National Catholic Register


Immediate Immortality: The Death of Death

BY Frank Cronin

September 9-22, 2012 Issue | Posted 8/31/12 at 11:56 AM


The death of death is the innate, inexpressible hope of humanity.

Deep within our hearts and minds, we long for immortality.

But we long not just for a greater number of days and years. We also hope for a more meaningful life, a more perfect life, a life of true beauty, true goodness, true love.

For our universal hope weds the length of life to the experiences of life in an inseparable, certain bond. Our hope of immortality is the hope for life without end, as well as for life without flaw.

It is a hope for endless time and endless fulfillment, of warmth and wonder, of true beauty and boundless joy, of perfect truth, perfect justice and perfect love.

Immortality is not just long life, but a better life, a perfect life — a life where we are timeless and transformed. And our universal human hope is a strong clue to our immortality and what it will be like.

But for those who abandon such hope as a mere fantasy arising from human weakness and cowardice or for those who see all human life as simply matter in motion, this hope is nothing more than deliberate delusion or intentional ignorance, artifacts of primitive mankind before the age of science.

And it’s an easy criticism to make, for sure. But it is a criticism not so easily explained or defended. For critics must explain this pre-existing condition solely in terms of physical adaptation or as a contrived social phenomenon transmitted from one generation to another by culture and education.

But where did these ideas begin?

This hope is traceable as far back as we have evidence of human thinking and feeling. That is why so many anthropologists label cave drawings and the like as evidence of religion, even though they cannot know that with any certainty. These anthropologists assume the universality of this hope and interpret the evidence that way.

So, why would this universal hope spring from the gradual accretions of linear evolution? Or, if evolution moves in fits and starts rather than gradually, what catastrophic event or climate change or complex mutational occurrence could explain a sudden leap in human thinking this delusional? Is delusionary thinking adaptive?

And why would this intuition be so widespread, even now in our supposedly "more enlightened" age? Why would human consciousness as it accidentally arose from the mire of blind biochemical mutation lead to such sophisticated thoughts as eternity and perfection or meaning and morality or beauty and love?

Why would we have to deliberately remove this complex of interrelated universal ideas and hopes inherent to all manner of primitive and sophisticated people across cultures, climates and continents if it was even marginally adaptive?

You see, those who deny immortality cannot simply dismiss this universal hope as adaptive in origin and substance and move on. They must still explain this universal hope’s presence and its component beliefs as something more than simply random thoughts arising from neural processing or ignorant and primitive thoughts arising from the gradual acquisition of reasoning and free will. And that is a tall order to do rigorously and with evidence.

For there is none.

To explain the evidence of this universal hope as primitive or delusionary is to offer not the truth, but an interpretation of the same facts available to anyone. And, if we believe our recorded history, particularly since the Greeks, we can see these were intelligent, rational and articulate spokesmen for the universal hope of human immortality and perfection.

And, while science can tell us about the functioning of human biology, its locations and organs, it cannot tell us anything about why our instincts and intuitions harmonize so well with our minds and our emotions. For all such material scientists can actually tell us is where and how such thinking and longing occurs. They can tell us nothing about why such a hope is there in the first place.

I mean: What adaptive purpose would our hope provide if survival is the solitary impetus to biological development? None. For such a hope does not serve environmental adaptation. It could only serve some emotional or intellectual need for meaning, order, purpose. And why would these begin with adaptation or mutation? And just how did these needs and ideas get there in the first place?

Do you see the problem those who deny this hope must face? They must explain such a hope and its many implications in terms of some form of faulty or incomplete adaptation or some form of innate desire for meaning in primitive human beings.

Well, as any 2-year-old might ask, where did these ideas come from? And what is their adaptive purpose?

They don’t know. They only guess, though they state their guesses as facts wrapped in the assumptions of materialism and the rhetoric of science. They claim this universal hope must be wholly biological and adaptive. But they don’t know that. And such thinking and speculation leads to an infinite regression of receding adaptive purposes without ever grappling with the very substance of these ideas.

Let’s look at an example. Think about tragic deaths. What makes them tragic? Only a pre-existing sense of morality and metaphysics makes them so. And where do these senses come from, and what adaptive purpose do they serve? What is the adaptive purpose of pain arising from tragic loss? See what I mean? They explain such losses in terms of adaptive pain rather than the typical adaptive response of pain avoidance.

Tragic death leads back to the universal, innate human hope and its inherent moral and metaphysical components. For our intuitive instincts for immortality and perfection are not explained by evolutionary adaptation.

Similarly, adaptation and mutation fail to explain the sophistication of the moral, aesthetic and metaphysical underpinnings of immortality as well.

We even find important clues in our everyday lives, in the many mundane and magnificent experiences of our lives. Beauty, goodness and love are important evidence of immortality, for they speak to the perfections of immortality more than the length of it.

For our sense of true beauty, true goodness and true love permeates all of us to one degree or another, just as the hope of immortality does.

When we experience the sublime profundity of these perfections, we know we are in the presence of the transcendent, the timeless, the eternal.

And this sense is the resonant echo of our inner being, our immortal soul in tune with the order of creation and its Creator.

Frank Cronin writes from

eastern Connecticut.