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Reincarnation: Fact or Fantasy?

An essay that examines it

By Nell Gavin

 

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Do you believe in an afterlife? Take the poll.

Belief

What we believe or are told to believe about reincarnation - or about anything, for that matter - has no impact on whether or not it is true. The act of believing does not make something true or the world would still be flat. If something is true, it is true with or without our approval and concurrence. If it is not true, believing won't make it so.

Ultimately we cannot prove much about religion, reincarnation or the afterlife until society is willing to probe into and objectively examine its beliefs. The starting point would be to test religion against the sciences, which CAN be proven. However, resistance by society prevents this.

We're left with the following choices: consider all the angles and decide for ourselves, or believe what we're told to believe and never question it. We can only piece together a belief structure based on what we know. Different people know (or think they know) different things. Consequently, everyone has different beliefs about things we cannot (or will not) prove. 

However, since we cannot (or will not) prove, we also cannot condemn people who reach a different conclusion, or declare that God condemns them for us. That would be bad as well as wrong.

I've pieced together my own belief structure based upon what I know, or think I know. I've put it together for you in the following analysis, which is NOT intended to declare any sort of "truth." 

Rather, I hope this essay simply encourages you to think about things, question things, and look at them in new ways.

  • If reincarnation is not true, is it because God CAN’T?

  • WHY can’t God do reincarnation?

  • If God can't do reincarnation, what ELSE can’t he do?

 

The Soul

Fact: The laws of Physics state that energy cannot be destroyed. Thought is energy. Therefore, thought cannot be destroyed. 

Conclusion The individual energy pockets of thought, feeling and experience that comprise our individuality (our “souls”, to use a common term) cannot be destroyed. Therefore our souls are eternal. If our souls are eternal, they must still exist after death.

 

Note:  The characteristics of energy invalidate any argument that states there is no life after death. In order to take up that argument, one would have to prove our current understanding of Physics is incorrect. 

Fact: Energy has definable, measurable, predictable patterns of behavior.  The entrance of a soul into a physical body is a process that must be subject to as yet undiscovered laws of Physics because the process occurs in the physical world. Inhabiting a body is an accepted and widely recognized behavior for this pocket of energy. 

Conclusion:  Physics allows the human body to contain a soul.  Since this process occurs at least once per individual (and billions of times over all, taking the world's population into account) this soul behavior is very likely a pattern that can occur an infinite number of times for the same reason any valid Physics experiment can be reproduced an infinite number of times.

To prove that reincarnation is not true: We must identify the specific laws of Physics that define the conditions under which the soul enters the body. Then we must identify the laws that prevent indestructible energy from engaging in this behavior more than once, and explain why this behavior is an isolated behavior - "used up" after one occurrence - instead of infinitely repeating in a recurring pattern when those conditions are present, which is more typical of energy behaviors. 

Until we do that, we must assume energy can repeat this known behavior, just as energy can repeat other known behaviors, and can inhabit successive human bodies over time. At the very least, we must remain open-minded to the likelihood that nothing prevents energy from engaging in this behavior repeatedly - and your soul from returning - until we can use God's Works (the sciences) to prove otherwise.

Note: Searching for evidence that consciousness is or is not separate from the physical body (in other words, proof that the soul even exists) is another avenue to explore in support of either side of the argument.

  • Is my decomposed physical body more powerful than God because it "owns" my soul and prevents it from ever returning, even if God wants to send me back?

  • How does a corpse stop God?

 

"God" versus "No God"

The existence - or non-existence - of God is not something anyone can prove. Nevertheless, logic and probability can suggest one thing versus another. 

 Observations:

  • Accidents are usually a mess. While some accidents create beauty (a symmetrical pattern in shattered glass, for instance), or a situation that can be viewed as lucky, most create a situation that can only be improved with the intervention of a higher intelligence, such as a tow truck driver or a paramedic.

  • The more closely you study any of the sciences (Physics, Mathematics, Ecology, and so forth) the more perfect they are. Perfection in the midst of their extensive complexity precludes random chance, is inconsistent with "accident", and is more consistent with "intention".

