Excerpted from “The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain From Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs” by Julien Musolino. Published by Prometheus Books. Copyright 2015 by Julien Musolino. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. www.prometheusbooks.com.

Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.

— Lawrence Krauss, “A Universe from Nothing,” 2012

One July night in a small English village, sometime near the end of the 20th century, Harry stood by his friend Rodrick as the radio engineer calmly explained his plan to strike at the creator of the universe. Rodrick had decided that he wanted to kill God, and he thought he knew how. This desire was motivated in part by his conviction that the universe should exist on its own, but mostly it was fueled by Rodrick’s deep contempt for the unfairness of existence for which he held God responsible.

He explained to Harry that even though God was not material, He must possess at least some material characteristics, for otherwise He would not have been able to create the physical universe. When prompted to explain how he might be able to reach God, Rodrick remarked that the information had been available to us for a long time: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light,” (Genesis 1:3).

The machine that Rodrick built to carry out his plan was an elaborate framework of lasers, mirrors, and prisms, all precisely arranged and calibrated, sitting on the workbench in his home laboratory. He reasoned that it should be possible to generate a self-sustaining pattern of light that would reinforce itself indefinitely, transcending space and time to reach the Creator, striking God with a deadly bolt of energy. The two men adjusted their goggles and Rodrick flipped on the switch. Through the dark lenses, they could make out the pattern of light in front of them as the beams followed their geometric paths. Gradually, the light intensified, and the brightness started to expand, swallowing the mirrors, the workbench, and the entire room. An instant later, the light was gone. “That’s it,” announced Rodrick dryly. “God is dead.”

Harry looked around, and everything seemed perfectly normal. “Nonsense!” he snarled. Rodrick then removed his goggles to inspect the room, and it was at that moment that the truth was revealed to Harry. He saw his friend’s empty eyes. . . . Rodrick had indeed killed God, and in the process, he had destroyed every living creature’s soul. Life went on, and the vast clockwork of the universe continued to tick according to mechanical laws, but all you had to do now was look into people’s eyes to realize that they were all dead inside. There was no beauty, no meaning, no inner life. This is what God supplied when he was alive, after all, reflected Harry. And now it was all gone.

This is a summary of the short story called “The God Gun,” by science fiction author Barrington Bayley, which was written in the early 1970s. Today, in spite of considerable advances in technology, most people would find Rodrick’s quest futile and hopelessly simpleminded, to say nothing of its evil nature. But Bayley’s story remains powerful because most of us share his intuition that human beings are more than mere collections of physical parts. There must be something else in addition to the atoms and cells that make up our bodies — an essence, a spirit, something precious and beautiful. In short, a soul.

This intuition is deeply rooted in the human psyche and has been shared by people across cultures from antiquity to the present day. As Mark Baker and Stewart Goetz observe in their book “The Soul Hypothesis,” “Most people, at most times, in most places, at most ages have believed that human beings have some kind of soul.”

This intuition also plays a central role in most religious doctrines. Pope John Paul II famously articulated the idea in a message delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October, 1996, in which the Holy Father declared that the human body might originate from preexisting living matter, but the spiritual soul is a direct creation of God. Explaining the mind as a product of evolution, claimed the pope, was incompatible with the truth about man.

Belief in the soul is also very much alive in North American culture today, as the results of numerous polls demonstrate. In my own interviews of college students enrolled in upper-level undergraduate psychology classes like the ones I regularly teach at Rutgers University, I have found that a majority of students also believe that they have a soul. What’s more, these intuitions are constantly reinforced by a wealth of books, TV shows, movies, and pronouncements made by writers and gurus of all stripes who purport to have found convincing evidence for the existence of the soul. Belief in the immortality of the soul was even featured as the cover story of the October 15, 2012, issue of the magazine Newsweek, with the title “Heaven Is ­Real: A Doctor’s Experience of the Afterlife.”

