Does Life after Death Make Sense

So far, in considering the question 'Is death the end?', the meaningfulness of the idea of survival has been presupposed. This was true whether we were thinking of philosophical arguments for immortality, theological arguments why God might or must raise the dead or empirical claims for some communication from beyond the grave. In turning to the question of the coherence of the idea of survival, we now examine challenges to this presupposition.

The suggestion that life after death is a contradiction in terms11 need not detain us. The question at issue is whether sense can be made of the idea of a person's further life beyond the death of the biological organism that has been the vehicle of his or her life here on Earth. This question cannot be ruled out of court by definition.

Nor need we be deflected from our enquiry by D. Z. Phillips's suggestion that the religious power of talk of immortality or eternal life lies not in beliefs about survival but rather in the possibility of participation in the life of God here and now. 'Eternity is not more life, but this life seen under certain moral and religious modes of thought', writes Phillips.12 As pointed out in chapter 1 (section 1.1), Phillips's Wittgensteinian analysis of religious language is a highly controversial matter. But one is bound to say that his treatment of the themes of death and immortality, as illustrated by the above quotation, gives some substance to the characterization of his work as non-cognitivist.

Most philosophers of religion prefer to treat the question of survival as a factual question, and to examine the specific difficulties involved in any attempt to spell out the meaning of life after death intelligibly. Examples of such treatment by a hostile critic may be found in the articles collected together as 'Part III: Immortality' of Antony Flew's book, The Presumption of Atheism. We shall concentrate here on more sympathetic attempts to tackle the problems of identity and continuity that arise when one asks precisely what believers believe survives the death ofthe body, and precisely what ensures its being the same individual, now deceased, whose life is renewed under the radically changed conditions of God's new creation.

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