We "Know" There Is Nothing After Death
“As religious belief weakens, more and more of us know that after death there is nothing.”
- Steven Weinberg
Steven Weinberg observed that one of religion’s great comforts is belief in life after death and ultimate reunion with loved ones. Science, he said, could offer no such consolation. Yet he encouraged scientists to oppose religious belief. And, he claimed that, as scientists succeed in “weakening religious certitude, more people now “know” there is nothing after death.
Saying you know there is no afterlife is quite a claim. It’s also an odd thing to take satisfaction in it.
Weinberg, a Nobel prize winning physicist, contradicted himself after making this claim. In 2015, he said science was silent about the existence of God and an afterlife.
“…science has nothing to say one way or the other about the existence of God or an afterlife, its goal is to find explanations of natural phenomena that are purely natural.”
If this is the case, how could he possibly “know” there is no afterlife. Did he die, return to life, and then say, “Yes, just as I thought, there’s nothing there”?
Using the wrong tools
If science has nothing to say about an afterlife, perhaps another form of inquiry would be appropriate. Perhaps we really should look to the experiences of people who died and then returned to life and to those who were at death’s door and survived.
Medical professionals resuscitate people from death every year. So many people have been resuscitated, that doctors are now able to systematically study their experiences. They call them ADEs (after-death experiences) and NDEs (near-death experiences). This is what they found.
> England – A study in 2014 of 2,060 people who had died of cardiac arrest was conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton. Of the 330 who were resuscitated, 140 participated. Of these, 39% said that they were aware while they were being resuscitated by doctors and 13% “felt separated from their bodies.” 
> America – Researchers at the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine revealed that 42% of people experiencing NDEs reported encountering other people who were deceased, including people they didn’t know. Many others reported having out-of-body experiences where they saw things from a distance that were subsequently verified as factual. 
> Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) – This group surveys people globally. Their definition of NDE includes people who clinically died and were resuscitated and those who were in physical distress and almost died. Of the over 1,000 responding to a detailed survey who qualified as experiencing an NDE:
· 77.7% experienced incredible peace
· 74.9% had an out-of-body experience
· 64.8% saw a light
· 60.5% experienced altered space or time
· 57.8% saw other deceased people or beings
· 51% described an unearthly realm
· 33.2% felt they were passing through a tunnel
A follow-up survey of 420 people who experienced NDEs found that 40% of them encountered God or were aware of the existence of God during the NDE.
Weinberg might claim these experiences are subjective because they can’t be independently verified in a lab. Yet several facts emerge:
· People of various ages, backgrounds and religious beliefs experienced substantially the same things.
· People described similar events, emotions, and observations – like eyewitnesses would if they were testifying about something in court.
· Many people accurately described events that occurred during out-of-body experiences while they were clinically dead.
Are NDEs hallucinations or wishful thinking?
A consistent feature of NDEs is that the people who experience them describe a lucid sequence of logical events. What they experience is comprehensible and organized. This is not a consistent feature of dreams or hallucinations.
Steven Weinberg has ascribed religious experiences to “wishful thinking.” Yet near-death and life-after-death experiences are reported by people with no belief in God or expectation of an afterlife. And, NDEs didn’t just confirm religious beliefs; they increased them.
In the NDERF survey that included questions about God, before their NDE the number of people who believed “God definitely exists” was 39%. After their NDE, the number rose to 72.6%.
Weinberg’s worldview was one where God was merely an invention, the universe has no purpose, the earth is not particularly unique and people have no special place in it. He saw no “point to life laid out for us in nature.” To him, human life was only “a little above the level of farce.” In the midst of this gloominess, he observed:
“…I do not for a minute think that science will ever provide the consolations that have been offered by religion in facing death.”
How, then, do we handle the despair of purposeless existence and impending death? Weinberg suggested we could invent a point for ourselves in a pointless universe. He also suggested that we find solace in humor and pleasure, though they don’t lessen our tragic state.
Not only did Weinberg not believe in an afterlife, he somehow thought it a service to civilization to dispel belief in it. (Perhaps he found comfort in sharing his misery.)
What about hell?
Speaking of misery, three decades of NDE research shows that 20% of the people who experienced them found them distressing. Instead of peace, light and a heavenly presence, they experienced isolation and emptiness. For them, it was a “hellish and damnation” experience.
This reminds me of something in the Bible. Jesus described a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus, who had died at about the same time. The rich man was suffering the torments of hell. The rich man called out to Abraham, who was in a place of great comfort with the beggar and separated by a great chasm. This is how part of the conversation went.
The rich man: “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”
Abraham: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.”
The rich man: “No, father Abraham, …but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.”
Abraham: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
Thousands of people have experienced ADEs and NDEs and told their accounts. Many of them were clinically dead. Yet, will we listen to them?
What about Steven Weinberg?
Steven Weinberg died in 2021. If ADEs and NDEs are real, as people claim, and our existence does continue after death, what would he say to us now?
Would Weinberg still advise us to ignore the death that awaits us all and seek solace in humor and pleasure? Or would he, like the rich man, want to warn us that God is real, there is an afterlife, and what we do in this life matters?
 Steven Weinberg, Lake Views (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009) 243.  Steven Weinberg, Lake Views, 243.  Steven Weinberg, What About God? Essay printed in Christopher Hitchens, the Portable Atheist (Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 2007), 378.  George Johnson, A Free-for-All on Science and Religion, The New York Times, Nov. 21, 2006, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/21/science/21belief.html and http://thesciencenetwork.org/media/videos/211/bb-1.mp3  Steven Weinberg, Lake Views, 215, 216, 240.  Steven Weinberg, Lake Views, 216. Weinberg said, “The role of science in weakening religious certitude is one of its greatest contributions to civilization.”  Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2015), xiii-xiv.  Sarah Knapton, First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study, Telegraph, (London, England: Telegraph Media Group Ltd., October 7, 2014), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/first-hint-of-life-after-death-in-biggest-ever-scientific-study/  Edward F. Kelly, Emily Williams Kelly, et. al., Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, (New York, NY: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 390, 400.  The survey is in the English language.  Jeffrey Long, God and the Afterlife, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2016), 12-25.  Jeffrey Long, God and the Afterlife, 38.  Jeffrey Long, God and the Afterlife, 26-27.  the Portable Atheist, 375.  Jeffrey Long, God and the Afterlife, 40.  Steven Weinberg, Lake Views, 241.  Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1988), 155. (First published in 1977.)  the Portable Atheist, 378.  the Portable Atheist, 375.  Steven Weinberg, Lake Views, 241.  John C. Hagan III, The Science of Near-Death Experiences (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2017), 7.  The Holy Bible, New International Version (Colorado Springs, CO: International Bible Society, 1984), Luke 16:29-31
Copyright 2023 by Patrick Prill
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