Sean Carroll and the Afterlife

A while back, a reader of my blog asked me to respond to the following video in which Sean Carroll discusses why he doesn't believe in the afterlife:

Sean Carroll On Death And The Afterlife

[Please note that, as a matter of policy I will not review or respond to ideas that are encapsulated in videos, unless there is a text transcript.  I made an exception for this particular person, as a very special favor which is not to be repeated...]

I replied more or less as follows:

Dear _____,

I'm familiar with Sean Carroll's arguments and while I understand that they may be intimidating, he's leaving out something pretty important here.  Namely God.

Of course Carroll is an atheist and so he doesn't believe in God.  But we Christians do think there is evidence for God and miracles from e.g. the Resurrection of Jesus.  Even Carroll admits that sufficiently powerful evidence could change the conclusion that QFT is a complete description of nature.  He just hasn't yet understood that that this evidence does in fact exist, in the form of the historical documentary evidence for miracles.  This of course requires us to believe that, contrary to what Carroll said, sometimes things outside of our current understanding of physics do affect the human world.  But that's not as implausible as he makes out, since it often happens in Science that a theory is very accurate in certain circumstances, except in rare situations where it completely fails due to interaction with new kinds of things.  If the new thing was just new kinds of QFT particles, then it couldn't really work (for all the reasons Carroll mentioned), but if it is something like God, that would not fall under the purview of QFT!

Now while Carroll has defended his Atheism elsewhere, this particular debate was about life after death, not Atheism.  For the purposes of this debate, he's basically just assuming that Materialism is true, and that therefore the only way there could be life after death is if the information in our brain was preserved by some physical mechanism.

Now I actually agree with him that it is very implausible, if Materialism is true, for there to be any physical mechanism which preserves our mind after death!  So nothing he said bothers me.  Because I don't think that the reason we will live forever is because we have some magical soul-particles in our brain (not yet discovered in the laboratory) which happen to have the property of being immortal.

Instead I think the reason we will live forever is that God loves us and that he's promised to do it.  So at the end of time, when Jesus comes back, God will raise us from the dead in new physical bodies, and if that violates the current laws of physics that's okay by him.  (If he wants to copy our information into some other format to keep us self-aware in between the time of our death and Resurrection, he can do that too!  The New Testament suggests that probably something like this is the case, but it puts a lot more emphasis on the Resurrection of our bodies when Jesus returns.)

I also think that Carroll is more confident than he should be that the Laws of Physics can explain why physical systems are conscious.  The so called "Hard Problem of Consciousness" is an extremely deep philosophical puzzle, and even many atheistic philosophers (like David Chalmers or Thomas Nagel) think that there is a mystery here which is very hard to explain on a purely reductionistic materialistic worldview.  While this is a very interesting topic (which suggests that, at some level, Materialism is wrong about some deeply important things), I think it is hard to really prove for sure that this would imply anything about life after death.  Traditionally, many theistic philosophers have tried to prove the Immortality of the Soul through philosophical reasoning, based on facts about the supposed immateriality of the mind, but the Philosophy of Mind is sufficiently confusing I don't think this is the best way forward.

I would instead focus on the fact that God has promised, in the Bible, to raise human beings from the dead and made an advance demonstration of this with Jesus.  Our confidence that he keeps his promises (a.k.a. "faith") is based primarily on our relationship with him and not based on the kinds of pro and con arguments which were made in this debate.  I think our confidence that we will live forever is going to be proportional to our love and knowledge of God, so if you find yourself having difficulty believing in Heaven, the solution is not to directly try to believe in that harder (in isolation from other things) but rather to meditate further on your relationship with Jesus, and then the afterlife issue will straighten itself out automatically.  That's not to say that what we believe about the afterlife isn't important, but only that it follows from a correct understanding of who God is.


About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
This entry was posted in Metaphysics, Reviews, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Sean Carroll and the Afterlife

  1. Mactoul says:

    That QFT is not a complete description of nature should be self-evident if one cares to ponder what physics is. It has nothing to do with God but has to do with consideration of living things esp sentient living things which are animals.

    This lesson, what physics is, seems very difficult for modern physicists to appreciate. But an outsider can easily understand that physics applies only to inanimate matter i.e. what used to be called the Mineral Kingdom.
    And even there, the inanimate matter may contain qualitative aspects that the laws of physics do not cover.
    So, physics is study of the quantitative aspects of inanimate matter.

    Physicists deride this view by invoking vitalism bogie without refuting it. Vitalism is not dead. For a excellent late 20C exposition of vitalism, one can read E. F. Schumacher's Guide for the Perplexed.

