Monday, December 12, 2016
Immortality, by Professor Nathaniel Schmidt & Professor Evander Bradley McGilvary 1917
IM'MORTAL'ITY (Latin. immortalitas, from immortalis, undying, from in-, not + mortalis, mortal, from mors, death; connected with Skt. mar, to die, Greek. moros, death, and brotos, mortal, Lith. mirti, to die, OChurch Slav. mrutvu, dead, OHG. mord, Ger. Mord, murder, AS. morp, death). The endless existence of the human soul in the continued possession of its distinct personality and consciousness. How early the idea of a survival after death entered the mind of man cannot be determined. Some evidence has been recently forthcoming of such a disposal of the dead already in the later periods of the Paleolithic age as would seem to indicate at least a tendency of thought in this direction; and when the marvelous artistic development of the Magdalenian period is considered, revealing as it does a comparatively advanced religious speculation, this interpretation of certain apparent mortuary customs is by no means improbable. In the Neolithic age not only the ornaments, weapons, tools, and food placed by the side of the dead, but the houses, mounds, chulpas, and tombs built for them, testify to a belief that some of the dead for some time continue some kind of an existence after death. It is probable that at first death was looked upon as a deep and prolonged sleep. The dead was left in his dwelling place, the survivors seeking a new home, or a special structure was made for him. Visions of the departed in dreams naturally led to the conclusion that they left their dwellings in the night, and, upon further reflection, to the theory of a double of finer material, but dependent upon the food and drink brought to the tomb. The practices of the Neolithic age already imply the development of some such theory of a “soul.” The fact that these customs and the faith they imply survived into the more advanced civilizations of antiquity and are to be found extensively at the present time among peoples that have remained upon lower stages of development, indicates for them a very high age.
Tombs were the earliest temples, and the ancestral cult was the earliest form of divine worship. As long as offerings were made to the dead the departed ancestors were believed to exist and to protect their descendants. Thus the cult itself tended to create a confidence in an indefinite prolongation of existence in the case of the objects of filial worship. As the great cosmic forces began to attract more attention, the double of the dead might be connected with them in one way or another and thereby become more independent of the tomb. But even where, as in Egypt, this process can be most clearly perceived, the ancestral cult as the basis of hope for survival maintained itself to the latest times. Whether the mass of men in Egypt who were too poor to pay the cost of embalming and “a house for eternity” were regarded as long surviving the shock of death, is doubtful. But the assurance in a future life, as rich as the present and not very different in its outward conditions, for those properly embalmed and entombed, was very strong. Numerous pictorial representations and inscriptions in tombs and papyri from different periods show how intensely the inhabitants of the Nile valley believed in a life after death.
Starting from the same premises, speculation as to the future took a different turn in India. The doctrine of metempsychosis was developed. Without losing its identity the spiritual substance in man was supposed to enter into other forms of life, rising or sinking in the scale of being in consequence of the deeds wrought in the body and the character formed. This transmigration of souls implied eternal existence before as well as after any appearance in the world as a human being. It precluded the idea of a disembodied spirit, and it adjusted outward circumstance to inner character, punishment to crime, and reward to virtue more nicely than any other system of thought. But this assurance of eternal life became itself a burden to the mind of man, and it cried out for deliverance from the endlessly turning wheel of existence. Buddhism offered relief in the hope of Nirvana. In Persia Mazdaism proclaimed, possibly not in the Gathic period, but at least as early as the fifth century B.C., the doctrine of a resurrection. This doctrine was no doubt based upon the simpler and more widespread belief that the sleepers in the dust might be aroused. Cases of apparent death and successful resuscitation would strengthen this expectation. The animistic basis is quite evident.