In sharp contrast to popular opinion, the current scientific consensus rejects any notion of soul or spirit as separate from the activity of the brain. This is what Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, called “The Astonishing Hypothesis.” In Crick’s words, “You, your joys, and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Reflecting on what he calls the scientific image of persons, the philosopher Owen Flanagan stressed that we “need to demythologize persons by rooting out certain unfounded ideas from the perennial philosophy. Letting go of the belief in souls is a minimal requirement. In fact, desouling is the primary operation of the scientific image.” The weight of the scientific consensus is distributed over many disciplines and includes, as we would expect, the sciences of the mind (psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science). Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene summarizes the situation as follows:

Most people are dualists. Intuitively, we think of ourselves not as physical devices, but as immaterial minds or souls housed in physical bodies. Most experimental psychologists and neuroscientists disagree, at least officially. The modern science of mind proceeds on the assumption that the mind is simply what the brain does. We don’t talk much about this, however. We scientists take the mind’s physical basis for granted. Among the general public, it’s a touchy subject.

Thus, according to Greene, science, like Rodrick’s God-gun, has killed the soul, but scientists are reluctant to announce the news. The soul may indeed be a grand illusion, but it is a useful and comforting one. Open Pandora’s box and we may be the ones, like Harry, looking into other people’s eyes and discovering that everything has lost its beauty and meaning.

The award-winning author Jared Diamond once remarked that science is responsible for dramatic changes to our smug self-image. Astronomy has taught us that our planet is not the navel of the universe. We learned from biology that we were not created by God but evolved alongside millions of other species. This book is about another seismic change in our self-image. Most people today believe that we have the bodies of beasts and the souls of angels. Science tells us otherwise. In the pages ahead, I will take you on a tour of history, philosophy, and science to show you that the soul, like geo-centricism and creationism, is a figment of our imagination, and I will try to explain to you what gives rise to the illusion. Modern astronomy and the theory of evolution did not precipitate the end of the world. They are unmistakable signs of progress. Likewise, I will show you that in spite of repeated claims to the contrary, we lose nothing by letting go of our soul beliefs and — better — that we even have something to gain.

The Ghost in the Machine

In a 1999 Edge debate featuring the biologist Richard Dawkins and the psychologist Steven Pinker, titled “Is Science Killing the Soul?,” Dawkins pointed out that the word soul has different senses. One is the traditional idea that there is something incorporeal about us, that the body is spiritualized by a mysterious substance. In this view, the soul is the nonphysical principle that allows us to tell right from wrong, gives us our ability to reason and have feelings, makes us conscious, and gives us free will. Perhaps most important, the soul is the immortal part of ourselves that can survive the death of our physical body and is capable of happiness or suffering in the afterlife. This is the soul that this book is about. It is the soul that captures the imagination of a majority of our population. . . .

There are, of course, other senses of the word soul. One has to do with emotional or intellectual intensity, as in “their performance lacked soul.” The word soul is also used metaphorically in a variety of expressions such as soul mate, soul food, soul music, soul searching, or lost soul, to name just a few. However, speaking of a performance that lacks soul, or of the poor souls that perished when the Titanic went down, does not commit you to a particular metaphysical view. Likewise, exclaiming “Oh my God!” upon realizing that the value of your stock portfolio has plummeted does not make you a religious zealot (if anything it makes you a materialist, albeit not one of the kind that we will be concerned with here). For these reasons, I will have nothing to say about these other senses of the word soul apart from pointing out, as Dawkins did in the Edge debate, that they are terms that exist, but that they are not the subject of this book.

The doctrine underlying the traditional notion of the soul is the view known in philosophical jargon as substance dualism, sometimes also called Cartesian dualism, after the 17th-century French philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes famously argued for the existence of two fundamentally different substances: the physical matter of bodies and the spiritual stuff of souls. In Descartes’s system, souls and bodies causally interact. Your soul pushes your buttons, so to speak, and makes you do the things that you do.

Conversely, what happens to your body is felt, or experienced, in your soul.

