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PhilipBitar.com - Proofs - Dichotomous afterlife

Dichotomous afterlife

In section 3.1 I prove that the concept of dichotomous afterlife is irrational. I wonít present the proof here, but Iíll explain the essential insight.

White-black continuum.  Suppose that we have a continuum ranging from pure white at one extreme to pure black at the other extreme. It is irrational to draw a line to separate white from black because we lose the meaning of white vs. black as we approach the boundary since the difference in shade of white and black close to the boundary will become negligible as it goes to zero. From a different perspective, we are unable to consistently categorize points close to the boundary. I refer to this as boundary breakdown on a continuum. I establish this insight in section 1.3 on language, and then I use the insight throughout the book, but the most notable application is to prove that the notion of dichotomous afterlife is irrational.

There are a number of continua that make the idea of dichotomous afterlife irrational. The two most notable are the virtue-vice continuum and the accountability continuum.

Virtue-vice continuum.  The virtue-vice continuum ranges from a hypothetical notion of pure virtue to a hypothetical notion of pure vice. In Christianity, the former is attributed to Jesus, while the latter is attributed to Satan. Whether or not the extremes are identified with endpoints or are conceived to be open-ended is immaterial to the essence of the proof. Also note that we can conceive of the multitude of ethical continua in terms of a multidimensional space of continua, but, again, this detail is immaterial to the proof, so for simplicity letís think in terms of a single, ethical continuum ranging from pure virtue to pure vice.

The notion of dichotomous afterlife depends on the ability of God to partition the ethical continuum into the two categories of virtue vs. vice such that people falling into the virtue category should be assigned to heaven while people falling into the vice category should be assigned to hell. However, due to boundary breakdown, itís logically impossible for God to fulfill this task.

There are variations on this basic scenario, but every variation is subject to boundary breakdown and, hence, is irrational. That is, no matter what variation you concoct, youíll be faced with partitioning an ethical continuum into two discrete categories, and due to boundary breakdown, there is no rational way to do this.

One variation occurs in Protestant Christianity, where the continuum applies to belief rather than to behavior. Under Protestantism, a person is assigned to heaven vs. hell based on their belief about Jesus. But we can define a continuum (or a multidimensional space of continua) to characterize belief, and weíll be faced with the problem of boundary breakdown on the continuum. That is, God will be faced with the problem of scrutinizing peopleís beliefs in order to categorize them as falling into the category appropriate for heaven or into the category appropriate for hell, and this task is subject to boundary breakdown, thereby making it impossible to complete.

A ramification of the notion of dichotomous afterlife is that every thought, every decision, and every act of a person must be categorized into either of two categories: virtue vs. vice. This suffers not only from the problem of boundary breakdown, covered above, but also from the problem that thoughts, decisions, and acts arenít discrete entities; they can be defined only in terms of probability distributions, as covered in section 1.3 on language.

Another ramification of the idea of dichotomous afterlife is that a person must be evaluated by a summary statistic that maps them into the afterlife dichotomy on an ongoing basis throughout their life until they finally die. Their destiny at the time of death will be determined by the value of this summary statistic at the time of death.

Accountability continuum.  Another continuum is the accountability continuum. No one is going to say that a newborn baby can sin and thereby merit being sent to hell, but an adult can certainly sin and do horrible evil. This defines the accountability continuum, which ranges from the lack of accountability of a newborn to the accountability of a normal adult. The notion of dichotomous afterlife requires that, for every person, we partition this continuum into two categories: not accountable and accountable. But any such partition is irrational due to boundary breakdown.

Ramifications.  Having proven that the concept of dichotomous afterlife is irrational and, hence, false, we have the satisfaction of seeing myriad other problems vanish, such as the following. How can God justify sending people to hell who never heard the gospel? How can God justify sending people to hell who heard the gospel from people whose lives destroyed the effectiveness of the message?

Rebuttal.  The continuum problem applies to the notion of dichotomous afterlife in every religion that has such a notion. This includes the members of the Near Eastern monotheist family ó Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam ó and it applies to relevant sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions. How do devotees of these religions and sects respond to the continuum problem when they recognize it intuitively or when theyíre confronted with it explicitly?

Iím familiar with Christians, but the Christian response will no doubt generalize to the other religions. I think that the most common response to the problem is to say that although we canít solve it, God can. However, Iíve proven that, in fact, God canít solve the problem because itís logically impossible to solve the problem.

Predestination.  For completeness, Iíll mention that some Christians will respond by saying that God predetermines everything, including a personís afterlife destiny. Other Christians will say that God predetermines only a personís afterlife destiny.

From an ethical point of view, these ideas are absurd because it would be the epitome of vice to send a person to hell who didnít merit that sentence. Hence, if God were to send someone to hell who didnít merit that sentence, God would be the exemplar, not of virtue, but of vice, implying that God himself should be sent to hell.

More fundamentally, in section 2.1 I prove that reality is indeterministic, thereby implying that nothing is predetermined except what is true by virtue of logical necessity. Hence, all forms of determinism, whether secular or religious, are irrational.

Reference citation.  Philip Bitar, complement to Why? In Pursuit of the Ultimate Answer, Proofs / Dichotomous afterlife, posted at www.philipbitar.com, 2008-12-13.