What Happens When an Atheist Dies?

What Happens When an Atheist Dies? November 25, 2020

He died doing what he loved, annoying the hell out of me and not believing I would stab him.

One of the strangest jobs I’ve had was working in sales for a company that sold caskets, cremations, and pre-arranged funeral plans – door to door.

An atheist contemplates life after death. / Image by Amber Avalona from Pixabay

Nobody likes to think about dying. One day I knocked on a door and the man behind the door took a step back, chuckled and said, “The last thing I’m doing today is buying my funeral plan from a door to door salesman.” I took the hint.

Later that week I knocked on another door in the same neighborhood. After giving my pitch the woman said she had been thinking about making her arrangements, because she didn’t want that responsibility to fall on her children. When I left an hour later, she looked as though a huge burden had been lifted off her.

Whether or not talking about death is the best of topics during a pandemic I couldn’t say. If you are a Christian, you “hopefully” have this stage in life covered. If you are an atheist like me, though, you will have to accept the reality of dying head on. Today I just wanted to point out the advantages of thinking about death from both of these two opposing viewpoints.

Is it better to die with the hope of an afterlife?

“Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. … then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” 1 Corinthians 15: 51-54

With promises like this, is it any wonder that few people are attracted to atheism? Christianity offers the whole package doesn’t it? There are these texts in Corinthians to consider, but there are other texts that flush out other wonderful things Christians have to look forward to. Some of the texts speak about disciples obtaining riches and rewards in an afterlife. There’s another text in Revelation that talks about a city with gates made of pearls and streets of gold. In John 14:2, Jesus comforts his disciples by telling them that he is going to heaven to prepare mansions for his disciples in his Father’s house.

If one believes that these texts are factual, that they describe all that Christians will experience, then I concede that Christianity offers people hope in an afterlife that atheism cannot offer.

As an atheist, about the only thing I have to look forward to in death is that it’s going to be a mystery. I don’t expect to receive any rewards for the good things I might have done. I don’t expect to acquire gold, or to have earned a special status due to my devotion to a god, or to live an immortal life.

What I suspect happens after I die is nothing. I suppose the experience is going to be exactly the same as my life before I was born. And I remember nothing of this time. I didn’t feel anything and didn’t sense anything. I had nothing to look forward to and nothing to regret. I think death is simply the opposite of life. I call it “un-life.” If there is nothing but “un-life” waiting for me after I die, then this would truly be unfortunate, because there is no other experience that equals the joy of living.

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.” Emily Dickinson

Embed from Getty Images

And if “nothing” happens after I die, then nothing will matter anyway after I die will it? Nothing will matter, because once again I will be swallowed up in nothingness, without hope of ever achieving another single thought. While I want to believe — and believe me I would love to believe there is an afterlife — I’m left with nothing to look forward to.

To explain how unsettling this is … After dying I will never see my wife, children or friends again. I will never write another beautiful or thought-provoking word. I’ll never play music again, or read a good book, or laugh, cry, dream or hope again.

This is hard to swallow, but from where I sit as an atheist, I don’t have a choice in the matter. Actually, from where we all sit, we have but two options in facing our own mortality. We can either pick and choose a scenario invented by a religion that makes us feel good about death, or we can face the reality which only atheism seems willing to confront.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Christianity works if you believe what it teaches. When you stop believing what it teaches, Christianity no longer works. If you believe you can cheat death and achieve immortality, then you have a lot to look forward to. But the same logic applies to all those who follow different religions that teach different end-game scenarios.

Cows are sacred in India. Image by Michał Lech from Pixabay

So, if you are a Hindu and believe you might be reincarnated into a more advanced being or possibly a cow, walking on streets paved in gold and inheriting a mansion when you die sounds superficial. By the same twist of logic, no Christian can stomach the possibility of being turned into a cow. What must be understood is that believers of both of these religions enjoy a similar sense of hope in what they believe their religions teach about an afterlife. Thus, it is with all religions. When it comes to religious beliefs concerning an afterlife it doesn’t matter what belief system each religion champions. The beliefs don’t matter per se. What makes the difference? Believing in those beliefs.

Yes, there are atheists in foxholes

Here’s the crux of the matter when it comes to having a positive and realistic conversation about death. It’s not who is right and who offers a better system of beliefs. It’s not the Christian versus the atheist and may the person who has the greatest hope win. The winner is the person who confronts reality and discovers the truth: Nobody knows what happens after we die. We don’t know if there is an afterlife. Which makes embracing reality all the more important.

And you’d be surprised at how wonderful life can be by embracing reality. It has a profound way of realigning your perspective and increasing your appreciation for life. Take death, for example. Death sucks. The atheist knows he can’t cheat death. Imagining that all kinds of wonderful things transpire after one dies is entertaining but not fruitful. It’s more of a delusion, which diverts a person from truly experiencing life in the here and now.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
Norman Cousins

Personally, I wasted a lot of years thinking I was just passing through this life; that it was just a proving ground to prepare me for an afterlife. No more.

About Scott Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is freelance writer and the author of the novel "Blind Guides and “Picking Wings Off Butterflies.” Thinkadelics is about discussing the benefits of being a freethinker with insightful tips, newsworthy posts, and in-depth features. You can read more about the author here.