The Soul of the Matter

So how can we decide whether souls exist? Is this even a question about which science has anything to say? To many people, the answer to my second question is a resounding “No.” After all, science deals with phenomena that can be objectively observed and measured. The soul, by contrast, cannot be observed or measured because it is claimed to be immaterial. Therefore, soul beliefs belong to the realms of religion and metaphysics. This conclusion, however, is mistaken. The soul is a scientific hypothesis about the design and functioning of human beings (the stuff of biology, psychology, and neuroscience), and dualism makes claims about the detachability of mind and body and the existence of a substance capable of causal interaction with ordinary matter (the stuff of physics). As such, souls are fair game for scientific investigation, subject to the same criteria that apply to the evaluation of any other scientific idea (a line of reasoning developed more generally for other supernatural concepts by the physicist Victor J. Stenger in his book “God: The Failed Hypothesis”). After all, science can tell us what happened a fraction of a second after the big bang took place, some 13.8 billion years ago, when no one was around to make measurements or record anything. Is it so far-fetched that science would also have something to say about what we are made of and how we function?

Imagine an episode of “CSI: Miami” in which the investigators have a suspect and are beginning their forensic work. As they gather the evidence, they discover that the suspect has no serious alibi for the night of the crime. It also doesn’t take them long to figure out what could have motivated their suspect to kill his victim. Using more sophisticated equipment, they uncover physical evidence that links the suspect to the victim and to the crime scene-blood stains on the suspect’s clothes that match the victim’s blood type, DNA evidence that positively identifies the blood as that of the victim, soil on the suspect’s shoes whose chemical composition matches that of the soil at the crime scene. Our investigators are also able to get their hands on a recording of the crime scene taken by a surveillance camera at a critical time right before the crime, and using digital video-enhancing techniques, they manage to retrieve meaningful evidence. Aided by powerful face-recognition software, they are able to place the suspect at the crime scene at the right time.

When taken in isolation, few, if any, of the clues uncovered by our team of forensic experts are really incriminating. The soil on the suspect’s shoes could have come from a walk he took at the scene of the crime the night before the victim was killed. If the victim and the suspect knew each other, perhaps they spent some time together before the murder took place, and the victim, who was subject to frequent nose bleeds, ended up accidentally soiling the suspect’s jacket. Since the jacket was dark, the suspect didn’t notice the blood stains until after the police apprehended him the following day. As for the other pieces of evidence, I am sure that you can easily concoct a plausible story as well. It is when taken together, however, that all these disconnected pieces of evidence acquire their collective power, and as they accumulate, we soon reach a point where it is no longer reasonable to conclude that our hypothetical suspect is innocent.

The forensic-investigation analogy is a good one because it also captures the story of how mainstream science has come to the conclusion that human beings most likely do not have souls. One of my goals in this book is to present all the relevant pieces of evidence — from psychology, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and the physical sciences — to support the conclusion that, when considered collectively, they undermine the soul hypothesis to the point of oblivion. Notice that the conclusion, if we want to be intellectually honest, should not to be that there is no soul, but rather, that there are no good reasons to believe that we have souls, and that there are very good reasons to believe that we do not have souls. To anticipate my conclusions, I will show you that the soul has shrunk as scientific understanding progressed, that there is no objective evidence supporting the soul hypothesis, that there is no known formalism that describes the soul substance, that souls fly in the face of what we know about modern science, and that no explanatory gain comes from postulating the existence of souls. In sum, I will show you that the soul has exactly the set of properties that it should have if it didn’t exist.

Just like other false ideas we entertained in the past had harmful consequences and stifled progress, so too, I will argue, do soul beliefs. In medieval Europe, during the Great Plague, people often had their lips sewn shut and their tongues cut off for fear that they would blaspheme and offend God. This was a perfectly rational practice, if brutally sadistic, based on a deeply flawed theory. Replace God’s wrath by the germ theory of disease and the sadistic practice loses its raison d’etre. In less dramatic fashion, but in the same conceptual vein, I will show you that our soul beliefs get in the way of a more humane society. Our dualist intuitions lead to beliefs that cloud important societal debates, such as abortion, stem-cell research, and the right to die with dignity. Our intuitive notion of justice, and therefore our entire criminal justice system, which is unusually harsh and biased in the United States, as we will discover, may also be premised on dualistic assumptions. These enormously important issues that we face as a society should be approached armed with the best knowledge we have, not with traditional ideas that have no scientific credibility.

