The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

There Is Probably An Afterlife

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/1/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,047 times Debate No: 69258
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (15)
Votes (1)





In this debate I will be arguing that it is more likely that there is an afterlife, and that the common materialist/physicalist notion that when our brains stop working, we cease to exist, is simply mistaken, convincing though it may be for reasons I will address.

Con will take the opposite position: that there is most likely no afterlife.

Round 1: Acceptance only. Please do not present any arguments in this round.
Round 2: Opening arguments
Round 3: First rebuttals
Round 4: Second rebuttals
Round 5: Conclusions


probable = most likely; more likely than not; favored by reason

afterlife = continued existence of the mind after physical death. This can include transcendence into another realm or reincarnation.


Let's rock and roll. I accept
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you, Ozzyhead, for accepting my debate. I apologize for taking so long to get this up. In the future I will have my opening arguments prepared beforehand.

Science has proved to be extremely successful in its predictions about the natural world. And there seems to be a strong scientific case for the proposition that the consciousness of individuals is rooted in physical objects we call brains, because there are observable neural correlates between mental states and electro-chemical brain states (physical states), and it is therefore reasonable to conclude that mental states are generated by physical states of the brain, and that when our bodies die and our brains stop functioning, our consciousness is completely terminated along with it.

However, I will argue that a crucial assumption that this notion rests on is unnecessary and problematic. But first I will point out that the claim that a person only lives once, even separate from any scientific claim, is inherently extremely improbable.

1. The intrinsic improbability of contingent life

Let's consider some consequences of the following statement: Every person that is alive at present, has never lived a previous life, and will never live another life; each person lives exactly one time.

If this is true, then every living person is incomprehensibly lucky. Consider that the observable universe has existed for tens of billions of years, and that it is 93 billion light years in size, and that most of it presumably contains no conscious life (if we presuppose physicalism), and that the number of all possible human beings immensely outweighs the number of human beings who actually exist, and all the other non-living objects, or more numerous but less intelligent species that exist in the universe, and given all that, you exist as a conscious human being.

Some people have attempted to calculate the possibility of any particular individual existing, and the result is that the odds approximate a 0% chance. More specifically, they are, according to one source, 1 in 10^2,685,000, a number so large that if we did not have mathematical notation, the piece of paper required to write it down would be too large to fit in the known universe.[1]

If we are really skeptics, we should doubt that any of us are that lucky. Rather, it is much more likely that existing in general is not contingent, but absolutely necessary and eternal, and that we simply take various forms at different times.

2. An argument against physicalism

So how do we reconcile the above information with the persuasive notion that consciousness is merely generated by the brain? We don't have to. That notion is simply false in my opinion, and there are good reasons to think so.

As stated above, there are observed neural correlates of consciousness that are observed in neuroscience. But you may be familiar with the phrase, "correlation does not imply causation."

"Physicalism" is an essentially meaningless term. What do we really mean by "physical"? If we mean non-mental, we are being hopelessly vague. We are inventing a concept almost void of meaning. It is simply an incomprehensible negation of what could not be more familiar--mental experience.

We might say the physical is all that is described by physics, but again, what is that? Physics only tells us about the relational structure and laws of the natural world. It says nothing about what the world is. What is it made of? Science has no answer. That is a question for philosophy.

While science only informs us of this extrinsic structure of nature, there is clearly a qualitative, intrinsic substance. What is this substance? Maybe we'll never know?

No, we have direct evidence of it: it is consciousness.

The physicalist idea of some unthinkable non-mental substance is an unnecessary postulation. It is also incoherent. How does consciousness arise from a complete lack of it? The logic is that when you have a highly complex arrangement of non-mental properties, whatever those are, somehow consciousness simply emerges. This initially sounds reasonable, but if you look closely, there is actually no explanation or logical account of how this is possible. It is simply assumed that it happens. But this is akin to saying that something completely new (consciousness) can just appear in the world out of nothing. It is arguably an appeal to magic, which has absolutely no place in science. Until an explanation can be given for how this emergence is even possible, it should not be an accepted notion.

