Do people who believe in only a finite existence and that there is no type of 'after life' ; do they think this is an absolute certainty ? If one is extremely certain about this being a 'finite existence' yet there are no convincing arguments for this then it can not be an absolute certainty. ( Note: 'believing' in something implies some doubt is possible in that 'something' being true and yet the person ,however is maintaining the belief.) In other words do those who think life is 'finite' believe this is a certainty even though there are no clear arguments that can demonstrate this??


This question appears to be asking about believing in the absolute certainty of something; and in this case specifically about those who believe in a finite existence; and he's asking whether absolute certainty is somehow question-begging; or in his own words 'inconsistent' when using the word 'belief' at the same time.

After all many academics question the assumed certainty of belief that theists use; so why not question the certainty for those who believe in a finite life?

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    Your question is vague; what do you mean by an 'existence' of their 'mind' and personality and their 'self' after the physical death of their bodies. I presume that you mean by 'mind' and personality and 'self' some conception of the soul, though this is not necessarily the case. – Cicero Aug 16 '15 at 1:41
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    I'm a little bit lost as to how this is a good fit for our site. I'm also lost as to where the inconsistency would be... I take it most (if not all) atheists believe when you're dead, you're completely gone. – virmaior Aug 16 '15 at 1:48
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    @virmaior while I agree with the spirit of your statement, I think you and OP could also be conflating atheism with naturalism, materialism, empiricism, skepticism, or some combination of these philosophies. The definition of Atheism (affirmed by the tag description) as a "lack of belief of deities" allows for all sorts of spiritual beliefs. – Cicero Aug 16 '15 at 1:57
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    There's absolutely no requirement that atheists be relativists ... Moreover, there's also multiple types of relativists who are non-relativists are about certain domains and relativists about others (e.g., non-relativists about physics but relativists about morality). – virmaior Aug 16 '15 at 13:31
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    In their defense, 201044, your title is "about the beliefs of atheists; is there an inconsistency" You have to admit that, when half of the title is about athiesm, it is only natural to assume you just might be talking about atheists. I would recommend editing the question's title. The purpose of the title is to communicate the essence of the question. Given that those who read the title are getting the wrong essence, it's probably worth rewording. – Cort Ammon Aug 17 '15 at 2:08

Atheism is a belief that there are no deities (from the Greek ἄθεος, or "without gods"). It has nothing to do with their "existence," "minds," "personalities," or "selves."

There are also degrees of atheism. There is the hardest of atheism, which believes there are no gods, and there are softer atheisms, which are not certain there is a god. (The latter used to be known as agnosticism, but has been rebranded as a soft variant of atheism recently. Linguistics does things like that)

To the best of my understanding, the belief that atheists disbelieve in other things, such as "existence" is a side effect of theists trying to make sense of an atheists's point of view, and something getting lost in translation. Trying to manage such a wording is an intellectual challenge, as is trying to handle any wording between two opposing points of view.

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    up arrow. there is a difference, at least semantically, between atheism and materialism. i think a hard-core materialist would say there is nothing left of your "mind" or "self" well after you die and your brain is totally non-functioning. it's not the same question as whether there is a reality of God or not. (speaking as a theist, the questions are not totally independent, and Cort is right that theists coupling "existence" of us with existence of God are trying to make sense of an atheist's POV which we might not understand sufficiently.) – robert bristow-johnson Aug 17 '15 at 1:59

There are, of course, many different kinds of atheists.

The question you raise about existence, self, mind, and so on can be more generally asked as "Do atheists believe in the actual existence of abstract objects?" The answer to this is that it is not necessarily a theist vs. atheist issue but what are one's beliefs about metaphysics.

Your next question I take to mean "If atheists are relativists, isn't it contradictory to say that an atheist is absolutely certain about something?" There are two problems with this that I see. First, there are objectivist atheists (Ayn Rand comes to mind). Second, the notion of "relativism" normally is only concerned with non-material things like morality. Most atheists that I've read have no problem being absolutely certain about, for example, the physical properties of an object.

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The change makes this a much more answerable question.

I don't think there is any direct inconsistency here, but the stated motives given usually bring one in. The holders of such opinions, if they reference something like Occam's razor or basic parsimony, which appeals to an aesthetic or other internal faith would not be on shaky ground.

But they almost always bring in science, and at that point they are pretending. Science works largely from measurable aspects of experience and predictive theories that either admit falsifiability, or fit into compelling structures that explain other testable results.

We can have none of these necessary components in any theory about what comes after death.

Science may be very important in the absence of another sort of religion, but science itself cannot establish the falsehood or even estimate the likelihood of utterly untestable statements. One might feel like one decides to reject the untestable as an aspect of being scientific, but one only needs to exclude such things from one's science, and not from one's life. (I do not choose my lovers, or my dogs, based on objective tests. If you do, I would claim you are somewhat lacking in humanity.)

In deciding that scientific methods simply are the most important tools we have and that they should apply even to questions where they lack power according to their own standards, one is adopting this specific scientific perspective as a religion, and is making the decision against the afterlife on a basis only as strong as those who accept its existence.

