Assumptions and Presumptions

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As promised, this is my reaction to Gelo Strikes Back, published last week. If you’re only just getting on board now, I suggest you read the 2 previous articles before that to get a complete picture: Good News and An Eternity of Torment.

I do agree with Gelo’s first statement that his view is “difficult to discuss since it asks one to assume so many premises that all individually need a boat-load of unpacking.” That is, to really understand where he is coming from, one needs to delve into the reasoning and philosophical arguments that lead him to make such conclusions or statements.

This is why a lot of theist vs.atheist debates usually end up with bashing and name-calling, probably because it is so much easier to do than to really listen and understand where the other person is coming from. But Gelo is one of those people with whom I’ve gotten past this stage and we can dive into each other’s arguments without the usual frivolous animosity found in these sorts of discussions.

So my main contention is that he makes so many statements about the soul — what it is, how it behaves and acts, and so on — but how do we really know that any of that is true or that the soul actually exists? Yes, Thomas Aquinas has written about this which is really based on Aristotelian philosophy but it would be too long to recreate the arguments here. But let it suffice to say that there has been a certain amount of thinking behind this — and I recognize that — and it’s not as if these assumptions were just concocted out of thin air because good old Tommy A had nothing to do one afternoon and dreamed up all these things.

Yet, still, at the heart of it and no matter how logical the train of thought is, these are still assumptions, because no soul has ever come back to tell us conclusively what the afterlife is like. Although there are many individuals who have testified on “coming back” after having a near-death experience (NDE), their accounts of the afterlife don’t really match each other’s accounts and seem more a product of their mind and existing beliefs about it than any real experience. That is, a Christian with NDE would most likely see Jesus (a Catholic might see “Mama Mary”) and someone exposed to Buddhist teachings, would most likely have feelings of being “one with the universe.” I’m not saying they’re lying but that their mind may have created situations that seemed so real that even they believe it actually happened.

The great physicist Richard Feynman said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

Reality can sometimes be stranger than fiction and may not necessarily follow logic as we know it. For example, it was logical for scientists to assume that the atomic model follows the same gravitational model they observed in space. They assumed that there was a huge nucleus in the middle with the smaller electrons going around it in orbits much like the planets go around the sun. But actual experiments showed this was just not true and so the whole new field of quantum mechanics was developed and contained many new theories that seemingly defied the logic of that day. One of these was Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle which even Einstein could not accept.

Now it doesn’t bother me so much when people make their own assumptions about the afterlife and their picture of reality. What galls me is when they tout their own assumptions as fact and don’t even bother to recognize or acknowledge that they may be dead wrong about it all.

But in the end, even Gelo agrees that he does not know with certainty, only that the arguments from Thomism make certain conclusions that are hard for him to deny.

I, on the other hand, prefer to remain skeptical and would probably wait until this life is over to find out if there is indeed something that awaits beyond. As Anthony de Mello declares: “Too many people worry about the next life when they don’t even know what to do with this one.”

So I’ll figure out this life first.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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