Less than a third of those in the UK believe in an afterlife. And of those rather more believe in heaven than hell. In a scientific, secular age stories of the afterlife strike many as empty, anachronistic wish fulfilment. But is it a mistake to think that life is prosaic, earthly and simply over when we die? There is, after all, no scientific explanation of consciousness, nor any notion of how material matter could create experience and thought.  We don't have an account of how consciousness comes into being and, while some propose that AI might at some point acquire consciousness, there are many philosophers and scientists who argue that no combination of physical machinery will ever be capable of creating thought, consciousness and life.

Have we denied the mystery of life and death because such talk has been tarred by association with specific and implausible religious beliefs?   Should we re-engage with the profound strangeness of death and accept that it is beyond our understanding?   Or is the mundane and harsh reality that we are a chance combination of organic material that has a limited lifespan and once over is never to return?

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