Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life After Death: The Evidence by Dinesh D'Souza:

This book was a complete waste of time.  I would not describe it as good or bad, since those are descriptions of quality, and this book was so empty of content that discussion of quality superfluous.

The back of the book promises a non-religious argument that there is an afterlife, and that seemed like an interesting idea for a book, which is why I got it out of the library.  I still think it is an interesting idea for a book, but this book isn't it!  There is almost no discussion of life after death.  Instead there are long detailed discussions of why atheists (especially modern atheists) are wrong.  Another long discussion about the existence of souls.  Discussion trying to prove that people have free will and this free will is not connected to our physical bodies.  Plus a section trying to show that morals and ethics did not come from evolution, and so on.  None of this stuff is directly related to life after death, of course.

There is a large section arguing that materialism (the idea that the physical / scientific world is the whole world) is wrong.  That's a waste of time, also, because even if there is a spiritual world, that doesn't prove the existence of an afterlife, and if there only is a material world, there still could be an afterlife, based on some biology we have not yet discovered.  Never the less there is page after page of pointless argument that materialism is wrong.  Dinesh's argument is basically that the movie "The Matrix" might be a true representation of the world.  His claim is that since we only experience the world through our senses, if those senses are wrong (or highjacked, a la "The Matrix") then maybe materialism is wrong.  Yes, it's silly.  And even worse, it has nothing to do with proving the afterlife exists or doesn't exist.

Finally, at the very end of the book, we get about 1/3 of a chapter arguing for the existence of life after death.  The argument is Pascal's wager (repurposed from the existence of god, to the existence of the afterlife).  For those of you that don't know it, Pascal's wager is this: we don't know if the afterlife exists, however if it does exist, the horrors of hell are so horrible, and the price of believing in the afterlife so small, that it makes sense to believe in the after life, even if you're not sure.  How bad is this argument?

  1. It provides no evidence that the afterlife exists, merely that it's better to pretend that it does, just in case.
  2. It is completely circular: it's based on the existence of the afterlife, yet is supposed (in this book) to prove the existence of the afterlife.  Worse, it is circular in a simplistic way, you don't even have to read more than a paragraph to see it is circular.
  3. It's old and tired.  If anyone would have found it convincing, it would have convinced them 100s of years ago.
The book might have been worth something if the other arguments presented had some substance, but most of them are vacuous as well.  The most common argument, used in many places through out the book, goes like this: "I [Dinesh] can't prove that free will exists, but they [the atheists] can't prove that it doesn't exist, so therefore it might exist, and if it might exist, then we should assume it does."  Worthless as an argument, and the author is completely two faced about it: when he doesn't want something to exist (like an evolutionary basis for morals) then when no one can prove their case, he proclaims that the lack of evidence should be interpreted to mean that it doesn't exist.  However, when we wants something to exist (like the afterlife) and there is no evidence either for or against it, then he is adamant that we should assume it does exist!  And of course, this is in the different chapters of the same book.  He's writing for people who can't remember one chapter of a book, while they are reading another.

Even if you believe in the afterlife, there is no reason to read this book, since it doesn't provide any support to the idea that the afterlife exists.  And if you don't believe in the afterlife, this book will just reinforce your belief that there is no non-religious basis for it.