  2. Calhoun says:

    Hi Aron.
    A bit off-topic but don't you find Carroll's own solution plausible?. What he calls poetic naturalism,any alleged immaterial aspects or irreducible first person aspects of reality are just a way to describe or talk about material reality .


  3. Aron Wall says:

    How is that a solution? It sounds more like simply a declaration that there is no problem. If unpoetic Naturalism can't explain why we are conscious, then "poetic Naturalism" surely can't explain it either, because it doesn't add any metaphysical data to unpoetic Naturalism! (Does anyone even identify as an unpoetic Naturalist anyway? That seems like a bit of a strawman.) As Carroll says:

    A poetic naturalist will deny that notions like “right and wrong,” “purpose and duty,” or “beauty and ugliness” are part of the fundamental architecture of the world.

    But if it is fundamentally true that nothing means anything, our brains also do not "mean" anything. Thus we would not even have the experiences of right and wrong, etc. But we do. As I argued here, it does not seem to be possible to logically deduce the existence of conscious experience from the Laws of Physics alone. This does not necessarily mean that Cartesian Dualism is right, but it does mean that the Laws of Physics do not give a complete description of reality.

  4. Rodolfo says:

    Carrol's refutation of everything out of ordinary has been the same over the year: "there's no soul particle". He repeated this arguments many times during various situation and this argument is very hard to argue against if somebody has no training in both physics and theology (a.k.a. most people).

    I had a huge admiration for him ( his book was my first serious contact with GR). However, I'm starting to become a little uncomfortable with his positions. :/

  5. Aron Wall says:

    I also have his book on GR in my office! (Although for me it's just one of my reference texts; I learned GR originally from John Baez's web tutorial.) Also I've briefly met him a couple times, and he seems like a nice guy.

    So go ahead and keep on admiring him for his achievements in thinking about deep physics stuff, and popularizing it to a broad audience. I don't want to live in a society where, once you end up opposing somebody for being wrong on an important issue, you aren't allowed to respect them for the good stuff they've done anymore.

  6. Calhoun says:

    Aron Wall says:
    ..... it does not seem to be possible to logically deduce the existence of conscious experience from the Laws of Physics alone....

    I am with you on this but Carroll's main argument is that Laws of physics underlying everyday life have all been discovered. and it doesn't contain anything spiritual,anything like that should be detectable by science.
    in Carroll's view Consciousness,Intentionality and rationality are Weakly emergent high level phenomenon.

    Although I don't see how can consciousness just emerge in the sense of weak emergence given that it seems it is not deducible even in principle .if anything they seem to be cases of Strong emergence

    Does anyone even identify as an unpoetic Naturalist anyway?
    The Eliminators seems pretty unpoetic _

  7. Dom says:

    "I am with you on this but Carroll's main argument is that Laws of physics underlying everyday life have all been discovered. and it doesn't contain anything spiritual,anything like that should be detectable by science."

    If we did discover something in physics that broadly connected to supposedly spiritual things, a naturalist could claim that all supposedly supernatural stuff was just reducible to observable physical laws, and thus, not supernatural.

  8. Johannes says:

    "(If he wants to copy our information into some other format to keep us self-aware in between the time of our death and Resurrection, he can do that too! The New Testament suggests that probably something like this is the case, but it puts a lot more emphasis on the Resurrection of our bodies when Jesus returns.)"

    Actually, the NT strongly supports, not just suggests, the notion that our souls subsist between the times of our death and of the general resurrection, by the same line of reasoning that St. Paul uses to support the notion of the resurrection of the dead:

    "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. [...] For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised." (1 Cor 15:13,16)

    The implicit premise in this reasoning is that Jesus has a true human nature just like ours, except for sin. Therefore, if Jesus has been raised from the dead, so will we, or conversely in St. Paul's terms, if we will not be raised from the dead, neither has Jesus. Applying this line of reasoning to the immortality of the soul, we can state from 1 Cor 15:13:

    "But if our souls do not subsist between the times of our death and of the general resurrection, neither has Christ's soul subsisted between the times of his death and of his Resurrection."

    OTOH, we positively know that Jesus' soul subsisted between his death and Resurrection:

    "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison," (1 Peter 3:18-19)

    Therefore our souls subsist between our death and the general resurrection.

  9. Andy Jones says:

    It's odd to me that physicists can suggest infinite universes to explain a finely tuned universe, where every conceivable reality is playing out somewhere (the latest Avengers movie and every episode of Friends, for example) or that our own universe may be infinite with infinite versions of myself in it, but God or the afterlife is crazy talk! Could our heavenly selves be in one of these places? Are our entire brains linked through some sort of quantum entanglement to some other far away brain? Is heaven a far away place in this universe or right next to us in an undetectable parallel universe?

