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Shermer in Seminary School

by Michael Shermer, Apr 24 2012

My weekend at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary discussing God, religion, and the afterlife

On Friday, April 13, 2012 in the chapel of the New Orleans Baptist Seminary I debated the Liberty University philosopher and theologian Gary Habermas on the question: “Is There Life After Death?” I went first. I stated that since Gary is taking the affirmative I’m suppose to defend the negative, but in fact when it comes to the afterlife, “I’m for it!” Tellingly, that line didn’t get the usual laugh it engenders in audiences, but then in seminary school the afterlife is a deadly serious subject. I began with this thought experiment:

Imagine yourself dead. What picture comes to mind? Your funeral with a casket surrounded by family and friends? Complete darkness and void? In either case you are still conscious and observing the scene.

I then outlined the problem we all have in thinking about life after death: we cannot envision what it is like to be dead any more than we can visualize ourselves before we were born, and yet everyone who ever lived has died so death is inevitable. This leads to either depression or humor. I prefer the latter. For example, Steven Wright: “I intend to live forever—so far, so good.” Or Woody Allen: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Of course, you won’t be there when it happens because to experience anything you must be conscious, and you are not conscious when you are dead. I then outlined four theories of life after death, gleaned from my recent Scientific American column based on Stephen Cave’s marvelous new book, Immortality, which I highly recommend reading.

The Four Theories of Immortality

1. Staying Alive. That is, one way to achieve immortality is to not die. I then reviewed the various realities involved, such as the 100 billion people who lived before us who have died, and the various problems involved with longevity efforts, genetic engineering to change the telomeres involved in aging, cryonics, and Tulane University physicist Frank Tipler’s Omega Point theory about how we will all be resurrected in the far future of the universe in super computer-generated virtual realities.

2. Resurrection. I then explained Theseus’s Ship and Shermer’s Mustang: how Poseidon’s son Theseus sailed to Crete to slay monster Minotaur and how his ship was preserved for posterity but rotted over time and every board was replaced with new wood—is that still Theseus’s ship? Ditto my 1966 Mustang, which I purchased in 1971 and wrecked and ruined to the point where there was hardly an original part on it when I still sold it as a classic car 16 years later. Is that really still a 1966 Mustang? I then segued into discussing the transformation problem (how could you be reassembled just as you were and yet this time be invulnerable to disease and death?) and Julia Sweeney’s challenge to the Mormon boys who told her that she would be made whole again and when she asked them if she’d have her uterus back (which she had removed because of cancer) told them “I don’t want it back!” And what age are you resurrected? 5, 29, 85? And how would a duplicate you be any different from your twin who happens to have your same memories?

3. Soul. I explained to these young seminarians that there isn’t a shred of evidence for anything like a “soul” that survives death, no new physical system that scientists have discovered to allow soul stuff to survive. I noted that Thomas Jefferson made this killer observation: we do not understand how the mind causes the brain to act, or how thoughts are transduced into physical movements. Adding a soul only doubles the mystery, as believers would then have to explain how the soul effects the mind, and how the mind effects the brain. In reality, I explains, there is no soul or mind. Just brain. I asked rhetorically: Under anaesthesia, where’s your soul? Why is it knocked out? And: If the soul can see, why can’t the souls of blind people see when they are alive?

4. Legacy: glory, reputation, historical impact, or children. But as Woody Allen said: “I don’t want to live on in the hearts and minds of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment.” Clearly this is not what most people desire for life after death, so…

Which Afterlife Theory is Correct?

Which religion’s afterlife story is the right one? Egyptian, Christian, Mormon, Scientology, Buddhist, Hindu, Deepak’s Quantum Consciousness? What are the odds that Gary Habermas’s theory of the afterlife will happen to match that of the God and Religion he believes in? Virtually 100%!

Afterlife myths follow the same pattern as all religious myths: where you happened to have been born and at what time in history determines which myth you believe. To an anthropologist from Mars these are all indistinguishable.

Where do you go to live after death?

I then noted that ever since Copernicus and the rise of modern astronomy and cosmology there is no place for heaven. This has led some to speculate that perhaps it is in another dimension. But those dimensions are physical systems subject to the laws of entropy, so that doesn’t help. I then recounted a few other “theories” of the afterlife:

  • Egyptians: a physical place far above the Earth in a “dark area” of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe.
  • Vikings: Valhalla—a big hall in which to drink beer and get ready to fight again
  • Muslims: “the Garden” with rivers, fountains, shady valleys, trees, milk, honey and wine—all the things Arabian desert people crave, plus 72 virgins for the men. (No one seems to have asked what the women want.)
  • Christians: eternity with angels at the throne of God.
  • Hitchens: The Christian heaven is a Celestial North Korea at the throne of the dear leader
  • Who’s to say that Heaven will be good? What if it isn’t? What proof do we have?
  • What if it’s boring? My college philosophy professor Richard Hardison once asked rhetorically: “Do they have tennis courts and golf courses there?”
  • Ethnologist Elie Reclus describes Christian missionaries attempting to convert Inuits with the promise of a God-centered heaven. Inuit: “And the seals? You say nothing about the seals. Have you no seals in your heaven?” “Seals? Certainly not. We have angels and archangels…the 12 apostles and 24 elders, we have…” “That’s enough. Your heaven has no seals, and a heaven without seals is not for us!”

