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#699 Is Death Really So Bad?

September 13, 2020

Dear professor

i am Korean who respects you as one of the best Christian intellectuals. What I'd like to ask you this time is that I'm curious about your thoughts on Shelly Kagan's death and his claim to eternal life. I'm very curious because if his argument is correct, our desire for heaven will be denied and our fear of death will be rejected.

I read in your book, On guard, that you felt strongly about the fear of death. I've read that you had a tremendous fear of losing your existence forever. So I ask you this question because I think you are also interested in this topic. Here's his argument. 1.Death is not an object of fear and is not necessarily a bad thing; eternity is a punishment. ​One of the key themes of this book is Shelley Kagan's argument that fear of death is irrational and not a good attitude and that we should face it. Why death is bad? Death itself would not do you any harm it must not be a cause of fear, so the death itself can no longer be bad for the person who is approaching it, because it is bad for the person who is live, is valid only for the remaining living, and it can no longer be a bad thing for the person facing death. ​ So my non-existence can't be a bad thing to me Because the non-existence itself can't be harmful to me., but if death is bad, it's because the positive things in our lives are taken away, but apart from that, death itself is not bad at all. ​

So we have to admit death and accept it as it is, and we don't have to feel the fear of death. ​ And rather, eternal life is a punishment because if I live forever, if my life is terrible, it is a punishment and if my life is good and good, it is rather bad because it gets boring if it lasts too long.

As far as I know, one of the biggest concerns of existentialists is the fear of the perfect extinction of existence. In this regard, Shelly Kagan seems to be trying to eliminate the risk of non-existence felt by existentialists based on the classic epicurus argument. Do you think this is valid? Do you think Shelly Kagan successfully solved the fear of death that afflicted existentialists through this argument? Do you think Shelly Kagan's argument is reasonable? I wonder what you think.

p,s my english is not good if you read it hard I'm sorry


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Dr. craig’s response


When I first read your letter, Han, I thought that you meant that Shelly Kagan had died! I now see that you’re asking about his argument about death. Since I’ve been working in other areas of philosophy, I have to confess that I’ve not taken time to read his book on the subject, so my response will be simply to your question as stated. I frankly find it hard to believe that you have accurately expounded Kagan’s argument, since the argument you recount is, to my mind, so obviously flawed.

First, take the claim that we should not fear death because death cannot harm us. This claim seems to reify death into a thing and to assert that that thing can’t hurt us if we’re dead. But there is no such “thing” as death; what we rightly fear is dying. We are rightly afraid to die because by dying we lose everything, even our own selves. It’s just wrongheaded to imagine a person after he dies and to say that death can’t hurt him because he doesn’t exist. We don’t fear that after we cease to exist, we might somehow be harmed by death. Rather what we fear is ceasing to exist! Any existing person loses everything if he ceases to exist and so is rightly afraid to die. So a person who is approaching death or facing death is still an existing person who has everything to lose by dying and so is rightly afraid. (I speak, of course, from an atheistic perspective.)

Second, consider the claim that eternal life would be terrible. From Kagan’s atheistic perspective that’s absolutely correct. No finite good can satisfy man for eternity. Someone has said that even Shakespeare, even Beethoven, would become cloying after a while. No, to satisfy our infinite longing we must have an infinite good, an inexhaustible good, which can be forever enjoyed. That’s precisely why thinkers like St. Augustine believed that man’s end is to be found in the knowledge of God. Theism gives man hope.

So I remain solidly on the side of the existentialists. People like Kagan are whistling in the graveyard.

- William Lane Craig