Revision – Life after Death

1. Body and Soul:
You need to be able to use your knowledge and understanding of the views of Plato, Aristotle, John
Hick and Richard Dawkins to answer questions on the body/soul distinction. You should also be able
to refer other views of the body/soul distinction and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
2. Different views of the after-life:
You need to be able to use your knowledge and understanding of different views about life after
death (the Christian view of resurrection and the Hindu view of reincarnation in order to answer
questions on the coherence of resurrection and/or reincarnation and be able to discuss the
strengths of weaknesses of these views of the after-life.
3. Disembodied existence: (discussed in point 2 below)
The syllabus also asks you to consider two areas of debate that are covered by the two areas of study
listed above. The first is issues surrounding the notion of disembodied existence.
4. The Relationship between life after death and the problem of evil.
The second areas of debate which the syllabus asks you to consider relates to the relationship
between the afterlife and the problem of evil. You should be able to discuss the strengths and
weaknesses of views which relate to both these areas of debate.
Past Questions:
2002: 'The concept of life after death is incoherent.' Discuss.
2003: 'Religious philosophy can offer no firm evidence for a distinction between body and soul.'
2004: 'Theories of life after death do not provide a solution to the problem of evil.' Discuss.
2005: ‘The concept of resurrection of the body is incoherent.’ Discuss.
2006: The concept of disembodied existence is incoherent.’ Discuss
2008: Hick’s views of the body/soul distinction are more coherent than those of Dawkins.’ Discuss.
2013: ‘The existence of evil cannot be justified if there is no life after death’. Discuss
What follows should act as reminders. For full revision you need to do more than rely on these notes.
Use your course notes, the blog, independent learning booklet, essays and text books.
1a. Body and Soul in Plato:
People like Plato, Descartes and H. H. Price who believe that the mind/soul can exist independent of
the body are called dualists. For Plato the soul exists before the body. With training the soul can
recollect its previous life in the world of the Forms from which it came. Because it belongs to the
world of the Forms the soul is eternal and cannot change or be divided. When the body that it
temporarily inhabits dies the soul will return to the world of the Forms. After death those who lived a
life of bodily concerns will find that their soul once more returns to a bodily existence cut off from its
true home in the world of the forms. It is through pure thought that the soul understands the truth
about the Forms. Our bodily senses get in the way of true knowledge and give us only opinion. Plato
allowed that once the soul inhabited the body in the shadowy world of experience. The soul becomes
confused by conflicting desires through its association with the body. Bodily desires and spirited
passions, Plato argued, are like two horses pulling a chariot which has to be controlled by reason.
Reason is the true part of the soul in the body. Bodily desires and our passions are expendable
features of our true self. Plato believed that by devoting one's life to the contemplation of the Forms
rather than gratifying the body one could come to appreciate that the body's future lies in the dust
while the soul's future belongs to the realm of the eternal Forms.
There are a number of reasons why Plato asserted the immortality of the soul. (i). it fits his distinction
between the sensible and intelligible worlds. Plato point out that we have innate knowledge of some
geometrical puzzles (such as square pegs and round holes). We know the answer without training.
This evidence for innate knowledge of the Forms could only be had, Plato thought if our soul had
existed before it was born into our body, so the two must be separate. (ii). Plato believed in the
doctrine that like can only know like. Thus, if the rational mind can know the Forms it must be
because it is itself like a Form in its most pristine and rational state. Because the Forms are eternal,
the soul that knows them must be eternal (immortal) too. (iii). Plato presents an argument from
opposites. For ‘big’ to mean anything it must be contrasted with its opposite ‘small’. Something is
sharp because it is compared to something else which is blunt. From this Plato argues that death and
life go together. The opposite of life is not ‘nothing’ but death. Life comes from death and death
comes from life in the endless migrations of the Soul. (iv). the rational soul, Plato argued, is
indivisible. Unlike material things it cannot be broken down into smaller parts and is therefore
Criticisms of Plato’s view of the body/soul distinction
(i). An indivisible entity might not be broken down any further but it can still diminish into
nothingness. Therefore, indivisibility is no necessary guarantee of survival as Plato and Aquinas
thought. (ii). The argument from opposites fails to see that while opposite require each other they do
not bring each other about. Life is understood in contrast with death but life does not come from
death. (iii). Plato's account of the soul's immortality is dependent upon his theory of the Forms. But
there is no proof that the Forms exist. If the Forms are rejected it becomes more difficult to assert
the soul's independence of the body. (iv). If what survives death includes nothing of our bodily
experiences then that which survives our death would not include many of the things we consider
ourselves to be. (v). The Bible's understanding of human immortality rejects the distinction between
body and soul. In this sense the Biblical view of human beings is closer to that of Aristotle than it is to
Plato. Although the Catholic Church have historically seen mortality and ‘the flesh’ as providing us
with sinful desires adds another dimension to the Christian ideas and perhaps some similarity to
platonic ones.
