I must admit that after the last generally successful book by author Dinesh D'Souza (What's So Great About Christianity?) his most recent book came as quite a surprise. I have read a number of D'Souza's books and I honestly had no idea why he would tackle such an unusual subject. I definitely debated whether to invest the time on his new book, Life After Death (The Evidence). I'm glad I did.
D'Souza has spent much of the last decade debating the foremost atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett on the validity of atheist claims that all religions are complete nonsense and in fact damaging to society. I've also seen some of his debates on C-Span, YouTube and BookTV. D'Souza's knowledge of atheism and debating skills are definitely impressive. The following statement from atheist Christopher Hitchens appears on the back cover of this book: "Never one to be daunted by attempting the impossible, Dinesh D'Souza here shows again the argumentative skills that make him such a formidable opponent."
In this book, D'Souza attempts to look for proof of life after death using only the atheist's tools, science and logic. He begins by making some pretty bold assertions in chapter one. D'Souza boldly claims he will successfully dismantle the atheist's arguments and show religious beliefs concerning the afterlife are equally or even a better answer to scientific discoveries and assumptions about the possibility and even the probability of a material and immaterial reality. After reading this, I really thought he was setting himself up for certain failure.
This is one of those books that must be read carefully, with attention to details, as each argument builds on the last one, and each chapter adds additional information to D'Souza's arguments. Skimming or reading a chapter here and there will fail to allow the reader to glean D'Souza's evidence. Clearly, some chapters are more interesting than others. However, I strongly recommend the reader resist skipping any material, or only read D'Souza's summary conclusions.
D'Souza tries to build his case by first revealing atheists as clever purveyors of false arguments and false accusations, which amount to what D'Souza calls "false advertising." Then he compares the atheist's refusal to consider life beyond the material world to that of actual cases of universal and philosophical-based belief in the afterlife. In one of the more unusual chapters, he explores communication with the dead, reincarnation, and near-death or beyond-death experiences. Unless this is a particularly interesting subject for the reader, this can be a tedious chapter. Some Reviewers take D'Souza to task over this chapter. Most seem to see this information as the most likely way to prove life beyond the grave and got pretty upset when D'Souza generally dismisses the validity of the claims of what he calls dialogues with the dead.
Beginning with chapter five, D'Souza gets to the science of his arguments. He considers how physics has changed in the last half-century or so and what Physicists now believe concerning our universe and beyond and the laws that govern it. He specifically compares Newtonian physics with Einstein's conclusions concerning relativity, spacetime and curved gravity, as well as information from quantum mechanics. I thought this was one of his best chapters.
The next chapter was a little confusing. Primarily because D'Souza seems to spend as much time personally embracing the evolutionary process as he does pointing out its shortcomings. He does point out that evolution cannot, and does not claim to apply the theory to the origins and beginning of time, space and matter, the essential building blocks of life. In chapter six, he focuses on Psychology and the search for the immaterial within the material body, the soul and the mind. According to D'Souza, many psychologists insist there is no immaterial part to mankind; thus the mind, thought process, reasoning, desires, wishes, etc. are simply the operation of neurons in the brain. Yet others, like biologist Jacques Monod, operate according to what is called "postulate of objectivity," which D'Souza says means modern science's subjective domain is limited to only the study of material (observable) things, making, therefore, the study of the mental outside the reach of science. By the end of this chapter, D'Souza concludes the scientific argument against the existence of a human soul collapses because the soul is neither material nor objective. D'Souza states, "Does this make life after death reasonable? Not yet, but it does make it plausible."
D'Souza then considers whether consciousness and free will actually exists and, according to science, is material or immaterial. In this chapter, he shows how doggedly stubborn scientists can be when faced with the obvious. D'Souza states that "Philosopher Daniel Dennett has made perhaps the best sustained effort to explain consciousness from a scientific point of view." Yet what is Dennett's conclusion?... "Consciousness does not exist." D'Souza summarizes one of Dennett's arguments about "Zombies" during a debate: "Although people aren't conscious and consequently have no feelings or intentions, we should treat them as if they were conscious and did have feelings and intentions." "Why would an intelligent man like Dennett say this?" replies D'Souza. Later, D'Souza closes that chapter showing that Immanuel Kant actually proved that both an immaterial human consciousness and free will do exist, something modern science denies. "We have seen with Kant's help that free will exists, and therefore it follows that we are not merely material objects in a lawful universe. The startling conclusion is that there is a part of human nature that transcendentally operates outside the physical laws governing material things." From this D'Souza draws his conclusion that consciousness and free will have no natural explanation and terefore function beyond the bounds of physical law. Thus, he says, they are not perishable and regardless of what happens to our material bodies and brains after death, our souls live on.
I took Philosophy classes in college and I admit that has been awhile ago. And I certainly never imagined myself a philosopher. So now after reading D'Souza's chapter entitled Philosophy Discovers the Afterlife, I am absolutely sure I will never become one either. Clearly, this was the most difficult chapter for me to grasp and I'm still not sure I understand D'Souza's central point. He contends that Kant's view of the real world, and the world of our sensory perceptions of it, allow the existence of a rational route to afterworlds. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, a kind of modern-day protégé of Kant, took Kant's volume of work even further, correcting and adjusting it as he went along. D'Souza concludes "In a sense they provide solid intellectual grounding for what previously was affirmed only on the basis of faith. Our conclusion, then, is that there is good reason to believe in the afterlife." In my opinion, that's easy for D'Souza to say. I feel like I missed a turn somewhere in this chapter.
D'Souza really begins to roll in the next few chapters. But rather than give away the specifics of the ending, suffice it to say D'Souza really bears down here and focuses on the final analysis and conclusions of his thesis. Yes, you will just have to get the book and read it for yourself. When I picked up this book, I expected a much larger volume. D'Souza has packed a lot of material in this book's 235 pages. Most of it has significant footnoting, which is cited in an Endnote section, along with a Subject Index at the end of the book.
Generally speaking, D'souza uses his last chapter to summarize his arguments. However, if you are tempted to flip back and read that chapter first, you will probably be disappointed. His summary is very brief and could leave the reader bewildered and dissatisfied. Most of the final chapter is not unlike the ending of his previous book "What's So Great About Christianity?" Some of it was worthwhile, while the rest of it left me with the question...Why was this added?
Just like the question "Is there an afterlife?" the book "Life After Death (The Evidence)" and its author's analysis and conclusions will be discussed, debated, lauded, criticized, and maligned for years to come. So, whether there is an afterlife or not, this question will continue to be asked, pondered and argued by mankind now and on into the future. Whether or not you took the time to carefully read and considered D'Souza's extensive material, arguments and conclusions, he has certainly shown courage in tackling this subject, knowing very well all the criticism he will draw. I do take my hat off to him for his bold adventure into such an emotionally-charged arena. Read it if you care, or just read it if you dare, but please avoid putting sneeringly sarcastic comments in print like those who didn't bother giving this book fair consideration, but rather opted to spill their ideological guts all over Amazon.com anyway. My time reading D'souza's book was time well spent, so I chose to write a Book Review instead of a personal blog full of my own opinions. This book was definitely a worthwhile read, even though all of D'Souza's arguments weren't always as clear and convincing as I'm sure he would have liked them to be.