We’re responding to an imaginary dialogue that explores Soft Theism, which is basically Christianity without the baggage. Can jettisoning Christianity’s crazy bits make it acceptable? Read part 1 here.
This is post 11 in this series, where an advocate for Soft Theism lays out the ideas about the afterlife and we find a good metaphor for Soft Atheism.
Atheist: Does your belief in the probability of a God mean you also believe in the probability of an afterlife?
Soft Theist: Yeah. I think the two go together.
Cross Examined Blog: Why does a God have to create an afterlife? God can’t create the logically impossible, so how do you know that such a place is even possible?
While you’re providing evidence for the afterlife, don’t forget to argue for souls (or whatever form we’re in after death). And is the afterlife binary, with a Good Place and a Bad Place?
And what would the nature of this afterlife be like? Seems to me it would be pretty boring. And would raise all sorts of questions . . . like at what age would you exist? Your early 20’s, or when you died at 90? Who would you hang out with? Your first wife who died, or your second wife? All kinds of problems.
Christians also made a big deal out of bodily resurrection vs. a spiritual resurrection.
Right, right. But, I think the very first thing you have to assume, in contemplating an afterlife, is that it has to be different from the life we know . . . without the restrictions we experience now. We wouldn’t get bored, or be physical, or be a specific age, and so on.
Again, this sounds like theological sci-fi. Your hypothesis is an interesting one, but is it anything more than one dude’s musings?
The real purpose of the afterlife
I would characterize my concept of an afterlife only by the general term—”ultimate justice”—where everybody gets whatever they deserve . . . however that plays out. We have no idea. An afterlife might be an existence characterized by the full expression of things we cherish most in this life—love . . . justice . . . enlightenment . . . The cloud of unknowing finally . . . clearing.
It’s like you’re inventing the properties in a Dungeons & Dragons world. You’ve got a character sheet for each creature, and you must assign their properties—intelligence, fighting ability, spell casting, strength, armor, weapons, and so on. Moving on to the traits of the Afterlife, you’ve decided that one of its purposes is correcting the moral balance that was skewed in life.
Okay, but why? Why is that obviously something to be redressed in the Afterlife, and how will that happen, specifically? Is it hellfire and pitchforks, or is it mental anguish? Here’s an idea: once you enter the Afterlife, you get great wisdom, and you clearly see how imperfect you lived your life. Here’s a better idea: give humans that great wisdom in life, where they can make use of it. Everyone would have the free will to do evil, but with that great wisdom, no one would want to.
There you go—no more need for ultimate justice. In fact, no more need for the afterlife.
You’ll probably say that you’re simply doing the best you can with the facts we know about reality. For example, given that life on earth is sort of good and sort of bad, what does that tell us about the being that must’ve made us? And so on.
The problem here is that this assumes a deity. Better would be to grant yourself permission to conclude that there is no supernatural and no gods.
Is life absurd?
I think believing in an afterlife comes from the evolutionary fact that we’re the first form of life smart enough to understand we WILL die. So, our instinct to survive nurtures the fond idea that we can survive physical death. Sounds like wishful thinking to me. Pure speculation.
It IS speculation. But it makes more sense to me than the absurdity of life, with no ultimate meaning, no ultimate resolution. For my part, the existence of partial love and justice here on earth, points to the existence of ultimate love and justice, in an afterlife.
Philosophy has given “the absurd” a particular meaning: “the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.”
Right—there’s no reason to imagine inherent meaning in life, so this futile quest for meaning is absurd by this definition. Is this what you mean? And what are you saying in response—that it’s obvious that life does have objective meaning, so therefore life is no longer absurd?
That’s not what I see. We each find our own meaning. Lamenting the lack of objective meaning doesn’t do us much good. (I examine Craig’s position on life’s absurdity here.)
You also mentioned partial love and justice on earth pointing to ultimate versions in the afterlife. This is C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Desire, which we’ve touched on earlier in this conversation.
The homeopathic interpretation of Soft Theism
Commenter Michael Murray brought up the excellent idea of a homeopathic God in response to the second post in this series, and I’d like to riff on that for a moment. I think it provides good insight into what Soft Theism is and isn’t good for.
Consider the origins of homeopathy. Practitioners observed that some concoctions would cause bad symptoms if given to people—rash, nausea, diarrhea, and so on. They were poisons. But if a certain dose caused a bad symptom in a patient, what if you instead gave a tenth that dose? Then the symptoms would be much less! The idea of dilution was homeopathy’s insight, which I suppose wasn’t bad for the late 1700s. The more dilution, the better, and modern homeopathic quackery is often labeled “30C,” which means that the original poison was diluted by a factor of one hundred (C is the Roman numeral for hundred), thirty times.
Since all they can do is reduce the poison they give, homeopaths can only bring the bad component of the treatment down to zero. They have nothing to offer on the good side, like penicillin, insulin, or aspirin.
This is the problem with Soft Theism. Compared to Christianity, it has discarded Yahweh, the Bible, and church tradition with the goal of reducing the bad component to zero. But where’s the good side? Not Soft Atheism’s explanation of life, the universe, and everything, because that is given without evidence. The best this homeopathic philosophy can be is benign.
I’ll grant that that’s a lot better than the toxic forms of Christianity, but, like homeopathy, it’s best to stay home and save your time and money.
Next time: Soft Theism’s strongest argument
but it’s the #1 reason I stopped accepting fruit
from talking serpents.
– Macaulay Culkin on Twitter