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42 responses to “What Happens When an Atheist Dies?”

  1. Scott,
    To the extent that I doubt the existence of an anthropomorphic god, I am an atheist. I am not a Christian, although I look upon Jesus as something akin to Chairman of the Board in the afterlife, at least on the Board of Directors. Yes, an atheist can believe that consciousness survives death and can even believe that Jesus was a great prophet and highly advanced soul, though not God, per se. It is the “nihilist” who doesn’t believe in God or survival, i.e., believe in nothingness beyond the material world.

    I also believe that one’s beliefs do not significantly affect one’s initial station in the afterlife. It is one’s “moral specific gravity” that determines where one begins in the spirit world. The afterlife is not the humdrum heaven and horrific hell of Christianity; there are many levels, many spheres, planes…. or call them “many mansions” (in my Father’s house).”

    That said, I suspect you are too young to fully appreciate what a conviction in survival means when one is knocking on death’s door or when one’s loved ones start dying off. I’m not talking about the blind faith of Christianity, but about true faith based on evidence. There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that consciousness survives death if you open your mind to it. Best do it before you approach the abyss of nothingness. It can provide a certain peace of mind.

  2. Newly out of both college and my fundy bubble, I had two work colleagues who had a parent die within a short time of one another. My fundy beliefs said I would be able to witness to them, help them through this time which they wouldn’t cope with well otherwise because they weren’t x-tians. (Yes, I really was that naive.) But they both spoke of grief, yes, but also of ‘the circle of life,’ their parents both had had a long and happy life. Funerals were celebrations with their loved ones’ favourite music, food and wine. One was going to plant a tree in a park in memoriam and the other place a memorial bench at a local beauty spot. I didn’t dare admit to myself they dealt with death a lot better than I would have done…..because to do so would have been to deny that my x-tian faith was the right and only way to live in this world!

  3. After giving it decades of thought, I’ve concluded that the consciousness doesn’t go on after death just like the light doesn’t go on after you turn the switch off. And that’s okay.

    What is sentient life, anyway? IMO, we’re meat-bags with an internal computer, programmed by genetics and lifetime experiences that are unique to us. Even identical twins have some differences. Turn right at the corner vs. left. Choose chicken or beef on the airline flight. Arrive at the party five minutes late because of traffic, miss meeting the person who would be your soulmate. All these things have consequences that ripple out.

    Just my thoughts.

  4. Not that long ag0 I suddenly, thoroughly, understood that death is the true annihilation. Nothing of me, not a memory, a thought, a belief, will remain.
    The only part of me that will remain besides my scattered ashes, is what I do NOW or the effect I might have on this or that, to the better. Or the worse.

    To that end, I try to tread firmly but lightly; our land is now conserved, we don’t hack down trees because they are in the way, or kill animals because they are inconveniencing us. It’s like the signs you see on hiking trails: “pack it in, pack it out”

    My mother was a shining example of the other attitude. She finally refused to pay to have the roof repaired, or the tilting kitchen cabinet fixed (until it came crashing down one night and took out a LOT of dishes), with the old, “Im old, let someone else take care of it after I’m gone.” She would fret over things that couldn’t be fixed, and ignore those that could be.
    It isn’t the dark Im afraid of, it’s the getting there that’s a bit scary.

  5. As wonderful as a great afterlife could be, the reality is that after billions of deaths there is zero evidence that an afterlife is anything other than a fantasy.

  6. You offer a lot to think about. I linked over to whitecrowbooks.com and it seems like it has some interesting reads.

    Your suspicions were off regarding my youth, but I appreciate the candor. I’ll be 60 in March. Since I left Christianity 30 years ago I’ve wondered from time to time if when I got older that I’d return to it. I supposed I might because of fear, or as you point out here, because of the natural desire we all have to start anticipating an afterlife. This didn’t happen though. I give very little thought to what might happens after I die. The door to that mystery is firmly locked as far as I’m concerned.

    As I mentioned in this post. I would love to believe that “something” happens. There are all kinds of tantalizing theories that I could entertain. But I’ve found that hoping and wishful thinking on this subject offers me little emotional or spiritual satisfaction. Some might consider this to be a nihilist perspective, but it’s rather an enlightening perspective. I have no clue what happens after I die, and I’ve seen or heard zero evidence about anyone who claims to have this knowledge. But it’s this lack of information which in turn, gives me wonderful attitude and appreciating for life now.

  7. That’s a good story. I wasn’t a fundamentalist, but I can relate to being naive about a lot of things when I was a Christian. I like the circle of life concept. It’s a beautiful way to accept the natural flow of life. This is especially true for older folks who have enjoyed a good long life. Incidentally, my wife and I once owned a couple of hospice agencies in Texas that were named, Circle of Life Hospice. We served over 900 patients during that time, young and old, who believed in many different end of life scenarios.

    Thanks for reminding me … I hope I have at least 20 years before I go, but I could start making a wine list for my own celebration!

  8. I’m inclined to agree. As much as I think about how awesome life is, and how great humans are as a species, we are just flesh and bone. It’s a humbling perspective to have, but I find it empowering. One the one hand, life is very cheap. Cause and effect, and randomness dictate who we are, what we become, and how long we live. It’s totally unfair, yet because it’s random it also has a way of equalizing things. The older I get the luckier I feel, and the more I value and appreciate what I have.

