With recent research suggesting that human beings are biologically wired to believe in the afterlife, it is no wonder that mankind has always sought to understand what happens when people die (University of Oxford, 2011). Is there another world where souls are judged on the basis of their actions and thoughts? Are good and bad people evaluated in different ways? Will sinners suffer until the end of time? Will pious people be rewarded with eternal life? These are only some of the questions that have resulted in the emergence of various metaphysical models, the most popular ones being reincarnation and Doomsday (i.e. heaven and hell). Despite their significant differences, both perspectives acknowledge that humans are made up of a material body and an immaterial soul, and that when the former dies, the latter lives on. The present paper seeks to evaluate both metaphysical models from a cultural and scientific perspective in order to demonstrate that while heaven and hell were created specifically to control and influence human behavior, reincarnation is emerging an increasingly sound hypothesis.
The idea that good people will be granted a place in heaven whereas bad people will ultimately be sent to hell is very popular among theists. According to their eschatological view of the world, a day will come when a merciful and omniscient deity will punish those who have sinned and reward those who have led an exemplary life. As Moss (2016) points out, Jews do not actually regard hell as a scary place where the wicked will be tortured for all eternity. Instead, Jews see hell as a process whereby sinners get to fix whatever wrongs they have done in order to purify their souls and gain access to heaven (Moss, 2016). Christians and Muslims, on the other hand, tend to think of heaven and hell as physical places that will materialize on Judgement Day. The Bible, for example, clearly states that those who have sinned will be cast into hell or hades, i.e. a lake of fire where their souls will burn forever as a result of their failure to repent (Luke 10:15; Matthew 11:23; Rev. 6:8; Rev. 20:14). Heaven, on the other hand, is a joyful and peaceful place where those who have always believed in god will be rewarded for their faith and good behavior. The Bible refers to heaven as a new world full of fruitful gardens where everybody will be happy, wolves and lambs “will feed together” (Isaiah 65:25) and people will even be able to build houses. Similarly, the Quran portrays Jannah, i.e. heaven, as a beautiful garden full of material delights where the righteous will live after Doomsday, and Jahannam, i.e. hell, as a blazing fire as well as a place where the souls of those who have sinned are tortured with dirty, boiling water (Quran 5:119; 14:16). One of the reasons why Abrahamic religions are still very popular today is because they provide people with a pleasant sense of control over situations that are actually beyond their understanding and power. After all, who wouldn’t want thieves, liars, killers and rapists to be punished for their sins by a perfectly impartial judge such as god? As comforting as this thought may be, there is a substantial problem with Abrahamic religions’ eschatological view of the afterlife: there is no scientific evidence suggesting that either hell or heaven exists. The only sources that speak of Doomsday as an upcoming event are ancient books that have been modified multiple times and contain numerous contradictory statements that undermine their credibility.
As for reincarnation, i.e. the belief that the immortal component of a living being can be reborn at least once, a large amount of evidence seems to indicate that contrary to what billions of theists believe, souls can reincarnate multiple times, even though it still isn’t clear how it is possible for one’s soul to take on a different form after each biological death. In the early 1990s, Dr. Ian Stevenson (1993) found that 35% of children who claimed to remember their past lives exhibited birth marks and defects that corresponded to wounds found on deceased people whose lives unmistakably matched their descriptions. Over the past three decades, there have been dozens of cases of people who remembered their past lives and were able to support their claims with astonishingly accurate facts and details. In his book Return to Life, Dr. Jim Tucker (2015) reviews some of cases that he has investigated throughout his career: a two-year old child who claimed to have died in World War II and provided a vivid description of his military career, a boy named Ryan who claimed to have been a movie extra named Marty Martyn and even remembered his previous address, as well as many others.
In light of these observations, it is evident that one’s perception of the afterlife depends greatly on the theories and information to which one is exposed over the years. One who is raised believing that all human beings will be judged on Doomsday will find it difficult to believe that there are people out there who remember their past lives. Similarly, one who was raised believing in reincarnation and / or has spent years investigating cases of people who claim to remember their past lives will find it difficult to believe in hell and heaven. With that being said, the facts and viewpoints analyzed in this paper clearly indicate that reincarnation is a far more credible hypothesis than Doomsday.
- Moss, A. (2016). Do Jews Believe in Hell? Retrieved from
- Stevenson, I. (1993). Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 7, (4): 403-410.
- Tucker, J.B. (2015). Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.
- University of Oxford (2011). Humans ‘predisposed’ to believe in gods and the afterlife. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714103828.htm