Evidence for Life After Death

  1. Talking to the dead: Frank’s Box/Telephone to the Dead/Psychics.
  2. Information Fields and the Universal Life Force. —21 Grams: 1907 Duncan MacDougall tried to find out by weighing six dying patients before and after their death—medical journal American Medicine: a 21-gram difference —Rupert Sheldrake
  3. ESP and Evidence of Mind. Experimental research on psi and telepathy
  4. Near-Death Experiences

    • Clue: “Near” death. Not dead.
    • 80% of people who almost die and recover have no NDEs at all.
    • OBE: people “see” themselves from above. But what is doing the seeing?
    • TPJ (temporo-parietal junction) stimulation = OBE
    • G-Force Induced Loss of Consciousness, Dr. James Whinnery: “dreamlets,” or brief episodes of tunnel vision, sometimes with a bright light at the end of the tunnel, as well as a sense of floating, sometimes paralysis, and often euphoria and a feeling of peace and serenity when they came back to consciousness. Over 1,000, apoxia, oxygen deprivation: “vivid dreamlets of beautiful places that frequently include family members and close friends, pleasurable sensations, euphoria, and some pleasurable memories.”
    • Neurochemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine produce feelings of serenity and peace.
    • Methylenedioxyamphetamine (MDA) triggers long-forgotten memories and produces the feeling of age regression, while di-methyl-tryptamine (DMT)—AKA “the spirit molecule”—causes the dissociation of the mind from the body and is the hallucinogenic substance in ayahuasca, a drug taken by South American shamans.
    • Olaf Blanke, 2002 Nature article: willfully produced OBEs electrical stimulation of the right angular gyrus in temporal lobe of 43-year old epileptic woman.
    • Andrew Newberg: Buddhist monks meditate, Franciscan nuns pray, brain scans show low activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe, a region of the brain the authors have dubbed the Orientation Association Area (OAA)—orient the body in physical space.
    • 2010 discovery by Italian neuroscientist Cosimo Urgesi: damage to posterior superior parietal lobe through tumorous legions can cause patients to suddenly experience feelings of spiritual transcendence.
    • Ramachandran: microseizures in the temporal lobes trigger intense religiosity, speaking in tongues, feelings of transcendence.

Why do people believe in the afterlife?

  • Impossible to conceptualize death, or a world without life
  • Agenticity: we impart agency and intention to inanimate objects such as rocks and trees and clouds, and to animate objects such as predators, prey
  • Natural born dualists: corporeal/incorporeal, body/soul, brain/mind
  • Essentialism: Hitler’s jacket, Mr. Rogers’ sweater, Brad Pitt’s shirt, organ transplants
  • Theory of Mind (ToM). We project ourselves into the minds of others and imagining how we would feel. ToM occurs in the anterior paracingulate cortex just behind our forehead. We project ourselves into the future.
  • Extension of our body schema. Our brains construct a body image out of the myriad inputs from every nook and cranny of our bodies, that when woven together forms a seamless tapestry of a single individual called the self that we project into the future.
  • Extension of our mind schema/Decentering. afterlife is extension of our normal ability to imagine ourselves somewhere else both in space and time, including time immemorial.
  • Cosmic justice.

Habermas then gave his opening remarks and we went back and forth twice, took questions from the audience, and I ended with this call for us all to live life in this life and not in some imagined next life:

Not Life After Death…Life During Life

Either the soul survives death or it does not, and there is no scientific evidence that it does or ever will. Does this reality extirpate all meaning in life? No. Quite the opposite, in fact. If this is all there is, then how meaningful become our lives, our families, our friends, our communities—and how we treat others—when every day, every moment, every relationship, and every person counts; not as props in a temporary staging before an eternal tomorrow where ultimate purpose will be revealed to us, but as valued essences in the here-and-now where purpose is created by us.

Science tells us is that we are but one among hundreds of millions of species that evolved over the course of three and a half billion years on one tiny planet among many orbiting an ordinary star, itself one of possibly billions of solar systems in a commonplace galaxy that contains hundreds of billions of stars, itself located in a cluster of galaxies not so different from millions of other galaxy clusters, themselves whirling away from one another in an accelerating expanding cosmic bubble universe that very possibly is only one among a near infinite number of bubble universes. Is it really possible that this entire cosmological multiverse was designed and exists for one tiny subgroup of a single species on one planet in a lone galaxy in that solitary bubble universe? It seems unlikely.