    Concepts about God and morality just seem to throw a wrench into what is otherwise, this natural ebb and flow to life.

  9. Ditto. When I was a Christian and believed in an afterlife I had little concern for what was really happening in my world and for this planet. There’s a tradeoff I think. Religion offers the hope of an afterlife, but this tends to distract us from the importance of life now. Once we break from a preoccupation with life after death, we are awakened to a new appreciation for life.

    Perhaps like your mother, I’m getting to that age in life where I’m letting things go too. I look at my house and say, “It’s my last home and I don’t need to look for another.” Or, “That’s the last truck I’ll ever buy.” Stuff like that. I find it all rather settling and calming.

    Is Afraid of the Dark your blog?

  10. I agree. I wish there was information I could count on to formulate an idea or a plan about the afterlife, but there is zero evidence. But that’s okay, because it frees the mind to focus on the present.

  11. Scott,

    Sixty seems pretty “young” to me. I reached 1000 months of living in August. As I have some heart issues, I go to bed every night wondering if I will awaken in the morning. If I were a nihilist and went to bed thinking I would not wake up at all, in this life or in another one, I think I would have sleeping problems and pretty much live every day in despair, as so many of my aging friends have done. Total extinction may not be so frightening when you are younger, but as the pioneering psychiatrist William James said, “The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well – morality suffices. But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind.”

    As for evidence, it’s there, you just have to look for it. I’m not commenting to promote my own books, but you might look at my book, “Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife.” Of course, if you go to Wikipedia, which attempts to debunk everything spiritual, you’ll be told that Mrs. Piper was a charlatan, etc., etc., but some of the best scientists in the world studied her for years under strict scientifically controlled conditions and were convinced that she was the real deal.

    I’d first suggest you look at my blog, especially the two in November or December last year detailing the 30 reasons why the evidence has not been accepted by the mainstream.

    I’m not at 100% on survival; I’m not sure I am at 100% on anything. However, years of study have moved me from 50% to 98.8% certainty and that seems to be enough for me. I am fully aware of all the pseudo-skeptical arguments attempting to debunk the evidence, but those who have really studied it come to appreciate it.

    If you test, discern, and analyze all of the evidence, you might begin to see meaning in the underlying messages of Scripture and other ancient writings, myths, traditions, and supposed superstitions. You might be able to see a Divine plan and conclude that it is not governed by the cruel, capricious, vindictive, wrathful intelligence of the Old Testament, one who offers the alternative of a horrific hell or humdrum heaven. You will hopefully see a plan of attainment and attunement of gradual spiritual growth, of evolution of spirit through progressively ‘higher’ planes.

    Yes, live for today and don’t worry too much about what comes after, at least until you are my age, but it is better to “live in eternity,’ which means living in the past, present, and future all at the same time. You don’t need to lock yourself up like a cloistered nun to pursue such enlightenment. You can do it in an hour a day. Many people devote that much time to physical exercise to improve the quality of life. Why not an hour a day seeing enlightenment to assure peace of mind in one’s old age?

  12. In my life, I’ve shared my home with a variety of cats and dogs. Some came to me as foster animals, and some were my own from the start. Whenever you own pets, at some point in time you will lose them to old age or disease or even accident; the bottom line is that a dog or cat’s lifespan is shorter than a human’s. It’s absolutely awful to lose a beloved pet, a fellow sentient being you’ve bonded with for quite some time. I would love to believe in a Rainbow Bridge where you’ll be reunited with them one day; it’s a comforting belief that when they’re gone, they’re not truly gone. However, the cold hard facts are that when the electrical impulses stop, what made them, “them”, is no more.

    It’s the same with people, IMO. And IMO again, this is why the only ethical thing to do is to give them the best life they can have while they’re still here to enjoy it.

  13. Scott, one last comment: Take a look at my blog for March 11, 2013, which can be found at
    and tell me why it is not good scientific evidence. True, it is not hard/pure science, but it is science nevertheless. It is like the science that says smoking is bad for your heart and lungs. It can be countered with dozens of stories about people who were lifetime smokers and lived well into their 90s or even 100s. It’ still called science, even if not pure science. There are numerous stories in the annals of psychical research like that of George Pellew. Anybody who says there is no evidence, doesn’t really understand what evidence is or hasn’t looked for it. The Pellew story is not convincing in itself but when you look at dozens of such stories, the cumulative evidence becomes convincing.

  14. Machael, thanks for the honest, heartfelt reply. You must be doing a lot of things right to be 1000 months old. I feel lucky to still be a spring chicken at 716 months.

    I can appreciate why you feel the desire to believe in an afterlife. Many people do and some don’t, and I don’t see the harm in it. Since I haven’t checked out your other links and books, I don’t really have a counter arguement to convince you otherwise. But I don’t think I could. It depends, of course, but overall it would be tough for me to prove that certain events don’t happen after you die, when I haven’t even died myself to prove it! If you know what I mean. Plus, having hope in an afterlife offers a lot of comfort to people.