  • Mathematics is orderly, and has rules. If Mathematics was created at random and without the intervention of a higher intelligence, it would contain mistakes. The odds against something as complex and perfect as Mathematics creating itself spontaneously at random are similar to the odds against randomly shuffling a deck of cards into the order they were when you first bought them: hearts first, ace through king, diamonds second, ace through king, and so forth. The laws of Probability would prevent that from ever occurring. Therefore, Mathematics must not have been created at random.

  • The odds against multiple sciences (add together Mathematics, Physics and the rest) creating themselves perfectly, spontaneously, at random, are incalculable.  Calculate the odds against shuffling those cards in perfect order, then multiply those by the number of sciences. The answer you arrive at represents only a minute fraction of the real odds. There are countless laws and rules associated with each of the sciences, and these fell perfectly into place when the sciences came into existence - through whatever means. On the other hand, there are only 52 playing cards. 

Conclusion: The odds greatly favor the existence of a higher intelligence  - some sort of “God”.  

  • If God can't do reincarnation, doesn't that mean his powers are limited?

  • If God's powers are limited, doesn't that mean he is imperfect?

  • Since God is supposed to be “perfect and all-powerful”, isn't it blasphemy to suggest God's powers are limited so that he can't do reincarnation even if he wants to?

 

God versus Reincarnation

I prefer to go with the odds, and will presume from this point forward that there is a God. 

 

Creativity is an expression of the creator. Since a higher power, or "God", must have created the sciences, the characteristics that define this God must be very much like his creations. So, God would be consistent with Physics, Mathematics and Ecology, as well as all the other sciences. 

In order to define or know God, we must therefore examine God’s works.

God's works can be explored, scrutinized, tested and retested. They are all subject to definable laws, which all produce predictable results. If a religion is a work of God, it too can be explored, scrutinized, tested and retested - and be ultimately proven true". Furthermore, what is true of God's other works - the Sciences - will hold equally true for God's work, "the true religion", since all of these would be expressions of the same Creator.

Testing, retesting and scrutinizing cannot be done within the context of a religion. This is to say that one cannot use the Bible to prove the validity of Christianity, or the Torah to prove the validity of Judaism for the same reason you cannot use a word to define itself ("Red is a color that is red in color"). Doing that results in circular logic, not proof or conclusions. We can only find proof through independent, objective and separate tests performed using scientific methods. 

If a religion is the true one, it will pass the tests.

It is neither my intention, nor within my power to declare any religion the true one beyond noting the basic building block they all share of "Do unto others..." However, I do feel reincarnation is worthy of examination within the context of all religions.

The following observations are solely intended to be thought-provoking, and to encourage your own personal exploration of the sciences and what they suggest about God, religion and reincarnation. While the examples all offer likelihoods, none of them is intended to conclusively prove. 

 Observations:

  • One of the rules of Physics states that “every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.” Therefore, God must be minutely fair.

    The laws of karma state that you pay for bad things you do in EXACT MEASURE, and receive back what you give in EXACT MEASURE. This is consistent with Physics ("every action creates an equal and opposite reaction"). It therefore is consistent with the God who created Physics. 

    On the other hand, a belief structure that assigns eternal hell or heaven on the basis of inconsistent or incomplete behaviors (no lifetime is eternal to begin with, nor is it wholly good or bad) is inconsistent with God's works, and therefore would be inconsistent with God.

  • One of the characteristics of Mathematics is that the answer to an equation never changes. You always get “8" when you add 4+4. It is not conditional. It doesn’t change because you BELIEVE the answer is 7, or because your interpretation of a passage within a book implies that it MUST be 7. God, therefore, must be as consistent as Mathematics, and (if you understand his laws) predictable. 

    According to the laws of karma, the columns of “input” and “output” always equal each other whether you add them top to bottom or bottom to top. You never get more than you give, in other words. This is consistent with Mathematics. Therefore it is consistent with the God who created Mathematics. 