Through a natural process of evolution, and an artificial course of culture, we have inherited the mantle of life’s caretaker on Earth, the only home we have ever known. The realization that we exist together for a narrow slice of time and a limited parsec of space, potentially elevates us all to a higher plane of humility and humanity, a provisional proscenium in the drama of the cosmos.

Matthew Arnold, Empedocles on Etna:

Is it so small a thing,
To have enjoyed the sun,
To have lived light in the Spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

70 Responses to “Shermer in Seminary School”

  1. Other Paul says:

    Would I be surprised by learning who ‘won’?

  2. Marcus says:

    I compliment Mr. Shermer in putting himself in the “lion’s den” so to speak to debate Gary Habermas. Habermas is known more as an expert on the historical Jesus and the New Testament documents rather than the afterlife per se. I wonder if Mr. Shermer would be willing to debate William Lane Craig. One of the most prominent Christian philosophers today who took on and was very impressive against the likes of Sam Harris, Lawrences Krauss, and Mr. Hitchens himself. I applaud this cordial exchange of ideas and philosophies.

    • Gabriel says:

      Dr. Shermer has participated in a debate that also featured Dr. Craig. And just like his debates against Krauss, Harris and Hitchens, the main thing Dr. Craig proves is that he is a master debater. Anyone with knowledge of the subject can see right through his shallow arguments. He basically puts the onis on his opponets to disprove his fantastic claims. Or he reduces God to a vocabulary word such as “good”, and then says that “if goodness exits then God must exist” He then acts shocked and dissappointed when his opponents do not respond to his rediculous claims and declares victory for himself.

      • Gary Whittenberger says:

        I agree with Gabriel about William Lane Craig. He is a very good debater, but most of his ideas are not reasonable. I’ve read several of his books, including “Reasonable Faith,” which I recommend to skeptics who wish to see how bad ideas can be dressed up to look good.

      • Phil Wilson says:

        If WLC’s arguments are so “bad”, it is incredible that atheists are so incapable to be able to refute them, since he uses to the same arguments in every debate every single time, and has been doing so for years, yet none of the world’s best atheists are able to refute them. Hmmm. Calling WLC just a debater is itself nothing but a debating trick.

      • noen says:

        The reasons why are fairly simple. (1) Most people are unaccustomed to thinking logically, and (2) philosophical debates are not as easy as they look.

        Most people on either side, theist and atheist, do not really think that deeply. They engage in motivated reasoning and are “team” players who are emotionally invested in being right rather than the dispassionate pursuit of truth.

        These are actually difficult problems that humans have wrestled with for thousands of years. They are not easily solved with bumper sticker sloganeering.

        People want to be *told*, they don’t want to have to actually do for themselves.

      • Gabriel says:

        How do you refute something that is nonexistent?

  3. Trimegistus says:

    If religion truly is a declining force in the world (and it’s hard to argue it isn’t, at least in the First and Second World parts) then the promise of supernatural immortality obviously fades with it. One would expect to see a revival of interest in the non-supernatural forms of immortality: life-extension and/or “downloading” on one hand, and cultural/genetic immortality on the other. Certainly geek culture is all agog for the Singularity when we will conquer death and live forever in an endless World of Warcraft game (or whatever).

    The cultural/genetic immortality option might explain the increased “tribalism” infecting even developed, assimilationist societies. We will be remembered most by people like us, and they carry our genes. Will the decline of religion necessarily lead to Balkanization?

  4. Dave Rockwell says:

    Religion is a general category of channels for the replication and evolution of both memes and genes, so under some conditions tends to increase Balkanization. Reason, on the other hand, would tend to promote aggregation in some ways of disparate groups, if used honestly. Too bad that is such a difficult format for our brains to consistently employ.

    The desire for immortality is naturally very strong in us, or we would not have risen to our present dominating status. To accept the reality of death is very difficult, but a necessary step into true adulthood. Fantasies of an emotionally satisfying afterlife just delay or prevent this maturation. I would certainly like to be proven wrong. But my standard of proof is extreme.

    • Jim Shaver says:

      Dave, I think if your standard of proof for an afterlife were merely reasonably compelling, religions have still so far utterly failed to meet it.

  5. Ed Gibney says:

    Well done! That is a very comprehensive recap of the life after death debate. I’d be interested in seeing a video of your delivery of that message so I could share it on my Evolutionary Philosophy site.

  6. Eric Welch says:

    My favorite time was when I was visited by some Jehovah’s Witnesses (I think) who regaled me with how wonderful the world would be at the end time and children would all be reunited with their parents, etc., etc. Now I have 6 adopted children, some of whom were removed from their parents because of maltreatment, so I posed the question, “would I be reunited with my adopted kids or would they be reunited with their biological parents?” That caused some consternation among the four (they always come in a group.) Finally after stumbling around, I said, “You guys just make this up as you go along, don’t you?” It was then they decided to seek more fruitful territory elsewhere.