    That said, I’m 100% certain that the Bible offers no tangible proof of an afterlife. I’m 110% sure there is no hell. But this comes after 30 years of study and thought. So, I do spend time trying to help people free themselves from the horror of this teaching.

    It seems like your beliefs are based on teachings from a number of different sources and religions. A little “evidence” here and a little there. You also seem to view life in terms of a spiritual path, in which as you mention, one can achieve higher levels of spiritual growth. No doubt morality plays a role in this growth. And in death there comes the potential for even higher levels of spiritual growth. Learning and putting all these spiritual dynamics together offers a lot of intellectual stimulation as well.

    I don’t believe there is such a path to a higher level of spiritual being. Or at least one that is concise, verifiable, and to which every person is aware of and can learn. There are simply too many religions, too many philosophies, too many ways, too many gurus and prophets, too many teachings which in my mind, offers proof that there is no singularity of truth.

    But I do think there are ways to be a better person. And there are ways and principles that can be learned in which humanity can become better. Altruism, empathy, reason, compassion are just a few. In many respects these qualities are found in religions, but they are presented as an ego-centric path to personal enlightenment, whereby a person can earn rewards or be punished for failing to achieve them. So, I do believe in a path towards spiritual growth, perhaps even enlightenment of our species, but it’s grounded in reality.

    I’ll check out your other links and get back to those comments over the weekend.

  15. Nice analogy. I have had to put down two German shepherds and a cat or two. They all lived long and wonderful lives. Now I need a tissue … This does make you think though about how easy and natural it is for people to think of a later time and place when they will be reunited with their pets and loved ones. I suspect a lot of religions where born to ease the pain of death and separation.

  16. Scott, indications are that hell is a “fire of the mind” on the lowest level of the afterlife. It is something akin to a nightmare for those who transition with a very low moral specific gravity (msg). It’s often referred to as an “earthbound” condition, one in which the soul may not even recognize that he/she is “dead.” The skeptic might ask how one cannot know he is “dead.” Do you know that you are “alive” when sleeping and dreaming? Supposedly, one relives all his negative acts toward others in that bad dream, but he is on the receiving end this time. However, this is not an eternal condition. The soul can raise itself to a higher vibration.

    All that seems to be a matter of degree. Those who transition with a slightly higher msg might find themselves in a stupor of sorts — half dreaming, half awake, something like being in a movie theater and forgetting that it is just a movie while feeling the emotion of the movie. They, too, gradually move up in vibration, overcoming the dream part of it all.

    Your comment about “grounded in reality” seems to suggest that you can define reality. If you define reality as the material/physical world we can see and feel, then you have to ask two questions: To what end the progeny? To which generation full fruition? What happens when we overcome all adversities and live like Epicureans? Will we then be like Nero as he fiddled while Rome burned?

  17. Scott @3:45; wow, that was nicely articulated. Thank you for that!

    @Michael; how do we know we’re alive? The same way we know we’re awake. Are you awake right now? How can you tell? (Quick answer; because this is what “awake” feels like.)

    Why I found Scott’s writing about his son so touching and so hard to comment on: a couple of decades ago, I landed briefly in the hospital’s CCU with an injury that caused brain disruption. Nothing on the level of what Scott’s son endured, but enough to disrupt my awareness. One thing that surprised me: I couldn’t tell if I were awake or asleep–that is, I wasn’t sure if the terrible things around me were real or dream because my dreams were so vivid they could be real, and my brain couldn’t tell the difference. This passed as my brain healed. One of the nurses asked me if I saw heaven or hell, since many patients in that condition do. I saw neither, probably because I believe in neither.

    For Scott’s amusement: shortly after the injury, I was taken by ambulance from one hospital to a higher-tier one. The drivers wore brown uniforms and my brain interpreted this as me being a package the UPS team was delivering. At another point I was surrounded by life-support machines making noise 24/7 and believed myself to be on an airplane that couldn’t land because of (reasons I forgot), which quite annoyed me. At yet another point I believed I was on a submarine captured by “the enemy” and I was resolute that I would not help them in any way (I suspect I was picking up on whatever movie was on the tv they put in the room for stimulation). The brain is an amazing thing and will try to make sense of what it perceives.

  18. That is such a bizarre story, Katydid. I’ve never heard of that condition and I think i’d be terrified. I’d feel like I was loosing my mind. Especially, when I thought I was in a UPS van as a package. What’s this condition called? Your experience really shows how easily tricked the brain can be. Or to believe what it is seeing and experiencing is so real when it’s merely a dream or an hallucination.

    I never see ghosts either. The mind tends to see what it wants to see.

  19. I had a chance to glance at your blog today and read through about 15 of your thirty points. They are interesting and well written. I also checked out your other link “A non-believer convinces another non-believer of life after death,” but didn’t have the time to really get into it. So, at this point I’m really not able to toss ideas back and forth on this topic.

    Overall, you have a keen interest in the afterlife and have obviously spent a lot of time researching it. I can relate somewhat. When I was studying for the ministry and during my years as a Christian I gained a lot of specialized knowledge about Christianity and the specific tenets of my faith. I’d call this esoteric knowledge, and you seem to excel in this kind of knowledge involving the afterlife. So I’m at a loss, and can only explain to some degree why I don’t concern myself with theories about the afterlife. Perhaps in time we can continue to exchange viewpoints to get a better understanding of where we both are coming from.