Instead of saying that consciousness is generated by the "physical" brain, we should say that the entire universe is consciousness, and that our brains are simply a complex, dynamic bundle of this larger consciousness, in the way that a neural network is a more complex, dynamic bundle than a single neuron, but they are the same substance that makes up consciousness. Human beings are simply thoughts within a giant, eternal mind.

So where does this leave us? Indeed, this may shock a modern, scientifically-inclined person, but we are forced to accept, in my opinion, that metaphysical idealism is true. I see no alternative.

3. Argument from contingency

Human beings are contingent creatures. It is possible for every person to not exist. But all contingent beings must originate from, and remain interconnected with, something which has necessary existence. If this were not true, then ultimately nothing could exist. Since all human beings are contingent beings, they must originate from, and remain inseparable from, a being with necessary existence.

This is usually presented as an argument for God, but I think it works nicely in this context to establish that human consciousness has an inseparable necessary aspect to it, and that while our various incarnations might become disintegrated, our necessary aspect will always remain, and thus we have an afterlife.


I have argued that:

1. The proposition that every person has one life is manifestly extremely improbable.
2. The physicalist account of consciousness is highly flawed, because it is an unnecessary postulation (unparsimonious), it relies on the notion of strong emergence, which may not even be coherent or possible, and it is essentially meaningless. All that needs to be postulated is one substance, which is consciousness.
3. All things which are contingent must originate in, and remain connected to, something that is necessary for its existence. Human consciousness is contingent, but must have a necessary, eternal aspect.




The idea of an afterlife seems very unlikely to me. There is a big lack of evidence for the possibility. Although there are stories of people dying and coming back to life claiming they have seen heaven or hell, there is no reason to accept these stories as true, just like there is no reason to accept alien abduction stories: they have no real backing up. Many of people claim that there is an afterlife because of things like having no afterlife would be horrible: losing all consciousness would be a scary end for everybody. In fact, lots of reasons people claim for afterlife are reasons tied in to why there should be one, not how there could be one. However, a reason for something to be real does not make it so.
The idea of an afterlife often relies on souls or spirits, which is where a lot of these arguments for the existence of an afterlife falls apart. There is no evidence supporting that we have souls. People see souls as the things that give us consciousness, but this has no evidence to back it up. Of course, if any of the claims for things had any evidence backing it up, the person who made this discovery would be rewarded by the scientific community. However, no one has been rewarded due to the lack of evidence that would show the existence of what one would be claiming. Scientists are not against the idea or possibility of a god or afterlife, but they have rejected most claims because they lacked the evidence, the trial and error, the experiments, etc. Many claim ghosts exist and that they support the idea of human souls. People claim that evidence for ghosts is that they give off high levels of electromagnetic energy. However, since ghosts haven't been proven to exist, how do we know they give off electromagnetic energy? Ghosts are an idea based around afterlife, so although it may seem like it, I did not stray off the original context of this debate.
I have kept my arguments brief as I have nothing to debunk. I have debunked the common arguments, but not my opponents, as this is not the rebuttal round. So I will wait until then to really tackle my opponent's arguments
Debate Round No. 2


Con has pointed out that there is no conclusive evidence for the existence of an afterlife. He has also pointed out that although belief in an afterlife may be pleasant, this is not a good reason to believe in it.

The resolution I am arguing for is that through reasoning we can determine that the existence of the afterlife is probable. Con seems to take an evidentialist position, that if there is no solid evidence of something then we should not accept its existence.

But I argue that we can accept the existence of something by demonstrating it to hold to rational argument, even if we cannot be certain of its truth through evidence. Also, I would argue that for some people, it may be preferable to believe in something that is pleasant if it is possible, and there are rational reasons to believe in it. I think this is the case with the afterlife. While some people might be fine with accepting death, others might find the idea so depressing that they cannot function. They may have no motivation to do anything. Others may be motivated by the idea of death, to live life to the fullest. It is a matter of personal opinion, but to say that no one should believe in the afterlife without evidence, when there might be good logical reasons to believe it, would be unnecessary and insensitive to many people.

I extend my arguments from Round 1, and eagerly await Con's rebuttals.