    Philosophically, the idea that the entire universe was created (or created itself) for absolutely no reason whatsoever seems absurd to me. Thanks Universe, but what a waste! 17.8 billion years, so one measly species can look up briefly and think "neato", only to die again a split cosmic second later? An atheist would say I'm looking for meaning where there is none, but if there's no meaning, why wake up tomorrow?
    Physics has come a long way answering the "how" of everything but it denies the "why", which seems like the more important question.

  10. Mactoul says:

    As discussed by Fr Stanley Jaki, the physicists lost the restraint imposed by reality when adopting anti-realist interpretations of quantum mechanics, they gleefully begun to create and destroy matter theoretically.
    The sharp gap between being and non-being is thus blurred and what started as a theft of a virtual particle pair gets easily magnified into creation of whole universes out of nothing.

    What is the actual value of this physics? Does the pronouncements of cosmology and string theory have any validity or solidity whatsoever? Any connection with reality? Or is it all just a game?

  11. Hamid says:

    There seems to be a difficulty of connections here. Let us say that someone believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The question is whether he is connected with God in this way as it might be his or her claim. On the other hand, the physicist might also claim that the way to be connected is thru the physicist's way although he might not even express that he possibly believes in God too! Of course, the modern skeptics questioning spiritualism or spiritism might also claim that the problem of consciousness has nothing to do with afterlife not to mention any further matters with resurrection. But there is a question that sociology, psychology or neurology cannot answer properly.
    Suppose that a scientist experiences severe a nervous break down. How is he supposed to come back and reappear in the society as a scientist as he used to be? Can he again achieve the same level of consciousness as he used to have? He is definitely the same person, but he has also experienced something besides being a scientist and perhaps even because of it which is not to his desire either. Thus, if one sets aside the notion of resurrection does one not miss something even within one's life as the moments get passed by in days and nights and years and different possibilities (and perhaps even neural psychiatric difficulties of consciousness not to mention death itself) start to occur?
    Now, in the middle of all these scientific and religious explorations imagine what happens if someone suddenly claimed that he is the Jesus Christ resurrected. The question is that the same events can not possibly occur as they occurred for Jesus Christ almost 2000 years ago. But is it an intelligent question to ask whether this person is connected with God too as the physicist also might unconscientiously claim just as the rulers such as kings or queens or presidents or more generally the governments also wish to somehow claim that they too are most likely connected and not the others. In other words, isn't there such a claim that we and not the others are only connected? And how is one supposed to encounter such a claim?

  12. Cedric Brown says:

    What if Carroll is living in a computer simulation and the regularities of "nature" that he observes are simply the choice of the programmer rather than essential features of reality? Since he is a materialist, he would have to concede the possibility. He would also have to concede the possibility that the programmer might choose to spice things up by incorporating the odd miracle into the simulation.

    So even from the perspective of a materialist, Carroll would have to be open to the possibility of miracles. This is why the attempt to rule out miracles on the grounds of prior improbability is so dubious.

    We should study the regularity of nature in order to find out what nature is like when it is behaving in a regular fashion, not to prove that deviations from regularity are impossible in principle or even particularly improbable.

    Once we encounter something like the Resurrection of Christ, we understand that there is far more to reality than the material world.

  13. Mactoul says:

    Is it really known that the second law of thermodynamics holds for animals? Is there some experimental support?. Animals have mental images and how could entropy of a mental image be computed or even defined?

  14. Zhenghu Maolong says:

    What if the laws of nature are soul-permitting in a naturalistic way? Paul Davies has proposed something like that in his paper:

    (The paper proposes life based on information but it could be related to afterlife if it is possible)

    Or as Roger Penrose suggests, that must be there other mysterious laws of nature that allow the existence of consciousness and soul, if we accept that consciousness is highly related to it or to an afterlife of any sort, could it be the possibility that the soul still respects the naturalistic behavior of the universe as Carroll Demands?

  15. Hamid says:

    وَالسَّلَامُ عَلَيَّ يَوْمَ وُلِدتُّ وَيَوْمَ أَمُوتُ وَيَوْمَ أُبْعَثُ حَيًّا ﴿٣٣﴾ ذَٰلِكَ عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ ۚ قَوْلَ الْحَقِّ الَّذِي فِيهِ يَمْتَرُونَ ﴿٣٤﴾. سوره مبارکه آل عمران

    Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! (33) Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt. (Al Emran sura, Quran)

  16. David Moreland says:

    This post links to a previous post that sets out a Bayesian case for the resurrection. However, the previous post takes it for granted that Jesus existed and dismisses the "crank" theory that he was a myth. I can sympathise with that position but it seems these days that the main argument against Christianity is that Jesus was indeed a myth. In particular, Bayesian reasoning is used to show that Jesus never existed.