  7. Max says:

    General anesthesia dips brain activity down to levels akin to brain-stem death.

    In most cases, there’s no darkness, no memory, no dreams, and no out of body experience. One moment you’re awake, and the next thing you know, you’re waking up in another room.

    • tmac57 says:

      Having undergone this a few times,I can report that it is an unusual experience that when seriously reflected upon,induces an eerie feeling about what it means to be truly conscious,and where that consciousness ‘goes’ when it has been ‘interrupted’.

      • Gary Whittenberger says:

        Your consciousness probably does not “go” anywhere. Your brain just doesn’t produce consciousness during those periods.

      • tmac57 says:

        Here is an interesting thought experiment:
        Let’s stipulate that in the future, you could ‘download’ all of your current brain content into some robot that could replicate your physical and brain processes,such that you had a duplicate external consciousness.
        Now, you are put under anesthesia,and your consciousness is now essentially zero.
        Is that external consciousness now the only ‘you’ in the world?
        Would you feel comfortable with the idea of you being switched off permanently, and the external version of
        your consciousness becoming a more or less immortal version of you?
        Most people would not,because of the loss of continuity between your physical mind,and the artificial one,but isn’t there also a loss of continuity from the effects of anesthesia? One minute you are fully conscious,then you are ‘switched off’
        and maybe 8 hours later you wake up from what seems like an instant,and meanwhile there is this huge gap where you are essentially nonexistent.
        It is really kind of creepy when you think of it that way,and I personally doubt that the artificial downloaded version would be, in any meaningful way, ‘you’,but I can see how the above scenario creates a puzzle for answering the question of what it means to be ‘you’.

      • Max says:

        Yup, that’s the teleporter problem, where a copy of you is created somewhere, and the original you is destroyed, like “moving” a file from one computer to another. You can imagine that you’re teleporting all the time, since the “you” from a moment ago is gone forever. Likewise, you can think of the future “you” as a different person, and ask why you’re more concerned about that person’s well-being than about most other people.

      • Max says:

        Would you rather develop Alzheimer’s and lose your memory and brain function, or “download” your brain into a robot and preserve your memories and brain function? Which one would be more “you”?

      • noen says:

        “Let’s stipulate that in the future, you could ‘download’ all of your current brain content into some robot”

        Can’t be done because there is no “content” to transfer. There is no bucket in which your mind is contained and so it cannot be poured from one container to another.

        “Most people would not,because of the loss of continuity between your physical mind”

        I experience a loss of continuity every single might when I sleep and I do not suffer the delusion that I am not the same person who fell asleep the might before. Sleep or unconscious states are only a problem if you but into the basic Cartesian dualist frame of thinking the mind is necessarily some immaterial substance that coexists with one’s body.

        I don’t believe that at all. I *am* my body and my mind is the product of the activity of my body and it’s relations with the external world. If you shut me off, you’re committing murder.

      • Max says:


        I highlighted the part you cut out when you quoted tmac57:
        “Let’s stipulate that in the future, you could ‘download’ all of your current brain content into some robot that could replicate your physical and brain processes,such that you had a duplicate external consciousness.”

        We’re basically talking about making a perfect copy of your brain.

        “If you shut me off, you’re committing murder.”

        Murder is the unlawful killing of one human by another with malice. In some places, capital punishment and/or euthanasia is legal. “Teleporting” your brain with your consent doesn’t have to be murder either.

      • noen says:

        Hi Max, good evening.

        I did not give the full quote as I wanted to conserve space and assumed that people can read it for themselves.

        “We’re basically talking about making a perfect copy of your brain.”

        That’s a nice trick but she would not be me. If you duplicate something then you have two of them, not one. Are you arguing that identical twins are the same person? I don’t think they are and most twins would agree that they are each separate individuals.

        From the very instant, Time-zero, of splitting me, noen0, into two, noen1 and noen2, each instance would begin to have different histories and therefore be different people. It would also make sense to say that the original is destroyed in the process because noen0’s history ends at Time-zero and two new entities, noen1 and noen2, began their lives at Time-zero.

        Which would be murder because taking someone’s life is illegal even if you have their permission.

        The idea that noen1 is the original and noen2 the copy (or vice versa) makes no sense because both are, by definition, identical at Time-zero. *Both* noen1 and noen2 will think each one is the original. But this leads to a contradiction and therefore neither are the original.

      • Phea says:

        You might remember this, (“To Be”), when it came out. If not, it should be a treat. It is funny and a bit disturbing with a cruel identity twist.

      • Eyedunno says:

        I’m coming into this really late, but it’s a topic I have a great deal of interest in.

