Despite TodayChristian’s claim that atheists can’t really, honestly answer these questions, I think yesterday’s post did a pretty good job, overall. The question was “Why did you become an atheist,” and being somewhat of a subject-matter expert in that regard, I had no problems with it. On to the next question:
2. What happens when we die?
Hmm, another easy one.
The short and perfectly accurate answer is that when we die, we stop living. That pretty much sums it up, but it might be worthwhile to go into a little more detail. What is life? We know that it is a material process that depends on a number of physical prerequisites. There has to be a reasonably steady source of physical nutrients. Most organisms also require a steady supply of oxygen. Certain physical structures are also necessary (i.e. the organism must be uninjured). As long as these physical requirements are met, and as long as the organism has not accumulated too much damage from the wear-and-tear of aging, life can continue.
This much is uncontroversial and common knowledge. The difference between a live organism and a dead one is a physical difference, and we can distinguish between the two by making material observations, subject to a certain margin of error. What happens when we die is that the physical processes of life cease.
No doubt TodayChristian won’t be satisfied with an answer like that, no matter how accurate it is. TodayChristian probably wants to know, “Yeah, but what happens to us?” It’s a nonsensical question, like asking where does a flame go when you blow out the candle, or where does the sound of the symphony go when the orchestra stops playing. Processes only exist for as long as they are happening. When they stop, they’re gone.
The problem is that TodayChristian believes things that are based on stories told by men, rather than on the facts as we can observe and verify them. We know that consciousness is a physical process that can be impaired or halted by physical influences such as drugs, lack of oxygen, injury, disease, malnutrition, genetics, and so on. We observe this all the time. It’s why people pass out if they drink too much ethanol, and why people feel fuzzy-brained when they’re extremely fatigued. It’s why lead poisoning can make you more prone to violence, and why brain damage can leave you unable to function. Consciousness and thinking are physical processes with physical requirements, subject to physical limits and influences.
The same is true of memories, emotions, desires, fears, sensations, and so on. A concussion can cause you to lose your memory. Certain drugs can make you paranoid. Alcohol can dull your senses. All of these things are physical processes that continue for a certain time, and then end.
This is well-known fact, and uncontroversial. We know that life and consciousness are physical processes, and that when the organism dies, these processes cease. The candle goes out. The orchestra falls silent. There is no “it” to be the subject of the question, “What happens to it after the process stops?”
Now, TodayChristian would likely prefer to assert that they have some kind of special, spiritual knowledge (à la The Emperor’s New Clothes) that informs them there is something more to man than just material processes. But there’s two problems with making such a claim. First of all, my beliefs are based on easily verifiable real-world facts, and nothing more. TodayChristian’s beliefs are derived from stories told by men. They’re not based on reality. You can believe that kind of stuff if you want to, but the other name for that kind of faith is “gullibility.”
But secondly, suppose there were some kind of “it,” some kind of “soul,” above and beyond the material processes of human life. What would this “soul” consist of? It would not be consciousness, or memory, or perception, or feelings, or desire. We know all those things are material processes, subject to material limits. If the soul is something different, then what is it? Some weird, other “it” entirely outside of human perception and experience? If so, then on what basis does TodayChristian claim to have knowledge of it?
But of course, what we find when reading Christian literature, is that Christians envision the soul as being some kind of continuation of consciousness, perception, memory, sensation, and so on. In other words, the Christian concept of “soul” is a mere imitation of the material processes of human biological life. “Afterlife” is envisioned in Christian stories as being a continuation of material existence, only without the material components. It’s a great source of material for wish-fulfillment fantasies, but unfortunately it’s all faith-based faith, unrelated to what we can actually observe about the processes that make up the human mind in the real world.
So really, Question #2 is no harder to answer than #1 was. In Question #1 the answer was easy because I only needed to refer to my own personal experience, about which I doubt there is anyone more expert than I. Question #2 is equally easy, because the evidence is all around us, and can be casually verified just by sitting down with a case of beer and drinking until you experience firsthand the fact that physical substances can have an impact on consciousness. (IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: DON’T REALLY DO THIS!)
So the first two questions are really pretty softball questions. But—wait for it—Question #3 is the bombshell:
What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
Hah! Take that, atheists!