    I think there are serious problems with this, but it does seem to have put Jesus historicists on the back foot. Is it possible to put a strong Bayesian case for historicity?

  17. Scott Church says:

    @David Moreland, the so-called Christ Myth is a crank theory. Scholars dispute the historicity of some parts of the New Testament records, their dates, and who Jesus was, but no one of any repute seriously questions His existence, or the larger origins of Christian traditions. Furthermore, no Christ Myth advocates I'm aware of have relied on Bayesian reasoning in anything other than a hand-waved manner. Interestingly, the Christ Myth can be traced to the same 19th Century Occult thought that eventually gave rise to the modern Theosophical Society. Today it's restricted almost entirely to New Agers, popular secularists, and Da Vinci Code conspiracy theorists, few of whom are formally trained in any relevant field, including Bayesian probability.

    A couple years back I posted an essay that covers a lot of this at my own website. You might find it interesting. That essay dealt specifically with the Christmas Story and how it's fared at the hands of Christ Myth advocates, but in the process it covers the myth's origins and how it's been defended.

    Best. :-)

  18. David Moreland says:

    Thanks, Scott. In fairness, I think you are addressing the least credible form of mythicism. Richard Carrier can't really be compared to Acharya S. However, I still think that there are serious problems with his approach and in particular with his use of Bayesian reasoning. His argument is that there is a low prior probability that Jesus existed because Jesus supposedly belongs to a reference class whose other members are all mythical figures. There are several objections to this. Firstly, it is doubtful whether Jesus really does belong to the class - see here for a discussion

    Secondly, the validity of the reference class is extremely dubious. All of the other members of the class belong to the pre-Classical world. If there was a list of mythical figures resembling Jesus who "lived" between 500 BC and AD 100, it would significant, but we don't have that. I could go on but I don't want to bore people. I just mention it because Aron is a specialist in Bayes' Theorem.

  19. Scott Church says:

    Agreed @Richard Moreland. The Christ Myth is definitely the least credible form of mythicism in this regard, but it's also the most commonly advanced. I also agree that Richard Carrier is not in the same class as wingnuts like Dorothy Murdoch (Achayra S.), but that doesn't mean he's credible either. Luke Barnes has dealt with Carrier's misuse of Bayesian reasoning far better than I, and I'd refer you to him.

    Best! :-)

  20. Hamid says:

    I really feel like a big sucker! To use the language of Hare Krishnas, here is Aron who is a devotee of Christ and someone like David Moreland comes along and questions the existence of Christ! I mean he does not question certain facts about Christ, whether he was son of God, whether he was crucified, whether he was a prophet of God, or anything else. He totally brings under the question the very existence of Christ, and calls it a myth! When one leaves in a world of myths, then it is rather easy to set up a system such as an ergo-system of Gromov as Marcolli at Cal Tech does which is after the Descartes' motto "cogito ergo sum".
    Actually, my main concern was that Aron's Arabic is a little worse than mine and thus does not realize that I gave the wrong reference to the Quran verse in sura 4 or Al Emran as it should be in sura 19 or Maryam. But now my concern is that if Christ is to return, just as Mahdi is going to return, maybe by that time even nuclear weapons will be a total myth too and no one has to be worried about their use or misuse. This myth is apparently different from the mathematics that people like Aron Wall, Edward Witten, Alain Connes, Matilde Marcolli or Srinivasa Ramanujan or Godfrey Harold Hardy use or used to use. There is a philosophical argument about a historical text of Avicenna "Esharat va Tanbihat" between Fakhr Razi and Khawjeh Nasir Toosi. Razi who is a Islamic scholar apparently denies the philosophical views of Avicenna in his commentary of the book. Toosi on the other hand writes another commentary and reemphasizes the philosophical views of Avicenna. To raise the philosophical issues to theological ones is apparently another matter for another place and time.

  21. Scott Church says:


    I trust he'll correct me if I'm mistaken, but I don't think David Moreland was calling the "very existence of Christ" a myth. He was only pointing out that atheists have used something like Bayesian reasoning to defend their belief that He was, and not responding to such arguments has left many Christian apologists in an unnecessarily weaker position. That's not a defense of Christ myth claims--it's a call for better demonstrations of what's wrong with them from a Bayesian standpoint. :-)

  22. TY says:

    Every so often, there is a new book out on the “Jesus myth”; let’s call it a product. There’s money in it, and it seems the consumption of this product doesn’t suffer from diminishing utility like most of the things we eat and wear. The press jumps on any piece of trash if it’s tantalising. People have to make a living – by any means! Ratings have to go up!

