While the existence of God is more or less demonstrable to human reason, and not really open to debate, what about the notion of the immortal soul? Is there any reason to believe or not believe in its existence?
I think, indeed, its existence too can at least be considered likely.
What do we know of what happens at death? Without experiencing it ourselves, only one thing, really: that the body ceases to animate. It does not follow at all that the soul ceases to exist. The same result could just as readily be explained by supposing that the soul, that is, the animating “I,” or consciousness, and the body part company. There is no reason to choose one explanation over the other, on the evidence of watching others die.
There is, to be sure, some further evidence: reports by people who have been “clinically dead,” who actually do find that they remained conscious, when the body was inanimate, that their consciousness separated from their body, but continued to function. This is intriguing, although not proof—it is always possible to suppose that they were not really dead, but only appeared dead, and were experiencing something else entirely.
There is also the intriguing parallel of sleep, in which consciousness seems to manage well enough every night without the bodily senses—in dreams. If here, why not there? But then, the analogy might not hold.
But if we assume the soul, the animating principle, the self-consciousness, at any point ceases to be, isn’t this a novel idea? What evidence or experience do we actually have of things ceasing to be?
None, really. No matter ever ceases to be: it simply changes state. This includes the body. So, if the body does not cease to be, and matter does not cease to be, why would we assume differently of the spirit? Can we assume such a thing is even possible?
It is philosophically virtually inconceivable that something can become nothing.
Ah, but then there’s more. Our actual experience of the intellectual realm is that it is much more durable than the natural one. Indeed, the defining characteristic of the physical world is that it begets, is born, and dies—this is what the word “nature” means--while the mental world seems permanent. The thoughts of Aristotle still live; as do the feelings of Homer. Memories endure long after the thing remembered has passed from view. We remember dreams from childhood as vividly as those last night.
And, as Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, we also cannot really imagine our own death, in the sense of our consciousness ceasing to be.
Ergo, life after death must be the default hypothesis. At a minimum, the onus is on those who believe the consciousness does not survive to make their case. But their case also seems to be an impossibility.