Lucretius Against Reincarnation

reincNaturalists frequently and easily reject the salvific theories of the Abrahamic religions, but there are some who, influenced by New Age ideas, claim that reincarnation is somehow more plausible, makes more sense and is more provable than rebirth in or transportation to heavenly or hellish planets after death.

There are even memes online that seek to justify belief in reincarnation by showing pictures in black and white and paintings of people long dead, next to pictures of people alive today who look so alike that they seem like they might be the same person. With the advent of the age of information, we should expect these cases to multiply. But since there are look-alikes who live at the same time and sometimes in the same country, and are obviously not the same soul reincarnated, then it shouldn’t be difficult to fathom that look-alikes to famous and non-famous people can also be born in future generations. There is no reason to interpret the accident of looking like someone long-dead as an instance of reincarnation, as there is no continuity in the memories and relations, or in the atomic bodily structure of the two persons.

In the following passages, Lucretius rejects the idea of reincarnation, arguing that we have no memory of life prior to birth, and later mocks the idea of souls waiting to be born in some factory in heaven where human bodies are made.

And besides,
If soul immortal is, and winds its way
Into the body at the birth of man,
Why can we not remember something, then,
Of life-time spent before? why keep we not
Some footprints of the things we did of, old?
But if so changed hath been the power of mind,
That every recollection of things done
Is fallen away, at no o’erlong remove
Is that, I trow, from what we mean by death.
Wherefore ’tis sure that what hath been before
Hath died, and what now is is now create.

Again, at parturitions of the wild
And at the rites of Love, that souls should stand
Ready hard by seems ludicrous enough-
Immortals waiting for their mortal limbs
In numbers innumerable, contending madly
Which shall be first and chief to enter in!-
Unless perchance among the souls there be
Such treaties stablished that the first to come
Flying along, shall enter in the first,
And that they make no rivalries of strength!

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura III.670-78, 776-782 

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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4 Responses to Lucretius Against Reincarnation

  1. makagutu says:

    I am yet to meet a guy who was a donkey in a past life


    • Michael says:

      Hindu and Buddhist belief claims people become all sorts of animals, donkeys included. They also say we don’t recall past lives, however (at least usually).


      • makagutu says:

        I think saying we don’t recall past lives is a sure way of making the claim immune to challenge. You can’t prove someone wasn’t a cat in a past life.


      • Michael says:

        True. However, lots of New Age folks claim to recall past lives in great detail (few seem to believe they were ever animals though).


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