Through the pages of this book, I will lead you on a journey through science and thought to arrive at the following conclusions:

The traditional soul is as much a scientific hypothesis about our design and mode of functioning as it is a metaphysical or theological claim. Consequently, determining whether or not we have a soul is an objective endeavor that falls within the scope of science. In spite of many claims to the contrary, there is in fact no credible evidence supporting the existence of the soul. Modern science gives us every reason to believe that we do not have souls.

Nothing gets lost, morally, spiritually, or esthetically by giving up our soul beliefs. In fact, we even have something to gain. The scientific image of personhood, so feared and vilified in the United States, provides the basis for an empowering and practically beneficial alternative to the soul myth.

Tone and Tactics

On a general level, the case against the soul is similar to the argument against the luminiferous ether of the 19th century, an invisible substance with mysterious properties, which was believed to serve as the medium for the propagation of light. The ether was an idea that was once entertained by the most serious scientists, but as understanding progressed, the need for such a substance became superfluous, and the ether hypothesis was eventually abandoned. From an emotional standpoint, however, the unraveling of the ether and the demise of the soul are as different as night and day. Most people did not have an opinion, let alone feelings, about whether the ether was real. Nothing about their lives hinged on the existence of the ether, and sacred doctrines did not contain divine prescriptions regarding the ether and its metaphysical significance. When it comes to the soul, it is a completely different story. For many people, the existence of an immaterial soul forms part of an intimate set of convictions and provides the basis for a deeply meaningful worldview. In no small sense, for such people, belief in the soul is a matter of life and death (literally so for those who believe in an afterlife).

These considerations bring up an important issue that has been regularly discussed within scientific and skeptical circles: the issue of tone. In reflecting on this question, the late Carl Sagan, who has done so much for skepticism and the public understanding of science, observed that when skepticism is applied to issues of public concern, as in the present case, there is all too often a tendency to belittle, to condescend, and to disregard the fact that believers are human beings as well, with genuine beliefs and real feelings, people who, like skeptics and scientists, are also trying to understand the world and figure out what their place and purpose in it might be.

Echoing Sagan’s concerns, the astronomer Phil Plait delivered an address at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) of July, 2010, titled, “Don’t Be a Dick” (a maxim related to Wheaton’s Law, which provides guidelines on appropriate online game-playing behavior, but that was also intended to apply to life in general). The gist of Plait’s remarks was that even the best ideas are useless unless they are communicated. And in the case of skepticism, the message communicated has the potential to make people uncomfortable and defensive, to say the least. Consequently, our attitude and the way we communicate those ideas takes on critical importance.

I must confess that I have been guilty of the bias described above, and I was unaware of it until a student pointed it out to me when she wrote the following:

“I came into this discussion excited for this new point-of-view and eager to learn, but I remember leaving the lecture hall on the verge of crying. I know that dualism isn’t the best explanation for the world around us, and it’s good to hear both sides, but the way he explained it felt like daggers were being thrown in my heart and my world was shattering. I wish he would’ve let us down gently, like saying ‘Santa may not be here physically, but he’ll always be in our hearts’ instead of just yanking off the beard on the mall Santa and yelling in front of all the little kids, ‘SANTA ISN’T REAL!’”

This is beautifully put and painful to read, and I felt sincerely sorry for eliciting such feelings. Those remarks also provided an important reality check. Since then, I have become much more sensitive to the issue of tone, and I have made a conscious effort to bear this in mind whenever I discuss the issue of the soul publicly or write about it. Tone, therefore, is something I will be sensitive to in this book. In doing so, I am reminded of Spinoza’s motto, a dictum named after the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and expressed in these words: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

In this regard, I also wish to make it clear at the outset of our investigation that this book is not intended as another broad-brush critique of religion, any more than a condemnation of drunk driving should be construed as a general diatribe against the use of motor vehicles. I am interested in the soul not because it is a religious concept and I have a bone to pick with religion but because it represents a fundamental aspect of human psychology. . .

Finally, I am also aware of the fact that even if I manage to find the right tone, the ideas that I will discuss in this book, and especially the conclusions that I will reach, might be offensive and sacrilegious to some. Here lies the dilemma that one finds at the heart of the scientific enterprise. On the one hand, the advancement of knowledge and understanding is a mission of critical importance in any society, and consequently, it is an endeavor that should be undertaken with earnest conviction and zeal. On the other hand, science has the singular property of revealing to us nature’s ways without the kind of sugarcoating that might sometimes be helpful. Reality, for better or worse, happens to be the way it is and not the way we would like it to be. Inevitably, certain conclusions are bound to rub us the wrong way, which is the price we need to pay for looking behind nature’s curtain to take a peek at its true face.