        “From the very instant, Time-zero, of splitting me, noen0, into two, noen1 and noen2, each instance would begin to have different histories and therefore be different people. It would also make sense to say that the original is destroyed in the process because noen0′s history ends at Time-zero and two new entities, noen1 and noen2, began their lives at Time-zero.

        Which would be murder because taking someone’s life is illegal even if you have their permission.”

        When I was 16, I preferred Coke to Pepsi. Now, at 33, I prefer Pepsi. So are Eyedunno16 and Eyedunno33 the same person? Did Pepsi-preferring Eyedunno33 murder Coke-preferring Eyedunno16?

        This really has a lot in common with the Ship of Theseus presented by Shermer above. Say we replace parts of the ship gradually over time until there are no parts of the original left. Is it not the same ship, and if it is not, at what point in replacing parts did it become a different ship? Another interesting angle to the thought experiment comes in if we’ve saved up the parts we gradually replaced and use them to build a new Ship of Theseus.

        Personally, I go with Hume’s bundle theory, and think that personal identity is largely bullshit – it’s a habit of thinking that’s useful in everyday conversation, but falls apart if you analyze it very deeply (split brain patients are one obvious example of this, but really, any kind of neurological change at all, down to my simple Coke/Pepsi example will suffice).

        However, to the extent that it is useful to talk about personal identity, I have to say that I can’t help but consider “original” me and downloaded me to be the same person, or at least forks of the same person who each have a legitimate claim at being me. Each is an inheritor of the memories, personality, etc. that was “me” prior to the download. I don’t see a contradiction between them being the same person as the pre-download person while at the same time being in another sense different people from each other any more than I see a contradiction between 16-year-old me preferring Pepsi and 33-year-old me preferring Coke while at the same time being the same person.

        I would highly recommend the science fiction of Greg Egan (most of it, including the Amalgam stories and novels, but especially the stories involving the Ndoli “jewel” – “Learning To Be Me” and “Closer”, and the novel _Diaspora_) for a lot of incredible ruminations on this subject.

    • David Wills says:

      My path to atheism and no afterlife started when I was 34 (I’m 55 now). I had a tumor removed from my spine (neck) and was out for 11 hours. When I woke up, I almost felt remorse. I thought.. “where did I go?” “how could I not remember one thing or dream?” “why do I feel empty?” It was a weird feeling. I know that’s stupid but that’s how I felt.

      Then recently I found Michael Shermer- my hero.

      • DaBudaMasta says:

        Aren’t you glad that you did?

      • Beatrice says:

        You were on drugs and that is why you do not remember a thing. I am glad you made it through surgery and I hope you are living a wonderful life here on Earth and it will be even more fun when you’re dead and you realize that your body is only necessary for life on Earth. Beyond this world, you will look just like yourself only in a less dense ethereal body . . . and it rocks.

      • Max says:

        You’ll look just like yourself at what age? How does Michael Jackson look?

    • sailor says:

      Having concussed myself a couple of times, I would say it is the same thing. When you regain consciousness it is like coming out of nowhere, nothing like waking after sleep. I find it quite comforting.

  8. BillG says:

    “Why do people believe in the afterlife”?

    For a majority of the religious, repressed or the billions who struggle with a daily existence, its simply hope. The absence of hope is the absence of sanity. Even the non-religious own a degree of hope, through distractions or such, and occasionally, equally deluding as mythical afterlifes.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      I’m not necessarily persuaded that the “absence of hope is the absence of sanity,” but the absence of hope is probably a detriment to sanity. Nevertheless, people with no belief in an afterlife can have their sanity and some reasonable hopes for other things.

      • tmac57 says:

        Conversely, some people who believe in an afterlife can be as crazy as a loon.

      • Gabriel says:

        911 murderers had hope and certainly believed in an afterlife. I guess being “sane” is highly objective.

    • Phea says:

      I think belief in an afterlife is just part of the way we experience and try to make sense of consciousness. It certainly gives the illusion it is separate and apart from our physical bodies. We can’t even really define consciousness. We can’t measure exactly when it begins, so it’s not that much of a stretch to also wonder about when it might end, if ever.

      I have no memory or even vague recollections of what I was before I was born, (if anything), and consciousness allowed me to recognize my own existence. Perhaps once we become aware of our existence, once we achieve conciseness, it’s permanent.

      I also wonder if other life forms are self-aware, and where it starts, and pure instinct ends. I know my dog is conscious of himself, but wonder about an ant, or worm. We send input to our consciousness through our senses, but what about other types of “input”. Could a 6000 year old bristle cone pine be conscious and self-aware on a level we could no more relate to than an ant could to us?

      Personally, what I become after I die is no more relevant to me than what I might have been before I was born. We’ll all find out. I know one thing for sure. I will no longer be, “me”.