[Also, I would like to correct an error I made in Round 1 when I said that 10^2,658,000 is a number so large that the paper required to write it down would not fit in the known universe. This is false, and was a result of making reference to the wrong portion of the cited source, as well as rushing my post.]


One thing my opponent said in his opening arguments that stood out to be was having one life is extremely improbable. Having one life does not seem improbable at all, and in fact, we only have been able to obtain evidence that suggests that we only have one life to live, which personally, I am okay with.
Another argument my opponent brought up is What makes us conscious is located in the front of the brain, and scientists have explained what conscientiousness is. They have also discovered an "on-off" switch in the region of the brain and have been able to use the on off switch to make someone conscience or not. (
I have to ask though, if souls are needed, which I reject as real things, why can we not see or hear when we have been knocked out? If a soul was present, then consciousnesses would not be of the brain, only the soul. I also have to ask if there is an afterlife, life after death, than at what point does the soul go from the human to another life? Many of people have been declared dead only to return to life. Many of these victims also claim they never saw a heaven or a hell and they don't remember consciousness or seeing anything. Many victims also have claim to have seen after life as well, but have been discredited for countless reasons, mainly, lack of supporting evidence. Also, the idea of souls with "out of body" experiences have been debunked many times. Doctors would induce what would cause out of body experiences on to patience. They would place a number on top of high thing in the room and ask the patient to read the number. All failed to do so.
The idea of an afterlife lacks evidence. If there is zero evidence for a claim, it is ideal to accept that it is improbable. I won't see it is impossible, but until evidence states otherwise, evidence that has been written and peer reviewed, it is simply unacceptable.
Debate Round No. 3


"One thing my opponent said in his opening arguments that stood out to be was having one life is extremely improbable. Having one life does not seem improbable at all, and in fact, we only have been able to obtain evidence that suggests that we only have one life to live"

I feel that my opponent is simply asserting his opinion here without really engaging in the details of my argument from improbability. Again, my argument is that, under a physicalist doctrine, the objective probability of being a conscious subject, calculated from the beginning of the universe, at least seems to me that it would be extremely low. And considered along with my argument against physicalism (the view that all that exists is 'physical'), and in favor of idealism (the view that all that exists is mental), I think there's a compelling logical and empirical case for the probability of an afterlife.

It is becoming increasingly more apparent through physics that the universe is fine-tuned for conscious life. In other words, the laws of nature allow life to evolve, even though it is much more likely that they would not. In order to explain this while avoiding any kind of spiritual ideas, physicists have begun to speculate that there is an entire multiverse of universes and that most of them do not permit conscious life. Additionally, they speculate that life emerged from inorganic matter and subsequent natural selection of accidental mutations, in an inherently aimless, random fashion, and they further speculate that consciousness emerged from non-conscious properties in a very loosely-defined way, creating an unnecessary explanatory gap known as the hard problem of consciousness, which seems potentially unsolvable even by neuroscience.

So, simply put, most scientists propose multiple unneeded steps to explain how to derive consciousness from an unguided, non-mental physical world, all of them possible, but highly improbable. I offer an alternative: that consciousness is the necessary, fundamental substance from which all reality derives. I think this is far more probable, as it bypasses all the steps required by physicalism.

Also, Con said that we have only obtained evidence to suggest we have one life. I suppose this is true enough, placing an emphasis on the word 'suggest,' although I would counter that this is true only if you presuppose physicalism, which I argue there are good reasons not to.

"What makes us conscious is located in the front of the brain, and scientists have explained what conscientiousness is. They have also discovered an "on-off" switch in the region of the brain and have been able to use the on off switch to make someone conscience or not."

This is actually not entirely true. Scientists have not by any stretch of the imagination explained consciousness. That is, they have not defined precisely what it is, since it cannot be defined in a third-person sense, and they have not shown how it can arise from non-mental properties. In fact, it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine how they even could do this, in a specified way. Rather, what scientists have actually done is observe and quantify electro-chemical activity in the brain, and found that specific subjective mental states correlate with specific neural patterns (as one might expect), and from this they have made an inference that supposedly "physical" brain states cause subjective consciousness. I contend, however, that neural patterns do not cause consciousness -- they are consciousness. That is a distinction that could not be more important to our understanding of the mind, and of reality. And to me it implies that all of reality is an interconnected conscious experience which delineates itself into various individual patterns (such as humans). If this is true, it follows that when we die, these patterns decohere and re-assimilate with the fundamental level of experience, which is the afterlife.

