Is there life after death? One way to answer this question is to examine whether nature reveals some kind of a plan for life. We’re seeking not just any plan, but a plan that shows a progression from perishable things to imperishable things. Yes, a plan that develops from something like inert matter to something like consciousness or the mind would do very nicely. That’s because consciousness and mind have qualities very different from those of material bodies, and it’s possible that these qualities enable consciousness and mind to survive even after bodies perish.
Consider this passage from physicist Freeman Dyson’s A Many-Colored Glass, “Before the intricate ordered patterns of life, with trees and butterflies and birds and humans, grew to cover our planet, the earth’s surface was a boring unstructured landscape of rock and sand. And before the grand ordered structure of galaxies and stars existed, the universe was a rather uniform and disordered collection of atoms. What we see…is the universe growing visibly more ordered and more lively as it grows older.” So according to Freeman the universe has developed from a few simple things to many complex things.
What about life? Here we find that many biologists emphatically deny any kind of plan or progression. Darwinian evolution, they say, is based on random accident. Biologist Jacques Monod writes in Chance and Necessity that “chance alone is at the source of…all creation in the biosphere.” Insisting that our lives are the material products of a random process, biologist William Provine concludes that “when we die, we die, and that’s the end of us.”
This position has been argued most eloquently by Stephen Jay Gould. In Full House, Gould points out that the earliest forms of life were bacteria. “Now we have oak trees, praying mantises, hippopotamuses, and people.” Even so, bacteria haven’t been eliminated in the struggle for survival; indeed they outnumber all the other species put together. Somewhat wryly, Gould writes that we live in an “age of bacteria” confirmed by global “bacterial domination.”