1b. Aristotle on the body/soul distiction
Aristotle hoped to avoid the errors of Plato on one side and the materialists on the other. He wanted
to find a middle path which retained the insights of both. For Plato, the soul exists independently of
the body in which it is temporarily imprisoned. For the materialist there is no soul. For Aristotle,
there is a soul but it is so closely united with the body that nothing can come between them.
Materialists, Aristotle believed, failed to do justice to the formal and final causes by which a soul
animates and orders the life of a living thing. But Plato's abstract ‘soul’ belonging to the Forms failed
to do justice to the evidence of sense experience. All living things are embodied souls. Body and soul
together make the individual. When the body dies so too does the soul. Aristotle compared the unity
of body and soul to the crest embossed on a wax seal. It is as impossible to separate the soul from
the body as it is to detach the crest from the sealing-wax. For Aristotle, only that which contains
God's own incorporeal reason survives. Of the animals only humans possess such rational ability.
For Aristotle, the soul is not immortal. The soul animates the body. It is its organising structure. It
co-existent with the body but it remains constant throughout the ever-changing seasons of the
body. The soul does not pre-exist the body nor does it post-date it and so can be explained entirely
in natural terms. When the body is dead so too is the soul which animated it. As both final and
formal cause of the body you could say that the soul is something like the ‘function’ of the body.
What it does and what it potential might be. Aristotle expressed these views in his book De Anima.
There, he argues that there are various kinds of animating souls depending upon the particular body
or living things in the hierarchy of being. Plants are able to get nourishment for themselves and
ensure their own reproduction so have what he called a ‘nutritive’ soul. Animals and humans can do
this too so their soul include this nutritive element. But, animals, including humans have what
Aristotle called ‘perceptive’ souls meaning that they are able to experience the world and respond to
basic stimuli, like responding to pleasure and pain. Of all the animals, however, humans are unique in
that they have a rational soul and can recognise the difference between right and wrong. Aristotle,
makes a distinction between the outward appearance of something, such as my body, which he called
the ‘accident’ and the inner structure or animating function of a thing which he called ‘substance’.
My identity remains the same throughout my life because I have a common substance or soul which
animates me throughout all the changes which, from birth, through teenage life, adulthood and old
age, my body goes through. The accident of my appearance changes but I maintain my identity
because I am the same substance. I have the same animating structure or formal cause throughout
my life. For Aristotle, The soul is the Efficient Cause of the body in that it brings about movement in
the body; it is the Formal cause of the body in that it gives the body the organising structure that
makes it the particular body it is, giving me my identity and the soul is the Final Cause of the body in
that that it draws it forward to fulfil its rational function (to reason and to act virtuously). Yet, the
soul is not separate from the body. When the body dies the soul which animated it dies too.
Criticisms of Aristotle’s view of the body/soul distinction
(i). Aristotle attempts to move between materialism and dualism but as a result can be criticised from
both sides. (ii). Materialist claim that the notion of formal cause or an essential self is simply a way of
talking and represents nothing other than functions of the material body. (iii). Dualists would point
out that Aristolte offers no hope for personal survival. (iv) Other options for belief in life after death
are available outside the Greek tradition which does take seriously our material being but which
offers more hope than Aristotle for personal survival namely the Biblical view of resurrection.
1c. Other views of the body/soul distinction
Descartes argued that body is made from matter—stuff that extends in space; but mind, he asserts, is
non-physical and not expended. Mind he says, is wholly distinct from any kind of body and can exist
without a body. If Descartes is correct this would support the possibility that our soul or mind is able
to survive the death of the body. (i). He believed that the mind is a unity and cannot be divided. (ii).
His method of doubt lead him to think of mind and body as separate because he could doubt he had a
body but not that he had a mind. (iii). The mind remains unaffected by damage done to the body. As
with Plato each of these points can be challenged. (see original notes).
In more recent years the view that the soul can exist independently of the body was expressed by H.
H. Price. Mental processes and bodily processes are very different. We have a special access to our
mental processes which we do not have we our bodily process. While the body is always present in a
particular time and space the mind can wonder free of its bodily entrapment. The body may be
deformed but the mind could be excellent. Body and mind are distinct entities. The body dies but the
soul/mind lives on. According to Price our consciousness, memory, will and capacity for emotion all
survive the death of our bodies. In the after life nothing which now depends on the body will exist.