    Now, tonight as I was reading the online news, I read in CNN there is a certain chap whose name is Timothy Freke (no pun) who has a story like Richard Carrier. Freke claims “He (Jesus) was a myth created by first-century Jews who modeled him after other dying and resurrected pagan gods, says Freke, author of "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God?"

    The CNN article goes on to say:
    “'As good a skeptic as Bart Erhrman, Most Jesus deniers are Internet kooks, says Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who recently released a book devoted to the question called "Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.
    He says Freke and others who deny Jesus' existence are conspiracy theorists trying to sell books.
    "There are people out there who don't think the Holocaust happened, there wasn't a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn't born in the U.S.," Ehrman says. "Among them are people who don't think Jesus existed.”

    Imagine skeptics like Bart Ehrman calling Freke an “internet kook”! Full story:

  23. Scott Church says:

    Interesting read @Ty! As a matter of fact, Ehrman's book was written largely in response to one called "The Christ Conspiracy" by "Achayra S." (a.k.a. Dorothy Murdoch), and the 19th-century writers he refers to as Freke's sources were undoubtedly the same ones she used: Gerald Massey and Helena Blavatsky (the latter of whom founded the Theosophical Society). I dealt with Murdoch at length in the essay I linked three posts back on Feb. 28, as well as the "Osiris-Dionysus figure" who allegedly "shares uncanny parallels to Jesus" including being born on December 25, crucifixion, and resurrection (all of which is of course, false).

    Interestingly, many of these folks cite the Isis Osiris myth as the origin of the virgin birth doctrine as well. In all of these respects, the differences between the actual myth and the Gospel are not only ironic, but hilarious. I posted that essay a couple years back. If I were a godlier man it might be otherwise, but I must confess... researching it was some of the best free entertainment I've had in years. If you're really bored some evening and there's nothing good on TV, check out Murdoch's website You just can't write material this good. :-)

  24. TY says:


    That background on Ehrman's book is interesting. You can be sure that Ehrman's books does not silence the conspiracy theorists, but given his Jesus skepticism, it carries some weight. They "kooks" who spend so much time connecting the dots, going all the way back to Egyptian and Greek mythology to "prove" Jesus was a myth,, miss one fat DOT: that the best accounts of Jesus are in the Gospels. In particular Mark written about c.AD 66–70, when people who knew Jesus and his family were still living in Palestine. And some of the Jesus skeptics, like the Jesus Seminar people (Dominic Crossan), strike me as opportunists, because to gain fame debunking what Jesus said and did, and getting the ratings-hungry media all excited by their discovery, they need, logically, to begin their story with a flesh-and- blood, historical Jesus. How they wished they could both deny the historical Jesus and challenge His ministry!.

    I quickly glanced at the topics in the Murdoch website. Hmmm. I have better things to do with my time than read such posts. But thanks. I'm going to read yours.

  25. Tomislav Ostojich says:

    I would ask Carroll this: isn't it wishful thinking for him to believe that once he dies he'll enter into a permanent state of peace and painlessness? Doesn't he at least feel very, very lucky to live in such a pleasant and nice universe?

    "But that the dread of something after death- the undiscover'd country, from whose bourn no traveller returns- puzzles the will. And makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of?"

  26. Mactoul says:

    It amazes me that the physicists have largely forgotten that physics proceeds by abstraction from concrete objects. Thus, it presumes reality of concrete objects which are certainly not to be doubted. Whereas, the theories and models of physics, including quantum mechanics and relativity are products of long chains of inference and are uncertain to that extent.
    But physicists, having taken leave of their senses, doubt reality of the objects and presume that quantum mechanics, wave functions and relativity are building blocks of the universe!
    This is severe confusion of map and the reality, a strange inversion where theory is held to be building bloc of the existent objects for whose sake the theory exists!
    This view, that wave functions are more real than objects such as tables is a mathematical Platoism, a most inadequate foundation for physics.

