In a recent interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, the novelist Stephen King opened up about his thoughts on religion and the afterlife:
It’s certainly a subject that’s interested me, and I think it interests me more the older that I get. And I think we’d all like to believe that after we shuffle off this mortal coil, that there’s going to be something on the other side because for most of us, I know for me, life is so rich, so colorful and sensual and full of good things, things to read, things to eat, things to watch, places to go, new experiences, that I don’t want to think that you just go to darkness.
I can remember as a kid thinking to myself, oh God, I hope I don’t die because I’ll just have to lie down there in that box and I won’t be able to play with my friends or go to baseball games or any of those things. As a kid, death seemed boring to me. As an adult, I think that it seems more like a waste of everything. Somebody once said every time a professor dies, a library burns.
And there’s some of that feeling. But as far as God and church and religion and the Buddy Rosses and that sort of thing, I kind of always felt that organized religion was just basically a theological insurance scam where they’re saying if you spend time with us, guess what, you’re going to live forever, you’re going to go to some other plain where you’re going to be so happy, you’ll just be happy all the time, which is also kind of a scary idea to me.
But King still believes in God:
If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,’ then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design.
Hemant Mehta, an atheist, takes offense:
That’s entirely backwards. Losing your belief in God in favor of more rational, scientific explanations allows you to enjoy sunrises, sunsets, and the way nature works. Letting God take credit for all of that just cheapens it all — it makes everything just a part of someone’s blueprint instead of something that turned up naturally yet came together beautifully.
Brian Switek agrees:
There is no need for the supernatural to invoke or appreciate wonder. And rather than reducing nature to equations and graphs, I truly believe that science – our ability to actually understand why bees pollinate flowers, why mountains rise, and how remnants of ancient life became locked in stone – makes the world all the more exquisite by not only giving us clues, but new questions to ask.
Switek quotes a poignant passage from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection to illustrate his point:
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.