Imagine that someone took some stem cells from your bone marrow and created a clone of you. Imagine, however, that you have never met this clone, that it lives in a different place. A few months later you learn that this twin of yours has been injured. What is the likely effect of learning about its injury? It is natural to feel sympathy for the clone’s pain, but probably you would not react as strongly as you would to the injury of a close friend or sibling, someone you knew and loved.
Imagine the news now comes that an enemy of yours has captured the clone and has begun to torture it, under the assumption that torturing your clone will have the effect of torturing you.
Undoubtedly you consider this behavior barbaric and evil. But you will probably also find it bizarre that your enemy honestly believes that inflicting pain on the clone will literally inflict pain on you—as if the clone was some kind of voodoo doll. You will consider the enemy’s behavior evil, certainly, but also stupid.
But what now if the clone is somehow downloaded with your memories, so that it becomes not just a duplicate of your body but also a duplicate of your mind. Would this new twist make a difference when the bad guy tortured the clone? Would it make it so that torturing the clone now had the literal effect of torturing you?
Quite obviously, it would not.
A clone—however careful an imitation of you it may be—is not you. It is a separate being, a different existence.
Let’s go a step further. Imagine that something unfortunate happened to you, and you died. Would the painful experiences your enemy inflicts on the clone suddenly become your experiences? Would you, because you are now dead, suddenly turn into the clone?
Again, not bloody likely.
That is the problem with punishment after death. When we die, our bodies rot in the ground, our minds cease to exist, our ability to experience is lost. If some god now tries to reassemble the body in order to punish us, it will be no different than creating a clone and loading it with our memories—it would not be us. It cannot be made into us.
This is why the threat of eternal punishment means nothing to an atheist. If death is real (that the body rots in the grounds proves it is), then it means the cessation of experience. All any god, however evil, can do is to create a replica of us—and punish the replica.
Evil on that god’s part, certainly. Unfortunate for the replica, certainly. But it’s not us.
Christians object to this, though. They say death is not real, that the body dies but the soul does not, the mental self survives. Therefore, they say, God can throw this soul or mental self into another body and make it feel pain, punish it. And it would be us feeling the pain, for we are the soul which survived, not the body which rotted.
But all the evidence is that the soul and body cannot be separated like that; all the evidence science has uncovered so far shows that the soul is a quality—a living quality—which the body has. Death means simply that this quality of aliveness is lost, and therefore we die.
All the evidence, in other words, is that life is bodily—that we cannot have a soul unless we have a body. And it is the body which is primary. We know this because things which affect the body affect the soul. If we drink alcohol we get drunk, if we take drugs we get zonked and out of touch with reality, if parts of our brain get damaged, we lose our memory, or our ability to speak or do certain kinds of thinking.
Even if the soul could survive the body’s death, it could not be punished without a body—indeed, it is the material or sensational, sensing, sensitive body which alone can feel. Which means that if the soul could somehow become attached to a different body, it would be the different body which then does the sensing and feeling. The soul disembodied can bring nothing to the table in that regard.
Nor is anyone capable of imagining the disembodied “soul” without imagining it with some fashion of body—”spiritual” or “astral” or whatnot, but in fact body. The reason we can’t picture life without a body of some kind or another is simple: life is a bodily enterprise.
We are bodies that have minds, not minds that have bodies. To have feeling and experience is to have spirit or soul, but to die is to lose the ability to feel or experience: that is the scientific reality of being a body.
Christians have to disagree, or else their religion falls apart. They have to disagree, because otherwise punishment in hell and reward in heaven become meaningless, even impossible. Christians have to disagree, otherwise it becomes evident that they worship death instead of life.