And on the subject of this apparent "on-off" switch, consciousness must exist in different degrees. For example, mice are more conscious than bugs, cats are more conscious than mice, humans are more conscious than cats. And when we sleep, of course, we are still conscious to some degree, although less than when we're awake, and often not enough to form memory of our sleeping experience, so we feel as though we had no experience. Also, remember that consciousness is a coherent pattern that "sews itself" into different shapes to form thoughts and experiences, and this pattern can decohere and be affected in various ways. This is what actually happened when these researchers triggered this "on-off" switch in the woman's brain. Her consciousness was significantly altered, not eliminated. Or at least I hope not, or else they killed her multiple times! Talk about scientific ethics. This also explains why people with brain damage have their consciousness affected. What they experience is not really a decrease in consciousness, but a decrease in the coherence of their consciousness.

"I have to ask though, if souls are needed, which I reject as real things, why can we not see or hear when we have been knocked out? If a soul was present, then consciousnesses would not be of the brain, only the soul. I also have to ask if there is an afterlife, life after death, than at what point does the soul go from the human to another life?"

Here I actually agree with my opponent that there are no souls in the traditional, dualistic sense, thought of as something separate from the natural world that leaves the body and "floats off" after death. Rather, as I've argued, I believe that what the "soul" is made of is what the body is made of as well. The following is highly speculative and controversial, but some people believe that phenomena in the field of quantum physics, such as wave-particle duality, superposition, and nonlocality, are in some way connected to consciousness. And since quantum physics is the study of the most fundamental level of nature we know of, this could support my view that consciousness is the fundamental substance of nature, and that when we die, we become nonlocal, "absorbed" back into the rest of the universe. Again, this is a very general hypothetical notion, but it may be possible.


My opponent seems to be trying to clear up with me that he is only arguing the probability for it, and that evidence is not really needed to show that it's possible, only to show that it is true. However, with zero evidence to back up any claim, the probability sits at zero. The idea of an afterlife in the sense that most understand is unlikely.
The only "afterlife" isn't what we call "afterlife". It's only the return of the energy to the earth. The energy in our body that most associate with a soul goes no where else but in to the soul. However, we are no longer conscious.
I find that there are way too many questions left unanswered that makes afterlife remotely possible. For one thing, where is the setting of an afterlife? Is it the place of rest? Is it a universe unseen by any living being? If so, how does one get there? If consciousness and memory aren't always directly related, do memories carry over in to the afterlife? If so, how can they carry over and live on?
What's the state that the afterlife member? Is it similar to a ghost, or is it like a living being in another dimension?
My opponent's last sentence is actually what I already brought up when I opened up this 4th round. We are "absorbed" back in to the universe. We are decomposed by, well organisms that decompose. We are then put in to the soil, or rather, become a part of the soil. Then, seeds are dropped around us while we are in our soil state. Our energy is then absorbed by the organism that was planted inside of us. When that plant is eaten, or the fruit of the plant is eaten, we are absorbed by the organism that eats us... you get where I'm going with this. So, if our energy is brought back to the earth, the functioning of our brain is gone and have no where to go, where does the after life come in to play?
I understand my opponent proposed that it is possible, not necessarily likely. However, there are far too many questions that have been left unanswered to accept that it's possible.
Debate Round No. 4


In this round I will briefly summarize my points, and my responses to my opponent's points, and reaffirm my resolution that there is probably an afterlife.

In round 2 I argued that:

  • The proposition that everyone has just one finite life is obviously highly improbable, whether there is an afterlife or not, which is why most people consider themselves lucky to be alive. And when combined with my second argument against physicalism, by inference it seems more probable that everyone has multiple lives, or an infinite afterlife.
  • The popular physicalist notion of consciousness is unnecessary and problematic. It posits more steps than necessary to explain the source of consciousness, and relies either on weak emergence (which arguably would lead to my position) or on strong emergence, which is poorly defined and may not even be possible. So in my view the mainstream physicalist view of consciousness is less probable than idealism, or a kind of panpsychism, which would likely lead to an afterlife.

