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Author Topic: Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed  (Read 6367 times)

Offline AlexInBlack

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This isn't one of the typical "God is simpler than science, so it must be correct" posts. I'm actually an atheist. My agnostic friend came up with a proof of an afterlife (which we have had intense debate upon):
1. In order to exist, you must have an effect on the universe (i.e. no data can be had before the Big Bang, so that in effect, nothing existed before the Big Bang, at least logically/scientifically speaking using Occam's Razor)
2. You exist now, so you know you exist
3. If you are ever forgotten, which is likely, you will have logically never existed, since you will not have had an effect; thus, there must be an afterlife where you can continue existing and having an influence (if the universe does end, then this argument _must_ apply)[the afterlife can be anything, so long as it satisfies the requirement that that which has existed continues to do so]
4. If you reject the existence of an afterlife, you are rejecting the concept of any higher purpose
5. This really only requires a single being or thing that everyone affected to somehow continue to exist past its destruction in our universe, but again, using Occam's Razor, the simplest thing would be for _everything_ in our current universe to be carried over.

And here are my problems and questions with this:
1. First off, I have no problem with rejecting the concept of any higher purpose; I guess I'd be an egoist existentialist (that supports collective efforts for greater happiness and satisfaction of all) - but this isn't the issue. For the purpose of discussion, let's assume that I believe there is a universal meaning to existence.
2. Occam's Razor is only a heuristic tool. However, since any matter dealing with religion and spirituality can only rely on heuristic tools given the required lack of evidence of an afterlife or higher being(s), should Occam's Razor be regarded as a concrete rule?
3. Even if one assumes Occam's Razor is a concrete rule, can't one's continued existence be not an actual continuity of "self" or "sentience" such as a "soul" but rather simply be the conglomeration of particles and energy that make up one's body? That is, can't the requisite continued existence occur in our world simply as the recycling/converting of particles and energy?

I appreciate any answers and further intellectual discussion on this.


 

Offline _Stefan_

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #1 on: 18/11/2008 02:35:41 »
Re: your friend's proof:
1. We don't know yet that no data can be gained from "before" the big bang, do we?
2. Sure.
3. No. It's not logical to make this assumption, because it ignores the possibility that effects can be temporary. It also ignores even the first part of the sentence, "forgotten". This is internally contradictory.
4. So? There's no evidence for an afterlife, therefore no reason to accept that an afterlife exists. Re: purpose: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." - from Richard Dawkins'  River Out Of Eden. Purpose is something that we must make for ourselves. It is not an intrinsic property of the universe (excluding the functions of the structures that organisms have evolved). It is actually a defiance of Occam's Razor to postulate an afterlife and higher purpose, because both ideas are unsubstantiated and unnecessary.
5. What? This doesn't make sense.

The argument is not viable.

Your questions/problems:
1. Refer to point 4 above.
2. Really, Occam's Razor disqualifies religious ideas from explaining the universe.
3. Since it's all just matter and energy in different configurations and forms, Conservation of Energy means it is being recycled. The rest of your point is superfluous.

Cheers :)
 

Offline AlexInBlack

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #2 on: 18/11/2008 05:05:11 »
Friend's proof:
1. I thought that since the laws of physics broke down at the Big Bang, that would prevent any data from being collected before the very moment of the Big Bang. Additionally, even if data were collected, we would be unable to use it, since we don't know what the laws of the universe were before the Big Bang.
3. His point was that if you take the length of a person's existence, say, the variable x, and divide it by infinity (if the universe does not end), you would get zero, which meant that you never existed. If you divided x by zero (the universe does end; outside the domain of this "proof", really, and thus disregarded), then you would find that it would be undefined. Thus, in order for someone to exist, his/her existence and/or influence would also have to be infinity. At least that's how I think it goes.
4. His "proof" was supposed to prove the existence of an afterlife, so I think this might be a bit premature.
5. I think I clarified more in 3, so this point should make more sense. That is, something must last for infinity so that when divided by the lifespan of the universe, it would not be undefined.

I'm still confused about whether in these matters that can't be proven, given the lack of evidence, one way or the other, Occam's Razor should be thought of simply as a heuristic tool or as a concrete rule. It seems that you would regard it as a concrete rule.

Thanks.
« Last Edit: 18/11/2008 05:20:26 by AlexInBlack »
 

Offline _Stefan_

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #3 on: 18/11/2008 05:58:56 »
1. I was under the impression that certain aspects of how this universe turned out could give an insight to conditions "before" the big bang. I'm sure someone with physics expertise can clarify.
3. This is clearly false. There may not be a way to know if a forgotten thing once existed, but the fact that there are things that exist now that will be forgotten means that assumption 3 is false. You can't just rewrite the universe's history with mathematical tricks.

Occam's razor is a principle. I don't know if a distinction can be made to its application in ideas with or without evidence. I suspect not.

If it's applied to ideas like the soul, an afterlife, god, higher purpose, etc, versus the non-existence of such phenomena, then Occam's razor favors the latter. One form of Occam's razor in science is "Scientists must use the simplest means of arriving at their results and exclude everything not perceived by the senses", i.e. "the belief that there is no difference between something that exists but is not observable and something that doesn't exist at all ( http://www.weburbia.com/physics/occam.html ).
 

Offline AlexInBlack

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #4 on: 18/11/2008 06:11:01 »
I know the whole thing is a pretty irrelevant thought experiment that has no effect on reality, since even if the very general definition of afterlife was proven true in this, it does not postulate upon any superior being's existence and thus has no attaching rules for proper behavior.

His point was that since you must exist now, his "mathematical tricks" would show that one must exist forever. Thus, he wouldn't be rewriting the universe's history, but would simply append to its history that everything that has ever existed must continue to exist somehow in a way that is connected to this universe so that it can satisfy the lifespan of infinity.

