Nearly every time I speak at a public event, I get at least one question about reincarnation. Lately, I have been getting several questions on reincarnation on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
People ask me whether or not reincarnation actually happens, why a loving God wouldn’t give people multiple chances to pass the test of life, why it matters if someone believes in reincarnation, and how I would explain people’s memories of events in “past lives” if reincarnation is not real. In this blog article, I will briefly answer these questions, but first I will explain the origin of reincarnation beliefs.
Origin of Reincarnation Doctrine
Belief in reincarnation is founded on the Hindu doctrine that the entire universe experiences reincarnation. The Hindu Vedas state that the universe goes through an infinite number of cycles of births, deaths, and rebirths where the cyclical period is 4.32 billion years. As I explain in my book The Creator and the Cosmos,1 this Hindu doctrine is refuted at two points. Since there is overwhelming evidence that the universe has been continually expanding for 13.79 ± 0.05 billion years,2 the Vedas are incorrect about the universe lasting only 4.32 billion years. They also are mistaken about the universe being able to restart itself. The universe lacks, by a factor of 100 million times, the necessary, low-enough entropy measure to permit the possibility of a future restart or rebound.3
Hindus and many Buddhist sects believe that just as the universe reincarnates, so does every living organism, or at least, every animal. However, if the Hindus and these Buddhist sects are wrong about the reincarnation of the universe, why should anyone give credence to their claims that all animals likewise go through an infinite number of cycles of birth, death, and rebirth?
Just as the laws of physics and the characteristics of the universe make cosmic reincarnation impossible, they also rule out the possibility that an animal can experience multiple millions of reincarnations. Depending on the species of the animal, there is a limited time window during which animals can exist either on Earth or in the universe. The universe was not habitable for any kind of animal life until less than a billion years ago. It will cease to be habitable in much less than a billion years hence.
The more advanced the animal life-form, the narrower the time window during which such life-forms can exist. For animals as advanced as humans, the time window is only a few million years wide. Thus, on the basis of the physics and features of the universe, the tenet that animals proceed through an uncountable number of reincarnations is false.
Many people reason that an all-loving God wouldn’t grant humans just one chance to pass the test of life. The Bible, however, emphatically states otherwise:
And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment. (Hebrews 9:27, RSV)
The Bible also explains why we need only one chance. In his epistles, Paul explains how God leaves each human on Earth long enough that they become, by their own practiced free will over their life span, either captive to Christ’s will or captive to Satan’s will.4 Therefore, there is no need for a second or third chance, nor is there any benefit for a human to remain much longer on Earth.
For humans who have become captive to Christ’s will, spending much more time on Earth means delaying the receiving of rewards that are so great that “‘no human mind has conceived’ the things God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). For humans who have become captive to Satan’s will, spending much more time on Earth means they will be tormented more in hell as a consequence of them committing more evil deeds on Earth (Revelation 20:12).
Why Does It Matter?
Many people view reincarnation as a benign belief. They say, “Why not let people believe in reincarnation? What harm can it do?”
It can do a great deal of harm. A major component of reincarnation belief systems is that the next life is predicated on one’s performance in the previous life. If one has led an exemplary life full of good deeds, one will be more richly endowed and born into a more privileged state and status in the next life. On the other hand, if one has led a life full of evil deeds, one will be stripped of endowments, privilege, and status in the next life. Another major component of reincarnation belief is that the more one suffers the consequences of being born into a lower state, the greater the opportunity for being born into a much superior state in the next life. It was these reincarnation beliefs that led to the caste system in India.
The consequences of these reincarnation beliefs are that people born into wealth and high status tend to believe that they deserve their wealth and life of ease, and that it is their right to be served and financially sustained by people born into lesser states. Likewise, people born into poverty, suffering, and persecution tend to see themselves as paying for the misdeeds of their past lives and that through such payments they have the promise of a better future life.
In such a culture, it is considered morally wrong to assist the poor and disadvantaged. Such assistance is seen as preventing the poor and disadvantaged from gaining a better life in the next reincarnation. Similarly, it is considered morally wrong to encourage the rich and advantaged to share their wealth with others or to discourage the rich from demanding service, gifts, and money from people of a lower social status.
Reincarnation: Satan’s Trick
The physical harms of reincarnation belief systems are bad enough to warrant the complete repudiation of reincarnation doctrines. However, as bad as these physical harms are, they pale in comparison to the spiritual consequences.
Something I learned in my role as a professor is that offering students multiple chances to pass an exam is not good for the students. If they know they have as many chances as they want and no long-lasting consequences, if they fail on any of their attempts, they do not take the course or the exam seriously. God wants us to take our lives here on Earth very seriously. As Paul explains in his New Testament epistles, God intends us to run the race of life with all of our strength, heart, mind, and will. (See 1 Corinthians 9:24–27; Philippians 1:20–26, 3:12–16; 2 Timothy 4:6–8.)
It is important for all of us to realize that Satan’s goal is to get as many human beings as possible to fail the test of life. What better strategy for him is there than to persuade us humans that we have as many chances (lives) as we want to pass the test? If Satan can get us to be nonchalant about our present life, he wins and we lose.
What convinces a large number of people that reincarnation is real are the many claims of recalled memories from past lives. These memories occur in dreams, visions, and déjà vu experiences when people visit places they have never been before or engage people they have never met before.
There are two sets of explanations for these experiences that have nothing to do with reincarnation. The first is that our brains are capable of storing an enormous amount of incidental data for a long period of time. Thus, while you may be walking down a street in Bologna, Italy, for the first time, decades earlier you may have been exposed to a film, an encyclopedia, a history book, travel brochures, or a friend’s photo collection that planted details of that street into the subconscious of your brain. A recollection from the subconscious part of your brain may deceive you into thinking you must have been there before.
The subconscious part of our brain also houses a huge archive of our past dreams. Our dreams are varied and creative, especially in their background images and portraits of strangers. Given that there are tens of thousands of these background images and portraits of strangers in our subconscious, it is statistically probable that one of them will match at least part of a scene we are visiting for the first time or an individual that we happen to encounter.
Another explanation involves Satan and his legion of fallen angels. Given their vested interest in getting us to fail the test of life, it is to their advantage to plant false memories in our brains that make us think we have had a past life or two. However, lest anyone reading this article wonder whether, in that case, any memory in their brain can be trusted, Satan and the fallen angels need permission to plant false memories in our brains. Such permission is granted whenever a human being acquires occult articles, engages in occult practices, seeks paranormal powers, or worships false gods or demons. If none of these things are in your life, then your brain is protected from the implantation of such false memories. I provide a complete list of articles and practices that give Satan and the demons permission to invade our lives as well as a prescription on how to take away that permission in our book Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men.
- Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Latest Scientific Discoveries Reveal God, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 87–98.
- G. Hinshaw et al., “Nine-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Cosmological Parameter Results,” Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series 208 (September 2013): id. 19, doi:10.1088/0067-0049/208/2/19; P. A. R. Ade et al. (Planck Collaboration), “Planck 2013 Results. XVI. Cosmological Parameters,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 571 (November 2014): id. A16, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201321591.
- Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, 89–91.
- I document and discuss these biblical doctrines in “Extra-Dimensionality and the Battle of Wills, ” chap. 13 in Beyond the Cosmos: What Recent Discoveries in Astrophysics Reveal about the Glory and Love of God, 3rd ed. (Orlando, FL: Signalman, 2010), 147–68.
Subjects: Bible, Hinduism, Religion, World Religions