February 27, 2012
“If we think of this as a courtroom trial, I do not claim to have met the criminal standard; I will not prove life after death beyond a reasonable doubt. I do, however, claim to have met the civil standard, and proven my case by a preponderance of the evidence.” – Dinesh D’Souza
Life After Death: The Evidence is about as bold a title for a book as I can imagine. Author Dinesh D’Souza starts out by telling readers that he will present strong evidence that the body survives death without appealing to Biblical revelation because he wants to address the materialist atheists on their own turf. Many people have written books presenting good cases for the Bible’s authority, but rather than going down that road, D’Souza takes us down multiple secular lines of reasoning to present his case for life after death.
My reaction to the book is that although D’Souza is really talking to someone other than me—because I am already sold on the idea of life after death—I find his arguments intellectually engaging and his writing style entertaining. D’Souza takes a light tone throughout the book, writing as though he were in a sort of friendly hand-to-hand (or mind-to-mind) combat with unbelievers – rather like fighting the starving to give them food, the hopeless to give them hope, the presumed doomed to give them eternal life. Apparently, a certain portion of the population is determined, despite truly promising indications to the contrary, to believe that this material world is all there is.
For me, that would make for a boxed-in suffocating existence. Once you find adequate reason to believe, the doors open into a vast universe of everlasting promise. But even for believers, the vast territory of eternity is so unknown, that any information we can find out about it is, in my opinion, worth contemplating.
In the first chapter, D’Souza acknowledges that some people claim indifference to what happens once this life ends. I have met many people like this. I’ve heard people say, “We’ll find out when we get there. There’s nothing we can do it about it anyway.” If there were nothing we could do about it, and it really didn’t matter how we lived our lives here on earth, they would have a point. But there is the niggling feeling, and belief throughout human history, that it does matter what we do and what we believe in this life.
Blaise Pascal also puzzled over the professed indifference of some people toward life after death. He says (to paraphrase) it’s like you’re lined up for execution and you watch as one by one the people ahead of you in line are killed. And you’re not concerned? Pascal says you can only not be concerned if you are able to distract yourself enough to forget the nature of your condition. He thinks that much human activity is designed to keep us from thinking about our precarious human condition.
I know many people find comfort in the idea that they will live on in the memories of their loved ones or perhaps in a legacy they leave behind. And yes, some people are remembered this way. Ernest Hemingway surely lives on in his stories and novels, but if Hemingway does not exist as himself somewhere now, this is absolutely meaningless to Hemingway. D’Souza quotes Woody Allen, saying, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” Speaking of Hemingway, the great author wrote of a near death experience he had during World War I, which D’Souza cites as one illustration that NDEs have been reported throughout history.
In the first part of the book, D’Souza discusses modern atheist arguments against life after death. D’Souza then discusses the prevalence of a belief in life after death throughout human history and the different conceptions of life beyond death – reincarnation or continued existence in a heaven or a hell. He then moves to a discussion of NDE research and the various scientific explanations for them. I enjoyed this discussion because I’ve heard so many attempts to debunk NDEs and it was nice to read D’Souza’s comprehensive analysis of all the debunking theories and his refreshing defense of a phenomenon that many people have experienced as profoundly spiritual. Imagine if you have had a powerful spiritual experience that changed your life and then some scientist in a white coat came along and told you that you had only re-experienced your birth due to stress on the brain. It would be one thing if the scientist were right, but D’Souza makes a convincing argument that the scientist is very likely wrong.
The book moves through some vast territory: physics, biology and evolution, neurology (brain vs. mind), psychology, philosophy, and morality. D’Souza claims that between his three main airtight arguments for life after death—from neuroscience, from philosophy, and from morality—he has made a “highly persuasive legal brief for the afterlife.” He acknowledges that the nature of the case makes conclusive eyewitness proof impossible, but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming: “If we think of this as a courtroom trial, I do not claim to have met the criminal standard; I will not prove life after death beyond a reasonable doubt. I do, however, claim to have met the civil standard, and proven my case by a preponderance of the evidence.”
I found the book to be well-researched and well-written, and was fascinated by the arguments for and against. If I have any criticism of the book it is that I could detect, when D’Souza refuted a favorite materialist argument, a somewhat smug “gotcha” tone. Perhaps he can be forgiven for this when we remember that tone of scorn and condescension we often hear from materialists. But Christians are supposed to return good for evil and love our enemies. True, even in these few incidences of smugness D’Souza is being playful; but considering the weight of the subject matter and the virulence of the opposing beliefs, playful is hard to pull off.
To me, the argument from philosophy is the most interesting and also the most convincing. The philosophers D’Souza concentrates on are Kant (a believer) and Schopenhauer (a non-believer), with Schopenhauer ironically in the spotlight. Arthur Schopenhauer, building on the thought of Immanuel Kant and George Berkeley, posited that there are two realms of reality: one that we perceive directly and one that we don’t have direct access to. D’Souza says this idea has never been successfully disputed. But how does it prove life after death? That is what I’ll explore in the next post.
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