Response to Clem Samson’s post “Scientists: there is no life after death. Nor is there a God.”

Source: Vulture. The scientists who tell us how everything is..

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It is not often I address another article on Medium but given the sheer popularity of this piece, I thought it would be worth offering some brief thoughts on it. Given the article itself was brief, I will try and keep my refutation of it brief as well.

Clem Samson writing for The Haven page on January 14 started off his piece with, “Scientists: There Is No Life After Death. Nor is there a God. There also is no other intelligent life in the universe. We are utterly alone, on a journey with one and only one destination — oblivion. How’s your day going, by the way?”

Clem then went on to say we need to accept this hard truth and enjoy ourselves. We won’t leave anything behind except a few photos which will eventually get tossed in the bin. Moral of the story- enjoy yourself, don’t work too hard and don’t get too caught up in disagreements about topics such as the election as we are all ultimately headed into oblivion.

The article provided a necessary reminder that we will all die

As someone who recently wrote a piece on Stoicism, I must say I respected Clem for his emphasis on death and ultimate nothingness. Indeed, life is short and that should give us perspective what we focus on.Live your philosophy: A Christian perspective (with some Stoic references and contrasts)“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” ―

However, I have my reservations of the application of this truth being to simply enjoy yourself

Sure, life is a gift (or maybe an accident depending on your views!) and something to be enjoyed. No two ways about it. However, simply pursuing pleasure and enjoyment for the sake of it as we will soon die is a sure path to emptiness and lack of fulfilment. Targeting short term sensory experiences and pleasures comes at great cost without any broader consideration of issues such as living sacrificially, helping others or wrestling with deeper questions.

Perhaps Clem might want to look more into the paradox of hedonism. Ask Viktor Frankl who lived in a Nazi concentration camp. Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning claims,

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Or even atheist Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in The Antichrist (yes I’m quoting that!) wrote,

“What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? Everything that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.”

There you have it! Even atheists realise chasing short term pleasure and not delaying gratification (ie. not fighting resistance) is a recipe for disaster. As the Chinese saying goes, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

If we really wanted to go further we could talk about all the rich and privileged hedonists through history who have committed suicide while poor and seemingly unfortunate people have lived with tremendous contentment and joy. Or even the scientific evidence that helping others makes you happier even if it involves not pursuing enjoyment in the short term.

Nietzsche and Viktor Frankl left behind a lot more than the photos Clem talks about. They left behind a legacy by helping others think. Then again, this is not something you can measure scientifically so maybe it doesn’t count. However, if we were to use that metric there is no scientific assessment we can perform to suggest your photos are objectively beautiful either.

Now to science saying there is no God and no life after death

There are 5 key issues with this claim.

  1. Science only assesses the natural world so to say it can definitely say there is no God is well outside its scope

To say that something which can only assess the natural world can assess whether or not a supernatural world exists is a bit like using a speedometer to assess the weight of a car, a temperature gauge to assess the chemical composition of water or a voltmeter to assess the temperature of your soup.

Does this mean science cannot point to God? No. Of course it can if can point to the universe having a beginning (hence a cause outside time and space), illustrate intelligent and purposeful creatures exist, suggest the universe is finely tuned for life or that irreducible complexity implies a designer. Yet, these issues would point to God but not be strict mathematical proofs that the supernatural exists. Nevertheless, some would argue to practise science you even have to presuppose God exists and for this we come to point 2.

2. Science is based off presuppositions which are at odds with naturalism

The world Clem describes is a chaotic accident. You are a bag of meat banging through the cosmos through predetermined chemical forces. You exist by chance and your future depends on chance. Yet, despite that you somehow can practice science.

You assume uniformity (eg. speed of light constant between two points) even though you live in an accidental purposeless planet. You also assume that the world is rationally intelligible even though you are basically pond scum mixed with time and chance to lead to physical laws which act on your mind. You also hold to transcendent laws of logic in a changing and purposeless planet. Something bigger than the bag of meat you spend your time in.

After all when you are practising science are you really anything different from the wind closing your front door or an apple falling on your head under the force of gravity? Physical laws acting on matter. That’s all there is.

Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin wisely points out, “Christians invented the university and founded most of the world’s top schools to glorify God. And yet studying is seen as a threat to faith. Christians invented science, yet science is seen as antithetical to Christianity.” In her book, Confronting Christianity, she outlines how the empirical and methodological foundations of the scientific method were laid by two Franciscan friars, Roger Bacon and William of Ockham.

3. If there is a scientific proof which shows there is no God why aren’t all scientists atheists

If science says there is no God in the sense of a proof then why in 2009 did research conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press suggest 51% of scientists believe in God or some sort of higher power? Even the 49% who don’t, many of them are actually agnostic when it comes down to it. Even they don’t definitively say there is definitely no God!

4. You evolve for survival not truth under naturalism

You evolve and adapt to propagate your DNA. It’s all about survival not truth. Whether truth is part of it or not how would you even know as long as what you are thinking is helping you survive and helps your genes continue into the future? After all anything you say or do is subject to the survival of the fittest principle which came about by accident.

5. Arguments could be made science points to God

There are well qualified scientists who believe science points to intelligence, design and spiritual meaning as well as strong arguments they use. This isn’t the main point of this article but something than can be explored further.

Similar arguments could be put forward against the life after death issue as it concerns a spiritual dimension. After all, if you are simply matter and chemical reactions how do you feel a sense of continuity with yourself yesterday? You have gained and lost cells, you have undergone new chemical changes, you are not the exact same bag of meat, yet you feel the same. How about 90 year old you versus 4 year old you? How many cells in common? Could this point to the existence of a soul? For that I would also look at the resurrection.Surely you don’t actually believe Jesus rose from the dead?Note: This discussion does not assume as a starting point the Bible is God’s Word nor does it foolishly assume or ever…

If you’re the product of an accident how can you even make a conscious choice to enjoy yourself?

Think about it. Chaos. Mindless accidents. Chemical reactions. Physical laws acting on matter to determine what goes through your head which sits in a bag of meat that you exist in. Despite, all that you seemingly have conscious choice. Choice how to spend your time. Free will. You’re kidding yourself, if this is the world you really live in, to think you could exercise your will to maximise enjoyment. Are you even wilfully reading this article or is that an accident too?

In the end..

Moral of the story. Clem is right- you will die. However, help others. Grapple with bigger questions. Realise enjoyment stems from doing what is right in the long run not pursuing immediate pleasure relentlessly. Also be careful what you leave behind in that photo book for you don’t know who will see it or when you will die!

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