This post is a response to a comment made by an anonymous visitor to my blog. The comment can be viewed under my post regarding the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. I will respond to the following remark made by the visitor:
“. . . but as I contemplate these things I think about the universal question: ‘what is going to happen to me when I die?’ So...through the Atheism view you can rot in the ground like a log or Christianity believes you spend an eternity either in heaven or hell”
Anonymous raises a good point here. What hope does the atheistic view hold for life after death? How can an atheist find hope and meaning without an afterlife?
I’ve always battled to conceptually grasp things that I cannot see or directly experience. Heaven and hell were concepts that I never really got to fully understand. Where is heaven and hell? Are they actual physical places somewhere? If so, why haven’t we been able to find any evidence of their existence? There is no way that I, or anyone, can test the validity of the Bible’s claim that such places exist, so I doubt that they exist at all.
And what about the soul? Over the last century we have also been able to discover more about how the brain works. Antonio Damasio, in his book, Looking for Spinoza, provides a good case that all human emotions, feelings and memories – aspects that have been attributed to the soul – have their origin within the brain, and are affected negatively when the brain is damaged. Michael Persinger, among others, has shown that specific spiritual states – that are commonly attributed to supernatural or religious experiences – can be experienced when certain parts of the brain are stimulated by electrodes. If the soul is separate from the body, why is it affected by the brain? I've slowly come to the belief that what we call the soul is not only a product of the brain, but it is also dependent on it. If there is no brain, there is no soul. If the brain dies, the soul dies.
I know this sounds gloomy, and it took me quite a while to accept it. I always thought that if I adopted this belief I would commit suicide, go and kill people, or fall into depression. But this has not happened. Instead, it has humbled me as an individual: I now realise how totally insignificant I am in this ancient and incredibly large universe. But at the same time I'm extremely special: out of 250 million sperm cells I was the one that was awarded this brief period of consciousness. Life has suddenly become more valuable, every day more special. In all its complexity the universe is suddenly more wondrous. I take less for granted. If there is no afterlife, this is the only life that I will ever have. I find meaning within this life.