Is It Impossible to Know What Happens When We Die?

The following was originally published here as part of a Q&A with Greg Koukl on RZIM Connect.

Question from Dylan: How would you recommend approaching an agnostic who is convinced that we can’t know what happens when we die (until we die)? I have a good friend who I have had many great conversations with about Christianity but that is the line he keeps on using. And even says he takes comfort in not knowing… What would the pebble be that you would put in his shoe?

Dylan, my question of your agnostic friend would be, “Why are you convinced that we can’t know what happens when we die until we die?” Your next step will depend on his answer.

It may be that he’s convinced we can’t know anything unless science confirms it. There are a number of problems with this view. First, it’s self-refuting since the statement itself—“We can’t know anything unless science confirms it”—is a statement held to be true by those who believe it, yet cannot itself be confirmed by science. The view commits suicide—to use the language in Tactics—since it cannot fulfill its own demand for legitimacy.

Second, there are a host of things we must know to be true by other means than science in order for science to get going in the first place. That includes the truth of the basic reliability of our senses, the truth of reason and logic, the truth of inference, the truth of cause and effect, the truth of the uniformity of causes in a natural world, etc., etc.

Finally, science has in fact weighed in on this issue, in a certain sense. There is a massive amount of scientific research that has been done on near death experiences (NDEs). I don’t mean popular bestsellers you find on the rack at the drugstore. I mean serious, peer-reviewed, scientific analyses that lend a tremendous amount of evidential credibility to the idea that our souls are separate from our bodies and can be in other physical locations and, it appears, in a nonphysical dimension in a way that can be actually tested.

I recommend you take a close look at the book Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality by philosophers J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas. Pay special attention to the documentation of what are known as “remote viewing” events.

Although I understand your friend’s doubt about knowing what happens when we die, there are good reasons why such unmitigated skepticism is not justified. Also, I don’t really understand the comfort he takes in his conviction. It reminds me of the person who refuses to go to a doctor because he might find out he has a deadly disease. There is an odd sort of comfort in that ignorance, I guess, until the truth is finally known. By then, though, it may be too late.

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Greg Koukl