Introduction

Tom Flynn

I expected to be frustrated when I searched Amazon.com’s Books department on the keyword afterlife. I wasn’t disappointed. (Or should I say that I was disappointed?) My search returned 9,209 results. Setting aside works of fiction, my first page of search results yielded the following allegedly nonfiction titles:

• Answers about the Afterlife: A Private Investigator’s 15-Year Research Unlocks the Mysteries of Life after Death

• Evidence of Eternity: Communicating with Spirits for Proof of the Afterlife

• Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife

• AfterLife: What You Really Want to Know About Heaven

• The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There’s Life After Death

• Signs From The Afterlife: Identifying Gifts From The Other Side

• My Son and the Afterlife: Conversations from the Other Side

• Wake Me Up!: Love and The Afterlife, whose cover helpfully assures us that it is “A True Story.”

Completely absent was a single title taking a skeptical view of this topic. A fluke, you say? Eight further pages of search results offered up an unbroken parade of uncritical books, each one crying out “Yes, there is life after death.” Only near the bottom of my ninth search page did I encounter a hint of balance: The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, edited by Michael L. Martin and Keith Augustine. Recently released from Rowman and Littlefield, this massive 708-page interdisciplinary anthology marshals overwhelming evidence against the idea that human consciousness can survive physical death.

This is a hugely needed book. It addresses profound questions that are too seldom answered from a naturalistic point of view and answers them authoritatively yet surprisingly accessibly. In view of its scope and comprehensiveness—and especially because critical books on the afterlife have been so rare—the release of The Myth of an Afterlife is a noteworthy publishing event.

The book is divided into four broad sections, focusing on the evidence for and against survival after death, the shortcomings of common ways of imagining an afterlife, internal inconsistencies between the afterlife doctrines of major religions and the ethical principles they claim to teach, and, finally, incisive critiques of the principal categories of evidence for posthumous survival.

For longtime readers of Free Inquiry, special section coeditor the late Michael Martin requires little introduction. We are saddened to report that he died unexpectedly while this issue was in production. (See our tribute to him on p. 29.) A professor of philosophy emeritus at Boston University, Martin was the author of the imposing Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, among many other works. His article “Three Arguments for Nonbelief”—presenting that ultimate rarity, then-novel reasons to reject the existence of gods and the supernatural—appeared in FI’s Fall 2001 issue. Coeditor Keith Augustine is executive director and scholarly paper editor of Internet Infidels; his critiques of afterlife doctrines have been discussed in multiple issues of The Journal of Near-Death Studies. In this issue, Free Inquiry is privileged to reprint two essays from The Myth of an Afterlife. Comprising more than eleven thousand words, they nonetheless only scratch the surface of the volume’s rich offerings. First, Welsh psychologist Steve Stewart-Williams presents a provocative memetic account of how beliefs in the afterlife might have originated and thrived. This essay appears as the book’s foreword. We follow with a hard-hitting article by Michael Martin himself, “Problems with Heaven.”

My only regret is that The Myth of an Afterlife is so expensive. Directed toward the professional/academic market, the hardback retails for $85.00, the e-book for a penny less. Secular humanist local groups might consider purchasing a copy for members to borrow; further, because of the title’s uniqueness, it is not unreasonable to hope that many libraries will snap it up. But I hope that many of those who can afford the price (or the modestly better deal available from Amazon.com) will open their wallets wide. Martin and Augustine deserve the rewards their labors merit—and Rowman and Littlefield deserve a clear signal that the market will support audacious publishing projects of this quality and importance.

 

 

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


I expected to be frustrated when I searched Amazon.com’s Books department on the keyword afterlife. I wasn’t disappointed. (Or should I say that I was disappointed?)

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