The after-life will contain no physical experiences. There will be no sense experience. Our
experiences will come through our memory. The eternal life of the soul will be entirely mind based.
To get some idea of what this might be like we might think of what if feels like to dream but with the
difference that our will is in control. Telepathy will allow us to communicate with other minds so the
eternal life of the soul will not be a lonely existence. For Price, these ideas are not simply speculation
but is empirically rooted in evidences for clairvoyance, extra sensory perception (ESP), psychical
research (i.e. research into the claims of psychics and mediums) telepathy and near death
1di. Body and Soul in John Hick: (see original notes on 'John Hick's view of life after death')
For Hick, religious belief in God will be verified after death. A God of love would not write-off the lives
of so many innocent victims of life's cruel struggle. There must be, in John Hick's words "some kind of
continuation of the human story beyond the point of bodily death." According to Hick, the denial of
an after-life represents an elitist position that cannot be morally sustained. If God is good and loving
then the reality of life after death would seem to be necessary given the unfairness and brutish
experiences of the majority of human beings throughout history. How is this to be understood. Hick
rejects the idea that the soul can exist independent of a body. All that is important about us; our
identity and relationships require a body. There are five features of Hick’s view of life after death: (i)
For Hick, the starting point for belief in life after death is a moral argument namely, that a God of love
would not allow his creatures to perish having lived unfulfilled lives.. Hick proposes that (ii) there
must be a number of para-eschatological states. We have many future lives in which to achieve the
purpose which God has for us (to achieve the likeness of God). Only this life is on earth. Our future
lives will be on different plains of existence but will probably still require some form of embodiment.
Hence Hick combines Hindu ideas of re-incarnation with Christian ideas of resurrection. (iii). When an
individual self, which is always a unity of body and soul, dies the deeper self, which contains all the
dispositional attitudes of the individual, is reborn in a para-eschatological state with a transformed
body. This deeper self secures the continuity of identity between the various empirical bodies a
person has. (iv). The transformed body that each person receives in the next para-eschatological
state is (a thus also the Christian idea of resurrection) is imagined through an analogy of replication –
the so called replica theory. A replica of the personality that has just died re-appears in the next
para-eschatological state ready to continue the development of the that personalities dispositional
structures toward their fulfilment in the likeness of God. Hick accepts that his account rests on belief
in God but he argues that this belief is meaningful and can be verified eschatologically.
Note: Hick seems to suggest that the ‘empircal self’ is the body/soul unity but underlying and passing
through a series of empirical selfs of the same person in many para-eschatological states is a
‘dispositional structure’ also called by Hick our ‘deeper self’, or our ‘inner self’ or our ‘spiritual project’
or our jiva.
1dii. Criticsms of Hick’s view (now some of this is really complicated – do not worry)
There are a number of problems with Hick's view: (i). Don Cupitt points out that Hick’s argument
requires God to make the replication (resurrection/reincarnation) happen. This means that Hick’s
views on life after death ultimately rest on faith in a real God. Yet this faith, Hick notes elsewhere is
only justified true on the basis that it can be verified eschatological (after death). Hick’s faith in God
and life after death appear to be supported by a circular argument. (ii). Hick’s moral argument for life
after death is also based on his faith in a God of love but for materialist we live in a heartless universe
which cares nothing the real test of our humanity is to act morally without any guarantee of ultimate
redemption. (iii). Hick’s view might also be guilty of giving too much moral significance to the place
of humanity in the universe over other creatures. (iv). Some confussion surrounds what we are
understand by the replica theory. Hick’s own analogy of replication suggests (a) that the John who
areas in New York is identifiable bodily as the John who disappeared in London. In his analysis though
he suggests (b) it is only the ‘deeper self’ or the dispositional attitudes (as he sometimes calls the
deeper self) which is replicated in a new body. If we follow (a) the problem would centre upon the
extend of the transoformation of the body and the question of whether the handicapped remain
handicapped in the next para-eschatological state arises. Hick is fully aware that the body decays and
this is why he speaks of dispositional structures relating to a series of new empirical selves. But if
we follow (b) a different problem arises; how do we explain the movement of dispositional structure
from one empirical self to the next? Kai Nielson suggests it makes no sense to talk of such transfer
since this would imply a stage at which dispositional attitudes could exist without there being
anything of which they are dispositions of. This may leave uncertain how much of me continues in the
dispositional structure and may open the door for a return to dualism and denial of the significance of
bodily continuity to identity. So basically, Kai Neilson is saying that whilst Hick is arguing for bodily
resurrection, by limiting bodily resurrection to the inclusion of ‘bits of us’ (dispositional structures)
actually leaves the door open for dualism (phew, this is making my brain hurt!) (v). If there is a
continuation of dispositional attitudes then there is a degree of continuity between my current self
and my post-mortum self to allow soul making to continue but without the same body it is diffulut to
see how dispositional attitudes remain unaltered. Indeed, as a replica, continuity requires me to
know I am a replica but that knowledge would mean that I am not a replica if continuity is also lost
bodily then it seems at least questionable that I am the same person and (vi) If God can create a
replica John in the next para-eschatological state there seems to be no reason why the original John
was put through the painful knocks of the soul-making process. (vii) It is doubtful if it is ever
possible to identify a single person in two different bodies as being the same person on the basis of
their dispositional attitudes alone. (viii). Brian Davis notes that being told on his death bed not to
worry because a replica of him will be made when he has died would not be of much comfort to him.
