The law of conservation of magic – a follow-up to my previous post on the law of conservation of energy

A while ago I wrote about the contrived creationist argument that abuses the law of conservation of energy to reach for an excuse to imagine that science confirms life continues after death. It’s been on my mind again since the subject came up recently, this time raised by a supposed atheist. Looking back on that old post, I don’t think I gave enough context then, so it is worth revisiting.

Briefly, the law of conservation of energy states:

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only converted from one form of energy to another. This means that a system always has the same amount of energy, unless it’s added from the outside.

Makes sense… Imagine the universe as a closed system of finite energy. Over time, that energy changes form many times but is never destroyed. Unfortunately this opens a door for magical thinkers to misstate this law as “evidence” of their magic. This argument generally comes in one of two forms, only the second of which I mentioned last time.

  1. It is a convenient excuse to assume that the energy for the beginning of the universe must have come from outside, and this outside force is then presumed to have been god. (Here is an example.)
  2. It is used to assume that consciousness, assumed to be some kind of energy, lives on after death. Since energy can’t be destroyed, proponents of this argument insist the soul lives on.

Tackling the first type of argument is easy – it’s yet another “I don’t know; therefore god” argument. God is a synonym for magic here. Like many supposed arguments for a creator, it relies on the believer already assuming that their creator exists, in which case it is just an excuse to work backwards to what they already believe. In reality, the law simply makes an observation about the universe, and the law only applies to a snapshot of the universe right now. It doesn’t say anything about where the energy came from. The universe could contain a finite amount of energy that expands and then collapses over many billions of years in a cycle, which is roughly what I believe. Note that my belief contains many gaps. No need to fill those gaps with deities or other magic.

The second kind of argument is the one I’ve often encountered, and is the one I wrote about last time. This summarizes what I wrote then:

Law of Conservation of Energy lame argument for an afterlife Example of begging the question
Premise Assume the existence of a “mind” separate to the brain, that controls the brain. (Let’s call this a soul, shall we?) Assume A.
Inference Energy is never lost, blah blah blah, some verbose crap here that distracts you from the assumption made up front. Introduce B, C, & D.
Remove B, C, & D.
Conclusion Therefore a soul exists and lives on after the body dies. Therefore A.

And I stand by that… The insistence that our soul lives on after death presupposes the existence of the soul, so it is just begging the question. Those who make such an argument use the term energy very vaguely. They assume consciousness has some source outside of the brain. So in their argument, consciousness is the energy they would like to imagine survives death. But consciousness isn’t energy. We don’t fully understand what it is, but it is clear that when our brains stop working, after our hearts stop pumping oxygenated blood into it and our nerve synapses stop firing, our consciousness, in other words our awareness and perception, ends. Consciousness is a function of our brains, a side effect of us being alive.

When we die, our bodies die. Energy does indeed change form, through decomposition, or in the case of our bodies being cremated, combustion. No energy is destroyed and there is no excuse to imagine the existence of a soul to explain some magical energy that you made up in the first place. As in my HTML table that illustrates the point from last time, you start with the assumption of a soul, a body lives and then dies, and you use a vaguely defined “energy” referring to the soul you made up and conflating it with consciousness, and then assume it lives on after death. Again, energy is just another word for magic here.

Hence I sarcastically refer to this as the law of conservation of magic. Assume magic exists. Add life. Subtract life. And what remains is the magic you assumed to begin with. Well done. All magic has been conserved. Twat!


Note: I can’t actually refute the existence of a soul. It is unfalsifiable because a soul, like a god, is assumed to be incorporeal and something that exists outside of the material universe. But in a not so strange twist, it’s unfalsifiability and it being assumed to exist outside of the material universe is exactly what makes this abuse of the law of conservation of energy a self-defeating argument. Energy in science is clearly defined, unlike this wishful thinking. The creationist argument is a poor attempt to use a pretense of scientific logic as an excuse to indulge in magical thinking, but the pretense is easy enough to see under scrutiny.

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