    A few quick points …

    You said above “…indications are that hell is a “fire of the mind” on the lowest level of the afterlife. It is something akin to a nightmare for those who transition with a very low moral specific gravity (msg).” I have a tough time believing statements like this. To have this kind of knowledge, one would have to privy to information that is “beyond the veil” so-to-speak. I’d ask where you received this knowledge, but know it probably comes through your faith in the people and descriptions you’ve heard about the afterlife. I have about 99.9% faith in information that lies outside of the realm of knowledge that cannot be easily observed. I do believe in subjective knowledge, not every fact need be proven scientifically, but subjective knowledge about after death experiences is still a stretch for me.

    You ask, “To what end the progeny?” I take this to mean that you also believe life both now and beyond death involves a spiritual progression. In your blog you mention in point 6 “The Causality Paradox.” I’d say that arguement applies here. Any belief in the spiritual advancement of our species must involve a master plan or design of an intelligent life or force. I’m an atheist in part because I have seen no evidence of such a designer in life. In my view, the human species, and life overall, is not that well designed or thought through. But there is more to it; my view of human nature doesn’t support that the overall role of humanity is to progress on a spiritual path. The main reason being, there is no consensus, no singularity of truth or teaching among the world’s religions and philosophies regarding the specifics of what this path is.

  20. Again, just my humble opinion: I don’t believe our selves (or our souls) are set on a journey by any higher power. Because I don’t believe in any higher power.

    What I do believe is that we can be better people and rise above our “beastly” instincts that don’t always serve us well. For many, meditation can help us recognize our counterproductive tendencies, regulate our responses, and act with intention, not instinct.

    @Scott; I landed in the hospital after an injury that briefly caused a coma. It seems that I remembered bits and pieces of the experience and those bits and pieces were very odd, including the main fact that I couldn’t tell whether I was awake or asleep because no doubt my brainwaves were disturbed as my body tried to heal itself.

  21. Regarding mutations; human life is amazing. If you have ever watched a program about the many, many things that can go wrong in a human body, you might think how astounding it is that we’re up and walking around at all. Some mutations are trifling; blue eyes are a mutation. Left-handedness is a mutation. Some mutations are more serious, as in all the congenital conditions people may be born with–some are not compatible with life (such as the brain not developing).

    Some mutations are helpful but are only apparent under the right conditions. I saw a snippet on the news that some people might be naturally resistant to getting COVID-19, for example. If there were no COVID-19, that fact would not be discovered. Sickle cell is a trait that makes people less likely to suffer from malaria, but if someone has it who is born and raised someplace where malaria is not a concern, then that fact might never be known.

  22. @17; I’ve held aged and suffering animals in my arms as they’ve passed and believing you’ll see them again, healthy and strong, is such a comforting thought. I suspect ghosts are also a comforting thought. Who wouldn’t want to see a beloved family member or friend again? I love a good ghost story, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe it’s real. It’s just stories we tell ourselves.

  23. Scott,

    We can go around in circles forever on this subject, so let me just end it here by quoting four famous men from history. These are from the epigraph of my next book:

    “A man should be able to say he has done his best to form a conception of life after death, or to create some image of it – even if he must confess his failure. Not to have done so is a vital loss.”
    – Carl Gustav Jung

    “Neither a person nor a nation can exist without some higher idea. And there is only one higher idea on earth, and it is the idea of the immortality of the human soul, for all other ‘higher’ ideas of life by which humans might live derive from that idea alone.”
    – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    “I can, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist’s attitude, and imagine vividly that the world of sensations and scientific laws and objects may be all. But whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor which W. K. Clifford once wrote, whispering the word ‘bosh!’ Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly urges me beyond the narrow ‘scientific’ bounds.”
    – William James

    “I am as convinced of continued existence on the other side of death as I am of existence here. It may be said, you cannot be as sure as you are of sensory experience. I say I can. A physicist is never limited to direct sensory impressions; he has to deal with a multitude of conceptions and things for which he has no physical organ – the dynamical theory of heat, for instance, and of gases, the theories of electricity, of magnetism, of chemical affinity, of cohesion, aye, and his apprehension of the ether itself, lead him into regions where sight and hearing and touch are impotent as direct witnesses, where they are no longer efficient guides.”
    – Oliver Lodge

  24. @Michael: “The French have no word for ‘entrepreneur’.”–George W. Bush

    Just because someone says something, doesn’t make it true.

  25. Mark Twain said (paraphrasing): I did not exist for billions of years before I was born, and noticed no inconvenience during this nonexistence whatsoever.

    And Melville: Forward and backward, eternity is the same; we have already been that which we dread to be.

    You want to know what being dead is like? Think back to before you were born–better yet, before you were conceived. What do you remember of that time? You may anticipate more of the same after your are dead.

    But to be noted: W. Wordsworth claimed to remember the time before he was born, in his “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.” “Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home” is perhaps the best known line from the poem.
    But I think Wordsworth was exaggerating, delusional, or lying. Take your pick.

  26. Mark Twain said (paraphrasing): I did not exist for billions of years before I was born, and noticed no inconvenience during this nonexistence whatsoever.