Among the Iranian peoples of the northwest, the Sarmatians, the Scythians, and the Thracians, the faith in a future life was very strong. From Thrace the Orphic cult spread in the Greek world. While the Mycenaean tombs, as compared with the remains of the preceding age, reveal a growing importance attached to the life beyond, but no conceptions differing from those generally associated with the ancestral cult, and the Homeric poems tell of Elysian fields as well as of a barren and cheerless Hades, but put no emphasis upon what still is a somewhat shadowy existence beyond with no moral distinctions, the Orphic cult societies offered to the initiated the hope of a blessed immortality. The arguments of Socrates and Plato are far from being the first intimations of immortality among the Greeks. They are not endeavors to open new vistas into a life beyond. On the contrary, they represent a critical tendency seeking to establish the truth of a view held by many, and to find the rational grounds on which it can be maintained, if at all. In the following periods skepticism prevailed in some circles, ardent belief in others. If the practical character of the Roman caused him to cling to the ancestral cult, his hospitality to religious ideas opened the doors to the doctrines taught by the Orphic and Dionysiac societies. It was a real life of battle and of joy to which the Teutonic warriors looked forward in Odin's hall, Valhalla.
Among the Semitic nations the prevailing view left little joy in the thought of man’s fate after death. The Babylonians and Assyrians seem to have believed in a semi-conscious later existence, but with no distinctions based on character or conduct and no feature rendering it desirable. The myth of Ishtar's descent to the nether world shows that imagination occupied itself with the abode of the dead, and the translation of some heroes to be with the gods tends to mark the contrast with the ordinary issues of human life. Substantially the same conception of the future was held by the ancient Hebrews. There was no conception of an endless existence of the human soul in possession of a distinct consciousness, and no intimation of a difference based on conduct in this life. A poetic passage (Isa. xiv) possibly shows that the kings were thought of as sitting upon thrones—consequently a social distinction. The intense religious life of the nation did not occupy itself much with the future of the individual. Neither the prophets, nor the legislators, nor the poets, nor the great wisdom teachers, seem to have attached much importance to it. Their opposition to the ancestral cult and to necromancy may account in a measure for this indifference. Only as the sufferings of innocent individuals, particularly in the Exile, made the question of the divine government of the world acute, did “the hope of man” receive attention by the thinkers of Israel. But the author of Job presents this possibility of a restoration to life only in order to reject it. He is not willing to obscure the issues by the introduction of what he considers a vain and improbable speculation. A high type of piety thus flourished without a hope of immortality. But the growing demand for a justification of the ways of God was met by foreign conceptions that brought relief by a temporary postponement of the problem. Persia contributed the thought of a resurrection, Greece that of immortality in the stricter sense. The conception of a resurrection appears for the first time in Jewish literature in the last chapter of the Book of Daniel (written in 165 B.C.). Here some of the dead are raised, probably the martyrs of the great persecution and their oppressors, to continue their life on earth.
There is evidence that this new life was sometimes regarded as of limited duration. In regard to the new body, some maintained that it was identical with the old, or of a similar substance; others that it was spiritual; some that it was bestowed on men at a general resurrection in the future; others that it was given immediately after death. In some circles it was thought that only the Israelites or the good would be raised; in others, that all men, even the wicked, would rise. The new doctrine was chiefly accepted by the Pharisees; the Sadducees strongly opposed it. Ecclesiastes rejected the idea of a survival after death in every form. Meanwhile the Greek conception of immortality based on the nature of the soul, with or without the notion of pre-existence, found acceptance not only among the Alexandrian Jews but to some extent also in Palestine. A doctrine of a future life in which the resurrection had no place is found in the Slavonic Enoch, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, among the Essenes, and elsewhere. Jesus himself seems to have believed in a spiritual resurrection occurring immediately after death. A somewhat similar conception is found in the Pauline literature, while the Fourth Gospel presents the eternal life as a sharing in the divine nature that may begin in time and continue through eternity, and seems to use the term “resurrection” figuratively. The firm conviction of the early Church that Jesus had risen from the nether world and ascended to heaven, and that He would presently return in glory to raise the dead and establish His kingdom on earth, tended to base the hope of survival upon His resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians xv the thought is expressed that if Jesus was not risen His disciples are not raised, and that it does not matter how life is lived if that is the case. It was felt that through His resurrection He had thrown light upon life and immortality. Much of the success of Christianity was no doubt due to the prospect that it held out for a future life. It offered to all men, even slaves and barbarians not permitted to participate in the official cult and not invited to take the holy vows of the secret cult societies, the same blessed immortality that was promised to those initiated in the Orphic, Dionysiac, and Mithraic mysteries, and it was itself influenced by the thoughts that had prevailed in these religious societies: The Greek idea that the soul is immortal by virtue of its own nature became dominant in Christian theology. The controversies within the Church have not affected this fundamental position, but have had reference to the character of the future life.
