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.
Clifford's principle seems praiseworthy for its heroic attachment to truth, but nevertheless there is something deeply wrong with it. Specifically, it confuses "what is known by a given person under the circumstances" with "what is or is not the case." Imagine a fellow living in ancient Greece in the fifth century B.C. As far as he can determine, using all the experience and evidence at his disposal, there are only three continents on the planet, no other planets in the galaxy, and only a handful of stars in the universe. What does this tell us about the actual number of continents, planets or stars in existence? Absolutely nothing. It only tells us that ancient Greeks had very limited information at their disposal.
As a second example, consider efforts on the part of contemporary scientists to find out if there is life on other planets. So far scientists have found nothing. Should we all, therefore, refuse to believe that there is life on other planets on the grounds that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence? Clearly this is premature. The absence of evidence may indicate only that we haven't figured out how to locate what we are looking for. "Not found" is not the same thing as "found not to exist."
These examples show the limitations of the "absence of evidence" principle, but the issue of life after death poses an even deeper problem. To see this, let me offer an analogy between life after death and having a large sum of money in a Swiss bank account. Imagine if I asked you whether or not I have such an account. You declare your firm belief that I do not. As evidence, you cite the fact that you have never seen me go the bank. Moreover, you have observed me shopping and notice that as I spend money my wallet gets thinner. You infer that at some point my wallet will be empty and I will be broke. So clearly I don't have a bank account.
Then I ask you, do you have access to the bank's internal records? You do not. Have you ever been to the bank? You have not; in fact, you have never been to Switzerland. Have you organized 24 hour surveillance of the bank in question so that if I did go there, you would be notified? Of course not. Obviously we can conclude from these facts that you have arrived at a most unreasonable conclusion. In reality you have far too little information to decide one way or another whether I have a bank account. And this is precisely the situation facing the atheist with regard to the afterlife. On the basis of the available facts, not only does the atheist not know what happens after death, he cannot possibly know. The absence of evidence is evidence of nothing.
Life After Death: The Evidence