Knowing that a replica of him will be doing the things he once did is not the same, Davis argues, as
doing those things yourself. “For the continued existence of the person,” Davis writes, “more is
required than replication.” (ix). Richard Swinburne has criticised Hick account of universal salvation
and rejection of hell. Both seem at odds with the idea that humans are genuinely free. Freedom is
central to Hick’s soul-making theodicy but with freedom comes responsibility for the choices we make
and the consequent judgement on those choices. Without the punishment of hell anyone working
with Hick’s ideas could plausibly argue that they do not need to behave well in this life because God
will give them another chance elsewhere. Further, if this person will eventually be saved and have
their soul made into the likeness of God it is hard to see how they can be said to be free since they
cannot ultimately choose to remain wicked forever.
1ei. Body and Soul in Richard Dawkins:
People who believe that the mind does not have a separate existence from the body and brain that
produces it are called materialists. Materialist believe that the mind is an epi-phenomena of brain
activity. Materialists like Gilbert Ryle and Daniel Dennett argue that the mind is an illusion. We think
there is an 'I' inside, a mind, because our ways of talking suggest it. But there is no such thing as a
mind independent of the brain in the same way as there is no such thing as 'team spirit' independent
of the Chelsea football squad. Mind or soul are just words to describe the way a person relates to
other people. They do not label something separate from the body. This view is expressed most
clearly today by Richard Dawkins. For Dawkins, Human bodies are fundamentally vessels for the
survival and passing on of genes. Anything else, such as consciousness, intelligence, love, meaning,
justice, and beauty are unintended consequences of this evolutionary process. If an individual has
managed to have offspring during its life then its genes will survive the death of its body. Genes
survive, or rather, the digital code of DNA for making further individuals survives by being is passed on
in our genes but the individuals who carry this genetic code (you and me) do not. The individual has
done his or her bit in the process of genetic evolution when they have successful passed on the
genetic code they contains. There is no personal survival. According to Dawkins, genes pass on the
information for creating bodies. Some bodies, like our own, have evolved complex brains. Complex
brains, ones with a capacity for language, create a sense of a self and personal identity but there is no
such entity as soul or spirit which might survive the death of the body. All that is left of an individual
who has reproduced is the genetic code that now survives in his or her off-spring. For Dawkins all
things that we calim to be true must be shown to be true based on evidence. He claims that the
evidence for life after death is not strong enough for us to allow that it be considered true. You also
need to know the ideas of Soul 1 and Soul 2. Please use notes to revise these ideas.
1eii. Criticisms of Dawkins:
Many scientists and philosophers of religion have rejected Dawkins’ strident atheism. People like
Alister McGrath have noted that (i) the basis of his criticism of religion is unsound because it only
criticises the extreme (ii) that he encourages the development of such extremes by suggesting that
that there is no middle ground between militant atheism and creationist fundamentalism (iii). In that
he does not take this middle ground seriously he is guilty of atheistic fundamentalism. (iv). There are
many scientists who do believe in God and life after death such as John Polkinghorne and Dawkins
tends to ignore these figures. (v). Dawkins only has authority when he speaks from his expertise as a
scientist. Scientists deal with things in the natural world. Life after death if it is a reality at all is a
reality of the supernatural world so Dawkins has no more expertise than anyone else and speaks not
as a scientist in his denial of life after death but as just another individual. (vi). Not everything in life
we believe to be true, such as another person’s love for us, require evidence. Indeed, to ask for
evidence may be to destroy the very thing one accepts of trust. Perhaps religion, like love, has to be
taken on trust rather than evidence. (vii) Just because belief in God can have a natural explanation
does not disprove the truth of the supernatural. God may use our natural capacities for near death
experiences as the means by which the reality of the future life is communicated to us.
