Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[cancer|religion] Faith, science and the afterlife

I put my stick in the faith-and-reason hive yesterday again, in comments on this post, and then on my Facebook presence here.

What I said in the blog comments was:
Actually, we have perfectly good physics that refutes the existence of the afterlife. It’s called entropy. You or anyone else has an extremely high burden of proof to surmount in order to counter that with objective evidence.

As for metaphysics, that is of course another word for faith, which rarely if ever has validity outside the individual faithholder’s frame of reference.

I am curious, as you challenge my statement of basic truth as if it were ragtag belief system. What objective, repeatable evidence does exist for the survival of self beyond the death of the brain?

I’m talking testable, empirical evidence, not scripture and faith statements. Faith can be a bedrock truth in the private universe of the individual that holds it, but articles of faith very rarely translate into characteristics of the physical universe we all inhabit

I then vented on Facebook with this comment:
Claiming we don't have enough science to disprove the afterlife is like denying evolution. It's a defect in your education, not in science.

Pretty much every time I get into this topic, people seem to think I’m denying the power or value of faith. As I said downthread in that Facebook post:
I have an immense respect for faith and its power. I have a profound disrespect for confusion between the truths of faith and the truths of testable, empirical reality

As one might imagine, my interest in the experience of death and dying is much sharpened of late. However, I’ve had this basic issue on my mind for years. Science is a process, a mode of thinking. It’s not some institution with the power to bury some ideas and elevate others. If there were some testable, provable hypothesis about survival of the self beyond the clinical death of the body, the medical journals would be full of it. That is, after all, one of the central questions of human culture for as far back as we have any history of human culture to evaluate.

But the whole burden of proof of afterlife is on those who would assert that as empirical reality. Science can no more disprove the afterlife than it can disprove the existence of pink unicorns. Less so, in fact. The question is a logical null.

However, to state the simple truth that there is no evidence of life after death is profoundly offensive to many people, and profoundly discomforting to many others. Speaking as someone who’s wrestling with precisely those fears, I say tough shit to them. It’s not a disrespect to your faith to state that your faith claims have no empirical basis. The universe doesn’t care if you’re Catholic or Hindu or Voudoun or Seventh Day Adventist or an atheist or what. It functions perfectly well without the lens of faith. In fact, the universe functions precisely as well without faith as it does with faith.

But human hearts and minds do not. What to me is an obvious conflation of wishful thinking and faith narrative is to others a truth so profound as to be indistinguishable from the sunrise or the tides or the fingers of their own hand.

Which is precisely my point. Privileging one’s faith narrative so strongly that one views science as unable to answer faith questions is a failure of one’s own education and worldview, not a failure of science. The process of science can test the assertions of a faith narrative as easily as it can test assertions of chemistry and physics.

The whole purpose of a faith narrative is not empirical testability. One does both science and faith a disservice when one tries to hold faith up to the standards of science.

Think of it this way. Science works in a completely testable, repeatable manner for anyone, anywhere, with the right education, data and equipment. Faith is so profoundly individual that there are about 41,000 Christian denominations in the world, and thousands, possibly tens of thousands of other religions. Many if not most of them proclaim a monopoly on the truth, but they cannot each and all in their tens of thousands of revelations be in sole possession of the truth. To hear most religionists tell it, only one faith can be right. Theirs. In other words, faith is not testable and repeatable for anyone, anywhere; rather, it is profoundly individual.

Very nearly the opposite of what science seeks to do.

Meanwhile, I’m still dying. When I’m dead, I’ll still be dead. If 40,000 years of human history and culture haven’t managed to come up with any repeatable, empirical evidence to the contrary thus far, I don’t think the next six or nine months are going to make much difference now. Regardless of anyone’s sincerely held beliefs. Or their irritation at my pointing out the obvious.

Tags: cancer, death, health, personal, religion

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