Notes on Thanatology: Arguments against Materialistic Annihilationism

Excerpts from unfinished rough draft of a writing project at Seminary, 2000

Thanatology (the study or science of death) is a vast subject; its literature incorporating a motley of massive corpus with a time span of above five thousand years. In Christian theology, it is treated under the division of Eschatology (the study or science of Last Things).

Though, evidently, a significant subject, thanatology is, ironically, one of the least non-debatable subjects of the world. This is understandable, knowing that it is also one of the least verifiable disciplines of all disciplines. And yet, it is a significant one.

It is significant because of the psychological problems it addresses like the shock of bereavement or loss of a beloved one, the instinct of survival, the curiosity concerning the future, or the unknown, etc. It is also significant because of the philosophical1 and theological problems it addresses like ,“Why is there the phenomenon of death,” “Why is there such a morbid fear of death,” and “Is there any value of values (or is death the end of all)?” Its significance is also evidenced by by the rise of its presence in drama, movie, literature, music, and painting, etc.

The past few decades have witnessed a considerable growth of interest in the study of death. Levit and Weldon in their “Is There Life After Death?” note that
‘There is a new interest and openness today about the world’s most fearsome mystery – where we go when we die. Invariably a taboo topic, death has lately come into its own as a conversation piece. Books are appearing one after the other, purporting to explain the inexplicable, and folks who have returned from the beyond are publicly willing to discuss their tours….Even scientists are talking seriously about death, conducting research and inquiry into a real frontier of human life. Psychology Today points out: Death is in vogue as a topic of books, seminars, scholarly articles and classes at every level from college down to elementary school(Sept, 1976, p.44). A recent Gallup Poll reported that 73% of Americans believe in life after death (National Observer, May 15, 1976, p. 10), and that large majority obviously has a more than routine interest in death.’
Billy Graham noted in 1987 that
‘More books have been written about death in the last ten years than in the previous century.’
Thanatological beliefs affect greatly one’s theological, soteriological, and ethical beliefs and conduct. The same is also true of vice versa. How a person comes to a particular thanatological belief is important. It is understood that this mysterious subject cannot be truly resolved by firsthand experience, for death is the cessation of experience. No sane man would expect a rotten body or skeleton to rise up, alive and fresh, and recant what death meant to it. This has made some persons to abandon the subject as being a wild-goose chase. Epicurus said:
‘Death, feared as the most awful of evils, is really nothing. For so long as we are, death has not come, and when it has come we are not.’2
Job, in his reply to Zophar, his friend, said:
‘For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet, through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? If a man die, shall he live again?’ (Job 14:8-10,14, KJV)

Scientifically, the answer is "No". The concept of returning back from the world of the dead is against the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is against the laws of biology. Death is the irreversible cessation of life.

Yet, though an inductive, empirical approach to the subject is understood to be an absolute impossibility, attempts are being made to give the subject a very scientific outlook. Examples are: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, Erica Simon and Swami Abhedananda. The London Society for Psychical Research and the American Society for Psychical Research were founded for the purpose of scientifically investigating psychical phenomena. Movies, literature, and TV programmes are attracting public attention towards spiritualist and Eastern theories. Thanatology is significant. Biblical thanatology is urgent.

[This work] purposes to examine the major thanatological beliefs of the world from a rational biblical perspective and after a most reasonable thanatology in accordance with the Bible....

Earlier, we had noted that beliefs concerning death cannot be verified empirically. For example, if a statement such as "death is the termination of existence" is made, how is that going to be verified? Virtually, none. For once the experiment is conducted, death has already taken place, and there is apparently no returning back. There can't be the experience of death and the experience of physical life (to furnish a verified thanatological theory) at the same time. This doesn't relegate the fact, however, that attempts have not been made. Attempts to prove the existence of soul, by finding the difference of a body weight before and after death, have been made (with an assumption that the soul adds to body weight while on earth). The results, however, are controversial. The Society for Psychical Research has record of after death experiences, of people who have been resuscitated. Theories have been made based on such experiences. The experience, however, are varied and the premises of most theories debatable. All such experience may be considered a sort of revelation.

Scientific predictions are based on proved scientific laws and principles. The theory that's formulated on basis of induction is proved by experimentation. As to what is going to happen after death cannot be predicted because what happens after death is not and cannot be known a posteriori. For as we have already said, death is the cessation of all physical experience. What then is needed?

A clue. A revelation. The records of the experiences of resuscitated persons and the like psychical experiences are solitary revelations that cannot be given scientific and rational credulity because of their varied recounting. It is not the revelation that much matters but the placement of that revelation in the available or known body of truths or facts. Does the revelation cohere to the truth, to reason? That's where reason comes into note. It must be noted that the experience or revelation in itself cannot be verified. Reason must play a role.

Biblical revelation is the truth God has conveyed to us. In the Bible is found all that we need to know concerning matters of ultimate concern. God has given us sufficient reason to believe the credibility of this inspired scripture....The Biblical revelation fits well into the body of known truth. This will be obvious as one reads this [paper]. It must also be significantly noted that this [paper] is not an adventure in natural, rational theology but is based on Biblical Systematic Theology. Thus, the [paper] plans to first rationally investigate the thanatological beliefs and then give the biblical verdict concerning them....