    And Melville: Forward and backward, eternity is the same; we have already been that which we dread to be.

    You want to know what being dead is like? Think back to before you were born–better yet, before you were conceived. What do you remember of that time? You may anticipate more of the same after you are dead.

    But to be noted: W. Wordsworth claimed to remember the time before he was born, in his “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.” “Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home” is perhaps the best known line from the poem.
    But I think Wordsworth was exaggerating, delusional, or lying. Take your pick.

  27. The common sequence for all forms of life is:
    non-existance . . conception . . gestation . . birth . . lifetime . . death . . return to non-existence.

    (Anything that advantageously alters the final state in the above sequence may be viewed as some kind of bonus, but such could not be seriously anticipated.)


  28. SS1: As an atheist, about the only thing I have to look forward to in death is that it’s going to be a mystery.

    GW1: No, it’s neither going to be a mystery nor is it a mystery. When the brain dies, all experience of the person ends. The evidence for this is overwhelming.
    SS1: I suppose the experience is going to be exactly the same as my life before I was born.

    GW1: No, it’s not! There was no experience before you became a person in the womb and there will be no experience after you cease to be a person. An experience of a certain kind is not the same as no experience.

    SS1: If there is nothing but “un-life” waiting for me after I die, then this would truly be unfortunate, because there is no other experience that equals the joy of living.

    GW1: The truth of that claim would depend on the level of joy you have in living. Some people would rather die than continue to suffer in their current life.

    SS1: We can either pick and choose a scenario invented by a religion that makes us feel good about death, or we can face the reality which only atheism seems willing to confront.

    GW1: Can I choose to believe that I will have an afterlife? I don’t think I can. If you think you can, please explain how that is possible.

    SS1: I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. Christianity works if you believe what it teaches. When you stop believing what it teaches, Christianity no longer works.

    GW1: The truth of that claim depends on what you mean by “works.” If you believe that there will be an afterlife, it won’t work to create an afterlife for you. But if you believe such, it might work to help reduce your anxiety about death, if you are anxious about it. But for how long can a delusion about an afterlife last in the modern world when it is being continually challenged?

    SS1: Nobody knows what happens after we die. We don’t know if there is an afterlife.

    GW1: As far as it is possible to KNOW anything about the future, some people do know what happens after we die – no personal experience! These people know that there is no afterlife. It doesn’t help to say “We don’t know if these ideas are true or false.” Yes, we do, or at least some of us do.

    SS1: Take death, for example. Death sucks. The atheist knows he can’t cheat death.

    GW1: The anticipation of death, i.e. of loss of attachments, sucks or is disturbing. Earlier you said “Nobody knows what happens after we die,” but here you said “The atheist knows he can’t cheat death.” And so, there is a contradiction in the essay.

    SS1: It’s more of a delusion, which diverts a person from truly experiencing life in the here and now.

    GW1: I think that is correct. We should be spending more of our time in figuring out how we can improve our own lives and the lives of others.

  29. Some people, e.g. Michael Tymn, say that they believe in an afterlife based on the evidence, but when you take a close and skeptical look at the evidence they present, you find that it is not good evidence, clearly not sufficient to support their conclusion. So why do they see it as good or sufficient evidence and we don’t? First, they may wish for afterlife so strongly that it overwhelms their rational thought. Secondly, they may lack scientific, rational thinking, or skeptical skills. Thirdly, they may ignore other evidence which undermines or discredits the belief in or evidence for an afterlife, i.e. they have a confirmation bias or selective attention. And lastly, they may fear death so greatly that they feel that any evidence at all for an afterlife is good enough for them.

  30. SS1: It depends, of course, but overall it would be tough for me to prove that certain events don’t happen after you die, when I haven’t even died myself to prove it! If you know what I mean.

    GW1: You don’t need to use your own case. Just examine the cases of the other 100 billion people who have died, the research on the brain, and the failed attempts to detect any afterlife.

  31. GW1: Somebody needs to be the curmudgeonly skeptic here, so I am happy to take on that role.

    MT1= Michael Tynm, round 1. GW1=Gary Whittenberger, round 1. Here I have quoted from MT’s essay “A non-believer convinces another non-believer of life after death” aPosted on 11 March 2013, 13:10, To read the entire essay, go to:

    MT1: When he was alive in the flesh, George Pellew, an author, poet, and journalist, told Dr. Richard Hodgson, who was studying the mediumship of Leonora Piper, that he could not conceive of an afterlife but that if he died before Hodgson and found himself “still existing” he would attempt to let Hodgson know.

    GW1: A similar story is told about Harry Houdini.

    MT1: Hodgson (below) had been studying Mrs. Piper since 1887. He would arrange for various people to anonymously sit with her, and then would observe and record the sessions. The usual procedure was for Mrs. Piper to go into a trance state and her body to be taken over by a spirit calling himself Dr. Phinuit, who, unlike Mrs. Piper, spoke in a gruff voice and with a French accent. As it came to be understood by Hodgson and other researchers, very few spirits are capable of communicating directly and thus Phinuit would act as a medium on the Other Side, relaying messages from them to the sitters.

    GW1: There is no good evidence that there is an afterlife or that mediums can communicate with persons in an afterlife.