1fi. Life after Death: Some Arguments
These arguments and evidences could be used to support belief in life after death (as body/soul
distinction or in some other form) against the materialists. However, the materialists will have their
own critical responses to these arguments and evidences. Many people have proposed different
ideas about the possibility of life after death. Some of these may deserve a brief mention in any
relevant exam question. (i). Kant, believed that while we cannot know any detail about our existence
beyond this life and that, consequently it was pointless to speculate he did believe that immortality is
a necessary postulate of moral reason. There must be life after death if the moral law is to remain
rational. (ii). For Aquinas, life after death is assured because God has intended happiness for us. We
are happy in knowing God. In this life we have faith but not knowledge. After death we can achieve
the happiness of knowing God. (iii). For many Christians a God of love cares for every individual and
has intimate relationship with every individual and this relationship transcends death. (iv). For other
Christians propositional revelation in the Bible is enough to assure them of life after death. (v).
Others suggest that if life merely ends in our extinction we have no reason to care about anything.
Since we do care we tacitly express a faith in the idea that death is not the end. Other arguments
include that we live on after death in the memories of those people who love us, or whom we have
impacted. This idea transverses religious and philosophical arguments. Many Christians would believe
this, as would Dawkins.
1fii. Life after Death: Some Evidences
These evidences could be used to support belief in life after death (as body/soul distinction or in some
other form) against the materialists. However, the materialists will have their own critical responses
to these evidences. (i). Some people believe that life after death is supported by empirical evidence.
Raymond Moody, Elizabeth Kubler Ross and Peter Fenwick argue that reports from people who have
has near death experiences is strong evidence of life after death but other philosopher’s like
Elizabeth Blackmore give a purely natural explanation of these experiences. (ii). Evidence form
parapsychology such as telepathy or the phenomena of mediums (spiritualism) have lead some
people, such as Willaim James, to conclude that it is at least possible that the mind or soul can exist
independently from the body. Others, such as Harry Houdini, James Randy (and Derren Brown) have
doubted the truth of such evidence. They have exposed, so called mediums as fakes. (iii) Other
people see evidence for life after death in reports people give of having had past lives but these
reports are also open to more naturalistic interpretation. (See again the more detailed notes on these.
Many of those discussed in section 1g below will question the coherence of any view of personal
survival of death.
1g. Other Views of the Body and Soul: (against)
According to Karl Marx belief in heaven offers false consolation and actually prevents the
establishment of greater economic and social fairness. Darwin has shown that human beings are
material creatures. We are only the times of our life and when our time is up our life ceases to be.
This view, expressed by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, suggests that consciousness itself is an
amazing epiphenomena of language and has no reality in its own right other than material brain
activity. This view is clearly materialistic but the claim that it is also perniciously reductive begs the
question: it assumes that there is more than the material to human personality. Yet materialism does
not deny the multi-faceted nature of human personality. I am still the same person with my own
individuality whether considered from a material or a spiritual perspective. This materialist view has
lead to some interesting modern religious ideas which re-caste the whole relationship between
heaven and life's unfairness. Don Cupitt, for example, has argued that this life is our only life and that
for this reason it is eternal life. Whether this is life in heaven or in hell is entirely up to us. Do we
make life here heavenly or hellish? For him, eternal life is about the way live is lived. We should not
look for compensation or for ultimate explanations of life's unfairness. We should simply get on with
the business of living. You are mostly you when you pour yourself out into your relationship with the
world and other people. This outpouring, Cupitt calls love (agape). Life is unfair. There is nothing
that is going to make it fair other than our own brief loving outpouring. So eternal life in heaven is
one's own outpouring love for life even at the very point of death. This theme is also taken up by
some feminist Christians like R Ruether. Like Marx, she argues that belief in any form of personal
survival of death adds to the unfairness of life. It expresses a male fantasy that has resulted in the
oppression of both women and nature. This is because the latter were associated with each other
while men where associated with the eternal. Desire for the eternal and fear of the temporal means
that our planet is not considered to be our true home so we treat it badly. The environmental
consequences still causes a massive amount of human suffering and unfairness. For Ruether, justice
for nature and for humanity as a whole means recognising the common fate of all organic matter.