Thanatology is not an island discipline as we have earlier noted. Anything about anything cannot be said seclusively disregarding the amount of mounting evidence or objections against it. The unity of knowledge is necessary for the existence of absolute truth. And to say that absolute truth doesn't exist is self-contradictory, for how could one even believe that the statement "absolute truth doesn't exist" is true if truth itself doesn't exist as an absolute category. Thanatology, therefore, must also submit to the principle of uniformity. The particular proposition must stand fitted well in the body of available truth. someone would place an excuse saying: "Well, but science is still young. Our complex, high level knowledge, is, therefore, not understandable to it." But are we concerned only with scientific or a posteriori truths? Don't a priori truths play a role in the verification process? Of course, they do, as we have already seen two of them above: the law of non-contradiction and the principle of uniformity. These cannot be denied without proving their veracity at the same time. In addition, the excuse that science is young and therefore must not interfere with a proposition is a very lame one. If it were a matter of mere paradoxes, it may be admitted, but where there are direct contradictions, reasonability demands clarification and the law of contradiction must address reality.

There are also others who say that their knowledge transcends science and logic. Well, then what do they mean by transcend? Of course, not irrationability and anti-science, for then they would be contradicting themselves. Does transcend then mean "beyond logic and science?" Then, could they be conveying that knowledge in reasonable terms? Logic must play a role and any attempt to explain the nature of the physical universe must at least submit to known universal scientific principles.

It must be made clear, however, that the laws of science cannot be forced upon thanatology itself. If the other world exists, there is no reason why its laws should be identical with ours. What is being said, actually, is that the assumptions and premises on which a particular thanatological belief is based and the problems it rises must be verified. "How reasonable is a particular thanatological belief cosmologically and teleologically?" "How beneficial is it to the community?" "How pragmatical is it?" "How reasonable is it philosophically?" are some of the many questions to probe the veracity or reasonability of a proposition. The system which produces the particular thanatology needs to be examined, first of all, seeing that the thanatology itself cannot be examined on experience. Therefore, a rational examination with the principle of correspondence to truth in mind. If the foundations prevail, the belief may be valid; if not, the belief collapses with the foundation.

In final, let it be also understood that a perfect classification of thanatological beliefs seems to be very difficult. For example, Buddhism is both annihilistic and reincarnationist with a dash of semi-agnosticism on the other hand.

For the sake of avoiding a host of classifications, the beliefs are divided and placed in each divisions according to the degree of importance they lend to a particular belief. For example, Buddhism is dealt under reincarnation.

Major Thanatological Perspectives


Annihilationism, by far, has been recognized to be the doctrine of Western materialism. Nevertheless, traces of it can also be found in the religions and philosophies of the East; for example, the ancient Charvakas of India and the Sadducees of Palestine. Materialism, being the main proponent of annihilationism, has been chosen for a rational examination. Its main argumetns and the problem it poses will be examined. If the foundation stands the examination, so may the building.

1. Materialism
Materialism, the belief-system based on the proposition "all is matter", is not a novel Western concept. Its roots can be traced back to Leucippus and Democritus in the fourth century BC. Unfortunately for it, its influence has been quite a minor one with regard to population; but painfully, for the world, its effects has been disastrous, giving rise to both existentialism and spiritualism on the other hand.

The rise of rationalism and scientism led to a revolution which attempted to explain everything naturally (i.e., in accordance to the laws of nature). Then came Darwin (1802-1881) who gifted the scientific world with the theory of Evolution which revolutionized almost all thinking. Herbert Spencer, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, discovered that the principle of evolution may not be limited to biology alone, and thence began a mission of evolutionary psychology, sociology, and ethics. In process of time, religion also was evolutionized. This, to the despair of religionists, ruled out the necessity of both God and a human soul. Later developments in psychology and studies in behaviorism contributed greatly towards a rigorous materialistic worldview. Materialism dismissed the concept of necessitated dualism: "nothing but matter exists" became its widespread slogan. The failure of materialism, however, is evident. It is still a minority belief.

a. Materialism bases its theory of annihilationism on the phenomenon of the destructibility of the physical body; mainly, the brain.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the English philosopher, tried to limit all reality to corporeality. Both physical and mental events were, according to him, nothing more than bodies in motion. John Locke (1632-1704) went a little forward and propounded that the mind is like a blank sheet of paper on which the sense experiences are written (empiricism). George Berkeley (1685-1753) turned against all this and argued that only the mind exists (idealism). Then came David Hume (1711-1776) and destroyed even that mind by his definition that mind is only the series of ideas and thoughts; thus, annihilating the possibility of both empiricism and idealism together. Thankfully, Immanuel Kant (1714-1804) came along and resolved the problem by propounding that the mind acts as a grid which sorts out and coordinates sensations or ideas. But a problem still remained: What is the mind? Is it simply the brain or something other than the brain?

The mind-body problem has been a subject of great debate in the history of philosophy. It is well known that Plato talked of the psyche (soul, mind) as a disstinct entity imprisoned in the body of a person. The psyche is immortal and immutable, according to Plato. But, itnerestingly, Aristotle, a disciple of Plato became an annihilationist. He brought the soul and the body to such a close relationship that with the destruction of the body, the soul, its organizing principle, also perished.3 This disagreement is significant as these were two of the greatests thinkers of the ancient world. The disagreement is also typical of the failures of human endeavors to come to any agreement on the subject:

The mind-body problem is a persistent one. People have struggled with it for centuries… Interpretations of and solutions to the mind-body problem are many and varied. The solutions range from a complete denial of mind and a thoroughgoing materialism to the assertion that mind is the only fundamental reality and that what we have called matter is an illusion or a byproduct of mind or consciousness. Most explanations, however, have avoided these extremes. There is a widespread belief that mind and body are essentially different.4

The fact of the disagreement and the persistence of the problem itself, however, speaks volumes. Why would an issue such as this even be argued, if its facts were self-evident and axiomatic? A matter of consideration is that if any of the theories posited were really convincingly true, there wouldn’t possibly be any disagreements at all. The disagreements seem to prove that none of these theories are satisfying enough, at least. Following is a tentative investigation of the problem:

Dualist Interactionism. This is the widely accepted so called commonsense view. According to it, “in addition to a physical causal sequence and a psychical causal sequence, the mind may cause bodily changes, and bodily changes may produce mental effects.”5 There needs to e no great, hardcore, endeavor to explain this view. It is universally known that physical conditions affect mental dispositions. The effects of chloroform, LSD, alcohol, on the mind are well known. And we do know of many psychosomatic illnesses, bodily ailments caused by mental states and dispositions…. We all know how emotions affect bodily changes: shivering, blushing, quickened heart rates, whitening, etc, and how bodily experiences produce thoughts and emotions.

