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Part Nine: An Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle - and Richard Dawkins on Life after Death Part Nine: An Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle - and Richard Dawkins on Life after Death
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-05-12 10:28:34
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Richard Dawkins: Good morning Professor Aristotle. I wonder if you’d allow me, as an avowed militant atheist, to articulate a few comments on the topic of life after death.

Aristotle: but of course Dr. Dawkins; we’d be honored. I have heard of your reputation as an atheist and have even read with interest some of your books.

D: Which ones?

A: The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion.

D: Ah, I am glad you’ve read them. And did you find them persuasive?

A: Not exactly. In fact, I wonder if you have read my treatises on natural theology. You don’t seem to think much of ancient philosophy in your books.

D: Well, professor, you must admit that we have come a long way since the time of mythology and metaphysics.

A: Are you saying that truth is circumstantial, evolving, and relative to time and place?

D: Not exactly. I am saying that science and scientism (what goes today by the name of logical positivism) is a superior development to both mythology and metaphysics.

A: That may explain why you have created “The Brights’ Movement.” You deem the modern by far superior and brighter than the ancients. Are you then saying that belief in God and religion as such is equivalent to obscurantism and superstition?

D: Well yes, I am saying something like that. Atheism is a sure sign of a healthy independent mind. We cannot be stuck in ancient or medieval times with their fixed false beliefs and orthodoxes. We are in modern times, the times of Darwin and David Hume and need to move on. Had you been more sophisticated in science you’d be an atheist too.

A: I am afraid that those are assumptions which I don’t share Dr. Dawkins, as you know or ought to know. I do notice in fact that in modern times the scientists who believe in God (such as Einstein) and remain religious even after having read Darwin or Hawking, are legions.

D: Oh, I know only too well, but those are not part of the Brights’ Movement. I also know that religion has always been a source of conflict and a justification of belief without any evidence which is anti-science and the source of all the world’s great evils.

A: Are you saying that science has now taken over the prerogative not only of explaining the phenomenon but also of searching for the meaning of the universe and supplying the answers to its mysteries?

D: Indeed. Belief without evidence is mere superstition.

A: But in fact there is some evidence for the survival of bodily death. There are those who claim to have communicated with the spirit of the dead. There are also a plethora of reports of people who have died during an operation and then have been revived.

D: I am surprised that you would even give credence to those reports. It is wishful thinking and nonsense, and it has been shown to be fakery every time a scientific investigation has been conducted in those phenomena. The revival stories are only hallucinations caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain.

A: Nevertheless there is some positivistic minded investigators have found some solid evidence for life after death.

D: I doubt it. But you more than anybody else ought to know the philosophical reasons for doubting the possibility of survival of death.

A: Such as?

D: It’s like thinking that an airplane might still exist after a crash which has left it as a total wreck. It is a contradiction similar to your principle of non contradiction: a thing cannot be and not be at the same time.

A: You’re right about the airplane but that’s because it is nothing but a physical object. When the physical object is destroyed the airplane is gone. But as I pointed out more than two thousand years ago in my treatise on the soul, people are not just bodies. Even the father of modern philosophy Renè Descartes knew that much.

D: that’s because he was not being scientific enough. The only things that exist ontologically are physical things. Being human is to have a material body and the destruction of the body is the ultimate destruction of a human being.

A: The materialism of modern science does not surprise me but the vast majority of people, even if not as bright as you and your Club of Brights, do not accept it. In any case, I find nothing self-contradictory about the idea that a person can survive bodily death. Difficulties arise only when everything is reduced to material physical things. One can easily imagine the continuance of a non-physical thing such a soul or a spirit.

D: But here is the problem. The soul cannot possibly be the person it was when alive. The airplane wreck may still be around but the airplane no longer exists. The wreck simply is not the airplane.

A: Could you elaborate on that? Why cannot a surviving mind or soul be the person it used to be when alive?

D: a spirit is not a person which, as you claim in your writings is made up of both body and spirit. With no body you’d have an angel or a ghost. A spirit does not breathe or read a book; it cannot hear, see, smell, taste or feel. You call that a person?

A: But those physical acts you just mentioned are not the essence of a person. What makes a person is consciousness, ability to communicate, self-awareness, not his material physical organs. You don’t need a body for those.

D: once again I am surprised Professor Aristotle. We know now that a person’s memories are stored in his/her physical brain. Brain damage can erase those memories. So it is certain that at death, with the demise of the brain those memories are cancelled. So, if what you claim is true, that there are disembodied persons, what you call spirits or souls, none would remember anything of what happened to them as embodied persons. Without memory there is no identity, to wit people with severe Alzheimer.

A: Here is where you are wrong. Socrates proved with the example of the unschooled boy who arrived at the grasping of the Pythagorean theorem that earthly knowledge is a form of remembering. If I am not mistaken, Christianity insists that in fact at the end times people will resurrect not as ghosts or angels but as persons with a body, the way the prototype of that phenomenon resurrected with a body and then visited the Apostles in the cenacle as a person with a body.

D: Now you are back to mythology and superstition, professor.

A: Don’t you find it intriguing that a modern scientist such as Freud went back to those Greek myths and that may explain why he remains popular despite the oddity of his sexual theory. The same applies to Dante. Perhaps those myths and archetypes of the human condition have much to teach even “enlightened” modern man.

D: Perhaps, but I don’t believe it.    


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