Related to the issue of tone, when writing on a sensitive topic, is the issue of tactics. Philosopher Owen Flanagan describes three such tactics, which I paraphrase here.

(1) You may say: “You are really naive to believe X; we’ll have to educate you so you can think straight and let go of all that silly nonsense.”

(2) You may say: “There are good reasons to believe that X is not true, but we are confident that Y is true, and Y is close enough to X that you’ll eventually get used to it. As you can see, everything will be alright, and the world won’t come to an end.”

(3) Or you may adopt the following strategy: People usually speak of X meaning X, but when you, the skeptic, speak of X, you really mean Y, hoping that your intended meaning will win the day, so that others will eventually come to mean Y when they talk about X.

I feel that (1) would simply be the wrong approach, for all the reasons I mentioned when I discussed the issue of tone. I also find (3) somewhat disingenuous. So (2) then will be my strategy of choice.

When the Spirit Moves You

We cognitive scientists routinely talk about the physical basis of mind and use phrases such as “the mind is what the brain does.” Much less often do we publicly discuss what the physical basis of mind entails for the traditional notion of personhood. This is no doubt in large part because, as Joshua Greene pointed out, the question of the soul is a touchy issue. But just because an issue is touchy doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about it. In fact, if we really are in the business of education, we should talk about such issues precisely because they are touchy and therefore rarely discussed publicly. After all, clergymen, movie directors, and politicians openly talk about the soul, so why shouldn’t scientists?

It should go without saying (but it goes even better if we say it, as one of my high school teachers liked to remind us) that the goal of such discussion isn’t to bully people who happen to believe in the soul into changing their beliefs. Rather, the objective is to create a free marketplace of ideas, where all points of views can be discussed without fear of censorship or discrimination, and to let people decide for themselves which set of ideas they find the most compelling. If teachers, educators, scientists, and writers were discouraged from discussing touchy, unfashionable, or controversial topics on the grounds that they are, well, touchy, unfashionable, or controversial, then education, like Harry and Rodrick’s world, would lose much of its value and meaning.

Ironically, fairness and the recognition of different points of view is precisely what is often called for by proponents of certain “controversial” ideas in America today. Take for example the perennial “debate” over creationism and evolution that has been raging in the United States for many decades (much to the astonishment of our European friends). One of the arguments often made by proponents of intelligent design (the latest brand of creationism) is that we should be fair and teach students both sides of the “controversy.” “Teach the controversy and let the students decide for themselves!” we often hear (sometimes from people as prominent as the president of the United States, in the case of George W. Bush).

Teaching the “controversy” in the evolution vs. intelligent design “debate” would be an excellent idea indeed if there actually was a meaningful controversy in the first place. To be sure, there is a huge manufactured, and largely North American, public controversy, but it has no analog in the scientific world (hence the scare quotes when I used the words controversy and debate).

In the case of the soul, if there is a public controversy over its existence at all, it has been a pretty quiet one, at least compared to the battles raging over evolution. Nevertheless, while a substantial majority of the American public believes in the soul and its survival after death, mainstream science has abandoned this traditional idea. So here we have two worldviews that could not be more different from one another, and if we really care about being fair and ensuring that different ideas get their share of airtime, I say it’s time to give scientists the microphone. As the psychologist Paul Bloom put it: “Such issues are too important to leave entirely in the hands of lawyers, politicians, and theologians.”

This book is the rejoinder to the growing number of popular books that have surfaced in recent years, trying to make the case for the soul on scientific grounds. Examples include “Life after Death: The Evidence,” by conservative writer and Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza; “Life after Death: The Burden of Proof,” by New Age author Deepak Chopra; “The Soul Hypothesis: Investigations into the Existence of the Soul,” by linguist Mark Baker and philosopher Stewart Goetz; “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul,” by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and journalist Denyse O’Leary; and “Proof of Heaven,” by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander.

