by Keith S Cornish
The simple fact is that all life-forms end in death and the elements of which they are composed return to the air and the earth to be taken up and recycled in some new organism.
This natural process is universal and is beyond dispute. What is challenged by atheists and freethinkers is the claim made by purveyors of religion that humans alone of all living forms have a 'soul' or 'spirit' which survives death and carries the essential characteristics of the person to a supernatural existence in a super natural realm.
The method or pathway for making this crossing to a new life beyond the grave varies widely between religions and between the multitude of Christian denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is probably the most dogmatic in its proclaimed route to Paradise - infant christening, confirmation, frequent mass attendances and the final rites. Donations and prayers to the saints are desirable adjuncts guarding against a period in purgatory.
Atheists maintain that the concept of humankind having a unique supernatural 'soul' is simply a primitive notion which has no basis in fact and that religious organisations are guilty of perpetrating a colossal fraud on ignorant and gullible people, chiefly through the indoctrination of infants. They are aided and abetted by the media who fear adverse reaction affecting profits if the facts are revealed.
On what grounds can atheists make the claim that no-one has a supernatural 'soul'?
There is no scientific evidence of anything super-natural.
There is no credible evidence that humankind is a unique creation by a deity.
There is no credible definition of a 'soul'.
Scientific evidence completely destroys all the concepts which are the basis for the existence of the 'soul'.
This last statement requires verification, first of all by showing that the basis of the religious concept is faulty and then by citing the scientific evidence which nullifies the 'soul' concept.
When Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species the religious bodies realised that the theory completely undermined the belief that humans were a unique creation. They agreed that all organisms other than homo sapiens were devoid of 'souls'. If humans were only the next step on the ladder then they were obliged to designate the precise stage at which a human was given a 'soul'. They realised that such was impossible and fundamentalists realise this today and therefore reject the evolution of humankind.
The Church has always had trouble with the nature of conception and the specific function of the male and female. Aquinas determined that a male received a 'soul' 40 days, and females 90 days, after intercourse.
When the actual conception process was revealed by scientific research the Church declared that in a human being a 'soul' resulted when sperm fused with ova. This introduced a new problem when the subsequent division of the original cell led, not to one person, but to two or more identical foetuses. In this case are more God-given 'souls' provided or is the original 'soul' divided, resulting in a number of identical 'souls'?
The problem has now become more complicated with the birth of Dolly the sheep which demonstrated that individual differentiated cells can be made to regress to a stage where they are capable of giving rise to a new individual. Geoffrey Robertson, on a recent TV Hypothetical, confronted a RC priest with this scenario. The cleric's answer was that every cell is infused with 'soul'. He probably did not realise that cells are constantly dying and being replaced.
Whether countries ban or allow such an experiment, the process which would lead to a human clone will take place sometime somewhere. This human clone would present an enormous dilemma to the believers in 'souls' and is probably why theologians and religious authorities are so outspoken against the idea.
A modern concept of 'soul' equates it with the conscious mind but this is equally flawed, for when the body dies the conscious mind, being dependant on the brain, also ceases to exist. This mind/soul concept has the problem of the mind development, for death can occur in every stage from initial fertilisation to full physical and mental maturity; so 'souls' must be conceived as forever developing or forever remaining in an immature state.
Anyone weighing the evidence has no trouble in discarding the notion of the everlasting soul and accepting that death is the natural end to every human life.
By accepting that life is only for a finite period, short or long, the atheist is confronted by the matter of how best to spend the available time and therefore, if suitably informed, will most likely spend the time worthy of a human person.
It would be difficult to imagine a more useless waste of time than that spent in the worship of an imaginary god or preparing for a non-existent everlasting life in some mythical supernatural realm of eternal bliss.
In the words of William Shakespeare:
Cowards die many times before they are dead. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders which I yet have heard it seems to me most strange that man should fear, seeing that death - a necessary end - will come when it will come.