Through Maimonides the Greek conception of immortality found its way into the synagogue. At first it had a tendency to exclude the doctrine of a resurrection; subsequently it was made the philosophical basis of this doctrine, as in the Church. With the renascence of learning and the development of natural science doubts as to the immortality of the soul began to be expressed. Uriel Acosta was persecuted for rejecting this doctrine, and he had sympathizers among the deists. The growth of evolutionary philosophy in the nineteenth tentury led many minds to question the survival of the human soul after death, and the possibility of a continued life of the spirit apart from the bodily organism is to-day widely denied in scientific circles. Various reasons are given for this negative position. It is maintained that the mental life of man is so closely connected with and invariably dependent upon the brain that a continuance of any intellectual functions after the dissolution of the body is inconceivable. As the mentality of man appears to differ from that of the animal only in degree, and not in kind, any argument from the peculiarities of the human mind is held to imply also the immortality of the lower organisms.
Still greater difficulties are thought to arise from man's embryological development. The lack of any convincing evidence of communication between the dead and the living is pointed out, and it is urged that the origin of the belief can be naturally accounted for, and that its persistence is largely due to the social conditions in which man is placed. On the other hand, the doctrine is defended not only from the standpoint of belief in an infallible revelation, but also by thinkers who claim the right of free inquiry and base their views solely upon what appears to them to be sufficient evidence. As a more careful exegesis renders it increasingly difficult to appeal to the Old Testament on that subject, it is generally the New Testament, and particularly the words ascribed to Jesus Himself, that furnish the authority. Even from an independent point of view, great weight is often accorded to the conception of Jesus and the New Testament writers, on the ground of the deeper intuition into religious truth possessed by them. The uncertainty, however, as to the actual words of Jesus and the growing impression that some at least of the writers of the New Testament did not believe in a natural immortality, but in an endless life bestowed as a free gift of God upon His children in an especial sense, have led many scholars who attach much importance to these spiritual authorities to accept the theory of a conditional immortality. The good, in their opinion, will continue to exist; the wicked are destined for final annihilation.
Where the question of man's survival is decided in the affirmative without an appeal to authority, the reasons given are such as the inadequacy of the objections, the difficulty of accounting for certain phenomena except as manifestations of spirits, the incompleteness of the present life, and the “intimations of immortality” to which it is felt that an objective reality must correspond. Facts are quoted that tend to show the independence of man’s mind operating with great clearness, precision, and strength even in wholly abnormal physical conditions; and though, to render the argument strictly cogent, it would be necessary to prove that in these instances the brain was also affected, and that the mental power would not have been enhanced if the physical conditions had been more normal, importance seems to be rightly attached to this consideration. That the relation between mental activities and cerebral changes is very intimate is not denied; but it is thought that a distinct and separable spirit using the brain as its organ might act upon it in such a manner as to express different perceptions through different cerebral centres. The argument based on the evolution of mental life in animal and man, and the transmission of psychical as well as physical characteristics from man to man, is met by the observation that the consciousness of self, whatever its origin, is so distinguishing a mark of human nature and so intrinsically significant that a greater permanence and a loftier destiny may well be associated with it. Instead of making self-consciousness the basis of immortality, others prefer to think of the possession of a sense of right or a peculiarly high development of the moral nature as furnishing the ground for survival.