    On the other hand, the answer to a mathematical equation is never determined solely by belief. If you state that 4+4 equals 7 you are wrong regardless of your sincerity, how certain you are that your answer to the equation is correct, and how many other people believe the same thing - or how sacred they've made that belief! Therefore, if your understanding is that that you have earned a reward or evaded a punishment because of your beliefs, and for reasons separate from your actions, your understanding is inconsistent with God's works. Therefore it would be inconsistent with God.

  • Nature, or God's work called Ecology, plays no favorites. It does not prefer the lion to the gazelle, or vice versa. Every creature is equipped with survival skills and a survival instinct, then is left to either survive or perish. This impartiality in nature suggests that there is no special group of people that God likes better than any of the others. He does not like men more than he likes women. He does not like people who believe this doctrine more than he likes people who believe that one. He does not like people who are popular more than he likes the outcasts. He does not like religious people more than he likes atheists. He gives them all survival skills and a survival instinct, then subjects them to all the laws of the physical world, including the objective rules of Physics: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." 

  • In nature, there is a constant cycle of death and rebirth. Matter and energy cannot be destroyed (a law of Physics); they can only change forms. This is consistent with reincarnation.

  • In order for God to be consistent with his laws, his judgment and assessments of us as individuals would have to be purely mathematical, completely impartial, and rooted solely in his law of Physics: "Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction." 

  • All the world’s great religions (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and so forth) diverge only in the details of how to worship. These details were contributed by man, and are largely based upon interpretation of works, such as the Bible and the Torah, which were written by man (each Biblical Chapter notes the name of its author, for instance, and each of these authors was a mortal being.).

    All of the major religions basically built themselves upon the same “golden rule”: “Do unto others as would you would have them do unto you.” This is consistent with the laws of Physics (action/reaction). It therefore is consistent with God, who created Physics. Since the laws of karma ("get what you give") are consistent with the laws of Physics and with the "Golden Rule", they too are consistent with God. 


Conclusion: All the great religions are essentially valid, and are built around a core that is consistent with God and with Physics. The issue is not to prove whether one religion is superior to all the others, but to objectively test, identify and remove the manmade details that surround this core, and challenge the implied or invented sacredness of these details.

Opinion/Theory: Ultimately, when man forces too much of his opinion on religion, he obfuscates and detracts from the original message, and moves religion away from God in order to move religion closer to his personal agenda. This agenda quite often includes hatred and intolerance (usually completely subjective, and completely counter to the impartiality shown by God in nature), belief in one's own personal superiority, or belief in the superiority of one's religion without proving one's religion is, in fact, superior by examining and testing it first. 

None of these things falls comfortably within the Golden Rule of "do unto others" so none of these things has any valid place within any religion.

The one true religion may simply be a matter of "less is more", a lowest common denominator that places all the world's religions on equal footing, with equal validity. The one true religion may in fact be nothing more than a simple code of conduct: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

Interestingly, one of the very few religious beliefs that is fundamentally consistent with the laws of the sciences is the very thing some religions attack: reincarnation.

Either way, based on the compatibility of reincarnation to the sciences, that true religion, whatever it is, would seem to include - or would seem likely to include - reincarnation within its framework.

 

  • What do I have to gain spiritually from believing God is NOT  all-powerful, and in condemning those who think he IS all-powerful and therefore can do reincarnation?

 

Belief versus Reincarnation

Reincarnation, the consistency of Mathematics, the fairness of Physics and the impartiality of Ecology also address the complaint most people have, that life is unfair. Unfairness does not exist in God's works. Since God does not treat us with discernible fairness,  or consistency, or impartiality, where and  when does his consistency and fairness and impartiality surface?  In another life? For goodness sake, WHY NOT? 

If you are a skeptic, you may need to ask yourself - honestly - why you do not believe. Is it because it's implausible? It's not. If you are comprised of energy, it is no more implausible that you could take residence in a physical body TWICE than it is implausible for you to take residence ONCE. Reincarnation is nothing more than a recurring behavioral pattern of your energy.

