Monday, January 4, 2010

"Do you fear death?"

Very quick post here on the fear of death and the lack of an afterlife, etcetera, inspired by my watching the train wreck of a conversation between Thunderf00t and Ray Comfort, where the bananaman asks Thunderf00t the titular question of this post. Thunderf00t answered with a quick "no". If I had to answer yes or no, my answer would be the same, but I don't feel quite right with a solid "no". Not anymore at least.

I definitely think about what would happen to my family after my death, and that could be said to be a fear of sorts. Of course, I take some small comfort in the fact that it would most certainly not be my problem any more, but it is my problem now and it is something I am concerned about.

More than that though, I am a bit afraid of dying, i.e. the process, depending on how it happens. And in fact, this too has also intensified since starting a family. When I was single, if I found myself diagnosed with a painful terminal illness and it was more than I could psychologically bear, I figured I could just do a slow-motion suicide, e.g. substance abuse to death or whatever. Now, of course, I would feel a responsibility to do my best to survive, even if I found myself in a condition where I didn't really want to live. That's what I'm afraid of -- slowly dying, while fighting for my life to extend my time with my wife and son just a little longer.

Death itself? Like I say, once it's over, it ain't my problem anymore.

For a bonus, see below the fold for my favorite part of the Thunderf00t-Comfort debacle...

Bananaman: You can't make an absolute statement that there is no evidence. You'd have to have all knowledge to make a statement like that. You've got to say, "With the limited knowledge I have at present, I don't believe..."

Thunderf00t: Yes... Okay, but if you're going to go down this route, you've achieved nothing. You're into nihilism. You can know nothing. You don't even know that you are here having this conversation.

Bananaman: Oh, you can know the truth. It's all in scripture.

Facepalm! The whole discussion is like this. Thunderf00t patiently entertains Comfort's most inane questions, which sometimes leads to a fairly deep (if rather well-traveled) existential/epistemological discussion, and Comfort even seems to be going along for the ride in his own way... and then WHAM! Comfort trots out the shallow affirmations of a 5-year-old Sunday schooler.

It's almost like two parallel conversations...


  1. Not personally, but I'm afraid of extinction.

    David Mc

  2. sorry.

    I never read cosmo. David Mc

  3. From a folk song on my mp3 player: "Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die".

    Just like religious people who claim to look forward to joining their god and loved ones in heaven but don't at all *act* like they do when faced with threats to their life, atheists are fooling themselves if they claim they aren't afraid of death -- evolution produces organisms that attempt to preserve themselves, and in humans, where actions are determined cognitively and choices are driven by emotion, we are wired to feel fear about extermination. You may be able to convince yourself that there is no rational basis for such fear, but when actually faced with danger you will exhibit it. Notably, studies show that merely exposing a person to ideas or symbols associated with mortality tends to shift their policy views to the political right (towards "security", violent solutions, in-group defense, etc.)

  4. I think there's a lot of different ways of interpreting the question:

    1) "Are you worried about what it will be like for you after you die?" Not in the slightest.

    2) "Are you worried about what the process of dying will be like?" A little. I'm definitely 'afraid' of a painful death, though the answer to question 1 gives me some comfort in regards to fast-but-painful death, i.e. I won't have much time to contemplate the lousy experience :D

    3) "Are you worried about what it will be like for your loved ones, etc., after you die?" Of course! Though again, the answer to question 1 gives me some comfort, because I know I don't have to worry too much about things that I can't control that happen after my death -- of course as a moral and ethical matter, I need to be concerned about those things I can control!

    4) "Would you try to avoid even a painless instantaneous death even if it had no negative impact on your loved ones?" Well of course. As you observe, humans are hardwired to try and avoid death most of the time. I don't think this is what most people understand with the question 'do you fear death', because otherwise only the unhinged (or possibly the terminally ill or very elderly) would ever answer no. heh...

    I think most people interpret the question along the lines of #1 above, which is why atheists are not necessarily "fooling themselves" when they answer this question. I know many people who do worry about what will happen to them after they die; I used to be one of those people myself. I think that's what most people mean when they talk about fearing death. Of course I want to avoid dying -- but the reasons for that don't have anything to do with uncertainty or fear regarding my (nonexistent) post-death experience.

  5. I think it is natural and actually healthy to fear the death process. That reminds you to take care of yourself and put it off as long as possible. It is equally natural to fear the consequences of ones death on those who remain alive. That reminds you to plan ahead for your demise.

    But for those that believe in an afterlife, there is another avenue of fear and that is, what are the consequences on me AFTER I die? The potential consequences vary widely depending on the belief system.

    I believe that religion (of all sorts) improperly plays upon that fear and it is one reason why I dislike religion.

    So I believe in an afterlife (hope I can say that here), and I believe that if one lives in Love, that last fear should subside. So that leaves me with just a natural and healthy fear of death. Should the atheist be right about an afterlife, no harm done, since even for atheists, isn't Love the way to go?

  6. Your last paragraph is interesting because it seems to blend the (highly fallacious) Pascal's Wager with the (equally fallacious but IMO entertaining) Atheist's Wager, and arrive at something that sort of makes sense. It's also basically the same message intended by the billboards which have generated so much controversy: A desire to be a good person and live a good life is independent of a belief in God. And we ought to strive for those ideals either way. Couldn't agree more!