Ask An Atheist: Reincarnation

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By Jim Downard

Can an atheist believe in reincarnation?

Theoretically, yes, though it does require quite a hopscotch on the conceptual landscape.  It would involve positing some manner of spirit or soul that can survive independently from our physical brains and bodies, and that’s a stretch.  The physicist Roger Penrose (who apparently falls in the atheist camp) holds to something like that, with a “quantum consciousness” flipping off into the whatever, so that sort of thing could theoretically fit into a reincarnation concept.

I don’t suspect that is a viable possibility, but if I come back as a gnat, I won’t be in a position to report on it.

The snag is memory.  If we’re all reincarnated, why do about the only people who express memories of past lives come from cultures that believe in reincarnation?  And why not more examples of people recalling their tough time as a gnat.  Just as very few non-Christians perceive the Virgin Mary’s image in toast, this looks more like a cultural wish-fulfillment phenomenon.

About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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