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Immortality Defended

  • Author: John Leslie
  • Publisher: Blackwell Publisher (2007)
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 111
  • ISBN-10: 1405162031
  • ISBN-13: 9781405162036
  • Format: PDF

Why does the cosmos exist? Could we be parts of an infinite or divine mind, as pantheists believe? If so, might we have afterlives? In Immortality Defended, John Leslie, renowned philosopher of religion and cosmology, defends pantheism and three distinct ways in which we could be immortal. Combining a creation story told by Plato with the ideas of Spinoza, this book tackles the fundamental questions posed by our very existence. It explores ‘Einsteinian immortality’ inside an eternally existing four-dimensional whole; the nature of an infinite mind which lives the lives of everybody; and, the possibility of an afterlife inside such a mind. Its arguments are drawn from contemporary science, and from philosophy from ancient Greece onwards. This highly original work is accessible to anyone interested in science, philosophy, cosmology or theology, or to those who are just intrigued by the wonder of our being.

A book about immortality? A book about God, therefore? Of the three varieties of immortality discussed here, only one has a firm link to any idea of God, and it alone has a clear right to be named immortality. It is the immortality of an afterlife, of thoughts after bodies had died. Of the other two, the “Einsteinian” variety – the immortality of your existing “back there along the fourth dimension” when people called you dead – is accepted by most of today’s physicists, yet the majority of them (and maybe Einstein as well, although he talked of it when comforting the relatives of a dead friend) would hesitate about using the word “immortal.” And the remaining variety – being part of a unified cosmic reality that, living the lives of all conscious beings, will live new ones after yours has ended – would be classified by many folk as “not immortality at all.”

Does the book truly bring in God, or does it just talk of a Creative Principle in which Plato believed, plus an infinitely rich reality which it created? Did Spinoza acknowledge God’s reality when he embraced Plato’s Principle and pictured our universe as produced by it? Was he indeed a pantheist who thought everything divine? Or was he instead the atheist that many philosophers have described, a trickster who wrote “God-also-known-as-Nature” when he actually accepted only Nature? The “Platonistic,” “Spinozistic” cosmos pictured in the following pages is infinite in its riches, yet whether to call it “pantheistic” could be entirely a matter of taste. Atheistic and a denial of God are the words that many would use of it. But nothing much hangs on mere words.

The book owes a great deal to many others as well, for inspiration and for active encouragement over the years. They include Leslie Armour, Ian Crombie, Ronald Hepburn, David Lewis, Terence Penelhum, Richard Swinburne, and J. J. C. Smart. Also Hugo Meynell whose doubts about my Platonic creation story helped me toughen up my defense of it, and J. L. Mackie whose praise mingled with quite different doubts drew widespread attention to the story as Value and Existence had presented it. Despite the doubts, Mackie wrote that it provided “a formidable rival” to traditional theistic accounts of why the world exists. Then again, there was Derek Parfit who had recommended Value and Existence to Mackie’s attention. He later gave it some influential support, writing that he could find no conceptual flaw in its Platonic maneuvers.

Full enthusiasm for such maneuvers – for saying that an ethical or “axiological” need for a deity or for a cosmos could by itself explain the presence of that deity or that cosmos – has come from A. C. Ewing, but unfortunately he died before we could do more than exchange letters.

From Nicholas Rescher, too, in his The Riddle of Existence and Nature and Understanding. From John Polkinghorne whose Gifford Lectures, printed as The Faith of a Physicist, held that God-as-a-divine-person might well owe his existence to his eternal ethical requiredness. From Hugh Rice whose God and Goodness viewed God not as a person but as the principle that the world exists just because that’s good. From Keith Ward whose pantheistic views have become very close to mine.

Updating philosophical idealism with the aid of modern analytical techniques, Peter Forrest and Timothy Sprigge have worked impressively on the nature of consciousness. It was Sprigge who sparked today’s debates over why there is something it feels like to be you or me. (Presumably being a digital computer wouldn’t feel like anything.) Sprigge’s The Vindication of Absolute Idealism places him among the greatest philosophers of recent times. Book-writing was a pleasure when people like him could agree with me on so many things.

In addition, the book makes use of many people’s ideas in philosophy of science and in cosmology.

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