Titus, Nolan, and Smith note that
Despite the array of evidence and its widespread support, the theory of interactionism has been criticized severely. People question how two substances or entities so different could possibly interact. A causal relation between a change in the brain or nervous system and a muscular movement can be understood. A causal relation between an ida and a physical motion is difficult to comprehend. The two areas seem independent and self-sufficient.

Well, cases of hypnotism and hypnotherapy seem to explain a greater part of possible interactionism. But interactionism doesn’t seem to touch even the bone of the problem. As a matter of fact, it assumes the existence of the one it is meant to prove in the first place. It will be noticed that interactionism had already assumed the existence of a duality: the mind and the body. But, does the assuming of an assumption disqualify al its arguments and experiments? The answer is a ready, no. Most scientific theories themselves start from assumptions and then proceed on to verification through experimentation. Dualist interactionism poses lesser problems than ideal monism and material monism as will be obvious in the following investigation. The only problem lies in pin-pointing the mind, which is neither seen nor able to be located in the body of the individual. In addition, experiments in cephalogy seem to point out the possibility of explaining all mental states as physical. The problem lies in that of causality. Why can’t it be that the mind affects the physical changes and states to facilitate physical action and the mind is affected by the physical body being conditioned by it for possible function in a physical world? Both positions are unverifiable.

Ideal Monism. This is the theory that whatever exists, exists in the mind only. The only things that can be known are ideas. George Berkeley (1685-1753) was one of the most popular idealists known in the philosophical world. He summarized his view in the Latin slogan esse est percipi, which means “to exist is to be perceived.” Berkeley contends that objects exist because there is a God who is continuously perceiving them. For any object would have no existence unless it were perceived by at least someone. Thus, only minds or spirits and ideas are the only reality.

The problems of such ideal monism will be evident when one centers around the perception alone. Since ideas alone can be perceived, it is easily inferred that minds or spirits cannot be perceived. But, ideas exist only in the mind and so what is perceived is that which is in the mind itself. But how are these variety of ideas caused to be perceived first of all? Berkeley assumes that God causes them in each mind (even the perceptions of the other minds as ideas- minds as ideas or ideas in mind!)

Thus, God is brought into picture to make possible at least the following two:
1. That the ideas perceived are not illusions.
2. That the ideas perceived are not uncaused or self-caused.

Berkeley is steaming with assumptions. First, he assumes that since what we perceive is only ideas or sensations, ideas alone exist with an accompanying assumption that ideas can resemble ideas alone and nothing else. Then, he assumes that God exists to facilitate reasonable idealism. But, if to exist is to be perceived, how does one prove that God even exits? We see Berkeley ending up in a cosmological, teleological argument. But, the problem is that God is not perceived as an idea in the mind as other minds or spirits are perceived. And even if He were perceived, He would still be an idea in our mind and not outside our mind (or minds). We see his argument falling down here. How can one say that one exits in something (say, space) when he has already reasoned that that something actually exists in his mind as an idea? And that is what Berkeley himself does; he calls God the one "in whom we live, and move, and have our being" and at the same time, also as a spirit who is intimately present to our minds.6 He contradicts himself, first, by saying that nothing exists except it is perceived and then by arguing that God must exist, who it is clear is not perceived by any finite human senses.

His own theory thus fails him. Sometimes common sense is more intelligent and appropriate than secluded sense, if not nonsense.

It has been understood that Berkeley's idealism was intended for the purpose of salvaging the reasonability of the beliefs concerning mind, spirits, and God, from the advancing influence of materialism. Berkeley's approach, however, doesn't seem to be quite feasible. In matters of belief, is it possible for one extremism to destroy another? In addition, Berkeley's hypothesis revolts against the very common sense of man.

Material Monism Materialism maintains the hypothesis that "all is matter". Then the concept of anything other than physical is considered meaningless in a materialistic worldview. Thus, the mental is reduced to the physical. Geisler and Feinberg, in their Introduction to Philosophy wrote:
While we do have a great deal to learn about physical behavior and the mind, there have been numerous attempts to reduce the mental to the physical, and all have failed. While it is always logically possible that a reduction could be carried out, there are good reasons for thinking that it is empirically impossible and infact will never be accomplished.7
Since it is this proponent of annihilationism that is presently under consideration, a broader scrutiny of it is attempted below.

Materialist Arguments
Following are the basic arguments that materialists forward in favor of materialism:
1. What begins must end. The thesis that things that begin must of necessity flow towards termination is quite obviously in the natural world. Everything follows the second Law of Thermodynamics which states that the quantity of expendible energy in the universes is decreasing - that the ascent of entropy is irreversible. And, so argue the materialists that since man's life also begins, death is his absolute termination, annihilation.

2. Consciousness depends on the brain and so must also fall with it. The phenomena of mind failure, ageing, mind slowing down, memory faults, blackouts, and such surely point to the fallible activity and function of the brain. Memories and habits are bound up with the structure of the brain, in much the same way in which a river is connected with the riverbed. The brain is dissolved at death and memory, therefore, may be expected to be also dissolved.8 Thus, since consciousness is due to the brain, it must of necessity end with the death of brain.