I also forgot another objection to his proof (really, a refinement of a definition):
The after-existence postulated must also connect to the current universe so that when one is in the infinite after-existence, one is also satisfying the requirement of existing for an infinite period of time in _this_ universe.

From the linked webpage: Taken to its logical conclusion this philosophy becomes positivism; the belief that there is no difference between something that exists but is not observable and something that doesn't exist at all.

Thus, his argument _relies_ on positivism and the principle of economy.

Of course, there is also this from the webpage: "It can work well in philosophy or particle physics, but less often so in cosmology or psychology, where things usually turn out to be more complicated than you ever expected."

And what we're dealing with is, broadly speaking, cosmology.

And yes, the article has reaffirmed my confidence that Occam's Razor is only a heuristic tool to choose which hypotheses to test first. ("The law of parsimony is no substitute for insight, logic and the scientific method. It should never be relied upon to make or defend a conclusion.")
This of course, makes atheism somewhat unscientific because it is a definite knowledge of a lack of supernatural beings, which cannot be proven or disproven. This fact doesn't stop me from being an atheist rather than an agnostic :P.
« Last Edit: 18/11/2008 06:52:24 by AlexInBlack »
 

Offline _Stefan_

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #5 on: 18/11/2008 07:52:34 »
The only way you could have things exist for infinity would be to consider them as being constituted of energy (including matter). The energy would exist for infinity, but not its configuration at time "x". This is pretty much consistent with the modern understanding of the universe's physics, if you assume the universe will continue to exist for a future infinity. Even so, I see no logical connection of this idea to the idea of a supernatural afterlife.

Re: atheism
I take the view that if there is no evidence that something exists, i.e. no way to know if it exists, then there is no point believing that it exists. I also hold that absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence, so if any strong evidence of supernatural phenomena did appear, I could be persuaded by it.
Further, to say "god did it" is a non-explanation. It doesn't actually answer anything. What is god? How? Why? There's no mechanism, just magic.
The state of this universe makes a loving, powerful god very unlikely too (look up Epicurus and god).
Not being able to disprove the existence of a phenomenon does not mean there is a 50/50 chance it does exist.
 

Offline _Stefan_

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #6 on: 18/11/2008 07:53:36 »
And we don't need a god in order to have morality, if this is what you meant by one of your comments.
 

Offline Don_1

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #7 on: 18/11/2008 08:44:14 »
Quite apart from all that has been said so far, the fact is you could neither prove nor disprove an afterlife. Unless God could be persuaded to appear in the sky to tell all of us all about it, or all those who have 'passed on' can pop back to this life and do likewise.

Since there is no God and no afterlife, there are two chances of this happening, zero and bugger all.

We do not require a pre-life or an after-life, we, like all other living things, are temporary. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes; that bit is at least pretty damn close to the reality.
 

lyner

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #8 on: 18/11/2008 09:32:05 »
Spiritualism would have the possibility of proving the existence of an afterlife. But, not surprisingly, it has not managed to do that. There's always been a charlatan and a gullible punter involved when you look deep enough.
 

Offline Madidus_Scientia

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #9 on: 18/11/2008 13:18:26 »
Quote
3. If you are ever forgotten, which is likely, you will have logically never existed, since you will not have had an effect; thus, there must be an afterlife where you can continue existing and having an influence (if the universe does end, then this argument _must_ apply)[the afterlife can be anything, so long as it satisfies the requirement that that which has existed continues to do so]
The matter/energy we are composed of will continue to exist, regardless of whether it is life. Maybe your friend thinks that "2. You exist now, so you know you exist" means we have some kind of soul that exists, but we're all just atoms. What about rocks? they exist now, but they don't know that they exist. Does that mean they don't exist?
 

Offline AlexInBlack

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #10 on: 18/11/2008 23:54:36 »
Re _Stefan_: Every time I brought up the point that one's constituent particles and energy would continue to exist, he would say that proofs of the self such as "I think, therefore I am," meant that one would have to continue as a consciousness.
Now, I see that it's invalid. After all, after death, one would cease thinking and would indeed therefore cease to be.

I already knew that morality does not depend on any supernatural being and that any meanings to life that exist are simply what you choose to adopt or create :), which is what I meant when I said that I guess that I'd be an existentialist. Thanks anyways.
His objection to this is that it means life is meaningless, which I agreed to. My argument for doing "good" or having morality is one from self-interest; it makes me feel good to do good.

Re Don_1: The "proof" was supposed to show the existence of an after-existence which would not require the existence of anything save that which already has. The proofs of self such as "I think, therefore I am" were supposed to show that only thinking things would go on.

Re Madidus_Scientia: My sentiments exactly.
 

Offline _Stefan_

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #11 on: 19/11/2008 02:17:45 »
Alex, I'm glad to see we're on the same page.

Your friend's proof is not really a proof at all. It assumes too many things with absolutely no basis and very little logic. You could "prove" anything that way, but it won't make you correct.

Cheers :)
 

Offline Simon Waters

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #12 on: 24/11/2008 21:49:48 »
I'm with the mad scientist on this. The item 3 applies to anything, my Rubic's cube exists, but will be forgotten, does it thus have an afterlife?

There is an interesting point, that history isn't science. You can bring science to bear on historical questions (how much Carbon 14 is in this shroud). But historians often can't prove or disprove a lot of what they believe (if they could it would be called archeology or palaeontology or some such). Whilst history has its methods, and scientists would approve of many of them, a lot of history is literally what got written down and preserved.
 

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Occam's Razor To Prove an Afterlife - Not Religious Screed
« Reply #12 on: 24/11/2008 21:49:48 »

 

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