Is That Your Final Answer? Creationism and Atheism Confront the End of Life

Most of us have watched at least one episode of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” show. The rules of the show specify that the subject be allowed to take as much time as he/she wishes to ponder his answer, may consult one of his/her “lifelines” if desired, and may even think out loud on the camera. But no response is considered official until the subject answers in the affirmative to the moderator’s question “Is that your final answer?”. After that, there is no going back.

It seems to me that the “Is That Your Final Answer” principle also applies in discussions of science and religion. Consider the following scenarios:

Imagine first that a college youth comes to you in great distress over what unfortunately is a common dilemma: He/she has been taught since youth by well-meaning religious figures or family members that evolution (or science in general) is an enemy of religious faith, and that a religious believer cannot possibly seriously affirm the scientific worldview. Yet he/she is now enrolled in a college or university course that makes it very plain that there is considerable evidence for scientific theories, in particular old-earth geology and evolutionary biology. As a result, this person faces a major crisis of faith.

Now imagine a second scenario (one that I myself recently faced, in the wake of the death of my dear mother): A friend or loved one has just passed away (or soon will pass away), and either the deceased or a close relative approaches you with great anguish: Is this truly the end of existence (for the soon-to-be-deceased)? Will I ever see my dear one again (for friends or relatives of the soon-to-be-deceased)? What is the meaning of life and death?

It seems to me that such episodes of life underscore the emptiness of dogmatic philosophical approaches on either side of the spectrum: either creationism on one hand, or atheism/scientific materialism on the other.

Even if you are a person who strongly believes to a “creationist” or “intelligent design” worldview, are you really going to insist, with no moderation, that a college youth absolutely must not entertain any portion of the scientific theories of creation? Are you really so certain of your convictions, or so firm in your determination to defend a very literal interpretation of scripture, that you are willing to let that college youth walk away without the slightest “wiggle room” in his/her beliefs, particularly as he/she confronts the growing body of evidence described in textbooks and verified in hands-on experiments? Aren’t you at least willing to acknowledge that the scriptures are not entirely clear as to how the creation transpired, and that there are many religious believers who nonetheless accept the scientific view of creation?

Similarly, even if you are a person who firmly believes that a scientific worldview is the only worldview that makes rational sense, and who does not take seriously any notion that a supreme being governed the creation or that there might be some existence after death, are you really so cold-hearted as to tell a college youth his faith is vain, or that any notion of a supreme being or governor of the universe is vain? Or are you really so cold-hearted as to tell a soon-to-be-deceased loved one that this is the end, without any reservation or qualification? Or are you really so cold-hearted as bluntly declare this disbelief to grieving spouses or family members on such an occasion? Aren’t you at least willing to acknowledge that science cannot answer fundamental questions such as this?

Scenarios like this underscore the bankruptcy of both the hard-nosed creationist and the hard-nosed atheist/scientific materialist belief systems. They also underscore the importance of finding some reasonable middle ground between science and religious faith.

By the way, with regards to life after death, it is intriguing to note that emerging computer technology may make this possible, without any resort to the supernatural. As Ray Kurzweil and others have noted [Kurzweil2007], when computer technology is powerful enough, not only will we be able to capture the complete details of a living person’s brain, but we will also be able to “resurrect” this person after death in the form of a faithful copy of his mind. Other writers, such as Frank Tipler, openly talk of “resurrecting” everyone who has ever lived [Tipler1994].

Along this line, secular writer Marc Geddes has observed that the desire for immortality “is one of the deepest, most enduring dreams of humanity.” He argues that not only is the quest for immortality morally good, it is in fact the very foundation of morality: “Rational people understand that actions have consequences. A life of crime may help a person in the short term, but in the long run it may get you killed or imprisoned. … People are more likely to be moral when they understand they will have to face the consequences of their actions in the future. It follows that the further into the future one plans for, the more moral one’s behavior should become.” [Geddes2004].

In a larger vein, Albert Schweitzer once wrote [Schweitzer1953, pg. 157]:

Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live unreflectively and begins to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to raise it to its true value. To affirm life is to deepen, to make more inward, and to exalt the will to live. At the same time the man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will-to-live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as being good: to preserve life, to promote life, to raise to its highest value life which is capable of development; and as being evil: to destroy life, to injure life, to repress life which is capable of development. This is the absolute, fundamental principle of the moral, and it is a necessity of thought.


  1. [Geddes2004] Marc Geddes, “An Introduction to Immortality Morality,” in Immortality Institute, The Scientific Conquest of Death, Libros en Red Publishers, Buenos Aires, 2004, pg. 239-256.
  2. [Kurzweil 2007] Ray Kurzweil, “The Near-Term Inevitability of Radical Life Extension and Expansion,” in John Brockman, ed., What Is Your Dangerous Idea? Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable, Harper Perennial, New York, 2007, also available at Online article.
  3. [Schweitzer1953] Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1953.
  4. [Tipler1994] Frank J. Tipler, The Physics of Immortality, Bantam Doubleday, New York, 1994.

Comments are closed.