Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Life After Death: The Evidence": What a Stupid Person Thinks a Smart Person Writes Like

Dinesh D'Souza's book "Life After Death: The Evidence " is (to borrow a critique of Newt Gingrich)  how stupid people think smart people write.
Its vocabulary is erudite, there are a sufficient quantity of endnotes, and most of the chapters refer to some interesting concepts. It is easy to see that if you read it quickly, you can think this book makes a strong intellectual case for what-ever it may be that the author intends to prove. However, you stop and examine the links between the various claims in the book; you will note some pretty astonishing gaps.
For but one example of many, Chapter Five "The Physics of Immortality" ponders the question whether a supernatural afterlife is consistent with science. He strings together some pretty "wow!" concepts such as dark matter and alternative universes, and concludes that because these things that are currently impossible to detect may exist, therefore so too a supernatural afterlife may also exist.
 This is what a stupid person thinks a smart person sounds like: talk about some really fancy concept as a substitute for linking ideas together logically. Each paragraph makes sense, but they are like bricks with no mortar.
 Let us take the best case for D'Souza's Chapter Five argument on the physical basis for an afterlife. Assume that there exists an alternative universe in which the natural laws differ from this one, such that in the other universe we live forever. If something exists, then there is at least a theoretical way to observe it by some objective means; some sufficiently sophisticated device would enable us to communicate information between ours and that other dimension. Should such a device be crafted, there will be no need for religious ritual; we can simply board an appropriate interdimensional vehicle and go there directly - or at least pick up the interdimensional cellphone and ask to be connected with Harry Houdini.
I would definitely like this to be true, but it would rather annoy D'Souza and his ilk. They would face the choice of changing their religion from a faith-based enterprise into just another one of the sciences, or arguing that, yes, Heaven exists but we cannot prove it with any instrument we can craft. But the latter is *precisely* what the scientific attitude toward his Heaven is - that it is meaningless to seek to prove the existence of the supernatural - and it is also the attitude of genuinely thoughtful religion institutions, such as the Vatican.
Similar issues pervade the entire book. In the end, it is very nicely written and may be a comfort to those who wish to believe in life after death, but don't feel comfortable accepting that it is a matter of faith. However, regardless of the title, the book should not be mistaken for a systematic examination of "The Evidence".

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