Dinesh D'Souza on Life After Death: The Atheist Delusion
In this provocative essay, Dinesh D'Souza argues that the atheist critique of life after death is actually irrational. He takes on Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and more to say their arguments lack evidence.
When I mentioned this incident to the atheist writer Christopher Hitchens, he laughed and said, "It's hard to believe those guys were really that naïve." Hitchens understood right away that the Soviets were looking for God in all the wrong places. They were still captive to the medieval picture of heaven "up there" and hell "way down below" and earth somewhere in the middle. But for many centuries now religious believers have asserted that God and heaven can only be found in realms that transcend the universe. Imagine poor Hamlet running around the castle saying, "I've looked everywhere, and I can't find Shakespeare. I'm forced to conclude that Shakespeare does not exist."
In his book God: The Failed Hypothesis, physicist Victor Stenger writes that the issue of life after death is a scientific question. The problem, however, is that "no claimed connection with a hereafter has ever been verified…in controlled scientific experiments." Biologist Francis Crick writes that if religious believers "really believe in a life after death, why do they not conduct sound experiments to establish it?"
The answer to Crick's question is that most religious believers probably don't care whether their belief in the afterlife meets scientific tests; they don't believe in it on that basis. As practicing scientists, one might have expected that Crick or Stenger would suggest some experiments that could help decide the issue. If the claim that "there is life after death" is a scientific hypothesis, then it seems reckless to reject it without even attempting an empirical refutation. Even so Crick and Stenger do reject it, causing me to wonder if these gentlemen routinely adopt opinions in the absence of facts.
Such a criticism is a bit unfair, however, because as many atheists realize, there are no controlled empirical experiments that can resolve the issue one way or the other. Consequently atheists seek to affirm the rationality of their position by taking a different route. They appeal to an argument offered in the late nineteenth century by William Clifford. In a famous essay, "The Ethics of Belief," Clifford argued that "it is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."
Clifford offered the example of a ship-owner ship putting a ship to sea without performing the necessary safety checks; he wished the passengers well, but when the ship sank, he calmly collected the insurance money. The ship owner had no regrets, since he didn't know the ship was unsafe. Clifford's point is that the man was a scoundrel. He should have known! He had no right to declare the ship seaworthy without collecting all the evidence. Clifford's conclusion is that we should believe as true only propositions that come with sufficient proof; we should reject as false those that don't. This position can be summed up in the popular atheist slogan, "The absence of evidence is evidence of absence."
Life After Death: The Evidence