3. Body concerns are universal. Though a person may believe in an afterlife, he wouldn't be ready to go to that afterlife immediately. Men are concerned with their bodies. The well-being of their bodies is the well-being of their selves. What happens to their bodies happens to them. Therefore, the self is not to be thought other than the body itself. Thus, the annihilation of the body means the annihilation of the self in commonsense.

4. Materialism is relatively simpler. Materialists argue that their view is relatively greater in simplicity than dualism and therefore passes the checking of "Occam's razor" or the principle of parsimony.
It is a principle of rational methodology that if all else is equal, the simpler of two competing hypothesis should be preferred. This principle is sometimes called "Ockham's Razor"... The materialist postulates only one kind of substance (physical material), and one class of properties (physical properties), whereas the dualist postulates two kinds of matter and/or two classes of properties. And to no explanatory advantage, charges the materialist.9
Following is a critical evaluation of the above four arguments:

1. Materialism itself is a belief founded on the proposition that matter is eternal (since there is no God to transcend matter and matter cannot be self-caused in the materialist's world). How then does it speak of beginning and end? But, the materialist would contend, beginning and end refer to the personality or consciousness and not to matter itself. So, then personality is distinct from matter. But in what way? Personality or consciousness cannot be weighed and measured or located in space. If it is not identical with matter, then what is it? Of course, the materialistic world-view wouldn't allow for an other. Therefore, consciousness and such mental states must be reduced to physical states. The physical is, of sure, subject to the law of entropy. The beginning of a person must, however, account for a development and not for entropy; thus, a conflict already arises. The problem is actually a cosmological one and needs to be pushed further back. This will, therefore, be postponed to a further discussion under cosmological problems. Suffice to ask for now that when materialism talks of a beginning, what does it mean by it? What cause does it refer to? For if a cause beyond the material world could be proved rationally, that cause's ability to keep something enduring (lasting forever) cannot be disputed.

Secondly, the argument focuses only on the physical phenomenon. If a spiritual realm is supposed, how would the argument apply to it. It cannot be stated that what begins must also end; but that what begins can also end. But, what if God is brought into the picture and eternal life, as quality, and everlasting lief, as durability, be thus made possible?

Thirdly, the theory that since all that begins must end and so must consciousness end, must still pass the empirical test. It is something that can be known only after death. But, how can one prove it? It is a proposition which is unverifiable and unfalsifiable; therefore, no judgement either concerning its verifiability or falsity can be given. Dualists have argued that the law of conservation of energy may be applied to consciousness even, if it were merely physical. It, however, doesn't seem quite feasible to start an argument for a proposition, say mind, from a base, say matter, it itself stands on...

2. The mind-body relationship problem has been explained away by some dualists by the theory that while on earth, the mind or soul is conditioned by the physical body. This, though be a theory, is still more plausible than materialism which struggles to explain how consciousness is produced by random collocation of atoms. Why doesn't a stone, which too is a collocation of rapidly moving atoms, not have consciousness or even life? How does matter account for emotions, imaginations, creativity, rationality, morality, freewill, and the religious experience of man? These and other questions will be probed under problems of materialism.

3. That body concerns are universal in no way proves that "the body alone constitutes the self." A simple pondering like "Who is concerned about the body?" may shatter the argument. For the answer, "I" or "my" surely points to the fact that the body alone doesn't constitute the self and that self is that which calls the body its own.

Secondly, men are not just concerned about their own bodies but also about their thoughts, attitudes, desires, emotions etc. And, when concerned about a certain thought, it doesn't mean that they are concerned about their body. The word "concern" itself has a psychological background.

Thirdly, the fact of human affection shatters the body-concern argument into pieces. That men make sacrifices out of love and honor for others feelings, emotions, and honor cannot be denied. Then, they are not just concerns about mere bodies, but about "selves" in a more comprehensive sense.

Fourthly, how does the argument from body-concerns answer the fact of asceticism, spiritual discipline, and other such religious concerns? For spiritual concerns cannot be reduced in anyway to mere, absolute body-concerns. The self, thus, is seen to be more comprehensive than the body, at least in matters of concerns.

4. Materialism is simple only superficially. In reality, it is a very complex system. It's assumptions and theories, with their subsequent implications, are devastating, and almost incredible to commonsense, as we will see in the following section.

Problems of Materialism

Following are a few of the many problems of materialism that are worth consideration...

1. Cosmological Problems. Materialism posits that matter is eternal. That means that it is uncaused. For to say it is caused is to annihilate its own eternality and presuppose an other external but uncaused cause. To say it self-caused is to presuppose its own existence before it caused itself, which is sheer nonsense. To be uncaused means simply to be there disrespecting either time or the laws of nature. But, that is not so with the universe; it is in a space-time continuum and in subjection to certain laws of science.

Secondly, if matter were eternal, in the sense that it never had a beginning, we could never have had the present because of the infinite regression of the past.

Thirdly, if matter were eternal, the second law of thermodynamics demand the complete expiration of all useful energy by now (if the word "now" can be used). The evidences are, however, contrary to this.

Fourthly, if matter were eternal, in the sense of its being timeless, it could never have reverted back to time. For to come out of eternity is a sheer impossibility, since, once in eternity, there is no more time and "to come back" requires the presence of at least some time.10

Fifthly, matter could never have gained the top of energy from which it is now running down according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, without an external act of propulsion or starting of a mechanism; for to say that matter propelled itself up is like saying a person could levitate by pulling up the straps of the boot he is wearing. Therefore, there needs to be at least a beginning where a mechanism is designed and then set to motion. The eternality of matter is a philosophical impossibility.