  27. Hamid says:

    A Bayesain reasoning that Christ existed from a materialist point of view is not enough to defend Christ against all the myths which surrounds him and almost surely questions his very existence from a religious or theological point of view. In fact, Allameh Tabatabaee in Almizan argues quite in the same lines that Acharya S or Murdoch questions Christ mixed with Greek and Indian mythologies. There is perhaps a great difficulty in separating a myth from a truth.
    I give you an example which also involved the Bayesian approach to some extent. I visited IPM (Institute for Fundamental Research in Iran, library a little after the turn of the millennium and was happy that I received a library card and an even an email account from them. To make a long story short, this email account of theirs also had a Bayesian section in it in which I had no say but appeared to do its own stuff which was not at all clear to me. After a while a received so much junk mail from my account which actually totally surprised me and I thus requested to have it cancelled. What is worse, I actually tried to renew my library card after a year with no luck! All my efforts appeared as if to be hitting a great impenetrable brick wall. And I gave up, later working via coffee nets and internet cafes and later at home up to now. I remember that I was writing in one such an internet café when suddenly the lights went off and I lost all that I was writing! The café owner who realized how upset people were, simply claimed what the big deal was, it's only electricity, and it is no surprise that is goes off. It's only instantaneously. In fact, this still happens all the time even now, although it might not be exactly in the form of electricity going out but rather in the form of getting blue screens, restarting of the computer and losing all the internet pages at home.
    Indeed, there might be a great difficulty to prove that there is a conditional probability in terms of Bayesian reasoning as to what I described above also might be a good reference event that reoccurs all the time. There might even be a possibility that someone could actually build a good solid mathematical or physical theory around this matter all the building blocks of which resemble the above told story. And this does not even question my existence as a mathematical student at IPM or anywhere else. And this has nothing to do with Kobayashi-Hitchin correspondence differential geometrically either although our consciousness may be somehow affected by all of this. And then there are the gospels in which Christ teaches about the difficulties of a camel being passed through a taylor's needle hole: Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24. To those who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance, no opening will there be of the gates of heaven, nor will they enter the garden, until the camel can pass through the eye of the needle: Such is Our reward for those in sin. (40) AlAraf in Quran.
    The point may be that it might be easier to attract logicians such as Whitehead and Russell to write another book such as their Principia Mathematica and then try to somehow resolve the Russell paradox that a class such as R belongs to itself  R \in R .

  28. PR says:

    No, Carroll did not include God the same way he did not include unicorns, Hindu gods or Santa Claus. If you read his reasoning carefully, you will understand that these are virtually excluded by our knowledge of how the natural world (physics) works. There are no hidden particles or forces, because QFT would reveal them.

    Let me ask you the following - how many times in the history the science was wrong and religion correct?

    A few examples:
    Church: Earth is the center of our universe, and the Sun revolves around it. Science proved it wrong.
    Earth being flat or carried on a carapace of a giant turtle. Wrong again.
    Witches and possessed people - mostly poor epileptics, schizophrenics and other mentally ill people.

    And a story about Jesus is just a story. Hindus have similar stories and much older, but completely different. They are very different from Christianity, because they were created in a different culture. Created, the same way Bible was written, edited, modified and updated (did you know originally there was a notion of reincarnation in the bible?)

    So what is more likely: that science, backed up by hard evidence, is right again...or that, for the very first time, religion is correct, without a single piece of evidence, relying on nothing than myths and legends, abundant and different across cultures?

  29. Aron Wall says:


    Carroll did not include God the same way he did not include unicorns, Hindu gods or Santa Claus. If you read his reasoning carefully, you will understand that these are virtually excluded by our knowledge of how the natural world (physics) works. There are no hidden particles or forces, because QFT would reveal them.

    As someone who studies Quantum Field Theory for a living, I can assure you I understood perfectly well what Carroll was saying. And I agree with him that it is very implausible that any putative supernatural pheonomena can be explained by the addition of "hidden particles and forces" to the Standard Model. These are very tightly constrained by our understanding of QFT. (Even though, as Carroll says, there are in fact hidden particles, like dark matter, that are mysterious because they don't interact very strongly with other things. But that isn't helpful since in that case they don't interact very strongly with other things.)

    But this is begging the question, because Christians don't think of God as an extra force or particle in the Standard Model. God is something completely different---he is the immaterial Mind which invented the Standard Model (or rather, whatever is the true mathematics of Nature, which we haven't discovered yet), and which is therefore not a material object in the universe. This is quite different from unicorns and Santa Claus, who, if they existed, would be beings with bodies (therefore presumably made of some kind of matter interacting with our own matter.) If you can't see the difference, that's not my problem.

    Anyway, I think you also accept a lot of myths and legends. It's just that the myths you believe, are falsehoods perpetuated by modern pop-science writers (mostly based on copying earlier writers who had ideological axes to grind), and because they use the words "Science" and "Reason" a lot, you don't realize they are seriously distorting the historical record. For example:

    1. The primary reason why medieval Christians believed in Geocentrism, was because it was what the best scientific textbooks of the time taught. Go to the library and check out Ptolomy's Almagest, and ask yourself whether it falls under the category of Science or Religion.

