Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Life after death?

Where do people get the idea that life is meaningless if there is no afterlife? We don’t exist before we are born, then we are born and live out our lives, and then we die and go back to nonexistence. Life has a beginning and life has an end. Just like everything else.

Ok, I’m still mulling over what I heard someone say at SMART last Sunday. I don’t remember the exact quote but the idea was like this: “If we just die and go to nothing, why would people bother risking their lives for other people? In the end it wouldn’t matter, would it?”

I think it was intended as a rhetorical question, but I couldn’t resist replying. I said that people are willing to risk their lives for people and things because they matter to them now, not because they are permanent.

I think of it this way: If you plant a tree, people may sit in its shade 500 years from now. Or fifty years from now it might be cut down so a shopping center could be built where it stood. So, if the future generation prefers shopping over sitting in the shade, was it a total waste of your time and effort to plant the tree in the first place? I’d say not!
But even if the tree lasts a thousand years, someday it will die, and so will all the people who sat in its shade, and soon no one will remember that it was ever there.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t plant the tree, just because you know that it won’t last forever? I don’t think so. Who cares if your contribution will matter in 500 or a thousand years? It matters in the here and now!

More thought about life and death come from one of my favorite freethinkers, Carl Sagan.

Ann Druyann, the wife of Carl Sagan:
"Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever." (Barker 1998)

This is directly in line with what Carl Sagan said himself in his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
"If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy." (Sagan 1996)


Barker, Dan. "Life After Death." Freethought Today April 1998 <> Accessed Oct 6, 2004

Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Ballantine Books, 1996


Luminous Phenomena said...

Carl Sagan was one of my heroes. I miss him.

Mikayla Starstuff said...

Unfortunately, I never even heard of him until after he died. First time was when I was at my sister's house when she lived in Florida in 1997(?) and we watched Contact. That initial contact was what planted the thought in my mind to check out his books when I was leaving xtianity.

Lawrence Jonathan Rhodes said...

Another good post, and very to-the-point. :) You've got a strong, rational mind with an equally strong ability to share it. Either we're a dying breed, or a new one. It's too soon for me to tell. I'll let ya know what I find out in another fifty years or so, once I've had enough time to compare our numbers then to our numbers now.

Hmmm..."then" could be the past, but I meant it to be the future, but either way, it gives an idea of two separate sets of data to compare from which we can draw a conclusion. If going either way in time can yield similar results (even though those results may be "more in the future and less in the past" or the other way around), I reckon our sense of time and how we travel along and gauge it needs a bit more tweaking.

Anyway, I'm having a helluva good time reading your blog. I look forward to more posts. :)