2. Teleological Problems. Reason demands the existence of an intelligent designer to account for the existence of design in the universe, a designer who is above matter and its laws. Materialism denies the existence of such a being; thus, giving rise to at least two hypotheses to explain design, that is, that either matter designed/designs itself or that all design is the result of random chance and nothing else.

a. To say that matter designs itself amounts to saying that matter is self-determining and intelligent; in other words, it is alive. Pantheism, Gaia hypothesis, Mother Nature cults, etc are popular forms of this theory. So then, the word "life" must be redefined to suit this proposition. The facts are, however, at odds with this concept. Matter doesn't design itself. As a matter of fact, matter is irreversibly subject to the law of entropy and is moving towards greater and increased disorder.

b. Concerning chance, R.C. Sproul well calls it as nothing. Chance is nothing else but nothing.
...chance is nothing. It has no weight, no measurement, no power. It is merely a word we use to describe mathematical possibilities. It can do nothing. It can do nothing because it is nothing. To say that the universe was created by chance is to say that it came from nothing.

That is intellectual madness. What are the chances that the universe was created by chance?11
In anyway, chance, whatever it is, could not bring forth life in the universe. Even man, with his sophisticated and brilliant scientific mind, could not bring forth life out of dead matter, how could then chance, whatever it is, do that. And it is not just a matter of bringing forth life, it's also the matter of designing a favorable habitat (earth) for that life. The following excerpt displays the inefficiency of chance.
Dr. Emile Bord, one of the world's great experts on mathematical probability, formulated a basic law of probability. It states that the occurence of any event where the chances are beyond one in 1050... is an event which we can state with certainty will never happen-- no matter how much time is alloted, no matter how many conceivable opportunities could exist for the event to take place. In other words, life by chance is mathematically impossible on earth or any place else.

... by calculating the chance of life itself evolving on just the planet, i.e., the earth, Dr. Carl Sagan of Cornell University estimated this to be roughly one chance in ten followed by two billion zeroes. A number this large would fill over 6,000 books the size just to write it out. A number this size is so infinitely beyond 1050 (Bord's upper limit for an event to occur) it is simply mind-boggling.12
And so, matter, being non-living but subject to the laws of entropy, cannot design itself; and chance, being nothing, can design nothing. With that being obvious, materialism has, evidently, no other way to solve the teleological problem. Isn't the Biblical answer a more plausible one?

3. The Volitionistic Problem. Since matter is all in all, and matter has no freewill, any of its product is predetermined. There is no freewill, thus relegating the concept of freewill to mere chimera or illusion.
In classical physics, you could predict the future behavior of a particle if you knew its present velocity and the forces that were going to act on it. These forces would be exerted by the gravitational, electric, or magnetic fields of other particles. Imagine an ideally intelligent person who would be given the present position and velocity of every particle in the universe. In principle, he could calculate the future motion of each particle under the forces exerted on it by the others. Even though the actual calculation would be too complicated for anybody to carry out, the laws of physics certainly implied that the future of the universe is completely determined by its state at present. The universe was a machine; all its parts, including men, could merely go through their predestined motions. Physics left no room for freewill.13
McCue goes on to say that the new Quantum physics resolves the matter of freewill by destroying the principle of causality at the atomic level. The problem, however, is how the mere destruction of causality can facilitate the possibility of freewill. Can freewill be possible without consciousness? If would be ludicrous to suppose that atomic particles have consciousness and then determine themselves their future. More problematic is the inference of freewill from seeming non-causality. Matter being an automata, its product would also be an automata.

This gives rise to several problems. Not only does freewill become an allusion, but the responsibility of man is also threatened. Man is no longer responsible for his actions. It was determined. The concept of absolute morality and the concept of justice are threatened. As we shall observe later, the concept itself becomes an illusion. One may refer back to the laws of Quantum mechanics again. Well, given the atoms possessed self-consciousness and freewill (or say, were free from the law of causality), one must still ask whether the laws of Quantum mechanics themselves were eternal, i.e. uncaused (since to be caused or to be self-cause is a threat to materialism). For once the law of causality is destroyed, words like "because", "therefore", become meaningless.... Thus, a great confusion arises. Firstly, materialism says that since all is pre-determined none ought to be blamed for his actions. Then, the concept of "blaming" and "ought" is also deemed nonsense by the same system. We turn now to the ethical problems. But before that, doesn't the statement, "Only man created in the image of a volitional being, God, can be volitional?" seem more plausible?

4. Ethical Problems. Morality is baseless in a materialistic society. Firstly, because there is no God to authorize the absoluteness of a moral law; secondly, because every action (or happening or event) is determined; thirdly, because the concept of an "ought" becomes nonsensical in a deterministic, materialistic society. This last problem needs a little elaboration.

Materialism says that all is matter, and it is well known that matter is continuously in a flux an dis moving towards increased disorder. How then could it produce a mind (or whatever the materialist would like to call it) that carries a concept of an "ought" and thus calls for an order in the midst of disorder.

Secondly, since matter would be an automata and events, thus, predetermined, the concept of an "ought" would be a useless commodity. Where freewill doesn't exist, what is the use of the concept "What ought to be"? Morality, then, becomes meaningless and nonsensical in a materialistic world.

Some would opt for a theory of relative moralism. Since God doesn't exist, man must dictate laws. But, men are many and finite in being. Thus, the existence of relative moral laws. But, if such laws were really possible, would they at least not be bound by a common thread of a particular end? What do all moral laws aim at? Say, the goal is the well being of the individual in the society. Now if the end were one, how would it be that contradictory means could lead to the same end. Obviously, a theory of relativity could only be based on the possibility of relative ends--i.e., where the ends are diversified. But that would annihilate the possibility of a pluralistic morality. For, for an absolute end, there must of necessity be an absolute means. The absolute end cannot be reached by relative means. No battle can be won, if some of the soldiers followed a moral law of allegiance to their nation and others followed a so-called moral law of traitorship. Anyone knows that traitorship is not a good quality. Now, how traitorship is to be defined is another subject. The existence of absolute moral teleological standards themselves are evidence to the fact that materialism is not the truth.

