D’Souza claims that near-death experiences (NDE) suggest that consciousness can outlive
the breakdown of the body, and they cannot be explained as the product of dying brains.
In his recent
book Life After
Death: The Evidence
(2009), conservative author Dinesh D’Souza provides several arguments
for evidence of life after death, some of which I had not heard before.
Here I will give a short summary with some responses.
claims that near-death experiences (NDE) suggest that consciousness
can outlive the breakdown of the body, and they cannot be explained
as the product of dying brains. The same experiences, which have all
the characteristics of hallucinations caused by oxygen deprivation,
can be found in situations in which a subject is not near death. Despite
thousands of cases, no one has ever come back from an NDE with information
that could not have been in their heads originally.
is properly skeptical of the work of the late Ian Stevenson, psychiatrist
and professor at the University of Virginia. Stevenson collected
thousands of cases of children recalling details from past lives, mostly
in India and other cultures that believe in reincarnation. Independent
investigations indicated that the children could have known about the
people they claimed to be in a previous life, who were usually from
the same or nearby villages.
would children make up such stories? Many were motivated to improve
their status in society, for example, to show they belong in a higher
caste. Or they desired to become religious celebrities, a common occurrence
in India, D’Souza points out, for children who appear especially anointed.
Independent analyses of Stevenson’s data by experts did not find a single
case with convincing evidence of reincarnation.
claims that modern physics shows that matter exists that is “radically
different from any matter we are familiar with.” I assume he is referring to the so-called “dark matter” and “dark energy.” While it is true
that we do not yet know their exact natures, they exhibit those properties
of inertia and gravitation that define what we * mean by “matter” and exhibit nothing that might be called “spiritual.”
Furthermore, plausible candidates exist for these forms of matter
within the current standard models of physics and cosmology.
mentions the possibility suggested by modern cosmology that multiple
universes exist that could have different natural laws than ours—and
proposes that perhaps we can live beyond death in one of those realms.
While these universes may have different laws, they are still made of
matter and therefore none is a candidate for a world of pure spirit.
claims that modern biology shows that the “evolutionary transition
from matter to mind does not seem random or accidental but built into
the script of nature.” He wishfully interprets this as a transition
from material to immaterial. First, this view is far from the mainstream
of modern biology, and it is held by a small minority of biologists
who allow their religious faith to intrude on their science. Second,
even if they are right about some previously unrecognized teleological
principle in action, there is no basis for concluding that it is not
claims that neuroscience has shown that the “mind cannot be reduced
to the brain and materialism is at a dead end.” He has misinformed
his readers about the facts. The number of active neuroscientists today
who are mind-body dualists probably can be counted on the fingers of
one hand. He claims that consciousness and free will seem to operate
outside the domain of objective science. In fact, considerable research
exists suggesting exactly the opposite conclusion. Models of purely
material consciousness have reached the state where they are being tested
in the laboratory with a whole array of wonderful new tools. These models
are already finding practical applications in helping people with brain
argues, “morality is best understood under the presupposition that
there is cosmic justice beyond the world.” Evolution, he says,
cannot explain morality since it is based in selfishness, the opposite
of morality. Morality rises above self-interest but not “gene-interest,”
as Richard Dawkins famously explained in The
claims that morality must come from somewhere outside the evolution-dominated
material world. But then he tells us that people are moral because they
expect to be rewarded in the afterlife. So it’s self-interest after
all! Except if you are an atheist and don’t believe in an afterlife,
in which case you have no reason to be moral. Thus D’Souza’s model
predicts that believers in the afterlife will be far more moral than
nonbelievers. What do the data say? They indicate quite the contrary—that
atheists are, if anything, somewhat more moral than theists. And unlike
theists, their morality does rise above self-interest. Thus D’Souza’s
hypothesis is falsified by the data and can hardly be put forth as a
case for the existence of an afterlife.
D’Souza tries to convince us that belief in the afterlife is good
for us and good for society. He claims that these beliefs, in particular
those of Christianity, provide the core foundation of everything we
hold dear in society: equality, human dignity, democracy, human rights,
and even peace and compassion. But he does not show us where in Christianity
these values can be found. They are certainly not in the scriptures.
They can’t be found in the history of Christianity. In fact, they
can be found in societies that predate Christianity. Indeed, one might
wonder why they took so long to take hold in our modern society when
they have been around for thousands of years. Could the reason be that
there was a period of about 1,000 years, from roughly 500 to 1500, when
Christianity ruled Europe and much of the progress of previous centuries
ground to a halt?