Death is a vital part of the continuing processes of life on earth. It is these processes that we put at
risk when we continue to hold to beliefs in a life after death and creating this risk also creates massive
social injustices through the way we treat nature. If eternal life refers to quality of life as suggested
by Tillich, Cupitt and D. Z. Phillips and if quality of life can only be guaranteed by our efforts to
restore justice in the world, as suggested by Ruether, then it could be argued that the fight to prevent
the unfairness of this life is, in-itself, what it means at a deeply symbolic level, to have eternal life in
heaven. Eternal life in heaven is life now poured out into the fight for justice.
1h. Other Views of the Body and Soul: (for)
The Catholic Church believes that from the point of conception the human embryo has a relationship
with God. For many Christians some such view is essential in order to counter the materialists
understanding of human nature. It may seem approiate to use the traditional language about the
soul to talk of that special part in us which relates us to God. For example, in his book Defending the
Soul, Kieth Ward argues that human bengs are more than simply the matter which make up our
bodies. The writers of the Bible knew this, Ward suggests, Adam was not just formed from the dust of
the earth (matter) but also had life-giving breath breathed into his nostrils by God (Genesis 2:7). This
is admittedly mythical or pictorial language for a truth that is expressed in more sophisticated form in
Genesis 1:27. which claims that every human being is created in God’s own image; that the spirit of
God as well as matter of the earth make us the moral, spiritual and material beings we are. For Ward,
this moral and spiritual element in us, which we call the soul, is eternal because it comes from what is
eternal. It is in this element of our make up that our human dignity resides. It is what makes us
human rather than simply animal. It is what gives human life its moral value and ultimate purpose
which is our eternal relationship with God. This is not the full-bown dualism of Price. For Ward, the
eternal life of the human soul is manifest in our recognition that we have a relationship with God
which death cannot destroy. Another Christian philosopher to defend the idea of the soul is Richard
Swinburne. In his book The Evolution of the Soul he argues that it is possible to understand the body
and soul as distinct from each other and that the soul can continue to survive after the death of the
body. Swinburne argues that if we can think of ourselves as disembodied then disembodied existence
is a coherent idea. The most important defineing characteristics of who we are as individuals loved by
God is not to be found in the body. The soul gives us thought, is the centre of our moral freedom and
is what allows us to recognise goodness in others. None of this moral value is ultimately lost at our
death but continues to exist in the souls of those individuals who have lived moral lives.
2. The Coherence of Disembodied Existence (Many of those discussed in section 1g above could be
used to question the coherence of any view of personal survival of death. Also see notes under Plato,
Descartes, Price, for defence of disembodied existence. Remember, Tom Wright and John Hick do
believe in personal survival of death but do not believe that disembodied existence makes sense.
Hick rejects the idea that the soul can exist independent of a body because all that is important
about us; our identity and relationships require a body. For Hick, this means we must be given a
new, transformed, resurrection body in any future life. (See above and original notes on 'John Hick's
view of life after death'). You should also discuss the reasons why both atheistic (Dawkins) and
religious materialist (Cupitt and Ruether) reject the concept of disembodied existence. But also refer
to supporting arguments and evidences (1f above)
At first glance, however, there does seem to be a number of difference between the body and the
idea we have of the mind or soul. One is extended in space and time the other is not. The body can
be deformed but the mind remains unchanged. No scientist has yet explained satisfactorily how it is
that the brain can produce mind. Perhaps the two are independent entities and the mind/soul can
exist independent of the body as Plato, Descartes and Price suggest. However, there are a number of
problems with this view. Against Descartes, Freud has suggested that the mind is divisible and
Descartes does not give an adequate account of how the mind and the body are joined. The idea of
disembodied existence is incoherent because it fails to take account of mental degeneration such as
boredom and madness. It is not always the case the a damaged body leaves the mind unchanged.
Memory is a mental phenomena but some memories are painful. It creates problems of identity.
How do we identify each other or ourselves without a body? This question of personal identity after
death is perhaps the most significant philosophical problem with the idea of some disembodied
existence after death Another problem arises when we consider how a disembodied existence can
relate to (i) its previous embodied self and (ii) to those in this life which it had known in a body. How,
for example, would you recognises even your own parents without anyone having a body? Bernard
Williams argues that our personal identity depends on bodily continuity. Our identity is largely
determined by our bodily interactions with the world our bodies are essential features for
determining who we are. When the body dies and has ceased to be we no longer have an individual
identity. Who we are owes so much to our having a body that it seems impossible to maintain that a
human person can continue to exist without a body. The continuity, identity and relationships of a
person require that that person has a body. It is thus difficult to imagine what a person after death
would be like without a body. How could such an entity be the person it once was? Williams also
argues that any form of eternal survival would soon lose its attractiveness. When we have all the time
in the world to do anything we want to we would soon get bored. We would eventually achieve all
our targets, and then what? Against Swinburne, Williams notes that it does not follow that the idea
of disembodied existence is coherent simply because we can think of ourselves as disembodied. We
can think of all sorts of things such as my ability to fly. In a dream I can fly but this does not mean that
it is actually possible. However, many of the evidences mentioned above could are used by some
thinkers (like Peter Fenwick and H. H. Price) to defend the idea of disembodied existence.