Practically, the only kind of morality possible in a materialistic society is Nietzschean. The will to power. Dominion, violence, survival of the powerful, oppression and even extinction of the weak, and so on. Materialism has disastrous consequences. "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" is the real ethical slogan of materialism.

5. Metaphysical Problems. The existence of metaphysics itself is a great threat to materialism. For if materialism were true, no metaphysics would have been possible. The two main metaphysical problems materialism must accept defeat before are as follows:

a. Abstract Thought. It is indubitably understood that man hs the ability of abstract reasoning. But, how could abstract thought flow out of concrete matter? Such concepts as "infinity", "eternity", "perfection", "beyond", "existence", "justice", etc would have been an impossibility if matter alone existed. But, abstract thought is a reality and materialism becomes a rational impossibility.

b. Absolute Truth. As Dr. Ravi Zacharias well exposes in his sermon, "The Questions of a Man in Agony," if matter plus chance plus time had produced the brain, then truth as an absolute category would no longer exist; since truth to be truth must be immutable disregarding space and time. But, matter is changing, chance is changing, and time is changing; therefore, truth as an absolute category can no longer exist in a materialist world. The problem, however, is that if absolute truth were non-existent how would one know that the statement "matter plus chance plus time has produced my brain" is true?

Materialism thus is self-defeating and in all an utter rational impossibility. It threatens the validity of the very reason on which it had concluded that matter is all and all is matter. And with the collapse of the foundation, materialistic annihilationism also, hereby, collapses.


1 Schopenhauer noted that "Death is the true inspiring genius, or the muse of philosophy... Indeed, without death men could scarcely philosophize at all." (as cited by James L. Christian in Philosophy, An Introduction to the Art of Wondering (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wiston, 1986), p.544
2 Zola Levitt and John Weldon, Is There Life After Death (California: Harvest House Publisher, 1977), pp.3,4
3 Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre, IV. Edn. (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1988), p.97
4 Harold H. Titus, Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philosophy, VIII Edn. (California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1986), pp.89-90
5 Ibid, p. 90
6 as cited by Manuel Valesquez, Philosophy IV Edn. (California: Wadsworth, 1991), p. 262
7Norman L. Geisler and Paul O. Feinberg, Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997), p.219
8 Bertrand Russel in "The Illusion of Immortality" as reproduced in Introduction to Philosophy by Louis P. Pojman (California: Wasdworth Publishing, 1991), p. 367
9 Paul Churchland in "A Critique of Dualism" as reproduced by Louis P. Pojman in Introduction to Philosophy, p. 314
10 Cf. Paul Davies in "Time", as reproduced by Daniel Kolak and Raymon Martin in The Experience of Philosophy II Edn (California: Wadsworth, 1992), p.85
11 R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1985), pp.21-22
12 John Weldon and Zola Levitt, UFOs: What on Earth is Happening (California: Harvest House Publishing, 1915), p.155
13 J.J.G. McCue, The World of Atoms (New York: The Ronald Press, 1956), p.478

Regarding Life After Death - Thanatology

Excerpts from draft of unfinished writing project at Seminary, 2000

Thanatology (the study or science of death) is a vast subject; its literature incorporating a motley of massive corpus with a time span of above five thousand years. In Christian theology, it is treated under the division of Eschatology (the study or science of Last Things).

Though, evidently, a significant subject, thanatology is, ironically, one of the least non-debatable subjects of the world. This is understandable, seeing that it also is one of the least verifiable disciplines of all disciplines. Yet, it is a significant one.

It is significant because of the psychological problems it addresses like the shock of bereavement, the instinct of survival, fear of future, anxiety, etc. It is also significant because of the philosophical and theological problems it addresses, viz., “Why is there the phenomena of death,” “Why is there the fear of death,” and “Is there life after death: If yes, of what nature?” Its significance is also evidenced by its resurgence in drama, movie, literature, music, and painting, etc. It appears to be one of the least soluble problems of human kind because of the complexity of elements, dimensions, and issues it addresses.

The past few decades have witnessed a considerable growth of interest in the study of death. Levit and Weldon in their “Is There Life After Death?” note that
‘There is a new interest and openness today about the world’s most fearsome mystery – where we go when we die. Invariably a taboo topic, death has lately come into its own as a conversation piece. Books are appearing one after the other, purporting to explain the inexplicable, and folks who have returned from the beyond are publicly willing to discuss their tours….Even scientists are talking seriously about death, conducting research and inquiry into a real frontier of human life. Psychology Today points out: Death is in vogue as a topic of books, seminars, scholarly articles and classes at every level from college down to elementary school(Sept, 1976, p.44). A recent Gallup Poll reported that 73% of Americans believe in life after death (National Observer, May 15, 1976, p. 10), and that large majority obviously has a more than routine interest in death.’
Billy Graham noted in 1987 that
‘More books have been written about death in the last ten years than in the previous century.’
Thanatological beliefs affect greatly one’s theological, soteriological, and ethical beliefs and conduct. The same is also true of vice versa. How a person come s to a particular thanatological belief is important. It is understood that a mystery-embedded subject such as this cannot be very easily resolved. Reports of dead people coming back to life abound. However, the variety of contradictory experiences and the possibility of psychological explanations for the same complicate the subject. In addition, there are some who regard the study of death itself impossible and useless. For instance, Epicurus said:
‘Death, feared as the most awful of evils, is really nothing. For so long as we are, death has not come, and when it has come we are not.’
According to Epicurus, death and existence, and, therefore, experience, are incompatible. Hence, any emotion related to it is a reaction to nothing. In his reply to Zophar, Job spoke these words:
‘For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet, through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? If a man die, shall he live again?’
The answer of Science is “No!” The concept of returning back from death is against the second law of thermodynamics which states that entropy is irreversible. Death in Science is, by definition, the irreversible cessation of life.

