The Case for Reincarnation Alleged Evidences of Reincarnation 1. “Past Life Memories” A person S possesses self-referential veridical information about a formerly existing person S*. 2. Similarity of Physical Features A person S has physical feature(s) similar or identical to the physical features of some formerly existing person S*. 3. Similarity of Character or Personality A person S has a character or other personality features similar or identical to the character and personality features of some formerly existing person S*. 4. Similarity of Practical and Theoretical Skills A person S possesses practical and theoretical skills similar to or identical to some formerly existing person S*. 5. Similarity of Self Perception A person S perceives himself as a formerly existing person S* perceived himself. 6. The Existence of widely divergent degrees of moral, spiritual, intellectual, and practical skills. 7. Reincarnation makes human suffering or the various inequities of life intelligible. Raynor Johnson on Reincarnation Raynor Johnson (a Christian reincarnationist) believes that factual observations support the idea of pre-existence, and pre- existence in turn supports reincarnation. A. The life situations into which people are born are vastly different and unequal. B. There are widely different degrees of spiritual and moral development among people who are roughly the same age. C. There are widely different degrees of artistic and scientific skills among people who are the same age. D. A very high level of artistic and scientific skills are exhibited by some people at a very early age. E. Members of the same family often exhibit vast differences in their mental, moral, and artistic characteristics. Johnson’s Argument Johnson believes that the observational facts (A)-(E) are best explained by supposing that human persons have existed prior to their present life. Johnson intends an argument for pre-existence. The form of argument Johnson suggests is inference to best explanation. Inference to Best Explanation (1) If hypothesis H provides the best explanation for some observational fact(s) F, then F makes H probable. (2) Hypothesis H provides the best explanation for observational fact F. Therefore, (3) Hypothesis H is probable. Replace H with the pre-existence hypothesis and F with the facts (A)-(D) and we have Johnson’s argument for pre-existence. Potential Problems with Johnson’s Argument The second premise of Johnson’s implicit argument is true only if there is no other hypothesis that provides an equal explanation for the facts Johnson cites. Johnson does not adequately engage alternate hypotheses. Inequities may simply be the result of chance. The possession of high degrees spiritual and moral development, as well as advanced artistic and mental skills, at an early age, may be the product of genetic coding, or genetics and favorable environmental factors. Differences of “profound kind” in mental, moral, and artistic qualities between members of the same family may be explained by the complex character of genetic inheritance. Since these alternate hypotheses would also lead us to expect the facts cited by Johnson, there is no obvious reason why pre- existence provides a better explanation of these facts. A possible virtue of the pre-existence hypothesis is that it is a single hypothesis that would lead us to expect all of the cited facts, whereas more than a single hypothesis would likely be needed to explain the entire set of observations. One alternate hypothesis could combine chance (including random genetic mutations) and the laws of genetic inheritance to explain the facts, in much the same way that a Darwinist explains the existence of diverse complex living organisms in terms of the laws of biology and natural selection operating on random variations thrown up by nature. The remaining virtue of the pre-existence hypothesis is that it is compatible with the belief that the universe is overall a just place, for the inequities in life would be explained by a person’s own actions in the past, not bad luck. Johnson’s case for pre-existence appears to depend largely on investing the universe with a particular moral quality, goodness or justice. Johnson’s Argument for Reincarnation “If the case for pre-existence is considered a strong one, then the idea of reincarnation presents no logical difficulties.” ~ Johnson Johnson thinks that the probability of pre-existence makes reincarnation plausible (perhaps even probable). However, if Johnson’s case for pre-existence is not strong, then he loses his reason for affirming the plausibility of reincarnation. Johnson on Past Life Memories Johnson also considers one of the common objections to reincarnation, namely the apparent fact that not everyone recalls having lived a past life. Johnson’s Response Observational Datum: Memory of past events is less frequent the further back in time we go. Our memories of events in our present life seems to terminate around age two. Predictive Extrapolation: We should not typically expect anyone to have memories of a past life. So the absence of such memories does not count against reincarnation. Question for Discussion: Does the occurrence of apparent past life memories still count in favor of reincarnation? C.J. Ducasse’s Defense of Rebirth Ducasse on Absence of Past Life Memories. . . . The absence of memories of having existed at a particular time t does not provide evidence that we did not exist at t. If it did, then we would have to conclude that we did not exist during the first few years of our present life, for we have no memories of that time period. But this is absurd. So absence of past life memories would not disconfirm rebirth. Second Objection: Laws of Heredity Sufficiently Explain Mental and Physical Characteristics of Persons Ducasse Appeals to McTaggart’s Defense McTaggart’s Argument: Hats are well-suited to the heads of their owners, but not because there is any causal connection between the hat and the head. Hats are not made for their heads, nor heads made for their hats. Adaptation is due to a person’s choice of some particular hat from those available. Hence, “ there is no impossibility in supposing that the characteristics in which we resemble the ancestors of our bodies may be to some degree characteristics due to our previous lives.” It is possible that we are reborn in bodies whose biological ancestors had mental and physical characteristics similar to those we acquired in a previous life. Clarifying McTaggart’s Argument Ducasse explains that McTaggart’s Argument does not involve a defense of the idea of the rebirth of personality, “the habits, skills, knowledge, character, and memories” which a person acquires during his or her life. Ducasse’s Distinction What Gets Reincarnated? Personality Individuality Acquired Skills, OR Native Aptitudes Habits, and and Memories Dispositions Ducasse favors the idea of the rebirth of a core of negative and positive dispositions and aptitudes. It is individuality, not personality, that is reincarnated. Third Objection: Our sense of personal identity depends on memorial continuity. Ducasse’s Response: We only need partial memorial continuity for our sense of personal identity, not the preservation of a comprehensive span of memories. We have no memory of our earliest years, and yet this fact does not impair our sense of identity. “If, on each day, [a person] had a stock of memories relating to, let us say, only the then preceding ten years, or some other perhaps shorter period, this would provide all that would be needed for a continuous sense of identity.” Ducasse’s Conclusion The objections to reincarnation considered are ultimately not good objections to the idea of rebirth (understood as the rebirth of “individuality” in Ducasse’s sense of the term). These objections do not provide good reasons for believing that no life after death is possible, nor that such a significant form of survival cannot be imagined. Unlike Johnson’s Argument, Ducasse’s argument is not intended as a proof of reincarnation, but a defense of reincarnation against prominent objections.
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