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Almost all (Christian) theists assert that humans experience everlasting bliss in heaven. Is this possible?

So the real issue is whether it is logically possible that an unending life (in which one retains one’s identity as the same person) should be filled with unending joy and ever increasing opportunities for novel and meaningful experiences.

From more discussion, it is concluded,

So here, perhaps, is the sum of the matter from a religious perspective: the more self-absorbed we become, the more tedious and dreary our lives inevitably become over time. But the more outwardly focused we become in loving relationships, the more joyful and meaningful our lives also become over time.

(source)

The claim is this: humans are able to grow in happiness through interaction and love with others. More broadly, the claim could be that eternal happiness is possible through continuous interaction with others, novel experiences, and meaningful goals.

This seems to be subject to empirical testing. Is this a possible state of affairs? It is almost an issue of sociology and psychology. Even if no affirmative answer can be reached, it certainty seems to be an issue closer to our everyday experiences than other religious claims, such as the existence of God. If this is the case, we could use our everyday notion of probability to try to guess if this is the case.

This is contrasted with other religious claims, such as dualism or the existence of God. These questions cannot be answered empirically, or even with probability. It seems that our question here, however, is closer to what we are familiar with, and hence subject to empirical testing and probabilistic claims.

Is this the case? Can some religious claims, such as the one outlined here, be discussed in an empirical or probabilistic context? Or, must these claims be relegated to the unknown?

  • Some claims, such as "ancient Israel existed" are obviously subject to empirical testing. – curiousdannii Aug 18 at 1:39
  • @curiousdannii Certainly, but I don't think those claims are central to the beliefs of all theists. Besides trivial and uncontested claims, such as "ancient Israel existed" and "the Bible was written a long time ago," I don't think there are many of these questions that have much importance to theists. For example, one could argue that evolution disproves the idea that God created humans. The theist, however, can just respond with an non-empirical statement, such as "God guided the evolution of humans to fit his needs," or something similar. – user40443 Aug 18 at 2:05
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    The question in the post is much more narrow than the title. That "humans are able to grow in happiness through interaction and love with others" is certainly empirically testable, at least in a loose sense given the vagueness of "happiness". But there is nothing specifically religious about it, it is a matter of empirical psychology. It rather seems to affirm the obvious observation that many non-religious subjects can come up in a religious context. Another example is cosmology. – Conifold Aug 18 at 2:29
  • @user40443 Ask some Jews today whether it's central to their religion that Israel existed, and you think they'll say no? – curiousdannii Aug 18 at 2:31
  • @Conifold Why is there little discussion on this, then? It seems to be at the very heart of almost all Abrahamic religions, but I can't find much on this topic besides the SEP article and a few somewhat un-philosophical websites. Do you think the claim is somewhat obvious (that eternal bliss is possible)? Perhaps, the theist could also list other ways in which "bliss" like this is possible. – user40443 Aug 18 at 2:59
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Alvin Plantinga, a Christian philosopher expanded on C. S. Lewis's probabilistic argument that naturalism is self-defeating. Plantinga's argument is known as the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN).

Wikipedia describes it as follows:

Plantinga's argument attempted to show that to combine naturalism and evolution is self-defeating, because, under these assumptions, the probability that humans have reliable cognitive faculties is low or inscrutable.

So, a probabilistic argument has already been presented, but from religious sources. Rather than religious claims, claims of naturalism are being challenged.

The scientific method does not discriminate against believers in a religion. Anyone may practice science because its results and methods are objective and the technology developed from it can be used by anyone. That's what makes it valuable.

However, the interpretations someone comes up with for the empirical evidence, the data underlying any theory, is where the conflicts arise. The naturalist-oriented person would say that there is no God guiding the empirical evidence one sees. The religious-oriented person would take the opposite view. The empirical data remains the same. It is the premise that both sides accept.

Any defeater or suggestion of falsification of one interpretation or the other would have to come from a philosophical argument because all sides accept the empirical data. The EAAN argument is such a philosophical argument that if naturalism and evolution are both true then it is unlikely that we could have come up with any true theories.

Here is the question:

Is this the case? Can some religious claims, such as the one outlined here, be discussed in an empirical or probabilistic context? Or, must these claims be relegated to the unknown?

These claims are worth discussing especially from a philosophical position, but if both sides are simply interpreting the same empirical evidence differently, it may be difficult to challenge such interpretations merely from the perspective of this empirical evidence.


Wikipedia contributors. (2019, August 14). Evolutionary argument against naturalism. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:44, August 17, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism&oldid=910728803

  • Thank you, that makes sense. I didn't make it very clear in my question, but I think what is "empirical" goes a little deeper here (I might be using the term incorrectly). For the small argument I laid out in my question, I think many would agree that there is a non-100% and non-0% chance that "eternal bliss" like this is possible. Like I said in my question, it is almost psychologic in nature, and there are likely many different opinions out there. Due to this, the question seems very pragmatic and "everyday," almost. I think this undermines many claims that the religious is (cont.) – user40443 Aug 17 at 21:35
  • inherently unknowable by us. So this is what I mean by "empirical": not exactly scientific in the narrow sense, but more based on common sense and everyday experience. Essentially, intuition about how humans will act in a given situation. Does this intuition tell us that the possibility of "eternal bliss" is inherently unknowable? I don't think so, but I'd like to hear your take. Sorry if this is hard to understand, I'm having some difficulty conveying my idea. Please ask for any clarification if needed. – user40443 Aug 17 at 21:39
  • @user40443 It is easy to shoot down straw man positions, but those arguments only convince those who already believe in them. Setting up some description of "eternal bliss" to hopefully then discredit it using psychological evidence is such a position. It is not so much that eternal bliss is inherently unknowable, but any objection to it can be countered with God's omnipotence to make it right. A theistic interpretation will override any such argument. – Frank Hubeny Aug 18 at 1:30
  • I don't think it is much of a straw man; many theists deeply believe in it. I also don't think omnipotence helps much. SEP says, "So the real issue is whether it is logically possible..." Most definitions of omnipotence I've seen only allow God to do the logically possible. If you deny this, you run in to omnipotence paradoxes such as the paradox of the stone. – user40443 Aug 18 at 1:53
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    @user40443 Note in the SEP article that theists are not specific about heaven. They do not "have much information on this matter". If they are not specific you will have to set up a straw man that is specific enough to attack. All this might do is eliminate certain aspects of heaven that a theistic interpretation can override. – Frank Hubeny Aug 18 at 2:27

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