A mass of testimony is produced, ancient and modern, to show actual communication between the dead and the living. Much of this testimony comes from persons bereaved of some relative or friend whose potent personality still occupies the mind. In almost all instances the initiative is taken by the living, and the communication is mediated through a third person. A critical sifting is often impossible. Where the manifestations through a medium have been watched and studied by scientifically trained observers, there is at best only a small residue of facts that cannot be accounted for by known laws of nature. In the present state of our knowledge of psychical phenomena it is sometimes hazardous to pronounce a judgment. The scientist is, as a rule, inclined to assume the operation of some law of nature not yet fully understood. The manifestations may thus furnish to our minds a presumption in favor of immortality, but they cannot prove it. With more effect an argument is founded upon the incompleteness of the present life. The largest part of the human race die in infancy, or before years of discretion have been reached, and it is natural to ask whether there is no outflowering elsewhere of the human life that only buds here. Even the longest lifetime raises moré intellectual problems than it solves, and leaves the mind curiously looking for their solutions to the last. The moral imperfections, seen even in the best, painfully apparent in the masses of men, give the impression of something fragmentary, unfinished, partially realized. The inequalities of life as regards wealth, position, health, opportunity for self-realization, and the still more marked inequalities of character, seem to call for a readjustment, for compensations in another life. If these considerations strictly prove only a dissatisfaction with prevailing conditions, and would to some extent lose their validity as arguments in a state of society better organized, more intelligent, resourceful, and strong than the present, the shrinking from even a painless death, the sense of an inalienable personality, and the long and widespread prevalence of the hope of a future life are deemed by many to have evidential value. The fear of death may indeed be a dread of extinction, and the fear of something after death the involuntary reflection of a belief long cherished by mankind. But it is forcefully argued that a belief so strong and persistent is not likely to be a sheer delusion.
While manifestly it is not safe to conclude from the intensity and popularity of an idea that there must be an objective reality corresponding to it, and while it is especially to be considered that modern science has revolutionized that estimate of the universe, held throughout the ages, with which all eschatological speculations in antiquity were closely connected, it nevertheless seems plausible that some fact in nature's economy is reflected in the hope of immortality. That the elements composing man's body at death are imperishable and will forever continue to be integral parts of forms that manifest the eternal energy, is reasonably certain. That his psychical peculiarities survive in his offspring and in the human lives that directly or indirectly come into contact with him, is a matter of easy observation. Whether this survival in the race is endless seems to some thinkers doubtful, on the ground that the earth itself will some day have run its course and ceased to be the bearer through space of organic life. But as it is quite inconceivable that in an infinite universe, constituted, as spectral analysis shows, of essentially the same substances, a single satellite of a single sun should have produced intelligence like that of man, the secret of the earth's life may become known, and the influence of the human race, large or small, good or bad, may be felt elsewhere in the universe ere the final catastrophe comes, and even out of the death of this planet are likely to rise new forms of life.
That man will live forever in other forms of physical organization and of consciousness may therefore be regarded as exceedingly probable. Whether the consciousness of personal identity which cannot be stripped off or dissolved in the succession of fluctuating mental states and the accompanying sense of moral accountability can be fully explained as products of the brain due to the persistency of the physical type, in spite of incessant changes in the organism, may be gravely questioned. From the standpoint of idealistic philosophy this consciousness of self is interpreted as betokening the presence of a spiritual monad reflected to human sense perception only as though it possessed a material form. But even if the ultimate reality is conceived of as an infinite, eternal, and inexhaustible energy, it does not seem to follow that each or any of its individualized expressions shares its everlasting persistence. Rather would it seem as if the reality that no longer is shadowed forth to our sense in the outward form of a man must have ceased to be what it was. The idea of a conditional immortality has received some additional strength from the doctrine of a survival of the fittest. It encounters great difficulties, however, in attempting to define what constitutes fitness. The difference between a short life on earth and an endless existence is so infinitely great that the mind shrinks from ascribing the power to determine so momentous a fate to any conviction that has been formed, or disposition that has been developed, or line of conduct that had been adhered to, during a few years of earthly life, especially in view of the enormous influence of heredity and environment. If therefore scientific inquiry apparently leads to a non liquet, and assurance based on authority can be preserved only until the authority itself is questioned, it is the more gratifying to note the important place the doctrine of immortality has had in the education of the human race in enhancing the worth of the individual and emphasizing his higher spiritual interests, in maintaining his confidence in the inherent rightness of the universe, and in training him to regulate his present conduct by considerations of the future.