    2. Perhaps you are talking about some other religion, but almost nobody in Christian history ever thought that the Earth was flat, let alone that it rested on the back of a turtle. Since the time of Aristotle, all educated Westerners have known that the world is round. The actual Myth of the Flat Earth is that people accepted the myth in the first place!

    3. The popular understanding of Galileo affair is also heavily mythologized. In fact there were scientists (most of whom were also religious people) on both sides of the debate. Read The Great Ptolomaic Smackdown and History for Atheists for a more accurate version of what happened. In fact there were scientists on both sides of the dispute, and almost all of them were also religious people. It's easy in retrospect to declare that those who were correct about the science were speaking for Science (TM) while those who turned out to be wrong were speaking for Religion (TM) but that's not how it looked to people at the time.

    4. I did not know there was originally a notion of reincarnation in the Bible, for the reason that it is completely untrue. At least, if you are referring to the original forms of any of the 66 books accepted as Scripture in the Jewish or Protestant Bible.

    While it is true that some places in the Bible have been edited in minor ways (mostly accidentally) by copyists, scholars can mostly reconstruct the original version of the text, and most modern editions of the Bible will be based on the best available evidence of what was originally written.

    (There is a single verse in the Apocrapha (Wisdom 8:19-20) which could be read as accepting the Greek notion of trasmigration of souls, but this book was written long after most of the rest of the Bible, and is not accepted as canonical by Protestants or by Jews, although it is accepted as Scripture by Roman Catholics.)

    how many times in the history the science was wrong and religion correct?

    Sorry, I reject the terms in which you are framing the debate entirely.

    It is incoherent to treat "Science" as if it were a monolithic entity. "Science" is just a name for our current best understanding of the physical universe. Geocentrism was Science, but it is wrong. Heliocentrism was also Science, and is closer to being true, but technically it is also wrong since Einstein proved motion is relative. Perhaps Einstein will be shown to be not quite correct at some later stage. Anytime Science changes, it is both right and wrong at the same time. And if you pin your metaphysical views on the current state of Science, probably they will also look pretty ridiculous in a couple hundred years, after we are both dead.

    (But none of this really affects the core claims of Christianity. The idea that an omnipotent God can manipulate matter however he pleases, and has done so in history, isn't really affected by whether the Sun goes around the Earth or vice versa.)

    Similarly, how people understand their religion also changes with time. For example, the early medieval Church discouraged belief in witchcraft as a peasant superstition. The witch craze came later, in the 15th-17th centuries. So which of these positions represents the "Church"? It's not really a meaningful question.

    There are certainly cases where religion caused people to have a more scientifically accurate picture of the world, than the people who were in the sway of then-popular supposed "Science". For example, in the past many people believed that Science implied that the Universe is eternal (while religious people usually thought it was created a finite time in the past), and that the heavenly bodies were immutable (which seems to contradict the Bible). A few centuries later, some people thought that Science taught that some races had a different genetic origin and were inferior, or that socialism was the best way to organize an economy. These ideas were opposed by many religious people, as well as by people with different (and better) understandings of Science.

    And a story about Jesus is just a story.

    Whereas a story about Galileo, or thousands of witches being burned, told by a pop atheist writer, is gospel truth, no need to examine it for correctness?

    If you object to believing that Jesus existed because he is described in a book, then why do you believe the histories about anyone else who lived before the year 1900? Most of what we know about them comes from books as well.

    Hindus have similar stories and much older, but completely different.

    The story of Jesus was told by either his contemporaries, or the immediately following generation, and involve other historical figures that we know about from other writings. On the other hand, the legends about Hindu gods were first written down millenia after the alleged events happened. That is a pretty big difference. See here and here for more details.

    for the very first time, religion is correct, without a single piece of evidence

    I think that only a person who hasn't sat down and thought critically about how we know anything about history, could write what you have written. If somebody claims to have seen X, and writes this down in a book, does that count as some evidence for X? Yes or no? (Note that evidence is anything that makes X more likely to be true, so there can certainly be evidence for false claims.)

  30. PR,

    The mere fact that you would put unicorns, Hindu gods and Santa Claus in the same sentence with God, and then try to pit the latter against Physics as an explanation of natural phenomena displays a breathtaking lack of understanding of Classical Theism. I'm going to hazard a guess here and bet that most, if not all of your understanding of Physics, Philosophy of Religion, Comparative Religion, History, and related subjects came from new atheist chat rooms and social media groups where like-minded armchair intellectuals gather to exchange "just-so" stories about these, and other subjects that none of them are properly trained in.

