The human survival instinct doesn’t tell us why we ought to survive; it’s just there, helping us do it. If we got here by the almighty chance of Mind-less evolution, the survival instinct functions only to insure that we live long enough to pass on our genes and protect our young till they can do the same thing. Afterwards, if evolution could care, it would care less about our personal survival. Despite that, the instinct keeps working anyway, with or without an evolutionary permission.
But if God is the Author of the human survival instinct, it changes the whole picture. Once we recognize a Divine Mind behind it, we can rationally envision that the instinct serves higher purposes than mere reproduction. It quietly assures the value and significance of human life itself, both to mated couples anticipating parenthood and to veteran spinsters and bachelors with no progeny at all. In its psychological dimensions — which material theories of evolution have always been ill-prepared to address — the instinct entertains a hope for the survival of personal identity itself.
Those without faith in an afterlife may interpret this psychological hope as finding its fulfillment merely in the memories of friends and family members who outlive them. But such a hope is short-lived. When those who knew us also finally die, their memories will die with them. Unless we become popular artists, well-known authors, or encyclopedia material, subsequent generations won’t even remember our names. If mine, engraved on stone in some cemetery, is noticed by future passers-by, one in a thousand might think, “I wonder who David Hatton was.” Even if they were curious enough to do research and find out, their knowledge about me would not be “ME,” anymore than the things I’ve created or written are "me." A deep, personal examination of this instinct reveals that the hoped-for survivor is the self.
There’s one other dimension of this psychological hope that deserves consideration: our ambitions. Our desires to create and accomplish and explore, taken together, are bigger than this life can contain. It seems that all of us leave this world with unfulfilled longings: things we wished to have, or dreamed of doing, or hoped to see. We die in the midst of wanting to know more about everything, trying to investigate new realms of knowledge and information. We depart with long lists of unkept New Year’s resolutions for embracing new virtues or adopting new habits. This life just doesn’t seem long enough or large enough for us to fit in all the changes, all the adventures, all the new horizons we would like to experience.
The survival instinct points us beyond, urging us to hope for the ultimate manifestation of all these ambitious longings. It tacitly promises their accomplishment, not by our last will and testament to the loved ones we leave behind, but by the “YOU” and the “ME” who personally dreamed the dreams. It whispers in our hearts the hope of an afterlife, where we will be forever involved in learning and doing and growing.
The growth of our dreams
and our ambitious schemes
To accomplish still more as we age
Are proof, while alive,
that our souls must survive:
Life on earth only turns the first page....
— David L. Hatton, 5-24-2013
(from Poems Between Birth and Resurrection)
(See also the essay on my website called, “Life after Death”)