Immortality: a Question of Reason and Faith

“Immortality! Take it! It’s yours!” These are the words pronounced by Achilles in the Iliad of Homer. The poem colourfully depicts the struggle of these men to attain immortality through glory in battle. Almost three thousand years later, a couple decides to be deep-freezed immediately after their death in order to be ‘resurrected’ should technology or science provide a solution in the future. Whilst the concept of the Resurrection of the Body is completely different, it has one element in common: to live forever in some form or another. It seems as though the desire of self-preservation, to live longer, or indeed, forever has been ever present in the history of man.

In his second meditation Descartes starts with quite an interesting claim: “I will set aside anything that admits of the slightest doubt, treating it as though I had found it to be outright false; and I will carry on like that until I find something certain, or – at worst – until I become certain that there is no certainty.” He then continues on saying “…because my present policy is to reject everything that isn’t necessarily true.”

Descartes (1596 –1650) being a rationalist categorically rejected all data received from the senses since he held that it was inaccurate and deceiving. He doubted everything, even reality, and asked if it was true or not just an illusion after all. He would only believe in something, if and only if it was proved to be true. This brings us to an interesting question. Is believing in something which cannot be proved, unreasonable?

Some might answer yes to the question above. Let’s set things straight: the resurrection of the body as understood by the doctrine of the Church cannot and will not be scientifically proved. Using Karl Poppers principle of falsifiability, or the Verification Principle, we would say that this doctrine is not falsifiable because it is not empirically verifiable. The problem with this type of reasoning, as is the problem with Popper’s principle is we cannot rule out completely the meta-physical aspect. We know that theories in reality have a context, they cannot be analysed and examined on their own. Yet as Quine and Duhem claim, a single scientific theory cannot be tested in isolation; a test of one theory always depends on other theories and hypotheses.

How can we prove that a mother loves her son, how can I empirically prove if someone has ever loved after all? Will this mean that we will categorically deny that a mother loves her child just because we cannot prove it? Can we say that love does not exist after all? This leads us to the fact that we accept truths in our everyday lives even if they haven’t been empirically proven. The resurrection of the dead, as understood by the doctrine of the Catholic Church cannot be empirically proven. Does this mean that it does not exist?

With his encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998), John Paul II reaffirms the interventions of his predecessors in stressing the vital link between faith and reason. He saw it necessary to emphasize the value of philosophy for the understanding of faith as well as the limits which philosophy faces when it neglects or rejects the truths of Revelation. Moreover, John Paul II does not hesitate to charge rationalist or modernist conceptions of inquiry leading to the rejection of faith and its disastrous consequences for humanity. In addition, modernism inspired a positivist mentality with respect to the natural sciences that separated scientific inquiry from any moral context intrinsic to it as such.

John Paul II in his encyclical underlines the importance of combining faith and reason in their reciprocal relationship, yet while also respecting the sphere of autonomy of each. With this encyclical, the Church has chosen to defend the power of reason and its ability to attain the truth, presenting faith once again as a special form of knowledge. “It is faith which stirs reason to move beyond all isolation and willingly thus becomes the convinced and convincing advocate of reason.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *