Is the Soul Immortal? - Alvin Plantinga | Closer to Truth

Is the Soul Immortal? - Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga - Philosophy of Religion

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher, the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the inaugural holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College.

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Alvin
Plantinga

Philosopher, Notre Dame

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Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Alvin, one of the deepest, most profound questions that we can ask each other as human beings is, is there an afterlife, is there something that will happen to me beyond this physical life, is the soul immortal, various ways we can answer—various ways we can ask the question. I've been troubled and obsessed with this question my whole life. How can we begin to think about the question? Is the soul mortal or is there an afterlife?

Alvin Plantinga:

Is the soul immortal? Now, one way to take that would be like this: is the soul like Plato thought, something which is indestructible, it just can't go out of existence. Once it's in existence that's just it. There's no way in which it's going to go out of existence. No--there aren't any mechanisms for it to sort of just fade away or anything like that. I don't believe that that's true. I'm a serious believer in God. So I think everything depends on God's constant upholding activity. And if it weren't for that conservation or conservative activity on God's part, the whole world would disappear like a candle flame in a high wind. Or like a dream upon awakening. So the same would go for the soul, so I don't think the soul is immortal in the sense that it just can't...it just can't fail to exist, of course it can. But I do think that human beings, human selves survive their death and like any Christian, I think there is also, there is therefore an afterlife, that this afterlife goes on indefinitely. That's what I in fact think. Christians sort of traditionally, classically think that there are these two states after death. There is heaven and there is hell. And the people who are chosen by God or who have faith in God or accept what God requires them to, they will wind up in heaven, others wind up in hell. I'm not so sure that the Bible actually teaches that. There are lots of passages in the Bible that suggest that everybody winds up in heaven. So...and St. Paul says something like as through one man sin entered the world, so through one man shall all be saved. As through one man all sinned so through one man shall all be, it's the same word, same Greek word in those two occurrences. That suggests that everybody will be saved. Maybe people get second chances, third chances after death, fourth chances, nth chances. There is this novel by C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce, I don't know if you novel, but The Great Divorce, and it starts off like this. There are a bunch of people in a bus in what looks like a British midlands city on November evening. It's dark and smoky and gloomy and raining a little bit, and it's pretty miserable. Well this bus starts off and all of the sudden it takes off. Instead of staying on the ground, it takes off and it goes higher and higher and bursts under the bright sunshine blue sky, finally lands at some place sort of unknown location. And the people get off the bus. Now actually where they've gone to is heaven. They were in hell, they have gone to heaven. And they get invited to stay; each one gets invited to stay. Most of them don't want to stay. For example, one theologian says I don't want to stay here, you can't get into a good argument about God's existence, everybody always believes it, you know, like somebody else said for the climate give me heaven, but for the company give me hell, so most of these people go back. But his, Lewis' idea is you know, maybe it's the case that people get posthumous chances to go from hell, if that's where they are, to go to heaven, and maybe they'll accept it, maybe they won't. And maybe it will be that in the long run nobody finally turns God down. Everybody finally says okay.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

So that's something called like universal reconciliation or universal salvation?

Alvin Plantinga:

That's called universalism. And I don't myself quite believe it but I don't disbelieve it either. I think it's something that a Christian should at least hope for.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

How would a non-Christian, someone who has no strong religious commitment think about the question of the afterlife? Must you have a prior belief in a particular religion to think about an afterlife?

Alvin Plantinga:

I don't think so. Again, I think—I think there is research on this topic which suggests that people generally are strongly inclined to believe in an afterlife. They are first of all, strongly inclined to believe that they are not the same things as their bodies; that their bodies could die and dissolve and putrefy and wither away while they continue to exist. And I think, you know, that again seems to be something that's just part of our cognitive nature, to at least look favorably on the thought that we are independent of our bodies and can continue to exist when our bodies don't.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

I feel that way but I don't trust my own feelings.

Alvin Plantinga:

Well, I don't know what to say, I mean—

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Why should I trust those feelings?

Alvin Plantinga:

Well I suppose for the same reason that you trust most of the rest of what you find yourself inclined to believe. I mean, again, you believe in the past, other minds, material objects, not on the basis of arguments I would say, you find yourself believing these things. With respect to belief in an afterlife, maybe the belief isn't nearly as powerful as that but, or the inclination to believe, but it's still there. And unless one had some reason to object to it, some powerful argument or even not very powerful argument from other things you believe, you know, some reason to think it's not in fact so, I guess it seems to me the sensible thing is to—why should one be any more suspicious of that of anything else you find yourself by nature inclined to believe?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

I am. I am very suspicious, I believe it I, think I believe it, and I'm terribly suspicious of it.

Alvin Plantinga:

Well, I can understand that, I mean it's so remote from our everyday life. So I mean, I believe in an afterlife but if you ask me well, what is it going to be like, I really don't know much about that, you know. I expect it will be wonderful, but how in detail, whether it be rock climbing for example. It won't be quite the same, presumably, because if you fall, you're not going to get killed.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn:

Takes away a little of the excitement.

Alvin Plantinga:

So some of the risk is gone, and hence some of the excitement. So I mean, how will that work? How will any of the things we—that fill our lives and give our lives meaning, how will those things work? That's not so clear.