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R. N. Carmona

Published on the Secular Web

Modern Library

Can Naturalism Make Room for Reincarnation?

When one normally thinks of reincarnation, one has in mind a caricature, an oversimplification. Modern-day science can be marshaled in to lend support to a kind of reincarnation. The combination of traits that make you you, no matter how multifarious, are finite. This implies that given a long enough time, some sentient being, whether Homo sapiens sapiens or something very similar to our own species, will come to believe in the same you that you believe constitutes you. This, to my mind, is how naturalism makes room for "reincarnation." Thus naturalists should shun the habit of dismissing an idea because it is religious or apparently supernatural. However, while such a naturalistic conception of reincarnation is logically coherent, it still exceedingly unlikely, and that fact should count for something. Ultimately, reincarnation is incompatible with naturalism, but not because it is too mystical—but rather because even the strongest "steel man" notion of reincarnation considered here is undermined by the simple fact that one's full set of experiences is very unlikely to recur in the life of another person no matter how long the universe goes on.