According to the notion of reincarnation that Paul Edwards chooses to
discuss, the human being, or soul, has lived in an infinite number of
bodies that are discontinuous with each other. The arguments that
believers in reincarnation offer fall into two main classes: the ethical
and the empirical. The ethical argument presents reincarnation as
the solution to the problem of evil: why do those who have done no wrong
in this life suffer nonetheless? The empirical argument attempts
to show that reincarnation provides the best explanation of purported
memories of a prior life: if these memories are genuine, then the bearer
of those memories must really have lived those lives. Several chapters
are devoted to the (in my opinion) successful demolition of these
Edwards points out, the moral argument presents the sufferings of this
life as the effect of misdeeds in a prior life. The law of Karma,
in other words, is presented as a causal law: evil deeds produce
suffering in the same way that excessive drinking harms our health.
Now, while excessive drinking may arguably be immoral, it is not because
it is immoral that it damages our health—indeed,
it is probably the other way around. While murdering people may
cause misery to the perpetrator in the form of guilt or remorse, it
clearly does not cause misery in the same way that heavy drinking does.
There is no evidence that immoral acts committed in this life produce
the kind of effects that the reincarnationist is talking about.
What reason is there to suppose that they do so when committed in a
prior life? In general there is no sanction for immoral acts as
such unless conscious agents intervene to bring them about.
But then we are no longer talking about a law—quite
the opposite. In the last analysis the miseries that the
reincarnationist is talking about happen because of the operation of
physical laws and because people get in their way. What caused my son to
be run over? He was run over because he was in the wrong place at
the wrong time. There is no why about it. At most you can
ask for what motive someone ran him over or why someone who could have
prevented it failed to do so. But to ask why physical laws operate as
they do is the grossest form of anthropomorphism. The laws of
nature are not options like the laws of parliament.
problem with the whole system arises from the fact that there was no
first life that we lived: each life was preceded by another. So we
never did start off with a clean slate. As Edwards puts it,
reincarnationists are replacing one unfair universe by an infinite
number of unfair universes.
difficulty with Karma to which perhaps Edwards should have paid more
attention is the inability of most of us to recall the deeds of a
previous life for which we are being rewarded or punished. This is
like hanging an amnesiac and calling it punishment. Or as Leibniz
put it: what good does it do Leibniz to come back as emperor of China if
he does not remember that he was Leibniz?
impossible to summarize in this space the empirical arguments in favor
of reincarnation. The so-called evidence, according to Edwards, is
the result of fraud or faulty methodology, wishful thinking, or various
combinations of these. I could not agree more. It just shows
how right Barnum was!
argument that Edwards uses against reincarnationism is the
population-argument. Accor-ding to that theory the number of human
beings has always been constant. This is because there is no
creation of souls. If that is true, it is in conflict with the
fact that the human population is constantly increasing. Suffice
it to say that the various at-tempts to answer this involve assumptions
that, to put it mildly, are epicyclical.
asserts correctly that reincarnation presupposes substance-dualism.
Since according to him the latter theory involves trafficking in illicit
substances, it provides another reason for rejecting the idea of
reincarnation. Substance-dualism, however, does not entail
reincarnationism. Many Christians have been substance-dualists,
holding that, after the separation from their bodies owing to biological
death, they shall be at the last day united to bodies essentially the
same as the ones they have during this life. This implies that
there is an interval during which we exist without our bodies.
According to Edwards this is impossible because we cannot act without a
functioning brain. I agree with Cajetan that there is no proof
that we can act in the absence of a functioning brain. I do not
think, however, that there is any proof that we cannot. For all we
know, this dependence may be the result of our union with the body.
How do we know that, once separated from our bodies, we shall not be
able to think?
us suppose that Edwards is right about this. It is true that a
being cannot act unless it exists. That would be like a grin
without a lip. But what says that a being cannot exist unless it
acts? A substance-dualist could allow that we exist inactively
between the death of our present bodies and the resurrection, at which
point we shall once again have a brain which will be as identical with
our present one as a floppy disk copied from the original is identical
with that original. Indeed, in the early centuries of our era,
many Christians held just such a view.
types really need to read this book. Unfortunately, they are the ones
least likely to do so.