Life after death for Atheists

I’ve been reading Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion and so this New York times article caught my attention.

The first interesting and surprising point in the article is that the Abrahamic Old Testament made almost no mention of an afterlife! Apparently until near-Christian times, only one Jewish sect, the Pharisees, took the afterlife seriously. This is really strange as I always thought one of the primary motivators behind religion was what happened to you after you died. I guess in simpler times the idea that God would punish you for your sins within your lifetime was more plausible (although there are some that still take the possibility seriously).

But it gets more interesting. Could there be an afterlife without God (or gods)? I have seen it said, in this New York Times article and elsewhere, that science has disproved the possibility that consciousness could be separate from our physical brains. I am skeptical of this, I studied artificial intelligence at university in the late 90s, and as I recall, nobody had a clue at that time how our minds really did any of the amazing things they do. I suspect that had this changed significantly in the last 8 years, I would have heard about it.

Some claim that various forms of brain damage, and the apparent gradual degradation in people’s ability to act like people that can result, suggests that “the mind is meat”, but I don’t think this follows. The NYT article points out a theory I’ve had since my teenage years, which is that the brain is simply like a radio receiver, relaying the instructions of our minds from somewhere outside the physical world we know. If you damage a radio receiver, the signal is degraded, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the source of the signal has been damaged.

There are those who claim experimental results where the mind could influence the outcome of random quantum events (see psychokinesis). I don’t know enough to endorse or refute these experimental results, but when I first heard about them it struck me as interesting, as the human brain would be an very effective amplifier of any kind of “signal” being transmitted at the quantum level. So if something or someone were able to manipulate quantum events, the brain would be a perfect way for them to amplify their influence.

Presumably Richard Dawkins would see the whole idea that the bodies we perceive are merely robots being controlled from elsewhere to be a big cop-out, regardless of its scientific plausibility. He would argue that it doesn’t solve the problem of how we were created, it just moves it elsewhere. Who is controlling our bodies, and how were they created? Whether we are simply the meat we see in our daily lives, or whether we are more than that, we still don’t have any better answer as to where we come from.

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