3a. The Christian View of Resurrection:
The idea of resurrection is consistent with the belief that human beings are a unity of body and soul
and the further belief that the one cannot continue without the other. According to the idea of
resurrection we will be clothed in a transformed body in God's eternal kingdom. God re-creates us in
a new bodily form. However, resurrection does not mean resuscitation. It is not like being brought
back to life here an now. Our heavenly body will be a transformed body. For Christians, this has long
been the source of their hope. It means that those who suffer in this life or who have imperfect
bodies will receive, in heaven, a transformed spiritual body. To use one of St. Paul's analogies every
person has an outer and an inner nature. Our outer earthly body perishes because it is tied into the
fallen world of sin. But God raises up the inner nature of the person and clothes it in a new heavenly
outer nature. St. Paul is says that everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will be raised at a single point
in the future and that however long this takes in earthly time it will seem like no longer than a blink of
an eye. At the resurrection our bodies will be transformed from mortal flesh into immortal flesh and
we will be one with Christ and those we love. Christ's resurrection was the first fruits of this more
general resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is an unusual event because nothing like it has
happened before; in the future, when everyone has risen it will not seem so unusual. For Christians,
the main source of evidence for the truth of the resurrection is the Biblical record of the resurrection
of Jesus. Tom Wright has argued for the historical trustworthiness of the Christian tradition about the
resurrection of Jesus. He points out that: (i) While the idea of resurrection was in the culture of the
day the particular form it took in Jesus was not part of Jewish expectation and it was widely accepted
as a historical event by the early church. (ii). Too much of the recorded evidence suggests it was not
made up. Many in Greek culture would have found the stories of Jesus’ resurrection puzzling and
possibly a hindrance to them accepting Christianity, while Jewish culture would not have found
credible the fact that the early witness testimony came from women who were not even allowed to
give evidence in court as their testimony was though to be too unreliable. (iii) Wright points out that
the empty tomb makes it clear that the appearances were not mere hallucinations and the
appearances make it clear that the reason for the tomb being empty had nothing to do with body
snatchers. It was Jesus’ body that appeared. (iv). It is not possible to explain the transformation of
the disciples if Jesus had not actually risen from the dead. Wright concludes that the resurrection of
Jesus is a real, historical event. “Jesus really was raised from the dead, and the disciples really did
meet him, even though his body was renewed and transformed so that now it seemed to be able to
live in two dimensions at once”. We too, after death, will find our bodies living in God’s dimension
(also see notes on John Hick above)
2b. The Coherence of Resurrection
There are a number of problems with the idea of resurrection: (i). It is based on Biblical evidence
which may not be historically reliable. Indeed, some Christian scholars like Rudolph Bultmann argue
that it is inconceivable that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. For Bultmann, resurrection is a
mythical term. By this he meant that it tells us something significant about human life. It represents
to us the realisation of our authentic existence. In living the raised life with Jesus we are freed from
guilt and sin and are able to face the realities of life and death without fear. Following Bultmann,
many Christians have argued that the Biblical idea of resurrection is more about various forms of
renewal in this life than it is about our destiny beyond death. (ii). Some people like Don Cupitt have
questioned whether the idea of a transformed body can still be said to represent the person who had
lived on earth. If the transformation is so big would it still be the same person? If my heavenly body
were to resemble my earthly body, which version of my earthly body would it represent? (iii). If God
re-creates us after death as John Hick's replica theory suggests it might be legitimate to suggest that
such a future life could never be free of God's influence and so undermine a post-mortum version of
the free will defence against the problem of evil. (see criticism of Hick below). (iv) Resurrection relies
on faith but faith does not provide a strong philosophical justification. (v) Modern science rejects the
idea of resurrection.
3c. Hindu view of Rebirth/Reincarnation:
The self or ego we are is a temporary expressions of a soul which has many successive expressions.