In Occidental philosophy the question of immortality has been discussed with great vigor and interest since the time of Socrates; but in this article it will be possible to give only a few typical quotations from modern philosophers, to show how varying have been the reasons given for the affirmative answer to the question. Kant's treatment of the subject is famous; after criticizing the rationalistic position on the subject, according to which immortality can be proved from the simplicity of the soul, Kant makes of immortality not a demonstrable doctrine but a moral postulate. “The realization of the summum bonum in the world is the necessary object of a will determinable by the moral law. But in this will the perfect accordance of the mind with the moral law is the supreme condition of the summum bonum. This then must be possible, as well as its object, since it is contained in the command to promote the latter. Now, the perfect accordance of the will with the moral law is holiness, a perfection of which no rational being of the sensible world is capable at any moment of his existence. Since, nevertheless, it is required as practically necessary, it can only be found in a progress in infinitum towards that perfect accordance, and on the principles of pure practical reason it is necessary to assume such a practical progress as the real object of our will. Now, this endless progress is only possible on the supposition of an endless duration of the existence and personality of the same rational being , (which is called the immortality of the soul). The summum bonum, then, practically is only possible on the supposition of the immortality of the soul; consequently this immortality, being inseparably connected with the moral law, is a postulate of practical reason (by which I mean a theoretical proposition, not demonstrable as such, but which is an inseparable result of an unconditional a priori practical law).” (Kritik of Practical Reason, pp. 262-263; Abbott's translation.) Some followers of Kant have on Kantian principles attempted to go further than their master and to demonstrateimmortality. Thus, Professor Howison, taking the Kantian thesis that time is not objectively real, but “an expression of each mind's spontaneous activity,” establishes upon this the “eternity of the individual spirit in the only ultimate meaning of eternity; since, as the ground and source of Time itself, the being of the soul must transcend Time, though including Time, and consequently, while involving everlastingness, must have its full meaning in just that spontaneous sourcefulness of self-consciousness from which everlastingness arises.” Thus the “sourceful and directive power of our individuality” involves, “first, the essential supremacy of the soul over death, and then its intrinsic imperishableness from any cause.” (Limits of Evolution, pp. 303 ff.) This, as is seen, is a carrying out of Kant's principles to a multipersonalistic issue. Royce, taking the position of absolute and monistic idealism, has his own way of proving immortality. According to his absolute idealism every individual finite experience is a fragment of the eternal and absolute experience, which he calls God. Now, “in three ways, our union with God implies an immortal and individual life. For first, in God, we are real individuals, and really conscious Selves—a fact which neither human thought nor human experience, nor yet any aspect of our present form of consciousness, can make present and obvious to our consciousness, as now it is. But since this very fact of our eternal and individual Selfhood is real as a conscious fact, in God, we too, in him, are conscious of our individuality in a form higher than that now accessible to us. And secondly, the death of an individual is a possible fact, in an idealistic world, only in case such death occurs as an incident in the life of a larger individual, whose existence as this Self and no other, in its individual contrast with the rest of the world, is continuous in meaning with the individuality that death cuts short. No Self, then, can end until itself consciously declares, “My work is done, here I cease. But, thirdly, no ethical self, in its union with God, can ever view its task as accomplished, or its work as done, or its individuality as ceasing to seek, in God, a temporal future. In Eternity all is done, and we too rest from our labors. In Time there is no end to the individual ethical task.” (The World and the Individual, vol. ii, p. 445.) In this a very strong echo of Kant is detected. James does not attempt to prove immortality, but to make it tenable as a working hypothesis. In his view the main argument against immortality is the fact that thought is a function of the brain. “When the physiologist who thinks that his science cuts off all hope of immortality pronounces the phrase, “Thought is a function of the brain, he thinks of the matter just as he thinks when he says, “Steam is a function of the tea-kettle,” “Light is a function of the electric circuit,” “Power is a function of the moving waterfall. In these latter cases the several material objects have the function of inwardly creating or engendering their