In round 2 Con first used what would be his strategy for most of the debate. The thrust of his contention is that without any direct evidence, it is most probable that there is no afterlife. I responded by saying that there doesn't need to be direct evidence of something in order to assume it is probable. I provided rational arguments for the probability of the afterlife.

In round 3 Con stated that scientists have discovered an "on-off" switch in the brain which turns off consciousness. I do not deny that our individual consciousness is based in the brain, of course, but that doesn't mean it is limited to the brain. There would be good reason to think so if physicalism were true, but I established it is not. The brain is a localized network of consciousness which can be damaged and altered, but at death its connections would decohere and, rather than consciousness dissipating, it would assimilate with its fundamental basis.

In round 4 Con once again brought up that there is no direct evidence for the afterlife, and agreed that when we die we are absorbed into the universe, but stated that we lose our consciousness in this process. As I argued, however, there is reason to think we would not lose our consciousness, but gain even more.

In conclusion, I provided three main arguments which, when tied together, in my opinion form at the very least an intriguing case that there is probably an afterlife. My opponent, in contrast, seems to have one central point: that there is no evidence. I argue that, regarding the nature of the afterlife, you would not expect there to be direct empirical evidence, since it is inherently inaccessible to us. However I think there are good reasons to accept it.

Keep in mind, of course, that I think skepticism is a great and important virtue. I do not necessarily believe that there is an afterlife, which, strictly speaking, is not my resolution. I am just entertaining the idea as a possibility, and arguing that it is more probable than not when considered from a new perspective. In the end, I think I presented better reasons for my side of the debate than my opponent did for theirs. If you agree, please vote Pro.

Thank you to Ozzyhead for debating me on this topic.



My opponent's summarizing of our debate was actually spot on and I really don't have much more to say. This debate seemed to have come down to there is a lack of empirical evidence but that is not necessary for the pro position of this debate. I will keep this very brief. It is up to the voters to decide if evidence was required to make the claim. I thank my opponent for letting me take this
Debate Round No. 5
15 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by UndeniableReality 2 years ago
That calculation assumes that all events in the universe are random variables that lie on uniform distributions. Most things do not lie on uniform distributions. For example, the probability of a sperm reaching the egg is not the same for each sperm. Obviously, some are more likely than others. That alone significantly changes the calculation. Was the probability of you existing before you were born very small? Maybe. I haven't seen a calculation of that probability that's remotely meaningful, so who knows? Maybe not. And it depends on when you calculate it from. From the beginning of the universe? From when your parents met? The probability grows exponentially as you get closer to the event.

The real point is that this computation isn't the probability of you existing. This number is more closely related to the number of possible unique humans given certain biological parameters. What it's attempting to approximate is probability of your birth being predicted thousands of generations ago if all events being considered are random with equal probability.
Posted by OpponentDestroyer 2 years ago
First, I actually agree that the entire framing of that guy's calculation was mistaken, for reasons you mentioned. I don't agree with the conclusion he makes based off of (as you again pointed out) an already imperfect calculation. I probably shouldn't have used it as an example, because it didn't really fit what I was trying to say, I realize.

"It's true that you specifically could potentially (if the universe is nondeterministic) have been born as someone else (different sperm or egg), but someone would have been born. The probability that you were born though, now, is 1."

Of course, but so what? I am saying that *objectively*, if we suppose there is an objective, physical world, and that, above and before the universe, "you" would have just as much chance at being anything other than a conscious creature as you would being who you are now, the odds that you would get to the *point* where the probability that you were born is 1, are astronomically low. Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding something. It seems to me, even if the odds are something like billions in 10^2,685,000, that it still very low on a universal scale.
Posted by UndeniableReality 2 years ago
I think there's a misunderstanding about the probabilities. What they calculated was, roughly, incorrectly, and in a very oversimplified way (so I don't take it as meaningful at all - also with some grade 8 math you can catch an error at the end), the probability of the exact sperm and egg fusing. There have been billions of humans and there are billions of star systems. There are some very large numbers you would need to multiply back into that probability. This reasoning is akin to saying that the probability of that particular raindrop falling on me is almost zero, so it's impossible for me to get wet when it rains. And then your reasoning would be something like saying, therefore I am not a physical being and I invented water.

