Tuesday, August 31, 2004

God and Immortality

Dennis Mangan, one of my favorite bloggers and a daily read, quotes one Bill Vallicella:

I'll give this problem a name. It is the problem of elaborating a conception of salvation that avoids both annihilationism and reduplicationism.

Mangan writes:

Yes, it is the same problem elaborated by the prototypically sharp but philosophically unlettered man who says that he does not want to sit around in heaven playing a harp all day. On a related note, the problem of God's existence, while it is and will continue to be passionately argued, is logically disconnected to personal immortality; while the latter, really, is all most people care about. I know of one philosopher, McTaggart, who, although an atheist, believed in personal immortality, but he was a rare bird. Even rarer seem to be those who believe in God but not immortality.

BV: Mangan is right to point out that belief in God and belief in personal immortality are logically independent, at least prima facie: there seems to be no contradiction in maintaining one without the other. (A deeper look, however, might well uncover a contradiction.) Mangan is also right to cite John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart (1866-1925) as an example of an atheist who believes in personal immortality. Now I don't know much about Judaism, but aren't Jews theists who do not believe in personal immortality?

Mangan suggests, though he does not quite say, that people believe in God only or perhaps chiefly as a guarantor of immortality, the latter being what they are really interested in. As I understand Kant, however, both God and personal immortality are postulated to underpin the moral law. Thus for Kant, it is not the personal desire for immortality that motivates the postulation of God, but the impersonal interest in the moral law, as codified in the Categorical Imperative, that motivates the postulation of both God and personal immortality. To properly unpack this would of course consume many a byte. Other philosophers postulate God to do other jobs, e.g., to serve as an explanation of why anything contingent exists in the first place. God has a variety of uses, and he is put to different uses by different philosophers; so I would hesitate to say that God's only, or even chief, use is to make possible personal immortality.