Is it because your religion tells you it is not true? Only representatives of some religions take that position on the questionable authority given to them by man or, most often, with no authority at all, only opinion formed from their training and conditioning by other people with similar opinions. The religions themselves either promote the belief (most, in fact, do), or say nothing  conclusive against it, except in interpretation, which is always debatable. 

Or is it because you have some personal reason to reject the concept, and would do so even if you were handed proof? When people finally reach this point in the analysis, the truth often comes forward: "I just don't like thinking I'll have to come back and do this again." "I don't want to think that my mother will be reborn before I die and have a chance to see her again." 

Even more prevalent is the resistance people have toward any suggestion that they may be responsible for their own hardships and misfortune because of actions they cannot remember from previous lifetimes. In order to accept reincarnation, one must be prepared to be personally accountable.

  • Doesn't believing in reincarnation mean my faith in God is stronger than the faith of someone who does not, since I accept that God is all-powerful and therefore can do it?

 

Jesus versus Reincarnation

The Bible contains the following phrases: “born again”, “rebirth” and “resurrection of the dead”.   Jesus also referred to his "second coming".

We can argue that Jesus did not intend for us to take those phrases literally. We can argue that “born again” and “rebirth” are terms describing a spiritual renewal that will ensure your entrance into heaven, regardless of Mathematics and Physics, how your actions stack up, and what equal and opposite reactions you have put into motion. People on Death Row are often "born again" in this manner, using religion as if life were an Etch-a-Sketch, and they can simply clear things up before they check out. 

It would be inconsistent with God's works to suggest you can change a mathematical solution, wiping clean the slate of a Death Row murderer for instance, by simply BELIEVING the answer is different. Beliefs like this satisfy people's need to feel socially and spiritually superior, and presuming God loves you more than he loves someone else brings self-satisfaction. Believing this however, based on the fairness and impartiality of God's works, would realistically be no more effective in pushing you to the front of God's Line than believing the "indulgences" people purchased back in the Middle Ages were effective in absolving them of their sins. In fact, the principle is the same: an easy (but misguided) way to manipulate God into overlooking your sins rather than accepting punishment for them like everyone else. 

A theory that is inconsistent with God's works would not be consistent with God. I would therefore suggest that that is not the meaning Jesus intended.

We can argue that “resurrection of the dead” refers to the fact that we will all come back as walking zombie corpses at the end of the world using the bodies we have today. However, that would place emphasis on the physical aspects of our existence, and the Bible suggests we concern ourselves more with the intangible aspects. Therefore, this interpretation is, perhaps, questionable.

We can assume by "second coming" that Jesus was promising to appear in the sky and float down to us with arms outstretched and a swelling Hollywood music soundtrack in the background. 

Or we can presume Jesus referred to reincarnation, and that he intended our interpretation of each of those terms to be literal.

In the year 553AD, at the Second Council of Constantinople, the Christian Church banished belief in the soul's existence before conception (a subjective conclusion they did not, and could not prove).  However, the word "reincarnation" - or any equivalent - wasn't mentioned in the minutes of the Council. Later interpretation of this ruling was that reincarnation could not occur because the soul did not exist before conception. (If you are Christian and were taught that reincarnation is not true, that Council is the reason why.)

The validity of that vote may be questioned, though, as the Pope did not attend, and because hardly any bishops from the Western Roman Empire were present. If they had not been invited, the Council was not valid and reincarnation is technically still compatible with Christianity. See: Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery, by Sylvia Cranston.

In other words, Jesus must have specifically taught reincarnation because early Christians believed in it until 533AD, when a Council, whose validity is in question, made reincarnation be “not true” forever, and the Christian Church assigned new meaning to existing Biblical references like "born again".

In my opinion, they did NOT make reincarnation “not true” by deciding it suddenly wasn’t, just as mankind did not make the world flat by condemning and persecuting the people who said it was round.

But that, as ever, is simply my opinion.  

Copyright 2002, Nell Gavin. No part of this work shall be used or reproduced by any means without prior permission from the author.