  9. Sherry Austin says:

    Oh, that is GOOD.

  10. Insightful Ape says:

    Marcus, why won’t Craig debate his own former student John Loftus? Loftus has repeatedly challenged him. Is Craig good only against those not familiar with his tricks?

    • Marcus says:

      Mr. Ape, I am not aware of Dr. Craig ducking John Loftus, but debating the likes of Harris, Krauss and Hitchens certainly puts him in good company. All of these debates and exchanges can be viewed on you tube. I think Krauss has debated Craig several times on the origin of the universe. I find it hard to believe he would avoid a good debate between such a worthy opponent as Loftus.

      • tmac57 says:

        Live debates can be fun and interesting to watch,but unfortunately the format is not really conducive for establishing who has the better facts in a dispute.The make up of the audience,and the glibness and physical appearance of the debaters can have more influence on the outcome than the details of what they are arguing.
        One good ‘Gish Gallop’ can derail a debate easily,because of time constraints,and the complexity of unpacking multiple rapid fire myths and talking points.
        So, “winning” a debate does not equate to being correct about what you are arguing.A lie can be just as convincing as a fact,when presented in an earnest and authoritative manner.

      • Marcus says:

        tmac57, I wholeheartedly agree. One can “win” a debate without presenting the best arguments. I find Craig’s work very informative outside of his debates – In particular, his arguments regarding the Kalam Cosmological Argument. He is a rare breed among Christian philosphers who agrees with the consensus of scientific theory, ie Big Bang model, evolution, etc.

      • tmac57 says:

        Lane may be rare among Christian philosophers on those points,but his belief in the Kalam Cosmological Argument has not gone unchallenged:

        It seems like his argument boils down to cherry picking what parts of modern cosmology supports his belief,and discarding the parts that contradict it,including the very experts whose work he cites.

      • Gary Whittenberger says:

        In my opinion, even though Craig is a good debater, he was soundly defeated by Bart Ehrman. You can find the debate on YouTube.

  11. Dr. P K Narayanan. says:

    The theory of evolution has created another riddle: What after humans, is that riddle. Is there any possibility for evolving another specie after the humans?

    Leaving aside the belief of creationism, scientists are of one voice that different species comprising the living organisms have evolved through natural selection and genetic mutation. Basing the theory of evolution, scientists are perplexed as to who or what would be the next specie after the humans in the ladder of evolution. That question continues to be an intriguing parody: From monkeys came the humans, which were evolution.

    What would, then, be the next specie after the humans? What would be the size of that specie to be evolved after the humans? How would that specie look like?

    It is true that humans did not replace monkeys in the process of evolution. Monkeys still continue to exist with all their biological features. Humans also survive with all that is of humans. It confirms that evolution does not replace one specie over the other. The latter would be an advanced transformation over the former.

    The question what next after the homosapiens in the path of evolution, has raised a certain level of controversy:

    We know that the forces of evolution basically are natural selection and genetic mutation. These processes take place in environs where the species exist. The context demands that the fittest of the existing specie gets advanced for its survival in the environs. The parody over what next after humans has arisen in the back ground of the ‘environs.’

    Human race has advanced to such an extent where humans change the environs rather than environs changing the humans. A section of the scientists therefore, comes up with the suggestion that there would be no further evolution after homosapiens because genetic mutation that creates traits and causes natural selection for survival in the changed environs, does not relate to the present where humans are concerned. Steve Johns, head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environments, University College, London, and Chris Stringer, research leader at National History Museum, London are among the scientists who strongly opine that there would be no further evolution after human.

    However the fact remains that the very principle of evolution still remains. Genetic experts like John Wilkins of University of Melbourne, argue that evolution is ‘non-stop’ process and the process will continue as genes do not stay in one place for infinite period of time.

    Even among homogenous population, randomness and mutation will have to happen and new species will have to evolve. May be, this will happen after millions of trillions of years in the depth of time, if by that time, earth and the organisms still survive to exist. Such being the situation, no guess work would be feasible even to imagine the shape, calibre, size and look of the specie to be evolved after the humans.

    There could be no time frame for the researchers to come up with reliable evidence for the truth. Let us be cool: Better not to bother about a situation that may or may not arise even after trillions of years in the depth of time. No specie shall evolve after the humans, in the next hundreds of generations, to degrade or to overtake the humans.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      Humans will begin to engage in artificial selection, as natural selection moves more slowly.

    • Phea says:

      The question, “What if we are just the first intelligent species to evolve, with others to follow?”, is a very interesting one.

      The evolution of intelligent reptiles, (what if they hadn’t gone extinct), is explored in the Harry Harrison, science fiction classic “West of Eden” trilogy. Instead of tools, reptiles evolved to use genetically altered plants and animals from everything from animals bred for clothing and weapons, to plants grown into cities.