    I would encourage you to do your own research. Needless to say, you could do a whole lot worse than spending time here at Undivided Looking reading more of Aron's essays and the one of mine that I linked. I would also recommend immersing yourself in some of St. Edward Feser's posts on Classical Theism and Luke Barnes' blog as well. Throughout these sources, you'll also find citations to textbooks, papers, essays, and further source material as well. Spend some time deepening your knowledge of the relevant subject matter and your criticisms will be better informed, and thus more constructive.


  31. PR says:

    C. Scott Church, nice try but being from Europe and having graduated from European universities, my education is almost surely much broader than yours and frankly, if anyone gets their knowledge from social-media - well, that is rather sad.. atheist or not.

    There is absolutely NO reason why hindu gods or your God cannot be mentioned the way I did - they are equally "real". Actually, the hindu gods were described much earlier....isn't interesting? So you say that Christian God, which was invented just about 2000 years ago, is more real than gods that were worshipped before? Can't you see the irony? Their sacred texts are as real to them as Bible is for you, yet at least one of you must be wrong....not even talking about other, ancient gods.

    If there was a god, now let's ignore that there is no evidence, it would not be culturally-dependent and so different..and yet it is. Every culture created their own, and to think that your God is somehow better than theirs (and real) is quite arrogant.

  32. PR says:

    Just to add something more constructive and thought-provoking:

    One the proofs how Bible was modified to control the masses is the fact that suicide was added to the list of mortal sins later (around 1100), when poor peasants started to kill themselves (expecting the afterlife), leaving their feudal lords with less labor force. It was nothing but a smart countermeasure. It is quite sad if anyone believes these commands truly came from God.

    PS: English is my third language so my argumentation surely cannot be perfect as if we talked in my native tongue, or at least my second.

  33. Aron Wall says:

    It doesn't matter which University you graduated from, somewhere along the line you have picked up a rather large number of false beliefs about history, and now you are bickering about credentials, rather than allowing your own beliefs to be challenged.

    If you want anyone here to take your claims seriously, then please provide citations for your statements about history (as St. Scott so often does in his own blog comments and posts here). You may use primary sources, books by professional historians, or well-researched blog posts. But simply to drop in and state random "facts" about history, which we just have to take your own word for, does not contribute to the discussion.

    In any case it is clearly false that the Bible was modified in the year 1100 to explicitly state that suicide is a mortal sin. If that were really true, then first of all you ought to be able to point to the verse in the Bible that was supposedly the result of this modification. This will be rather difficult, as I have read the whole Bible many times and can therefore confidently tell you that there is no such verse. It seems to me that you are confidently making false statements about historical events. I fail to see why I should take anything you say about history seriously, unless you start providing sources for your claims.

    (Also, there is no rule that says that something described earlier than something else is more likely to be real. For example, phlogiston was described earlier than uranium, and yet it is uranium that is a real element while phlogiston is not. So your argument about Hindu gods doesn't make much sense.)

  34. Mr. C says:

    "So at the end of time, when Jesus comes back, God will raise us from the dead in new physical bodies, and if that violates the current laws of physics that's okay by him. " - I would like to add to this that N.T. Wright, who is one of the most influential modern Bible scholars, agrees with it (,8599,1710844,00.html).

    However, from philosophical perspective, can God resurrect you twice? Make a copy of you or smth like that? I'm pretty sure it raises a plenty of issues about personal identity, but I can hardly cope with it on my own.

    Will appreciate your comment, Aron!

  35. OMEGON says:

    After life:
    1. The Fabric of Reality (David Deutsch) Omega Point Closed Universe (Frank Tipler)

    2. The beginning of infinity (David Deutsch) omega point (continue in open universe)

    3. Hyperspace (Michio Kaku) advanced civilization Type III masters of space-time

    4. Parallel Worlds (Michio Kaku) Kardashev III or IV recreated the brain, the bodies, the DNA, the memories, the personalities, they copy exactly like the original, the dead people.

    5. Turing's Church Tales (Quantum Archaeology) Giulio Prisco

    6. Eric Steinhart (Your Digital Life After Death)

    7. Artilects (godlike beings omnipotents of technological singularity (Hugo de Garis, Ray Kurzweil)

    8. Technological resurrection (Alexey Turchin) and quantum immortality

    9. The historical Buddha (worlds of samsara), rebirth and death cárcel in other universos, dimensions or planes of existente.

    Sean Carroll has tough opponents.

  36. RC1 says:

    Dear Professor Wall,

    Thank you for this discussion on the afterlife. I was wondering if you had read, and thus had any opinions on William Hasker's article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that argues that an afterlife would be difficult to justify on a materialist theory of mind, when you previously noted that you believed that the belief in the resurrection and life after death is exactly compatible with both a purely materialist image of the mind as well as a non- reductionist materialist theory of mind. Thank you, and happy New Year!

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