My birthday passed recently. When I was younger, this occasion usually involved over-eating and, when I was much younger, over-indulgence in alcohol. I have mellowed considerably through the years and, rather the ‘celebrating’, I take my birthday off from work and spend some time doing things I enjoy (such as writing for this blog and catching up on paranormal media). I also spend some time reflecting and, as I get older, I confess that my thoughts sometimes veer toward what happens to us when we die.
Now, please don’t think that I sit around having morbid thoughts for my birthday. In my own belief system, death is not something to fear; it is simply a birth into another type of life. Neither I nor anyone can say with certainty what that life looks like but my experiences tell me that there is more to come after death.
Unfortunately, many of the skepdebunkers and members of the scientific community seem determined to paint those who believe in an afterlife as non-critical, non-scientific thinkers, at best, and raving loons, at worst. According to their viewpoint, human beings are their physical bodies and consciousness is simply an accidental byproduct of brain function. When the organism shuts down, we simply cease to exist and that is the end of it. Belief in an afterlife is the result of wooly headed silliness that we learned from religion and ought to be firmly set aside so that we can face the reality of our existence – that we have a certain span of time on this globe and then we are through. The part of the human being that will survive is whatever work they leave behind at death.
Obviously, I disagree with this assessment and my disagreement exists on a number of levels ranging from the materialist theory of consciousness to their complete and utter refusal to even consider the possibility of an afterlife. I’ve just finished reading Greg Taylor’s excellent book Stop Worrying! There Probably Is An Afterlife and I believe that Mr. Taylor makes a very good case for belief in something following death.
It is not my intentions to review the book; Mr. Taylor was obviously heavily influenced by Chris Carter’s work, Science and the Afterlife, but presents the arguments in a way that most laypeople can follow. While I admire Mr. Carter’s work, it is quite heavy reading that needs to be taken in doses.
Mr. Taylor shapes his argument around a number of different phenomenon including the so called Near Death Experiences, deathbed visions, reports of caregivers to the dying who have witnessed any number of paranormal events (lights appearing around the dying person etc), appearances of the recently deceased to their kin and friends, the extensive investigation of mediums by the Society for Psychical Research in the late 1880’s and into the 1900’s. If I do not have my books confused, I believe that Mr. Taylor also mentions the research of Dr. Ian Stevenson who has recorded and investigated many cases of apparent reincarnation.
If you are interested in any, or all, of these phenomenon then please read the book. Mr. Taylor has an engaging style that only occasionally gets bogged down (as when he gets into the discussion of quantum physics). The book contains good introductions to these topics and the notes section is extensive and will provide further reading on topics of interest.
So, can we prove that there is an afterlife? I fully agree with Mr. Taylor that, if we look at the phenomenon which he describes so meticulously throughout the book, one incident at at a time, then the skeptic might rightly be able to challenge a belief in the afterlife. If, however, we look at all of these phenomenon in toto, the sheer volume of evidence will make any reasonable person at least consider the possibility that human consciousness survives death. Again agreeing with the author, I do not think that we can make any definitive statement about what occurs after death but when:
1) more than 50% of caregivers who work with the dying report in a survey that they have witnessed paranormal events around dying patients (unexplained lights, apparitions of deceased relatives, etc);
2) patients who have been clinically dead return with stories that are remarkably similar, even across culture;
3) leading scientists of the late 19th and early 20th century conclude that communication with the dead via mediums is likely a real phenomenon and this research goes on to this day;
4) distinguished physicists, even skeptical ones, conclude that quantum physics allows for the survival of consciousness after death
then I believe that most rational people would at least be moved to continue investigation into these matters and, remember, that I have just touched the tip of the iceberg of data Mr. Taylor includes in his book.
I think the greater question might be why these matters are not taken more seriously in the scientific community. I can not, for the life of me, explain why anyone would be so dead set in their materialist and, often, atheist view of the world that they were completely dismissive of this evidence. Granted, many of these reports are anecdotal but, if biologists had not listened to anecdotal reports of the natives of Africa about a man-like being that lived in jungles, the gorilla would have remained a cryptid for much longer than it did.
In my modest opinion, scientists are not taking these reports and the in-depth research of their predecessors seriously because to do so would shake their world view – their beliefs – and cause them to have to re-think the way they view the universe. Oddly, it may well be the scientists who need a healthy dose of reality.