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Atheism/Atheistic views on Life after Death


Hi, my name is Naomi
I have a few questions regarding Atheism and the Beliefs of Atheist on the topic life and death.

What happens to Atheists on earth? Do they have morals on what they do everyday?  

What do Atheists believe happens to them when they die?

If you could please answer me back as soon as you can that would be very much appreciated

Thank you.

Kind Regards


Hey Naomi,

First of all, I just want to say that if you or an atheist you know is struggling with the loss of a loved one, I would recommend a support organization called "Grief Beyond Belief". Its formed specifically for non-believers to help each other deal with death

I don't know if that is applicable to you or not, but anyway, onto the questions:

“What do atheists believe happens to them when they die?”
Same thing that happens to everyone else – they die. There is no afterlife or ghostly return to the realm of the living.
We know what happens to the dead from the perspective of the living – the body stops functioning and gradually starts to decay. The deceased may have left many permanent things behind, including memories carried in the minds of the living. Atheists don't believe there is any spiritual presence left behind. We find that claims of ghost sightings or communication from beyond the grave really just end up being superstitious thinking, sensationalized stories, or outright cons. On that subject you may be interested in this AllExperts post I wrote about cold reading (claimed communication with the dead)[1] or this one about hallucinations and rumors[2].
From the perspective of the dead, its not like anything to be dead. It's not like the conscious mind is forced to watch a freeze-frame, a blank screen, or a never-ending sequence of dreams. There is no conscious mind around to experience it. If one insists on drawing from past experience then I suppose it is somewhat like sleeping - except with no dreaming, stirring, or waking up. Some very wise people have found comfort in the idea that there is no negative sensation associated with actually being dead[3][4], but I don't take any comfort in it. I think being alive is a good thing, the absence of a good thing is a bad thing, and death is still a bad thing even if the dead can neither mourn themselves nor appreciate sentiments of pity by the living.
A minority of atheists and especially agnostics, out of some misplaced attempt to be open-minded (this is a misnomer[5]), actually say they have no idea what happens when we die. But we do already know quite a bit about to be false, we already know the bodies of the dead are lifeless, near-death experiences are not death experiences, etc). Moreover, the experience of the mind is radically changed by damaging the brain. Any of the senses can be lost memories can be lost, personalities can be changed, mental capabilities can be lost. Whatever someone might define the core sensation of having an identity or being alive to be, there is a way that sensation can be removed by damage to the brain. Its absurd to suggest that more things in the brain failing beyond that would somehow recover the sensation of being alive. Let alone that there is no physical mechanism for a particle or force which contains the information in the brain, but can outlive it[6]. You may be interested in my past AllExperts post about consciousness and morality[7] or this past AllExperts post about the scientific differences between living and non-living things[8]
Actually, the actions and attitudes of most believers seems to indicate a lack of belief in the afterlife. Asked a typical Christian about the likelihood of a loved one going to heaven when they die and they would likely respond with enthusiastic confidence in the fate of the loved ones soul. But what would the reaction that same Christian would have to hear about the death or possible death of that loved one? Only Grief. I can never really know what its like to see things from that person's perspective, but it seems to me that at an emotional level this Christian views death as an unabiguously bad thing even if they maintain at a cognitive level that the deceased must have gone to a better place. Perhaps one might would say that this Christian's joy in their loved one making it to heaven is overshadowed at the personal pain of having to be apart (and this presumably happens because people are fundamentally selfish even over the ones they love the most). I would say that many complex emotions can occur in a the wake of tragedy, but joy or envy do not seem to be any significant part. Shakespeare has Hamlet ponder aloud in his famous monologue[9], humans seem to prefer (for themselves) almost any earthly torment to death. There is even a new school of psychology built around the ideal that a deeply seated fear of death is an integral part of how we all operate[10].

“Do Atheists have morals on what they do everyday”
Yes and no. With religions there is an explict link between science, morality, and culture. “How does the world work?”, “What should I do?”, and “Where should I go on Sundays? (Saturdays or Fridays)” are all answered with a religion. But in atheism these three things are separate. Pitting one scientific model of cosmology against another, for example, has no impact on whether it is morally permissible to torture terrorists for potentially life-saving intelligence. For most atheists, however, the approach to science, morality, and culture are very similar. Scientific Naturalism is a name for our scientific beliefs, Secular Humanism is the name for our moral beliefs, and Secularism and Skepticism are names of our cultural beliefs. So the point is while most atheists actually agree on most moral issues, there is no holy book or pope that forces us to all share the exact same moral outlook. It is difficult to identify moral values that necessarily have to be associated with atheism, but fairly easy to identify common moral values that atheists all seem to share.
By all practical measures of moral behavior, its plain to see atheists are just as moral as believers or more. For example, atheists are disproportionately less likely to commit a crime. Nations which have a high rate of atheism and low religiousity, such as Northern European nations, are among the most peaceful, crime-free, and socially generous on the globe. See my AllExperts posts on atheist demographics[11][12] for more on “what sort of people are atheists?”.
There is a debate amongst atheists about what type of thing moral values are. Some say moral values are based directly on physical facts, some of them say moral values are real but an abstraction upon physical facts, some say moral values are imbued with meaning only by living things, some say moral value are nothing more than popular ideas, some of them say we can't know which type of thing they are, and some of them say it doesn't matter which type of thing they are. For the moment, the pratical consequences of these debates seem to be fairly limited. Most of my thoughts on morality are neatly summarized at that last part of this AllExperts post[7]. Feel free to ask a follow-up though.

“What happens to atheists on Earth?” I don't know how to answer this question except to answer the other two questions (what happens when atheists die and what morals guide their behavior). If there was something else you meant to ask in here, please send a follow-up question.

[3] “Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come,we are not.” - Epicurus
[4] “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” - Mark Twain


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Jeffrey Ellsworth


I am well versed on the arguments for both sides about the existence of God and am especially aware of the philosophical ramifications and psychological reactions to atheism. Also, if you have a question about atheism as that pertains to Science or Skepticism, I may be an especially good pick. However my knowledge of non-Judeo-Christian religions and Biblical archaeology is generally limited to knowledge about directions to more informative resources.


I've been an atheist for 14 years now, open about it for 9 years after being raised in a Roman Catholic family. In that time I have held many different philosophical perspective on the subject and had different emotional and psychological reactions to atheism. I have absorbed many internet articles, video debates, atheist publications, and secular podcasts in my process of understanding and supporting the atheist movement. I routinely hold conversations on the subject.

One article in If Journal, an interfaith publication.

I have a BS in Physics and Mathematics from the College of William & Mary I am pursuing my Ph.D in Physics at Indiana University at Bloomington. I have very little formal training in philosophy or sociology.

Awards and Honors
I was president of the William & Mary Students for Science & Secularism before graduating.

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