Dinesh D’Souza served as senior policy analyst at the Reagan White House in 1987-1988. New York Times Magazine has named him one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers. The World Affairs Council lists him as one of the nation’s 500 leading authorities on international issues. He is the author of such books as Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, and What’s So Great About Christianity? CWR recently interviewed him about his newest book, Life After Death: The Evidence.
Do you see your newest book, Life After Death: The Evidence, as a continuation of your arguments in What’s So Great About Christianity?
Dinesh D’Souza: Well, the new book is an attempt to take the argument to a new level. In a way the issue of life after death is a broader issue, because whether you are a Christian or non- Christian, or even if you are a seeker or skeptic, you have to consider the possibility of whether death is the end or whether there is something more.
Life after death is the great dividing line between believers and unbelievers, because how you live your life depends on whether you think it’s the only life or whether you think that life is part of a larger journey. This book is a defense not only of life after death but of the specifically Christian view of the afterlife. It makes the case, however, not by appeals to God or Scripture but rather through the evidence of modern scholarship. The book provides rational confirmation of what Christians believe on the basis of faith.
You begin Life After Death on a very personal note concerning your wife Dixie. Tell us about that.
D’Souza: This happened when we first met nearly 20 years ago. Dixie was recovering from a really bad accident. Her car hit a groove on the highway, plunged into a ravine, and landed upside down. She was trapped inside the car. She told me that as she lay helpless, a trucker came down the hill to help. Other onlookers gathered around the car. I asked her how she could see all this from inside the car. She said that she was actually witnessing it from somewhere outside the car, above the scene. She was looking down and she could see her body inside the car and the people gathered around and she could hear people say, “Is she alive?” “Is she okay?” When Dixie first told me this I didn’t know what to make of such a strange episode. But now, years later, I’ve learned that it is not so unusual after all. It is actually an “out-of-body experience” and it is reported by thousands of people, including those who have so-called near-death experiences.
But your wife’s experience is a kind of jumping off point for a comprehensive examination of the evidence—scientific evidence— for life after death. Why is it so important, at this historical juncture, to be looking into such scientific evidence?
D’Souza: Empirical and scientific evidence puts us Christians on a level playing field with the skeptics and atheists. If we say that we believe in God and immortality on the basis of faith and the skeptics say they reject God and immortality on the basis of reason, who has the high ground? They do, of course. And the new atheists have successfully portrayed themselves as apostles of reason and science, as opposed to credulous believers. Some Christians allow them to get away with this, but I think it’s a mistake for us to concede reason and evidence to the atheists.
If we do we shouldn’t be surprised when our children go off to college and find themselves being convinced by the skeptics. Large numbers of young people who are raised Christian end up falling away from the faith because they don’t think that it makes sense to hold those views in the face of modern knowledge. But if we can show that rational evidence supports Christianity and immortality, then we have beaten the atheists at their own game. More broadly, we have vindicated Christian thinkers like Aquinas who insisted that reason and revelation don’t contradict each other but rather go together.
What is your approach in making your case for life after death?
D’Souza: My argument for life after death doesn’t rely on any spooky stuff. I have no ghosts, no levitations, no attempts to consult mediums in order to have conversations with the dead. I leave the paranormal completely out of this book, relying instead entirely on mainstream scholarship and empirical evidence that is testable.
Shakespeare called death the undiscovered country, and so we have to admit that we cannot go to the other side of the curtain, or interview dead people. We are like detectives who have come upon a crime scene where there are no eyewitnesses, but there are a lot of clues and a lot of evidence. We have to put this evidence together to reconstruct the facts. I draw on evidence from neardeath experiences as well as evidence from physics, biology, brain science, philosophy, psychology, and morality. I make several independent arguments for life after death, any one of which is decisive, but which taken together offer a formidable case. The case is one of high probability, not certainty, so we also have to use practical arguments, arguments that ask: Is it good for me to believe? Will belief in immortality make my life better or worse? Finally I consider why the Christian view of life after death is more credible than that of other religions, and I explore the radical significance of the Christian idea of “eternity right now.”
Can you give us an idea of the kind of evidence you cite?
D’Souza: I draw on the evidence of near death experience to show that some form of consciousness can survive death. I examine various attempts to explain away these experiences and show why they cannot account for them. I explore modern physics to show that the idea of realms outside of space and time—which is the Christian idea of eternity—or the idea of bodies that never break down—which is the Christian idea of the resurrection of the whole person—are entirely consistent with the most important findings of physics and astronomy. I show that evolution, which atheists think gives them a trump card against God and immortality, actually contains a vital clue that supports life after death. I have two chapters on neuroscience that show why our immaterial minds cannot be reduced to our physical brains, and which show aspects of our nature that operate outside the reach of physical laws. My chapter on philosophy draws on an atheist philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, who makes an ingenious argument for life after death. Schopenhauer’s argument is made on the basis of reason alone, and pulls the intellectual rug out from under what most of today’s new atheists believe. And there’s a lot more.
Obviously you are going to face a lot of opposition. You’ve made a habit these last few years of debating the world’s leading atheists. Wouldn’t someone like Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary atheist, simply dismiss your argument? Doesn’t he argue that evolution shows that the human mind is a mere accident of evolution?
D’Souza: I have been trying to debate Dawkins—he is about the only leading atheist I haven’t debated—but the man won’t come out from under his desk. A group actually offered him $20,000 to debate me, but he refused, saying he would only do it for $100,000. Since this is an absurd number, I assume it’s a way to refuse without looking like a coward. Dawkins only wants to compete against weak competition. He loves to take a camera and chase around televangelists, because this way he looks smart, but he won’t take on people who can expose his arguments.
Now I don’t deny that Dawkins knows a lot about biology, but he doesn’t know a lot about history or philosophy or theology and quite frankly he doesn’t know a lot about the other sciences. This doesn’t stop him from making wild assertions that won’t stand up to any careful scrutiny.
Obviously we can’t exist after physical death if we don’t have immaterial souls. But haven’t scientists reduced the mind to the physical brain?
D’Souza: No, they haven’t. Atheists sometimes say that this has been proved, but the only proof is that when the brain is damaged, the mind suffers. But this only means that there is a correlation between brain and mind. It doesn’t follow that the brain causes the mind. We can see this by way of an analogy. Think of the mind as a kind of computer software, and the brain as hardware. Now the software requires the hardware in order to function. Smash the computer and the programs won’t run. But it doesn’t follow that the hardware causes the software. The software is in fact independent of the hardware. Even when the computer breaks down, the software can run on a different one, or perhaps in a different instantiation. By analogy we can think of the brain as a kind of receiver or transmitter for the mind. When the brain dies the mind cannot function through that particular brain, but that doesn’t mean it cannot survive in other forms.
You end with the claim that science can, in some sense, give us compelling reasons to accept the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact. How could we hope to prove something that occurred so long ago? D’Souza: The belief in life after death is universal, but there are competing Eastern and Western views of immortality. So which one is correct? I point out that Christianity makes a unique claim, that life after death is not only something in the future, it has actually happened, at least in the case of Jesus Christ. No other religion asserts this. We never hear, for example, that Moses or Muhammad died and then came back to life. Thus, if Christ’s resurrection holds up historically, it raises the Christian view of the afterlife above all the others. So drawing on the scholarship of N.T. Wright and other scholars, I examine the historicity of the resurrection. There is surprisingly powerful evidence that it actually happened. We cannot know this for sure, of course, but we can know it with the same confidence that we place in other historical events.
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