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  • One thing that may be testable is how any self-sustaining dynamic system of 'energetic' self-changing 'behavioral programs that 'comprise the 'mind' can be 'contained' by the purely physical structures of cells and tissue in the brain? – 201044 Sep 14 '15 at 5:24
  • How would that have any bearing on any theory of the afterlife ever offered or considered by anyone? – user9166 Sep 14 '15 at 21:40
  • You mentioned,' we can have none of these necessary components in any theory about what comes after death..'. so no one has any 'viable' theory about the afterlife. Any attempted theory would have to involve new ideas or new combinations of ideas. So of course what I mentioned doesn't have any bearing on any theory of the afterlife ever offered that might involve 'real' scientific principles because there are no such reputable theories considered by anyone.. – 201044 Sep 20 '15 at 15:34
  • @201044 But you are talking about stuff that goes on during life, and claiming it has some bearing upon theories of the afterlife. So, while this is definitely something testable, it is so irrelevant as to be offensively dismissive of the question. If you just presume physicalism, that is not an argument, it is a presumtion. – user9166 Sep 21 '15 at 14:18
  • You asked on Sept. 14 at 21:40 , 'how would that have any bearing on any theory of the afterlife ..offered ..by anyone?' My comment on Sept. 20 at 15:34 was just an attempt to answer that question. Or was it a rhetorical statement? If a response is offensively irrelevant why respond to it. ( I disagree entirely with 'physicalism'.) – 201044 Sep 25 '15 at 14:01

I do not speak for all persons who believe in the finitude of life and the difference intensity of their beliefs.

From an epistemic point of view this belief is a hypothesis, which has not been refuted until now. Several arguments exist which support this hypothesis.

Of course the opposite belief, believing in an afterlife, is a hypothesis too. Also that hypothesis has not been refuted. And theists support the hypothesis by a different set of arguments.

Hence it is up to each individual to assess the strenght of both sets of arguments and to make his personal decision.

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I think you have this upside down. No evidence is needed that there is no "afterlife". The possibility that there could be anything after death is an outrageous statement that would need either very, very strong evidence, or a few million supporters, preferably heavily armed (the second is how this myth survived for so long).

If I take your argument correctly, then you think yourself that it is possible that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, since nobody has every seen any evidence against it.

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  • Why is the possibility there could be any type of existence after the physical death of the body and brain an absolute impossibility? Is the mind -brain entirely dependent on it's physical structures? There are what you might call 'programs' in the brain of patterns of neuron signalling behaviour that have invariant qualities. Like the analogy of the brain as hardware and the 'mind' like software. If the 'mind' was a self-organizing 'cooperative' of 'mental programs like an operating system of 'software' managing the hardware in the brain and the body then could this 'mind' somehow survive? – 201044 Dec 20 '15 at 19:54
  • The possibility of anything after death is an outrageous statement only if it is obvious no such thing could occur. The evidence of this being obvious would have to be plain for everybody to see. – 201044 Dec 20 '15 at 19:57
  • If when someone dies and their brain 'dies' their 'mind' and personality stop ; if this is true and is a natural process there must be facts and information that describes the processes involved with the brain and mind and personality stopping absolutely forever . There must be evidence for this process of personality extinction. I also think a Flying Lasagna monster sounds funnier.. – 201044 Dec 20 '15 at 23:15
  • There is no evidence for one all-in-one cure for most cancers yet many people are searching for 'it' even though there is no evidence for or against it. I assume the silly term 'flying spaghetti monster' is a reference to Russel's teapot. – 201044 Jan 1 '16 at 18:14

Just to play sophist. First, by the standards of science, there can be no "absolute certainty" about any claim, since this would require exhausting all the possibilities, presumably infinite in number.

But by the standards of experience, probabilistic evidence, and induction, a peculiar problem arises for the nonbeliever, the champion of such standards.

The hypothesis of an afterlife per se is not the same as the claim of a resurrection. So it is hard to know how we might have any confirming evidence one way or the other. Certainly, we cannot have revenants appear to tell us there is no afterlife. So the nonbeliever's hypothesis is not, on its own terms, even falsifiable. At the same time, the nonbeliever dismisses out of hand the popular accounts of an afterlife or resurrection. So the believer is given no way to demonstrate her case. This seems a rather peremptory, unilateral approach to evidence.

As to experience itself. We assume that finitude means the end of consciousness. Yet obviously our experience offers no such post-post-posteriori evidence. Even by introspection, we cannot think back to "before" we were conscious, nor experience or fully imagine "unconsciousness." Worse, in those cases where we say we do experience "unconsciousness" in sleep, for example, we do invariably resurrect ourselves. Our actual experience of "unconsciousness" seems to confirm that it, not consciousness, is finite.

So while the whole matter appears an antinomic deadlock, one could argue that the nonbeliever falls, by her very own standards, into an awkward circularity, in which it is either not possible to claim evidence of "unconsciousness"... or death must be defined as something other than absence of consciousness, perhaps absence of communication. There is no afterlife...as long as the phone doesn't ring, and if it rings, don't answer.

Aside from playing sophist, I do believe it is something like this that the questioner is getting at.

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  • According to some we as behavioural automatons do not exist now. We exist as a sequence of physical phenomena occurring in some deterministic order but we are not existing processes in the sense some of our essential processes are 'working together' to reconfigure ourselves 'away' from increased entropy states. In other words there are no essential processes 'within' oneself that work together to keep all the 'existence' properties organized and not dissolving into greater disorder. So we do not exist now nor do we exist after death so in some ways we don't change regardless of death. – 201044 Jan 4 '16 at 3:49

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