What Happens to Atheists When They Die? (Pondering Eschaton)

by phil on Wednesday Apr 7, 2004 7:40 PM
Singularity, eschaton

Eschaton is defined as the moment when the World ends. This word is derived from the Greek word eskhatos which means last.

For Christians, this is Rapture or the "Second Coming of Jesus." For a vivid description of Rapture, read this Darwin Award of a woman dying while attempting to experience Eschaton. Other religions also have some sort of Heaven-situation where we are suspended in an infinite afterlife.

Paranormal types also have their own Eschaton found in novelty theory and approaching concrescence, which describes a mystical and complicated conclusion to Life.

But if you are a naturalist, atheist, or agnostic type, how do you conceive the End? Well, the Sun will eventually engulf the Earth and the Universe will either dissipate or pull a reverse Big Bang ("The Big Crunch"). But is this a satisfying Eschaton?

Since Universal Annihilation is unpleasant, naturalist types, like myself, turn to Eschaton as the Singularity--the moment of supreme human-intelligence. To grasp how this is possible, trace the evolution of the brain from weak cells in bacteria four billion years ago, to chordates 544 million years ago with nerve buds, to primates 65 million years ago with basic brains, to homo sapiens sapiens 130,000 years ago with an enlarged neocortex and folds in the brain, to modern humans with culture, computers and a group Internet mind. Then, if you extrapolate just a little further into the future, you encounter beings of unfathomable superiority. One of the potential consequences is that we become jacked into a Matrix that simulates heaven; all pains will be washed away and the possibilities of happiness will be astounding. Read more by the founder of this technological Singularity.

What you see, though, threading all three visions of Eschaton (religious, paranormal, and technological) is a natural human desire to ponder eskhatos.

Why is Eschaton necessary for us? Is this desire just an unintended result of taking our skill at comprehending cause-effect relationships to their limits? Is understanding eskhatos essential to how we define a sense of meaning in life? Or are we onto something in that we actually are headed for a special surprise ending?

I don't know. I find it interesting, though, how an atheist like myself ended up falling into the same primitive curiosity for Eschaton that religious types have.

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brandon said on April 9, 2004 3:34 AM:

what if - and this is sill preliminary thought - we look at this in another way? We tend to view evolution as a heirarchical scheme to which we represent some end. Yet this concept does not explain why 'lower' life-forms not only continue to exist, but eveolve at as swift a rate as we do? Perhaps the purpose is simply a greater diversity. Eschaton suggests unity, as does singularity. But what if evolution was an attempt to create an infinity of life?

Philip Dhingra said on April 9, 2004 8:07 AM:

Hmm. I didn't think about that. Yeah, too much pondering about Eschaton involves a unity, less of a plurality. We could just be one of many in the great chains of infinite being. Our emphasis on thinking about _our_ end is just another human-centric egotism run amok.

Other societies/religions also believe in other ontologies of Eschaton, such as viewing the end not as finality but as a repetition of a cycle, such as through reincarnation or just a general repetition (cf: Zoroastrianism)

// on another note

Peter mentioned that Eschaton refers to the end of the universe, not a personal end, such as death. Yes, I agree, I'm ambiguous in my usage of the word. I also use Eschaton to refer to those moments of awakening that pause you and feel like a heavenly light is engulfing you. I sometimes reach Eschaton when I paint or write a good post for Philosophistry.

AustinTSmith said on April 9, 2004 8:26 PM:

I believe our inherent obsession with this "Eschaton" is entropy. In that, everything must and will come to an end. Human singularity may indicate a peak in civilization before this event occurs, however no matter what model you observe you cannot deny the obvious.

Singularity, Eschaton, and Entropy are human words assigned to events that may or may not occur; furthermore, they help us understand our being. Which is the philosopher's ultimate goal.

brandon said on April 10, 2004 1:45 AM:

As far as we can see, entropy and eschaton are synonomous. As long as we make assumptions about the nature of being (and we have to to some extent in order to function), they do provide some insight.

Is entropy something that cannot be denied? From what I learned early on in high-school, a scientific law is something that applies to all KNOWN cases. Science has these failsafes specifically because it must recognize that its practical applications do not amount to universal truths. Of course, I've seen many scientists who've forgotten this, but we as philosophers should strive to keep it in mind.

DamonC said on April 13, 2004 5:57 AM:

How come I never hear of the 3rd coming of Christ?

No foresight on part of them Christians.

iro said on April 17, 2004 9:10 PM:

I always thought that the eschaton is just the projection of a human way of thinking on the universe.

Spinoza said that our perception of time is only due to our finite nature that has to understand the events as a concatanation of causes and effects.
But in the eyes of the deity, which coincided with the universe, there is no such thing as time or cause and effect, as everything is contemporary.

There is no reason we should think there is an end to the universe, or that the universe has an goal, there is no reason to think of humanity as anything different that just one of many phenomena of the universe, maybe jsut less spectacular than a super nova, and someday is oing to go puff.

Maybe the universe is just something that is in constant flow as Heraclitus stated.

An analogy which I love, is to depict the universe as one of those gardens that were the rage during the baroque period.
The peculiar trait of such gardens is that they went from being circular to elliptical; the reason for this is that in such way an observer couldn`t just stand in the center and see the whole garden, but had to walk from one focus to another in order to see it all.

In such a way I see the universe, human beings, knoweledge, as things unable to rest in a fixed point but constantly looking for different perspectives, oscillating from one extreme to another.

And now in order to validate my point, someone has to shout "all perspectives are the same!", ironically also convalidating his point that truth is in the paradox.
But I believe that someone already said that in the 19th century.

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