In spite of the fact that an empirical approach to the subject is understood to be an absolute impossibility (once it is experienced no one can return, by the above definition, to tell what it looks like to be dead), attempts are being made to give the subject a very scientific outlook. Authors like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, Erica Simon, and Swami Abhedananda have written books for the same end. At the turn of the 20th century, The London Society for Psychical Research and The American Society for Psychical Research were founded to investigate reports of near-death and out-of-body experiences and related psychical phenomena. Modern movies, literature, and T.V. serials are attracting public attention towards spiritualist and eastern theories. In face of all this, there is an urgency for a proper investigation of the claims and instruments of research (epistemics). There is also a need to examine their logical and theological implications, and their relevance for life and society.

1. “Hereafter”
2. “Life after Death”
3. “Beyond”
4. “The Other World”
5. “Heaven”
6. Paradise
7. Hell
8. Hades
9. Purgatory
10. Reincarnation
11. Spirit/Soul
12. Nirvana

Good Friday Message by Pastor Venkata Rao Paulus (AIR 2001)


All India Radio Shahdol Kendra
Year: 2001
Speaker: Rev. R. Venkata Rao Paulus
Language: Hindi
Title: Good Friday Ka Mahatva

The Nature and Goal of Theology


The word “theology” means the Science of God or the Study of God. It is the religious systematization of such beliefs as that involve God and the viewing of the universe with such a theology of God. Thus, it also involves every such doctrine in the universe that streams from or streams towards God, e.g., anthropology, soteriology, etc. Basically, it is the study of the divine things.

Deciding a starting point for theology is often dilemmatic. Should it be Scripture, nature, experience, or God Himself?

The theologian attempting to develop a systematic treatment of Christian theology early encounters a dilemma regarding the question of starting point. Should theology begin with the idea of God, or with the nature and means of our knowledge of him? In terms of our task here, should the doctrine of God be treated first, or the doctrine of Scripture?”[1]

The dilemma is more intensified by the intrusion of evidentialism, which may even endanger the concept of absolute God. Some would have professed the ground of philosophical deduction from nature, as did Aquinas, to be more appropriate, and later conform to the picture of the Scriptures.

We shall follow the Lutheran model:

Theology builds around the three fundamental doctrines of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and sola fide (faith alone).[2]

Development by Function
Theology develops by functioning in the following three areas:
  1. Cogitation. Philosophical and experiential reflection, as, some believe, Paul had opportunity to during his prison terms. The revelation, illuminated, is systematized.
  2. Clarification. This is to clarify the meaning of certain terms of theology that may have come to be used, but inadequately, e.g. “substance” or “subsistence”, “there was a time” or “there was” etc.
  3. Counteraction. This is the development of theology by opposing the heretical controversies, the statement of the counteraction being vouchsafed crystallizingly in creeds and dogmas.


The goal of all theology must be soundness of doctrine (faith) and thus the edification of the believer.

The quest must be for clarity and consistency of truth. It must not be an abstract, rationalizing specter but a life changing, living experience.

Theology must not just remain a map of guidance but, becoming relevant to life, become an experience entailing life-transformation.

The goal of theology is and must remain the preservation and systematization of Biblical Truth, truth that sets one free.

Philosophy and Theology

We all know that philosophy influences the doing or making of theology to a great extent.

Augustine (354-430), Clement, and Origen (c.185-254) were well influenced by Platonism. Augustine is considered to be “one of the great Christian Platonists.”[3] Diogenes Allen notes:

Both he (that is, Augustine) and Gregory of Nyssa (d.394) as well as other theologians of the fourth and fifth centuries began to use the ideas of Plotinus about the three divine hypostases to gain a deeper understanding of God. The modifications they made to Plotinus are vital, and they arise because of Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine of creation in particular made it impossible for them to think in terms of degrees of divinity. There is a sharp division between the Creator and all else in Christianity.[4]

Thus we see how Plotinus influenced Augustine’s and Gregory’s theology. Plotinus, believing in cosmic unity or non-dualism, founded Neo-Platonism. Though Augustine et al made use of certain thoughts of his they were careful to maintain the distinction of the Creator from the creation. Pantheism could not be permissible. A certain amount of Plotinism may be found in writers such as Paul Tillich. Aquinas and the leaders of the Scholastic movement were greatly influenced by the natural theology and logic of Aristotle (384-322 BC).

In the Indian continent, the influence of Indian philosophy on Christian theology is expressive in the writings of Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya (1861-1907, Advaita Philosophy), A. J. Appasamy (1891-1979, Vishishta advaita), and P. Chenchiah (1886-1959, Yogic evolutionism).[5]

Thus, we have seen theology in action in the philosophical context.

The quest of Augustine, Aquinas, Brahmabandhav, Appasamy, Chenchiah, etc is clearly seen to be that of achieving a greater and deeper experiential knowledge of God. For once the mind experiences something, it is not an impossibility for the heart to experience the same. But these theologians prove that their theology didn’t just flip over their minds. The heart was also involved; as Augustine put it:

Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.[6]

The goal of such philosophical theology was not just explanation and justification with notable competence, but also quest to know God experientially. Whenever philosophy erred in achieving that goal there was segregation.

It is noticeable that theology has never erupted on a virgin soil. There needs to be some background to the understanding of it.

Theology and Religious Experience
The gospel which is not significant and relevant to the human need of the moment is worthless. It is like bringing a cup of the choicest wine to a person who is direly in thirst for a cup of water. The theology of Christianity must be relevant and meaningful to the believer. It should serve to give him that which would help his spiritual life grow, not just junk food. It should instill in him life.

