by Robert Almeder

I am a philosopher, and skeptics on the possibility of life after death occasionally defend their skepticism with reasons that are philosophical. take, for example, three of the most popular philosophical arrows in the skeptic's quiver.

the first is that the very idea of humans existing independently of their bodies is inconceivable or incoherent. It makes no sense, they say, to talk about personal survival after death, either because we cannot imagine what a human person is if it is not at least partially identifiable with a unique human body or else because the very idea of surviving one's death is conceptually incoherent. We are our bodies, so they say. In the end, of course, this objection is rooted in the mistaken belief that just because we may not be able to imagine what a disincarnate human is like without a human body, there cannot be any

however, the history of science shows again and again that a failure of imagination provides no compelling reason to doubt claims that are supported by the evidence. Reports of rocks that fall from the sky- what we today call meteorites-were rejected by scientists for decades on the grounds that there are no rocks in the sky to fall. Continental drift was ridiculed by geologists for decades because they could not imagine any means by which the continents could drift. the incredible claims of quantum mechanics may forever defy our ability to imagine them. and, finally, we might just find very strong evidence for accepting the ancient belief in the existence of disincarnate persons even if they are not physical bodies as we generally describe them in natural science.

the second objection is that even if human survival of death were logically and factually possible, we still have no scientific knowledge of anybody ever surviving biological death, because we have no experimental evidence for it that will hold up under serious scientific scrutiny. We cannot, so the objection goes, generate at will compelling case studies; we cannot control disembodied spirits in order to make them appear under empirically desirable conditions. any evidence offered for the survival of humans or human consciousness after death is not repeatable under controlled conditions. Unless the evidence can be repeated at will under controlled conditions, the belief cannot transcend the anecdotal into the realm of human knowledge.

however, there are many things we know exist that cannot be repeated at will. the fact that home runs cannot be repeated at will does not mean that home runs do not occur. We now know that rocks do sometimes fall from the sky, even though we cannot produce at will the evidence for this belief. Unique historical events cannot ever be repeated. even so, as you will see in this wonderful book we do indeed have strongly repeatable evidence based on reincarnation studies, reports of apparitions, and apparent communication from the deceased via mediums.

the third objection is that the evidence for personal survival is persuasive only if the ever-present possibility of fraud or hoax can be clearly excluded. But the possibility of fraud or hoax can never be completely excluded in any field. even so, we do not need to completely exclude all logical possibility of fraud. We only need the continual widespread emergence of cases that have the same characteristics as the ideal cases (of the sort you will find in this book). When enough cases continue to occur and are examined by many different researchers who are incapable of finding any fraud, over time the probability of fraud becomes remote, just because such cases are repeating themselves in widely differing contexts and in the hands of different researchers. as the esteemed Cambridge philosopher henry Sidgwick remarked in his presidential address to the British Society for Psychical Research in 1882, "We have done all we can when the critic has nothing left to allege except that the investigator is in the trick." 1

this is not the place to examine closely all the arguments offered by the skeptics who advance them against the more persuasive arguments for personal survival. But the author of this book has written two other books on the skeptical arguments, and he has done an admirable job in showing just how terribly superficial the skeptical arguments are, primarily because skeptics typically come to the discussion with a deeply rooted bias that undermines the spirit of inquiry based on the facts.

this sort of bias is nothing new. It is a tribute to William James to keep in mind his claim that progress in the area of paranormal research and belief in life after death will be a slow process more likely to occur incrementally as the product of sustained research in the area. James suggested that skepticism in this area dies slowly because of the deep cultural and religious influences on the formation of belief. even so, for those who have studied carefully the various bodies of evidence for belief in some form of human survival it is something of a mystery why some members of the scientific community still resist serious research into this belief.

the author of this book, like so many others, is less motivated by some need to refute skeptics than he is in reaching those who come to the issue with an open mind and who are not fearful of learning that which may challenge their present beliefs. even so, as you will see, his careful criticisms of the skeptical position are more than enough to put the typical skeptic in his or her place.

as a matter of fact, when you finish reading this book, you will probably find the arguments for survival and against the skeptics so compelling that you will come to view death not as a sad extinction of one's personality but rather as a joyful beginning in a different dimension of existence. as philosopher alice Bailey put it:

We can live in the consciousness of immortality, and it will give an added coloring and beauty to life. We can foster the awareness of our future transition, and live with the expectation of its wonder. death thus faced, and regarded as a prelude to further living experience, takes on a different meaning. 2

even so, the ultimate question may not be whether we are strongly justified in believing some form of life after death, although that is certainly an important question. Rather the question is more properly whether that belief is more rationally justifiable than its denial quite independent of whether one believes or disbelieves it. In the meantime, we can continue to argue that not only is it reasonable to believe in some form of life after death, but more interestingly, that it is irrational not to believe, based purely on the force of the available evidence.

Robert almeder, Ph.d., is a professor of philosophy at Georgia State University. a former Fulbright scholar, he is the author of Truth and Skepticism and Death and Personal Survival: The Evidence for Life after Death.

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