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
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
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."
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.
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.