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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “If God exists, we should cure death”

    If we were to discover that the traditional concepts of Heaven and Hell are accurate, and God’s existence and the afterlife are facts, the most acceptable moral reaction to this information – from a strict utilitarian perspective – would be to dedicate one’s life to curing death.

    It might be easy to dismiss this as an offensive joke, but the issue is actually very serious. Not only is it the case that we live in a world where a great many people base their morality on a worldview that includes eternal punishment; we also are closer to pushing the limit of death further back than ever before. Ethical exploration of the concepts of eternal life, Heaven and Hell, though perhaps largely speculative, seems important for us as humans in the modern world.

    Some definitions are needed. By a Heaven-and-Hell universe (HHU), I mean that based somehow on the finite actions of a lifetime, each individual is sentenced upon death to either infinite reward (happiness in some sense) or infinite punishment (suffering in some sense). By “”utilitarian moral perspective,”” I mean broadly an outlook intent on maximizing overall human happiness and minimizing overall human pain.

    The crux of my claim lies in the notion that it seems paradoxical to add infinity to itself and obtain a sum greater than infinity. Thus, in an HHU, no “”greater amount”” of infinite human happiness can ever outweigh the infinite human suffering of even a single individual in Hell. Even if 300 billion people were in Heaven and only 100 or one were in Hell, the end result would still be that human happiness is exactly equivalent to human suffering, as both quantities would be infinite. A single person’s condemnation to Hell seems to logically prevent us from ever maximizing human happiness in a way that it quantitatively exceeds human suffering.

    An HHU assumes a somewhat odd metaphysical component: A finite set of causes produces an infinitely repeating effect. In the material world as we understand it, it is unclear whether such a sequence ever occurs. According to Newton’s First Law, an object set in motion (by a single causal event) could theoretically remain in infinite motion as an effect, but this does not happen in our world because forces such as gravity eventually cause all particles to go to rest. If the universe is truly infinite, theoretically a particle set in motion away from all potentially slowing forces could remain in motion forever; this is perhaps the closest analog for the cause-effect sequence demanded by an HHU.

    This is critically different from a situation in which an infinite sequence of causal events occurs, but is not predetermined to infinite repetition. If a cure for death were to be found, all of humanity from a certain moment on would exist infinitely, but the nature of our existences would not be categorically confined to either infinite happiness or suffering. In contrast to an HHU, an “”infinite undetermined life”” universe would be one in which, at least theoretically, we could maximize human happiness in such a way that it quantitatively outweighs human suffering.

    Of course, to entertain this argument we have to set aside the fact that if we are living in an HHU, there are probably already dead individuals existing in Hell, and we thus have lost all opportunity to tip the scale in favor of human happiness. Interestingly, from the current perspective, this indicates that an HHU actually undermines human morality more than it grounds it, a counterintuitive result given the history of religious-secular moral debate.

    But let us continue as if the universe were a blank slate. One might argue that in an HHU, happiness could be maximized with absolute certainty by ensuring that all individuals enter Heaven. Perhaps the proper moral direction is not to try to cure death, but rather to work toward the spread of values and ideas that preempt sentences to Hell. But it actually seems like the apparent impossibility of curing death is far less than that of securing all individuals’ entry to Heaven. Given humanity’s track record, preventing all individuals from ever sinning seems laughable. On the other hand, inventor Ray Kurzweil has already claimed that within the next 30 years we will be adding one year of life expectancy for every year we live, and other scientists have set up whole websites dedicated to synthesizing current work on curing aging.

    Regardless of these probabilities, the moral issue runs deeper. To me, the idea of a single person suffering infinitely as a result of a finite set of actions seems sickeningly cruel. To defend this, those who consider both religious metaphysics and utilitarian ethics important must show that an HHU can provide some ratio of happiness to suffering that is not one to one.

    Some credit (but none of the blame!) for this argument goes to Nathanial Lucas, a senior majoring in aerospace and mechanical engineering.

    Daniel Sullivan is a senior majoring in German studies and psychology. He can be reached at

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