    MT1: Initially a skeptic, even a debunker, Hodgson had completely ruled out fraud on the part of Mrs. Piper but still questioned whether the voices coming through the young Boston medium in her trance state were voices of the dead or some secondary personality buried in her subconscious. But since many of the sitters seemed to be receiving very evidential information from deceased loved ones and friends, the question remained as to how the secondary personality, if that is what it was, got the information.

    GW1: Either Mrs. Piper was engaged in fraud or she was delusional and had convinced Hodgson to accept her delusions as true. If James Randi had investigated this case, he would have provided us with the answer.

    MT1: Hodgson, Professor William James, and other researchers were reluctant to accept the spirit hypothesis. No evidence could be found that a Dr. Phinuit ever existed and they theorized that he was a secondary personality which was somehow able to telepathically tap into the mind of the sitter.

    GW1: There is no good evidence for telepathic communication. We should not believe it occurs.

    MT1: When information came through that was unknown to the sitter but later verified as correct, they further theorized that it was possible for Mrs. Piper’s secondary personality to read the mind of anybody in the world or to tap into some kind of cosmic reservoir in the ethers and extract information, then feed it back to the sitters.

    GW1: They were just mistaken.

    MT1: As far fetched as that seemed, any explanation was preferable to spirits, as science, in the wake of Darwinism, was busy demonstrating that things spiritual were just so much superstition and folly. The mere suggestion of spirits of the dead was cause for smirks, scoffs, and sneers among educated people.

    GW1: Scoffing is the best response also today.

    MT1: Hodgson’s confidence in his views was “shaken” after the accidental death of Pellew (below) on February 18, 1892, the result of falling down a flight of stairs. At the time, Pellew, a Harvard graduate, was employed as an editorial writer for the New York Sun.

    GW1: We all die, one way or another.

    MT1: On March 22, a little over a month after Pellew’s death, Hodgson brought Pellew’s friend John Hart for a sitting with Mrs. Piper. Early in the sitting, Dr. Phinuit (speaking through Mrs. Piper’s body) announced that “George” was there. Phinuit then gave Pellew’s full name and the names of several close friends. To give assurance that it was actually himself communicating through Phinuit, Pellew told Hart that the pair of studs he was wearing were once his and were given to Hart by his (Pellew’s) parents, which Hart confirmed as true. Pellew then mentioned some mutual friends, Jim and Mary Howard, and asked Hart if he could get them to attend a sitting. He also brought up a discussion he had had with Katharine, the Howard’s 15-year-old daughter, about God, space, and eternity. As neither Hart nor Hodgson, who was also in attendance and taking notes, was aware of any such discussion with Katharine, this information, later confirmed by Katharine, fell outside the scope of simple telepathy.

    GW1: Mrs. Piper almost certainly acquired the information through “normal means” unknown to the sitters. There are much better methods which could be used to test Mrs. Piper. I have developed one such method. Also, James Randi would know what to do to show that Piper was a fraud.

    MT1: Hodgson recorded that many personal references were made by Pellew, including one to a book he had not yet finished before his death, and that Hart was impressed, mentioning that various words of greetings and speech mannerisms were very characteristic of Pellew, even though the messages were relayed through Phinuit. For privacy reasons, Hodgson called him George “Pelham” in the research records, or otherwise referred to him simply as “G.P.”

    GW1: No science was conducted here.

    MT1: Some three weeks later, Jim and Mary Howard had a sitting with Mrs. Piper. They were somewhat reluctant to participate in such “occult activity,” but Hart’s account of what took place at his sitting made them curious. Hodgson did not tell Mrs. Piper their names or give her any clue as to their connection with G.P. Yet, G.P. communicated. However, rather than Phinuit speaking through Mrs. Piper and relaying messages from G.P., G.P. took over Mrs. Piper’s body and spoke directly to his friends:
    G.P.: “Jim, is that you? Speak to me quick. I am not dead. Don’t think me dead. I’m awfully glad to see you. Can’t you see me? Don’t you hear me? Give my love to my father and tell him I want to see him. I am happy here, and more so since I can communicate with you. I pity those people who can’t speak.”

    GW1: Tell them what they want to hear – a classic trick.

    MT1: Jim Howard: “What do you do George, where you are?”
    G.P.: “I am scarcely able to do anything yet; I am just awakened to the reality of life after death. It was like darkness. I could not distinguish anything at first. Darkest hours just before dawn, you know that, Jim. I was puzzled, confused. Shall have an occupation soon. Now I can see you, my friends. I can hear you speak. Your voice, Jim, I can distinguish with your accent and articulation, but it sounds like a big bass drum. Mine would sound to you like the faintest whisper.”

    GW1: Nothing remarkable here in the content.

    MT1: Jim Howard: “Our conversation, then, is something like telephoning?”
    G.P.: “Yes.”
    Jim Howard: “By long distance telephone?”
    G.P.: (Laughs)
    Jim Howard: “Were you not surprised to find yourself living?”
    G.P.: “Greatly surprised. I did not believe in a future life. It was beyond my reasoning powers. Now it is as clear to me as daylight. We have an astral fac-simile of the material body.”

    GW1: Nothing remarkable here in the content. Vague musings.