Theology is significant. The Bible doesn’t just talk of abstract things. It speaks of concrete, relevant issues. So must Biblical theology be. Historical theology, Biblical theology, Exegetical theology, Philosophical theology, and Systematic theology must serve, not just give a junk of thoughts, reflections, ideas of Truth, but must present the Truth so significantly that the person being united to this Truth is set free from error and estrangement from God.

The person who comes to Christ after listening to the Gospel (soteriology) comes so because he finds the doctrine significant. The God of the philosophers may be abstract, but the God of Christian experience is a friend, a father, one with whom we can relate, one to whom we can pray, one with whom we can walk, talk, and share our deepest feelings and desires, one to whom we can commit. Theology brings the Truth significantly home, that God is a Person to know, to love, to obey. “Knowing God is crucially important” said J.I. Packer.

The Bible is interpreted according to an existent world-view. The terms and ideas are influenced. That’s how we got a Roman Catholic Theology, Indian Christian Theology, an Existential Theology, a Black Theology, etc. Often it’s a desire for revolution, for freedom from the old, stale, tyrannous theology (e.g. feminist theology). The desire is for theology to be made alive; the vitalization of theology form human existence.

During the ages of renaissance and enlightenment, Western theology underwent great changes which consequently led to its death.[7] The root of all this lies in the scholastical movement following Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Space won’t suffice to trace the lengthy process of decay. But following are some points to note:
  1. Aristotelian influence was purely logical and quite nature-oriented. The stress of rationalism and scientism in contradiction to Platonic, mysticism and spirituality. The laws of nature emphasized.
  2. The rise of rationalism when Aquinas posited that natural theology is possible and Faith is to be distinguished from reason. What cannot be accepted by reason (which is natural) must be accepted by faith in the Scripture.
  3. This proved to be blind. Some desired total rationalism in contradiction to so-called blind faith. Natural theology popularized.
  4. The God of Christianity began to become an abstract being with no great significance for humans. This was effected by the problem of theodicy. Miracles were considered untenable, impossible. Thus, the fixity of natural laws was popularized.
  5. The introduction of skepticism, empiricism, and pragmatism by philosophers such as Descartes, John Locke, William James etc aggravated the Western climate.
  6. The advance of science, the stupendous discoveries and inventions unleashed an era of materialism and scientism. The greatest blow was the theory of evolution by Darwin in the Origin of species.
  7. Nietzsche announced the death of God.

Theology died. God became insignificant. Marx, Hitler, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin resulted. Man tried to become God at last, the wisdom of the serpent.

The modern climate is such a tensified one where the schools, universities, and political systems are plagued by such materialistic concepts all because Christianity did not take a stand for the Gospel; because this Church tried to exalt its rational mind above the experience of god. Theology was not kept alive.

Some revolutions must be noted: monasticism, mysticism, Pietism, Pentecostalism—all who tried to keep the flame of Theology alive in their hearts by separation from the world (the natural) and dedicating to God (the Supernatural, the divine.

Theology and Faith

Whereas philosophy, beginning with the nature and pure rational-empirical deductivism, tries to understand the world logically, Theology, beginning with the revelation of God and experience, tries to know oneself in relation to the Creator by faith.

The dictum stands true: the just shall live by faith (Rom.1:17). The Christian is to walk by faith – faith based on past experience and sufficient reason.

Now, faith is man’s response to God’s revelation.

…it means both assent to what God has said about his redemptive purposes for man and obedience to the demands stated. The first is faith as reasonable, and is concerned with truth – belief that. The second is faith as commitment, as concerned with obedience – belief in.[8]

The truth of God is not abstract theory. It is a gospel which has truth – content, to be sure, but which above all is a claim upon us. It is a call for trust, commitment, and obedience. In his commentary on Romans C.H. Dodd states that, for the apostle Paul, “Faith is that attitude in which, acknowledging our complete insufficiency for any of the high ends of life, we rely utterly on the sufficiency of God….” Nor does it mean belief in a proposition, though doubtless intellectual beliefs are involved when we come to think it out.[9]

Theology can be alive as Christ is alive in a believer and a believer in Christ. Now, Christ is alive in us by faith (Eph.3:17) and we are alive in Christ through our actions in commitment of faithfulness to Him (Jn.15:1-12).

Theology too can thus be alive in one’s life – by faith in action or active faith.

The English language handicaps us when we try to speak of faith. It gives us no verb form of the word…. The Greek verb pistuo and the Latin verb credo permitted writers and speakers to say, “I trust, I commit myself, I rest my heart upon, I pledge allegiance.” All of these paraphrases show us that faith is a verb; it is an active mode of being and committing, a way of moving into and giving shape to our experiences of life. They also show us that faith is always relational; there is always another in faith. “I trust in and am loyal to…”[10]

J.I. Packer points out that knowing God (theology) is life.

What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (Jn.17:3).”[11]

© Domenic Marbaniang, March 2000.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Michigan, Baker Book House, 1996), p.30
[2] H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine (Michigan: Zondervan, 1992), p.4
[3] Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology (Georgia: John Knox Press, 1985), p.82
[4] Ibid, p.82
[5] Cf. “Development of Christian Theology in India” by J. Russel Chandran in Readings in Indian Christian Theology I, ed. R.S. Sugirtharajal and Cecil Hargreaves (Delhi: ISPCK, 1997), pp.7-10.
[6] The Confessions.
[7] Nietzsche announced the death of God with the uprise of rationalism and scientism. The fact was that theology was insignificant. With the death of God, theology also died.
[8] Exploring our Christian Faith, ed. W.T. Purkiser (Missouri: BHP of Kansas City, 1978), p.25
[9] Ibid, pp.25-26
[10] James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith (NY: Harper San Francisco, 1978), p.16
[11] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Illinois: InterVarsity, 1973), p.29

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