Evil and suffering can be explained as a result of what and individual had done in a previous life. We
all have a gross body. The gross body is what you see. It is what DNA determines, it is what
undergoes physical change and disintegration. The subtle body, on the other hand, is not a material
thing although being finite and changeable it has far more in common with the physical body than
with the soul. It is a register of values and spiritual dispositions (moral , aesthetic, religious and
intellectual qualities) built up in the life of a series of gross bodies both human and non-human. The
subtle body represents the spiritual dispositions of an individual. These dispositions survive the death
of the individual consciousness that produced them. This means that, after death, each new gross
body contributes to the subtle body which itself influences each new gross body. We might think of
the relation of the subtle body to the soul as the accumulation of tightly linked knots along the same
piece of string. The accumulation of subtle bodies being the result of individuated expressions of the
same soul.
3d. The Coherence of Reincarnation:
(i). Most people do not remember their previous lives. If there is no memory it seems difficult to talk
of a continuation of the same person. If memory does exist are all past lives remembered? Does it
stretch the meaning of 'memory' to say that you remember something which you did not experience
yourself but was experienced by your past life? It is not moral to blame a person for their misfortune
when they had no actual responsibility for a presumed past life. (ii) Kai Nielsen doubts that
dispositional attitudes can exist independent of the body. Indeed, if their is a separation of
dispositional attitudes from the body as they move from one body to the next we are not all that far
away from the body soul distinction and the problems which that idea faces (note this is also a
criticism of Hick). (iii). The idea of a subtle body is the idea of a thing for which there is no empirical
evidence. (iv). Rather than solve the problem of why there are so many inequalities in life the idea of
reincarnation offers only an endless postponement of a solution.
4. Implication of views of life after death (resurrection, reincarnation and soul) for the
problem of evil
The syllabus requires us to know what implications there might be for the problem of evil from the
various beliefs about life after death. According to John Hick, naturalism and materialism is bad news for
the majority of humankind because it offer no ultimate hope and suggests that the entire meaning of life
is restricted to the short span of our present and only life here on earth. For Hick this view is immoral
because it denies hope to so many people. The existence of evil requires some form of belief in life after
death. If there was no life after death it would not be possible to solve the problem of evil.
However, Hick explains the logical possibility of resurrection in terms of his 'replica theory'. This states
that when John dies a replica of John will be created by God in heaven or in the next appropriate
paraeschatological stage. But this seems to contradict his soul-making theodicy according to which the
world we live in is necessarily a place of suffering and evil if human beings are to freely grow into the
likeness of God. God intends us to grow closer to God through our free choices and through the
character building experiences that evil and suffering in life present us with. However, if God can create
a replica of John in heaven there seems, after all, to be no reason why the original John had to live
through the evils and sufferings of this imperfect world. God could have created John in heaven without
first putting him through the struggles of this life. Indeed, an omnipotent loving God would do just that.
Hick answers this criticism by pointing out that without the earthly life of John there would be no replica
of John for God to reproduce. However, there is a second problem. Would the earthly John be identical
with the heavenly replica of John? This is an interesting question because replica John cannot logically
be the same as the original earthly John because replica John would know that he had an earthly
predecessor and is therefore a double whereas the earthly John is singular with no such predecessor.
One response might be to argue that the replica John is re-produced by God without the knowledge of
being a replica. However, this would mean that the identity between earthly John and the replica John is
known only by God which would, at least, negate much of the reason why earthly John had to undergo
so much suffering in this life. If replica John is ignorant of all that the original John did to make the
personality they both share then it becomes plausible to argue that God could just as well have created
replica John without having to put earthly John through a testing soul-making environment. (Hewitt p.
176). Hick's response is to argue that the goodness obtained by God simply creating replica John would
be poorer than the goodness earned by the earthly John through his free choices in a testing soul-making
Some non-religious people argue that a belief in life after death is immoral because it offers false
hope to people. It contributes to the existence of suffering in the world because believers are
unwilling to help the less fortunate in this life on the grounds that God will reward them in heaven.
According to Karl Marx it also makes these people less willing to help themselves for the same reason.
Some feminist theologians argue that belief in life after death contributes to the evil ways in which
people treat the planet. If this is not our true home then we are likely to be less concerned to care for
5. The concept of heaven and hell.
(i). The Bible provides grounds for believe in heaven and hell. (ii). Belief in heaven and hell provides a
counterbalance to the injustices of this world. Some Christians believe that a judgement takes place
at death between the damned and the saved. But would a loving God condemn people to hell?
Would a loving God have a hell in the first place? John Hick argues that hell is not to be taken literally.
Paul Tillich suggests the heaven and hell are to be demythologised into terms of relationship with
God. Heaven is closeness to God; hell is distance from God. A judgement is between those parts of
an individual which is close to God and those parts which are far from God. (iii). Heaven is necessary
to allow life's victims a second chance. Heaven is an important part of the answer to the problem of