effects, and their function must be called productive function. . . . But in the world of physical nature productive function of this sort is not the only kind of function with which we are familiar. We have also releasing or permissive function, and we have transmissive function. The trigger of a cross-bow has a releasing function: it removes the obstacle that holds the string, and lets the bow fly back to its natural shape. . . . In the case of a colored glass, a prism, or a refracting lens, we have transmissive function. The energy of the light, no matter how produced, is by the glass sifted and limited in color. . . . My thesis now is this: that, when we think of the law that thought is a function of the brain, we are not required to think of productive function only; we are entitled also to consider permissive or transmissive function.” Suppose that behind the veil of material things there lies “one infinite Thought,” and that “our brains are thin and half-transparent places in the veil. What will happen? Why, the life of souls as it is in its fullness will break through our several brains into this world in all sorts of restricted forms, and with all the imperfections and queernesses that characterize our finite individualities here below. . . . And when finally a brain stops acting altogether, or decays, that special stream of consciousness which it subserved will vanish entirely from this natural world. But the sphere of being that supplied the consciousness would still be intact; and in that more real world with which, even whilst here, it was continuous, the consciousness might, in ways unknown to us, continue still.” (Human Immortality, pp. 12 ff.) Bergson rests his belief in immortality on his view that one of the essential functions of consciousness is “to accumulate and preserve the past, that very probably . . . the brain is an instrument of forgetfulness as much as one of remembrance, and that in pure consciousness nothing of the past is lost, the whole life of a conscious personality being an indivisible continuity”; are we not by this led to suppose “that the effort continues beyond, and that in this passage of consciousness through matter (the passage which at the tunnel’s exit gives distinct personalities) consciousness is tempered like steel, and tests itself by clearly constituting personalities and preparing them, by the very effort which each of them is called upon to make, for a higher form of existence? If we admit that with man consciousness has finally left the tunnel, that everywhere else consciousness has remained imprisoned, that every other species corresponds to the arrest of something which in man, succeeded in overcoming resistance and in expanding almost freely, thus displaying itself in true personalities capable of remembering all and willing all and controlling their past and their future, we shall have no repugnance in admitting that in man, though perhaps in man alone, consciousness pursues its path beyond this earthly life. This is as much as to say that, in my opinion, the aspirations of our moral nature are not in the least contradicted by positive science.” (Hibbert Journal, vol. x, p. 43.) The philosophers thus quoted all believe more or less assuredly in a future life, but many philosophers are either agnostic or disbelievers. But explicit disavowal of any hope of immortality is rather rare. James says: “I confess that my surprise was great when I came to look into books for a passage explicitly denying immortality on physiological grounds, . . . I was unable to find anything blunt and distinct enough to serve. I looked through all the books that would naturally suggest themselves, with no effect; and I vainly asked various psychological colleagues. And yet I should almost have been ready to take oath that I had read several such passages of the most categoric sort within the last decade. Very likely this is a false impression, and it may be with this opinion as with many others. The atmosphere is full of them; many a writer's pages logically presuppose and involve them; yet, if you wish to refer a student to an express and radical statement that he may employ as a text to comment on, you find almost nothing that will do.” The most explicit passage he could find after all this search is the following: “Not only consciousness, but every stirring of life, depends on functions that go out like a flame when nourishment is cut off. . . . The phenomena of consciousness correspond, element for element, to the operations of special parts of the brain. . . . This fundamental proposition . . . carries with it the denial of the immortality of the soul.” (Dühring, Der Wert des Lebens, 3d ed., pp. 48, 168.) As a good example of the agnostic position, ..." find Lotze's saying: “The question of the immortality of the soul does not belong to Metaphysics. We have no other principle for deciding it beyond this general idealistic conviction: every created thing will continue if and so long as its continuance belongs to the meaning of the world; every one will pass away whose actuality had only in some transitory phase of the world's course a place that justified it.” (Metaphysic, § 245.)