Source: We don’t know and it is okay!
My 11 year old daughter has been having anxiety over the uncertainty about what, if anything, happens after we die. Explaining that we don’t know can be distressing, especially after leaving a faith that claimed to know what happens after we die. This has become a major issue for us lately and, in all honesty, one that I also still struggle with.
I have also been going back to school to become a vet. We are studying the scientific method which dictates that we make an observation, ask a question, make a hypothesis and then a prediction and finally test the hypothesis. This method of proving whether something is consistently true or false is what scientists all over the world use to understand the world around us. With this newly reawakened realization, I was able to explain to my daughter my conglomeration of thoughts. The following are the highlights of our conversation:
Many years ago, a majority of the people here on the Earth believed that the sun went around the Earth. This was their conclusion based on their observations and the evidence that was available to them. Some people decided that they wanted a better explanation of why it happened and so they made up a story in which they told other people, including their children, that there was an invisible giant who carried the sun in his hands as he walked across the face of the Earth and carried the sun around and around the Earth. Many people believed that this was the case and did not feel the need to investigate any further. Other people wanted to know for sure and so they made observations and kept questioning the observations. They looked at the situation in other ways. They were the scientists. The word Science means to know. Years passed and different people were able to build upon the observations and questions that the earlier Scientists had made. They discovered that not only was there not an invisible giant who carried the sun across the sky, but, in fact, the Earth goes around the Sun. So, if everyone had been satisfied with the explanation of the giant carrying the Sun, then no one would have done any more observations and we would not have discovered the truth.
This being said, there is so much that men don’t yet know about the universe and about how things work. We are quite infantile when it comes to our understanding of what happens and why. Even though we have come along way from the days of thinking that the sun goes around the Earth, there are still many questions that we can’t explain. One of the main differences between Science and Religion is that Science never claims to have the absolute truth. Science has theories that have been proven right over and over again, like the theory of gravity, but the moment that the theory of gravity fails to perform the way that it should, then it will be dis-proven and Science will disregard it and start to look for another explanation.
Religion, on the other hand, isn’t based in reality. It has no reality check and therefore can never stand up to the Scientific method. For example: If I give any living human being a shot of insulin then that person will experience a drop in blood sugar. Insulin causes a chemical change that is universal. However, if you pray to God and he sometimes answers your prayers, based on your faith, belief, conviction, worthiness, whatever and sometimes he doesn’t then you cannot claim that God is answering your prayers at all. If you could prove that if you prayed to God every Wednesday at 6:07 pm then he would consistently cause $100 to appear in your bank account… then that would be closer to the scientific method, especially if it happened every time and we couldn’t rule anything else out… but faith and religion are untestable. It isn’t based in reality. People use it to answer questions that Science hasn’t advanced far enough to get a handle on. One of the biggest dangers of religion is that EVERY time that Science has a proven theory on something that religion used to have an answer for, the religious answer HAS BEEN WRONG!
But I digress and the real point is this: I cannot say for sure that there is nothing after we die. Just like religions cannot say for sure that there is something after we die. As a person who looks to scientific theory as a proven way of getting closer to the truth, I fully support and believe that people doing scientific experiments, using the Scientific method, can get us closer to understanding what happens after we die. I can tell my daughter that I don’t know what happens after we die. However, as long as Scientists are allowed to keep asking questions and using the scientific method to try to understand how the universe works, then we as a human race will continue to make progress in our understanding.
Many years from now, I hope that Scientists will have a better understanding of how the body works and how life comes to be. There are always exciting new theories and new experiments. My daughter can feel confident knowing that she can keep using her imagination as long as she understands that she must use the testable theories from the past and apply testable experiments that will be based on the work of people around her. People with drive and vision and imagination. But, most importantly for her… she can feel safe knowing that no one knows but we are allowed to imagine. Theists don’t know and atheists don’t know either because it is not yet something that can be given a reality check. She can explore on her own. She can use her brain and her powers of observation. She is free to discard a theory or “religious teaching” if it doesn’t make sense. If it doesn’t stand up to the reality check. She can also use her feelings to drive her being open to the world around her, instead of trying to fit the observations and feelings that she has into a predetermined religious or even scientific box. It still scares her a bit. It still scares me. She said, “I feel better thinking that there is something.” I said, “Me too.” She said, “But I’m also excited that I can think about things and come to my own conclusions.” I said, “Yep… freedom is exciting and scary but would you rather have me tell you a fable to explain things?” She said, “No, I love that I can trust you to tell me the truth and I know it will make more sense as I get older.” So… parenting without God, so far… a success!