      The question is also covered, very interestingly, in Daniel Quinn’s novel, “Ishmael”. One of the main themes of the book is that we certainly aren’t setting a very good example of taking care of our planet for the next evolved intelligence.

      If we are followed, I’ll put my money on the evolution of one or more intelligent insect species, just because it’s fun trying to imagine what they’d be like.

  12. DaBudaMasta says:

    I am inclined to assume that michael did not bother to post Haberman’s arguments for he consider it irrelevant regardless of.

  13. Marjorie says:

    I wouldn’t expect you to have convinced many in your audience with this reasoned argument, since theists by definition reject rational explanations of items of ‘faith’. But, it is worth it to force such audiences to hear reason over and over. Deep down, I’m sure a lot of seminarians realize that the supernatural in all its forms is pure nonsense, and that they participate in the delusion for personal comfort and for the social control of religious institutiions.

  14. Ted Baumgart says:

    I can’t comment on experience after death having not been there yet, but I can recall the body’s condition and all sensory environmental inputs during many states of unconsciousness. Bear with me for a moment. I was a participant in a physiological psychology program of depth recall. There are roughly 10,000 hours of collected neuromuscular memories from a diverse group of people collected by Dr. Virginia Johnson in Westwood, Ca from the early 60s to the 80s. During deep physiological unconsciousness such as near death, the body’s inputs are still on. Retrieval is through neuromuscular memory channels, not frontal cortex. As an adult I recalled conversations, names spoken, and drugs administered (spoken) during my birth, and a year later found records dutifully kept by the hospital confirming every detail. I recalled specific experiences, day and night patterns, and conversations 8 and 9 months intrauterine. Why this? Because much of the mystery and speculation about death, about language abilities of the newborn, even the ‘light’ we see at death is explained by a wealth of experiences we have while we sleep and are unconscious, but are not normally recalled. When the nervous system no longer functions, and the heart has stopped pumping, only then is the game is over, including all awake etherial notions such as life after death and soul. Like the whole evolutionary record of our journey to understand our world, we start with self centered notions built on our fears, needs, and experiences, and slowly crawl, and maybe stand to find the world is not all about us. Depth recall, boring as it often was, exponentially increased my awareness of our folly, increased my spirituality, reverence, and humility. The here and now is a pretty special gift.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      I agree with most of what you said, but here is an exception. You said “I recalled specific experiences, day and night patterns, and conversations 8 and 9 months intrauterine. Why this?” It is very unlikely that you recalled conversations 8 and 9 months intrauterine since the brain at that time is very immature and does not have the capabilities to enable you to recall now what was going on then. My guess is that you are misinterpreting the data of the experiment. It is more likely that you have invented what you expect you would have heard in the uterus or you have been told what was said to you during that time.

    • noen says:

      “As an adult I recalled conversations, names spoken, and drugs administered (spoken) during my birth, and a year later found records dutifully kept by the hospital confirming every detail.”

      Sounds like bullshit to me. Did she use hypnosis? Just because you believe you have remembered an event it does not mean you didn’t confabulate the memory. Just ask the victims of the recovered memory movement about that.

    • RickK says:

      “As an adult I recalled conversations, names spoken, and drugs administered (spoken) during my birth, and a year later found records dutifully kept by the hospital confirming every detail. I recalled specific experiences, day and night patterns, and conversations 8 and 9 months intrauterine.”

      I’m skeptical

  15. Wineou says:

    I live near the coastal plain of Southern Africa where it is believed that Homo sapiens sapiens first evolved about 120,000 years ago. In answer to Dr. P K Narayanan I think that a superior species is in the process of evolving in the northern hemisphere: a species that believes in logic and having fun, and yet does not condemn those who still retain illogical religious ideas. (For some of them may, in time, attain enlightenment.)

    Now, as the sun sets, it is time for that first glass of red South African wine . . .

    • noen says:

      “I think that a superior species is in the process of evolving in the northern hemisphere”

      Let me guess, are they white? I bet they are.

      • Wineou says:

        Sadly, it seems that you are trying to turn my lighthearted comment into a racial one. Why? Is it because South Africa used to be notorious for its racist policies? SA now has a progressive constitution that is envied by other nations; we have abolished the death penalty and allow gay marriages (many USA states have not evolved to this stage). I frequently meet travellers from Europe and the USA who now believe that South Africa, with its sunny climate, blue skies, beautiful scenery, excellent food and wine at reasonable prices, and friendly people of all races is one of the finest places in the world to live.

        To answer you directly, I do NOT think that the superior evolving people are white only. I think of intelligent people like Skeptic Yau-Man Chan and compare them unfavourably with some white members of the US Republican Party and their ridiculous utterances.