It's true that you specifically could potentially (if the universe is nondeterministic) have been born as someone else (different sperm or egg), but someone would have been born. The probability that you were born though, now, is 1.

I suspect some of his error is similar to how people don't understand how to calculate that the probability that two people in a room of 23 people sharing the same birthday is 1/2. Probability is not intuitive to humans, generally.

One more note, I don't know how much stock we should put into one of the most difficult probability calculations one could come up with (not that we have the data to make a real attempt in the first place) when the solution being proposed is by an MD (not even a graduate degree in any field of science) who's famous for his book on "The Tao of Dating: A thinking man's guide to success with women". That's more than a little silly =P
Posted by OpponentDestroyer 2 years ago
I will concede that I may be... inflating my conclusions a bit. There is a necessary leap of imagination, yes. I am making a philosophical argument, not a mathematical one. The first argument itself was not intended to demonstrate that there is likely an afterlife but that any individual person has an objectively very low probability of experiencing there own subjective existence. It is perfectly possible that it is the case that everyone is simply that lucky. But I am doubtful. I'm not saying there's anything *wrong* with the probability, but that when an additional, philosophical principle is added to the picture, it is more intelligible. There is a great relief of cognitive dissonance. Whether that is evidence of something or proof that I'm deluding myself is your judgement.
Posted by UndeniableReality 2 years ago
That is simply not how probability works. I would teach you Introduction to Probability theory if you have taken Differential Calculus, Integral Calculus, two Linear Algebras, abstract Algrebra, and combinatorics. Have you taken these before?

Even if we assume the calculation is correct (although I don't accept all of the assumptions made, and calculating the probability of a past event has certain obvious problems), what you're saying is that the probability of a specific human being born is tiny, therefore we are immortal. One does not follow from the other, regardless of probabilities.
Posted by OpponentDestroyer 2 years ago
To UndeniableReality:

I did not calculate anything myself. I provided the link to the first article I could find on the subject. To be honest, I'm sure there have been much more rigorous attempts at such a calculation, but I imagine those would only be even more startlingly in favor of my position.

The methodology was not to calculate the probability of the existence of an afterlife *directly,* rather it was to calculate one's odds of existing as one incarnation and only one, by factoring in all (maybe not all, but a very thorough hypothetical number) contingencies necessary in the past for one to exist. It takes into account things like your parents meeting, all of your ancestors successfully reproducing, etc., all the way to how many atoms there are in the known universe. The result, simply put, is that statistically speaking, none of us should exist in the first place.

As I see it, either 1) we simply accept that we are miraculously lucky, or 2) we are more skeptical in the face of such an astonishing number, and make an inference that there is some fact which negates or greatly decreases that number. I have chosen 2, and though further reasoning, along with my argument against physicalism, came to the conclusion that the best explanation is a form of necessary and eternal metaphysical idealism, which implies that every person has a necessary aspect which has always been and will never die.
Posted by UndeniableReality 2 years ago
How did you calculate the probability of an afterlife?
Posted by Skepticalone 2 years ago
"How can consciousness arise from nothing?" It seems your main thrust is an argument from ignorance/incredulity, and you provide no alternative explanation to lack of consciousness in damaged physical brains. I hope to see you address this. That being said, I do like your argument. It will be interesting to see how your opponent responds.
Posted by OpponentDestroyer 2 years ago
@Ozzyhead: Okay, I have opened the debate to be accepted.
Posted by Ozzyhead 2 years ago
I'd do it
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con essentially loses when he accepts Pro's summary. His main objection is that Pro fails to provide empirical evidence. Although it is a fair objection, it was weakly supported. Although empirical evidence is required for truth, the debate was about probability. Pro convincingly upheld his points that an afterlife is probable. Pro actually offered empirical evidence via his probability estimates. Con fails to refutes Pro's contentions and relies upon a lot of subjective arguments like it doesn't make sense to him. Pro thus proved life after death is probable.