be worked out intelligibly is a question we must leave open. 





1 For concise reviews of the various results of psychical research see Antony Flew, A New Approach to Psychical Research (London: Watts, 1953), esp. Ch. 7 (partly in Alston); G. N. M. Tyrrell, The Personality of Man (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Pelican Books, 1947), with an extensive bibliography. See also C. D. Broad, Lectures on Psychical Research (New York: Humanities Press, 1962).

2 The Nature of the Universe, Book III, trans. R. E. Latham (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1951), p. 98.



{This ending is inadequate.  For the penultimate paragraph, one can have feeling without a body, as when in a dream one feels heat or pain. 

Similarly, the spiritual being can endure joy and pain, even if the theologian cannot describe the nature of this being.  The difficult, which is telling upon their enterprise, whether it be about the soul, the nature of heaven, of hell, of Yahweh, of lesser gods, of divine will, etc., is the lack of consistency.  There is no way for two theologians to resolve a dispute as long as their claims do not involve a logical inconsistency such as an abuse of language or with their very system.  One can claim that there is reincarnation; the other that the souls go to Hades.  Products of the imagination are like developments of a novel, as long as the story doesn’t violate certain parameters, the story is beyond logic refutation.  Thus the issue for theologians if they are trying to prove their story more than fiction is to not only show that it is logically possible, but also logically compelling.  This they fail to accomplish.  Disputes between theologians as long as they don’t violate their own system or established conventions of language and the logic embedded therein, these disputes are beyond resolution. 

This does not mean that one cannot go outside the dispute to present reasons of preference—just as I have done in the defense of utilitarianism.   Thus though certain question about the hereafter, about the nature of the soul, about divine intervention are beyond proof, one can claim that certain assumptions are superior.  I can paint a story of what would be reasonable to say about the gods, much like Epicurus did, and to then based upon these assumptions to go on and say what is reasonable to conclude about the hereafter. 

The evidence for this would be experiential claims. It is a bit hasty to do as Epicurus, who dismissed the evidential claims because of their inconsistency (“the claims about the gods are many and inconsistent”).  As a moralist, a humanitarian, I am not interested in sorting through the billions of claims direct experience of the spiritual realm, but rather looking for a set of claims that will promote both personal happiness and human well being.  As a utilitarian I must commend the faith which best promotes the greatest good for the greatest number.  Enlightened atheism is better than faith when measured by the utilitarian yardstick.  However, I believe that the best of religions could yield more happiness than enlightened atheism—such as practiced by Bentham, Mill, and Russell. 


The selection of a faith is like the selection of the type of movies to watch.  I, personal, avoid horror shows and religions with a hell or a mean, nasty god.   


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