A lot of religion’s power lies in the laity’s fear of what happens to us when we die. The “flaw” in atheism (they say) is that it can not explain the “afterlife”. Well, here ya go: an atheists explanation of death:
What I have learned is this: The brain works on an electric charge that is roughly equal to your average car battery. This electricity jumps from neuron to neuron, interacting with other bits of electricity to create a sense of self. In order to leap across the space between neurons the electricity needs stuff like Adrenaline, Dopamine, Serotonin etc.. Using one of these, a thought (the electric charge) crosses the gap between neurons and thus keeps us functioning. As long as this process keeps happening, we are alive.
The thing is, for any of this to work there has to oxygen. A lot of it. In fact, despite all the many and varied causes of death you see on tombstones, there really is only one cause of death in humans: Lack of oxygen to the brain. When the oxygen is gone, the processes grind to a halt. The electricity in your brain is unable to travel across the gap between the neurons, and everything in your brain stops. This is death.
Every electrical impulse that existed in the brain before death is still there afterward. It’s stranded, but it’s still there. The “soul” (if you believe in one) is trapped an a trillion cells, unable to make any connection to any other part of the mind. The “self” doesn’t cease to be… it’s just so fragmented that there is no coherent “being” to it. Every thought, from your first kiss to the hydro bill you just paid, remains locked inside neurons that can not communicate the information to each other.
This, as near as I can tell, is where we’re all headed. However we arrive at our own deaths, we will all eventually reach the moment where oxygen no longer flows to our brains. When that happens, our sense of self will stop as the electricity in our brain stops moving. Every aspect of our experience is going to be walled off in a brain that no longer puts the moments together into anything coherent. It’s like smashing a flat of eggs. You still have all the contents, but they will never be a dozen eggs again.
Religions offer a variety of explanations for death. I (more than most) have been very willing to find one that makes sense, given what we know of the physiology of death. So far, none have. All I’ve ever seen and learned tells me that I will eventually disintegrate into a trillion bits of electricity that will eventually dissipate and becomes worm food.
The trick, imho, is not being upset about it. Religions offer hopes and dreams that make this disintegration of the self seem a horrible thing. It’s really only these false hopes that make it all seem bad. We feel short-changed by it only because the fantasy was put in our brains that we would live forever.
Most think the belief in Heaven makes this whole process easier, even if it’s not true. Thing is, I’ve read the Holy Books. According to all of them, most of us would never see a Heaven. We’re going to fry in Hell, while a select few get to watch from a cloud somewhere. The safe and secure notions of religion only work for those who believe they are the elite: one of the pure and holy few who will get into Heaven.
There’s always a chance I’m wrong. Maybe the religions are right, and the science is incomplete or flawed. But, given the choice of what to believe, I opt for the science. Not just because it has demonstrable evidence, but because it offers far more comfort to me than the religious judgment that many believe is coming. Given what I’ve done with my life thus far, I’m going to feel a whole lot better about things at the Old Age home if I remain an atheist.
Happens When We Die: An Atheist’s Explanation