Because every single one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise.
In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife. Divided into four separate sections, this collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest evidence of whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next, contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that confront the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—heaven, hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems supporting those notions. In the final section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.
Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student of philosophy, religious studies, or theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.
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Michael Martin is professor of philosophy emeritus at Boston University. In addition to more than 150 articles and reviews, he is the author or editor of several books, including The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, and Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Keith Augustine is executive director and scholarly paper editor of Internet Infidels (infidels.org), which hosts the popular Secular Web. He is well known as a skeptic on the question of survival after death. He has published in Skeptic magazine and his work has been the object of discussion in multiple issues of the Journal of Near-Death Studies.Review:
This is a hugely needed book. It addresses profound questions that are too seldom answered from a naturalistic point of view and answers them authoritatively yet surprisingly accessibly. In view of its scope and comprehensiveness - and especially because critical books on the afterlife have been so rare - the release of The Myth of an Afterlife is a noteworthy publishing event.
— Free Inquiry
The book is impressively clear, thorough and detailed. It is also forcefully argued. . . .[T]his is an important book, and can be read with profit by believers, if only to remind themselves how formidable the arguments against survival of consciousness can seem to be. It will reinforce the atheistic convictions of its natural audience, and will doubtless encourage young Americans, especially, to disregard the God-talk they hear spouted all around them.
— Journal of the Society for Psychical Research
Martin and Augustine deserve credit for assembling this wide-ranging group of papers in opposition to belief in an afterlife. For those who agree with them, the collection offers a virtual armory of ready-made weapons. For others, it comprises an impressive assemblage of obstacles that must be overcome or circumvented.
— Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Ultimately, the value of The Myth of an Afterlife lies in its comprehensiveness. It recognizes that '...a volume that focuses on arguments against an afterlife is essential for revealing the full force of the case against life after death,' and in this capacity, it delivers. For the novice, it serves as an advanced but approachable introduction to the facets and literature of the survivalist-mortalist debate across a wide variety of disciplines, with especially helpful introductions and overviews provided by the editors. For the more advanced scholar, it serves as a reference work, providing convenient summaries and surveys of the literature and studies in addition to the proffered arguments. Lastly, for any intellectually honest survivalist, it is a catalog of the myriad challenges against his or her view that must be neutralized in order to render the view defensible.
— Metapsychology Online Reviews
[P]hilosophers Keith Augustine and the late Michael Martin took it upon themselves to assemble a team of 29 valiant contributors to attack the afterlife ‘myth.’ The result is an impressive volume composed of 30 essays, spanning 675 pages and organized in 4 parts.... The Myth of an Afterlife, rather, stays focused on its main mission of dismantling the survival hypothesis, regardless of why humans tend to accept it. Its rigor, relentless argumentation, and careful attention to the evidence and possible objections make it a major and unique contribution to a topic long neglected by scientists. Its main virtue, in fact, is simply to take the idea of the afterlife and its consequences seriously, and see where this leads. Given the current success of neuroscience in establishing the neural basis of consciousness and thought, is it still honest to claim that we simply don’t know ‘what comes after’? If so, then, one might wonder what exactly the cognitive and brain sciences have been discovering and teaching us all along about the nature of the mind.
As the editors point out, there are plenty of books arguing the case for an afterlife but few that examine the case against. This collection of thirty articles in over 650 pages does just that.... [The articles] hammer home the conclusion that there is absolutely no evidence from neurology that mental functions have any independence from the physical brain, and indeed such an idea when critically examined makes no sense.
— Magonia Review of Books
The Myth of the Afterlife is a massive tome explicitly making the case against life after death with 30 chapters in four parts: empirical arguments for annihilation, conceptual and empirical difficulties for survival, problematic models of the afterlife, and dubious evidence for survival.... [T]he volume ... provide[s] readers with a sophisticated analysis of many arguments related to survival.
— Network Review
Understandings from this text, particularly on cognition, could ... further the critical examination of thought processes that accompany discourse on mortality.
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