2002 Life after Death question and answer

3 a) Compare and contrast arguments for and against belief in life after death. [10]

A comparison and contrast of arguments for belief in life after death such as the significance of the contextual beliefs providing a rationale to support claims of these beliefs, could be theological and or philosophical; implications of selected beliefs about God in this context; could be reference to selected scholars such as Hick and the replica theory; arguments against could include conceptual problems in belief in life after death including problems of whether or not language is at all appropriate in this context; difficulties with the supposed incoherence of some key concepts associated e.g. with dualism.

Could look at different religions and their teachings. Isolate what is distinctive about each e.g. bodily reincarnation on earth, spiritual reincarnation in a perfect place etc

Hinduism and the subtle body. N.b. But these are all what they believe not arguments for and against so beware!

Why do religions teach that there is life after death?

  • Suffering on this plane – Irenaean theodicy and the ‘vale of soul-making’
  • God’s purpose cannot be complete in this life…surely God would not create man for a life that was ultimately purposeless…
  • If God is omnipotent then death cannot be the end…
  • In Hinduism death is a teacher and only by dying will the soul find all the answers; there are four main goals in life and the last- moksha – is the liberation from this existence to union with the spirit of all that is!
  • In Christianity the ultimate ‘proof’ is the death and resurrection of Jesus, to prove that we all can live after death.
  • And John Hick believes that God creates an instant and complete replica of us upon resurrection. (This would according to him imply that this replica would be subject to reversal of the aging process and to healing processes, so that it becomes perfect.)

Now look at non-religious views:

  • Many believe that they can remember some aspects of past lives.
  • No proof – even the Sadducees in Jesus’ time did not believe in life after death and that you just had to make the best of it.
  • No proof that anything lives on – how can it?
  • Many philosophers have believed that we are comprised of much more than just a body that we have a soul e.g. Socrates, Plato (and Descartes who believed in Dualism.) All felt that we have a reasoning part – the desire for knowledge; a spiritual part – the desire for honour, prestige and virtue; and bodily desires. Plato and Socrates believed that the soul had possibly been born countless times before. In their time it was believed that life after death was a pale imitation of this life. Plato even argues at one stage that the body is a prison for the soul. And on the day of his death Socrates was noted for his calmness which he said came from his certainty that his soul would go to a better place.
  • It was Plato who founded the idea of the place of perfect forms – heaven would therefore have these.
  • However Hume believed we are no more than, ‘ a bundle of changing perceptions’.
  • In more modern times a theory of mind developed stating that it is just physical-biological processes like pain -an excited state of c-fibres – in the brain! This does not however answer the questions about where creativity and originality come from and why do we spend such a lot of time pondering questions about existence.
  • If you cannot envision a soul then the idea of life after death would be pointless.
  • Richard Dawkins is one of the foremost current opponents of religious belief, believing as he does that it slows us down, limits us and that we are merely subject to blind forces, there is no soul and no God. Evolution is simply a giant computer programme designed to produce life but that there is no rhyme nor reason for it and no purpose.
  • The problem with this would be the idea that life is meaningless and therefore worthless – he disputes this saying that we have moral codes and should live by them finding purpose in overcoming the negative aspects of natural selection. Very affected by September 11th 2001 he coined the term ‘meme’ meaning a unit of cultural inheritance which transmits itself like a gene or a virus; religion is one such and that atrocity was an example of the worst form of that transmitted meme.
  • To believe that death is not the end can lead to all sorts of dangerous nonsense. (Suicide bombers)


b) Define one of the following and evaluate its distinctive contributions to debates about life after death:

(i) reincarnation

(ii) rebirth

(iii) resurrection    

(iv) immortality [10]


Clear understanding of the distinctive features of the concept selected which may draw upon the ideas of selected philosophers; reasons employed to argue the case that the selected term is valid and convincing; evaluation may include the cogency of this term in the context of its belief system.


  • Assumes the loss of memory from one life to the next.
  • A loving god allowing many lives, allows for the justice of overall equality to exist.
  • In Hinduism reincarnation can be in any form of animal, insect or human – what is distinctive about it is what its purpose is – to prepare the soul, to allow it to grow, develop and ultimately to escape from the physical realm when it has made enough progress.
  • In some religions it is only into a human form that reincarnation takes place
  • What contribution does it make to the debate?
  • Anecdotal evidence about people’s past memories
  • No evidence and it fits with the prevailing religious context such that a Westerner is less likely to believe they’ve been reincarnated and more likely to believe that they will be resurrected.
  • In Hinduism it is a way of ensuring that people are content with their lot in life, they are told it will improve in the next one and they are just on their way up or that they deserved it based on actions in their past life.
  • In Christianity it is the hope for the future, without this belief there would be no real point in the life of Christ.




  • Christian resurrection believes that the soul will be separated from the body on death and go to heaven.
  • Yet there are problems even with this in that there appear to be other suggestions that the body will be made perfect and be reanimated just as Jesus was in fact.
  • See also John Hick above in (a)
  • This can pose problems for what to do with the body after death.
  • (Islam teaches bodily resurrection and therefore their bodies are buried not cremated.)
  • Irenaeus‘ vale of soul-making could be mentioned again here. The world was not made perfect so that we could grow and develop our souls to make them fit for heaven but not our bodies since they are not perfect but subject to aging and disease.
  • The problem with the concept of heaven is that the language inevitably used to describe it is analogical, since no one has returned to tell us what it is like.
  • What contribution does this make to the debate?
  • No other evidence (and is this evidence?) and it fits with the prevailing religious context such that a Westerner is less likely to believe they’ve been reincarnated and more likely to believe that they will be resurrected.
  • In Christianity it is the hope for the future, without this belief there would be no real point in the life of Christ.
  • It is an answer to the problem of suffering in this world


  • This refers to the soul not the ancient Greek idea of not dying physically.
  • So look back to Plato and Socrates for what the soul is and why they believed it didn’t die.
    What is its distinctive contribution to the debate?
  • Although not particularly religious, there is no doubt that their views on the soul had a huge impact on Christian theology and thinking.
  • Particularly in his idea of Ideal Forms he gave Christian theology a good starting point for teaching about heaven as a place of perfection, to which our perfected souls go and live on for ever after death of the body.


NB you must think about your own ideas of the concept that you choose, how likely it is, or whether you find it hard to believe.


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