Blogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 4

I wanted to share a helpful review of The Myth of an Afterlife by William Hasker here:

There is a lot to chew on here, but I just wanted to address a couple points:


  • Perhaps even more striking is the omission of any consideration of theism as a serious option. This omission is impor­tant because theism and belief in an afterlife provide important support for each other. Theism needs an afterlife in which injustices can be remedied and suffering assuaged; without this, there is a massive, perhaps insoluble, problem of evil. And on the other hand belief in an afterlife is far more plausible if theism is accepted. This is not merely because God is needed, on many views, in order to secure personal survival. Beyond this, there is need of something like divine agency to insure that conditions in an afterlife are morally benign. This applies even to the belief in reincarna­tion, in spite of the fact that reincarnation is affirmed by some non-theistic religions. Some morally perceptive agency is required to see to it that the conditions of a being’s rebirth correspond with its karmic status, something that can hardly be left to the impersonal laws of nature to bring about.[4] If atheism is the default assumption, as it appears to be in these essays, that seriously biases the overall case that is being made (Hasker).

To the contrary, atheism is the default position, and, for instance, is not in itself in need of a defense to claim one is an atheist when it comes to Zeus, for instance.  Most theists are atheists in relation to most of the Gods proposed today and throughout history.  The theist is making the existential claim, and so the responsibility is on them to martial the evidence.


  • Now, here is the crucial point: If premise (1) is true, that is, if causal closure obtains, then evolutionary epistemology cannot be the explanation for human rationality. The reasoning is simple and compelling. If causal closure is true, then everything that happens in the brain has its complete explanation in prior physical events, no doubt mainly earlier brain-events. But this means that prior mental events play no role in determining the state of a person’s brain — and therefore, they play no role in the organism’s behavior. It follows, furthermore, that mental events and processes are irrelevant to behavior and are thus invisible to natural selection, which can only operate on physical structures and physical behavior. So natural selection cannot select for superior mental processes, nor can it play any role in explaining the effectiveness of the mental processes we actually employ in getting to know the world. This enormously important fact — that we are able to reason about the world and gain know­ledge of it — is left completely unexplained. I predict, furthermore, that within the generally naturalistic framework that is presupposed in this discussion, it will not be possible to find a promising alternative explanation (Hasker).

Nietzsche said we don’t know, we schematize in as many useful ways as needed.  Heidegger talks of hearing a living thing (the category Living Thing) at your feet in the forest, only to look down and see you mis-took rustling dead leaves as a living thing: Will to Power as imposing form. 

So, the traditional understanding of Being is as essentia (whatness) and existentia (howness).  The white board may be tall and hard in terms of what it is, and badly positioned in terms of how it is.  Whatness admits to degrees of appearing, and so a car may appear as carness incarnate to you if it is a lamborghini countach, normally if it is average, and hardly at all if it’s a worn out rusted jalopy.  Similarly, the howness of a being refers to its place within its context.  So, the white board may be poorly positioned in the corner, against the wall, in the lecture hall during a class, and by contrast well positioned in the corner, against the wall, in the arena during a match.  Modern philosophy often ignores the existentia question, how or the manner in which something appears, and so thinking philosophy only aims at essence thus creates no end of problems and mischief for itself.  So, for instance, they try to apply “equipment” as a whatness predicate to a hammer, when it is in fact existential, which is why a large rock can serve the exact same purpose as a hammer but is not in itself considered as equipment. 

In fact, we know a great deal about our relationship to the world and how we understand it if we get our assumptions in order.