Here’s a revealing passage from D’Souza’s book:

“To reclaim the hijacked territory, Christians must take a fresh look at reason and science. When they do, they will see that it stunningly confirms the beliefs that they held in the first place. What was presumed on the basis of faith is now corroborated on the basis of evidence, and this is especially true of the issue of life after death. Remarkably, it is reason and science that supply new and persuasive evidence for the afterlife — evidence that wasn’t there before.

So, according to D’Souza, science itself provides persuasive evidence for the immortality of the soul. If so, one might wonder why mainstream scientists themselves are not convinced by the kind of evidence that D’Souza claims exists. In fact, the scientific consensus goes precisely in the opposite direction: away from the soul and the afterlife. And it’s not that D’Souza’s fellow Christians failed to notice these developments. Consider, for example, the following passage from the back cover of a 2004 book titled “What about the Soul? Neuroscience and Christian Anthropology,” edited by the theologian Joel Green:

“Everyone knows about the rocky relationship between science and theology brought about by the revolutionary proposals of Copernicus and Darwin. Fewer people know about an equally revolutionary scientific innovation that is currently under way among neurobiologists. This revolution in brain research has completely rewritten our understanding of who we are. It poses fundamental challenges to traditional Christian theology. According to the scientific worldview that now dominates, it is no longer necessary to speak of a soul or spirit as distinct from the functions of the brain.”

Contrary to what D’Souza and others have claimed, I passionately disagree (perhaps I should say that I rationally disagree) with the conclusion that science supports the notion of an immortal soul. The current scientific consensus isn’t simply a fad, nor is it fueled by antireligious sentiment (as Baker and Goetz suggest in their book). Instead, scientists have abandoned the soul because reason and evidence — the tools of their trade — compelled them to do so.

#b#About the author:#/b# Julien Musolino, a native of France, completed his undergraduate education at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, moved to the United States in 1994, and received his Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics from the University of Maryland in 1998. After serving as an associate professor in the speech and hearing sciences department at Indiana University, he came to Rutgers in 2007 to hold a dual appointment in the psychology department and the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Science.

As a cognitive scientist, Musolino is interested in two sets of questions. The first focuses on elucidating a specific aspect of the human mind: our capacity to acquire language. The second set of questions explores the implications of the sciences of the mind for a range of issues at the interface between science and society. The goal is to promote the role and importance of science and reason. This work takes on a more public dimension, and it is represented by literary agencies in New York (The Gillian MacKenzie Agency) and in London (Hardman & Swainson).

Musolino’s first popular science book, “The Soul Fallacy,” explores the implications of modern science for the traditional conception of the soul. “Most people believe they possess an immaterial soul that will survive the death of the body,” Musolino writes in an author’s statement. “In sharp contrast, the current scientific consensus rejects the traditional soul, although this conclusion is rarely discussed publicly.”

In “The Soul Fallacy,” Musolino breaks the taboo and explains why modern science leads to this controversial conclusion.

In the book he also recounts the moment, when he was 9 or 10 and living in a small French village near the Swiss border, when he “let go” of his own soul. “I was exposed to catechism through the local parish and had as an instructor a young nun who liked to play the guitar and sing to us. She also told us about God and the soul, as well as heaven and hell, and we took notes with our special fountain pens.

“One day the young woman told us about God’s omnipresence. ‘He is everywhere,’ she beamed. I wondered how someone could be everywhere at once. So I asked whether God was in my pen, too. She told he that he was. That day, on my way home, I remember thinking that God, the soul, heaven, and hell were just another story grown-ups had made up to compel children to be good and obedient.”

Though he didn’t realize it at the time, Musolino came to believe that the new scientific view of personhood, though a radical departure from traditional religious conceptions, does not diminish what it means to be human and in fact offers three important gifts.

One is a comforting view of death, in which we don’t have to be afraid that death will be “dark, cold, lonely, miserable, or anything else.” The second gift “comes from the understanding that we are mortal creatures and that our lives are, therefore, finite. The realization offers us the gift of meaningfulness.” The third gift is “the gift of freedom that comes from adopting the principles of science and reason.”

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