        And I was wrong to imply that this human improvement was happening only in the northern hemisphere. I guess I was thinking that evolution of a species tends to happen in one place, and spreads from there. But, what I am talking about is perhaps not classic evolution, but merely an improvement in the education and thinking of humans, and is happening simultaneously in several parts of the world. Long may eSkeptic help to speed up this process.

      • noen says:

        “Sadly, it seems that you are trying to turn my lighthearted comment into a racial one.”

        I think that saying a new species of humans is evolving is by definition a racial (or speciesist) issue. Richard Dawkins also thinks that he and those who agree with him represent a superior race, “The Brights”, who by rights should rule over the inferior races.

        “I guess I was thinking that evolution of a species tends to happen in one place, and spreads from there.”

        Actually, your mistake is in thinking that evolution is something you could observe and that it would be some kind of “human improvement” or other change that you approve of. Education is not evolution, not even some sort of non-classical evolution.

        Lastly, education is unlikely to make people less subject to rationalizing their prejudices. Your very comment is a good counter example to that idea. All education does is help create smart idiots like Dawkins or Harris.

      • Gabriel says:

        Actually experiments with bacteria have shown evolution happening, try actually reading Dawkin’s “Greatst Show on Earth”.
        And what you two were discussing was social evolution. That is different from evolution via natural selection. Education can help a society evolve. Education can help prevent things like inquisitions, witch hunts and hopefully one day homophobia. What is your justification for calling Harris and Dawkins idiots?

  16. Diane Fisher says:

    I remember at age five, pondering the meaning of eternal life, as explained by my evangelical Christian mother. Hmmm, I said. Sounds really boring.

  17. Judy Saint says:

    Where does the music go when the violin breaks? Same question as where consciousness goes when the brain dies. It was merely a product of the object, nothing more.

  18. James Redford says:

    Hi, Dr. Shermer. In reading your above post, I noticed that you mentioned within it physicist and mathematician Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s Omega Point cosmology. For more on the Omega Point cosmology, which is a proof of God’s existence according to the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics), in addition to the Feynman-DeWitt-Weinberg quantum gravity/Standard Model Theory of Everything (TOE), see my following article, available for free at the Social Science Research Network. This article further answers the many other questions which you posed in your above post.

    James Redford, “The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything”, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Apr. 9, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708.

  19. Beatrice says:

    There is without a question life beyond this one and here is the very best description of what it is like . . .

    The other side is just like here
    Except there’s no anger and there’s no fear
    And you never die
    You just stop paying taxes.

    And the first thing skeptics say when they die is “Oops”

    Live long and prosper . . .

  20. Beatrice says:

    I hope this helps skeptics understand the true nature of the soul and what real psychic ability is. There is an inherent oneness behind the illusion of manifest form or separation into infinite creation which is what you see with your physical eyes but the all seeing eye which is in the middle of your brain sees beyond the physical and it crosses the illusion of time. Past, present and future all coexist in the NOW.

    My own family had doubts as to my psychic ability until the day my mother almost died.

    I sincerely hope this helps you understand the aspect of you and I which is beyond the physical. Your soul is the light that shines in your eyes that allows you to live and breath and to function in a human body. You are IN your body . . . you are NOT your body and you discard your body like an old pair of well worn shoes when it has served its purpose. Then you go back to the light or the oneness, the source of all creation. And it’s party time . . .

    The material world is a reality of duality, dark and light, yin and yang, fear and love, anger and peace, male and female, etc . . where you go when you die is ONLY LIGHT, ONLY LOVE!

    A few years ago, my mother came to me in a dream one morning and she said, “Bea, I have no more strength.” I immediately awoke and did not even call her, I just got in my car and drove 30 minutes to her house where an ambulance was just pulling out and I followed it to the hospital.

    Now, imagine the surprise on my two brothers faces when I walked into the lobby. No one had called me on the telephone so how did I end up there.

    I went straight to the hospital room. My mother was in and out of consciousness. I said to her, “Maman, it’s Beatrice, you came to me in a dream last night and you told me you had no more strength and I’m here Maman and I’m going to give you all my strength and Bonnemaman is here too (her mother who died) “Can you feel her, Can you see her?” My mother said, “Oui, oui, oui” and I said, “Maman, you have a choice right now. You have people who love you on the other side and you have people who love you here and you have more grandchildren coming but it is up to you Maman. You have to choose. I am just going to hold you and give you all my strength.” And with tears pouring down my face, I held my precious mother in my arms and that is all I did until I could feel a shift and I looked up and I could literally see my mother’s light pouring back through the top of her head and her eyes instantly opened wide and the doctor walked in at that exact moment. I explained to him that it was more emotional then physical and she was home that night and she’s had three grandchildren since and is going to be 88 years old in October.

    Please stop trying to understand the spiritual dimensions with standards that only apply to the material world and you will be a lot closer to understanding the truth.

  21. Beatrice says:

    Isn’t it funny that Michael’s name means, “Who is like God!” :)