    MT1: The conversation continued. G.P. mentioned that he had seen and talked with Martha Rogers, the deceased daughter of a mutual friend. He said that she was still adjusting to her new environment. He also asked how Orenberg and Berwick, two other mutual friends, were doing, adding that Orenberg liked him but never understood him. “We fellows who are eccentric are always misunderstood in life,” he said. “I used to have fits of depression. I have none now. I am happy now. I want my father to know about this. We used to talk about spiritual things, but he will be hard to convince. My mother will be easier.”

    GW1: Old trick – tell them what they want to hear.

    MT1: At a later sitting, the Howards brought their daughter, Katharine. G. P. came through and asked Katharine about her violin lessons, commenting (apparently jesting) that her playing was “horrible.” Not realizing the humor in it, Mary Howard spoke up to defend her daughter’s music, but G.P. then explained that he mentioned it because that is what he used to do when in the flesh. It was intended as verification of his identity.

    GW1: It is almost certain that the medium acquired information by “normal means” unknown to the sitters.

    MT1: Jim and Mary Howard returned again on December 19, 1892. Mary Howard handed G.P. a letter from his father and asked him if he could read it. G.P. said it did not sound like his father would talk to him when he was in the body, but that his father does believe that he still exists and is no longer in pain. Mary Howard confirmed for Hodgson that this was the key message in the letter, which apparently was still in the envelope.

    GW1: Tell them what they desire to hear.

    MT1: G.P. continued:
    “That brings me nearer to my father; now give him my tenderest love and tell him that I am very near him, and see him almost every day, if I could go by days, but I can’t judge of that, because I have no idea of time; that is one thing I have lost, Hodgson.You of all others are the one that I want to be absolutely certain of my identity.Hodgson, I mean, and Jim, I want you both to feel I am no secondary personality of the medium’s.Now, about my theory of spirit life independent of the material substance. I live, think, see, hear, know, and feel just as clearly as when I was in the material life, but it is not so easy to explain it to you as you would naturally suppose, especially when the thoughts have to be expressed through substance materially.Nevertheless, I am bound to do just all I can for you to prove to you that I do absolutely exist, independent of the material body which I inhabited.”

    GW1: There is nothing here to validate an afterlife.

    MT1: Jim Howard returned alone for a sitting three days later and asked G.P. to tell him something that only the two of them knew. In fact, G.P. told Howard something so private and personal that Howard did not want it made part of the record, but he told Hodgson that he was perfectly satisfied with the information.

    GW1: Oh, how convenient – claim confirmation but don’t reveal the evidence for it.

    MT1: G.P. continued:
    “Jim, I am dull in this sphere about some things, but you will forgive me, won’t you?…but like as when in the body sometimes we can’t always recall everything in a moment, can we, Jim, dear old fellow?…God bless you, Jim, and many thanks. You often gave me courage when I used to get depressed. You know how you especially used to fire at me sometimes, but I understood it all, did I not, old fellow?…and I used to get tremendously down at the heel sometimes, but I am all right now, and, Jim, you can never know how much I love you and how I delight in coming back and telling you all this.When I found I actually lived again, I jumped for joy, and my first thought was to find you and Mary. And thank the Infinite here I am, old fellow, living and well.”

    GW1: Old trick – tell them what they want to hear.

    MT1: Over the period of time during which G.P. communicated, Hodgson brought 150 sitters, 30 of whom were known to G.P. when he was alive. In each case, G.P. greeted them by name. The non-recognition of the other 120 was contrary to the telepathic and cosmic soul theories. That is, if G.P., or Mrs. Piper’s secondary personality, had been reading minds or searching in some cosmic computer, he (she) would have known the names of all of them.

    GW1: If Mrs. Piper had been a true medium, then she should have been able and would have given factual information about the dead relatives of the other 120. She didn’t have time to do research on all of them. In today’s world, she could have done better with the internet.

    MT1: The emergence of G.P. moved Hodgson and other researchers to a belief that spirits of the dead were in fact communicating.

    GW1: They were mistaken in their new belief.

    MT1: In effect, there was too much individuality, too much purpose and persistence, expressed by G.P. to attribute it to telepathy of a limited or expanded nature. It was one thing for a medium to tap into another mind or cosmic reservoir for information, quite another for that other mind or reservoir to dialogue with the fullness of a personality rather than just fragmentary bits of information.

    GW1: The methods of testing were extremely poor.

    GW1: Michael, first there is no science in this account. This is a bunch of anecdotes. Second, if this is the best you have to support your claim of an afterlife, then I am not motivated to read any of your other accounts. Thirdly, the evidence you have presented is just not good enough to support your conclusion. There is lots of good evidence to support the notion that when the brain dies, personal experience ends forever. (I’ll set aside for now the possibility of in the future “downloading” the information in a brain.) And lastly, I encourage you to devise a method to reveal the truth about these alleged mediums. It can be done.

  32. I’d consider life after death to be bonus, but as you mention, I don’t “seriously anticipate” anything.

    It is curious, though, how most religions use or morality as a test as to what that destination might be.

  33. It’s likely a combination of all the reasons you mention. At best, they might consider these reasons to offer sufficient subjective proof. But none of these evidences amounts to “concrete evidence.” Concrete evidence being, what is scientifically provable.

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