This is an analogy used by some Christians regarding disbelief in the afterlife and their deity. The analogy tries to compare two babies in their mother’s womb before delivery to the situation of humans living in the universe before death. One baby plays the part of a religious believer while the other plays the part of an atheist and one who disbelieves in an Abrahamic-style afterlife:
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”
1. Argument trick: Religious predictions
As with many Theist analogies that try to compare religious claims to rational belief, they always analogize to ideas that we only believe in because of direct evidence, not faith-based predictions.
In the analogy, these ideas are the “religious” baby’s suggestion that they will walk and eat outside the womb. This sounds perfectly reasonable because these are things we know to be true after having directly observed and experienced them, not after a religion just predicted them on the basis of revelation from God then it came true one day.
But the people who create these analogies do not bring attention to this issue. This has the effect of making the reader feel that religious predictions are more reasonable than they really are.
A more accurate analogy would be to have the baby make random claims without foundation, such as that outside the womb they will be able to shoot laser beams from their eyes, spring bird’s wings to fly unaided, never die, and so on.
2. The nature of delivery vs death
Delivery is not an end of the brain or the body, whereas death the end of the functioning brain. Delivery is just moving location of the same body.
The “skeptic” baby in this analogy has no reason to think that the brain is destroyed when it physically leaves the womb, so why would it question “life after delivery”? That’s like questioning “life after walking outside your house.”
The part of the analogy closest to making a comparison to destruction of the body is just the removal of the umbilical cord. But this is fundamentally different from the destruction of the entire body or brain. I will discuss this in section 2 below.
3. Not analogous: Skeptic’s reasoning
The skeptic baby denies the future ability to walk with their legs and to eat with their mouths because that is not how they do it in the womb.
But people who don’t believe in an afterlife are not basing this view purely on the exact way we personally function now or claiming that everything about our current bodies is the only way it can be. Rather, our view is based on looking at the totality of evidence about how our bodily systems work – and can potentially work – and how our experience is affected by the state of our brain under different conditions.
For example, I eat with my mouth and breathe with my lungs, but due to physiological science and observation, I know that my mind could survive despite missing numerous body parts as long as I retain some other means of getting sufficient resources to my brain.
And we know that altering the physical body and brain alters our sentient experience, including what we perceive, think, and feel emotionally. This indicates that the mind is dependent upon the brain, and that destruction of the brain ends your sentient mind’s experience. At the very least it suggests to me that if any mind persists after destruction of the brain, its basis of existence (through energy patterns or whatever it may be) would have changed to such a degree that your faculties would be tremendously limited or what remains would not even be the same person.
(Claims of out of body experiences are worth investigating, but so far they don’t offer much objective, replicable, or consistent evidence – let alone any indication of the scenario that Christians believe occurs after death).
Future evidence may paint a new picture for us – one the favors some manner of afterlife, or undermines it instead. But rational belief with the highest probability of being correct is based on current evidence, not assumptions.
The point on which I agree with the analogy however, is that we don’t understand how sentience works very well (as a general concept), so we don’t know what other ways life may exist or how a different sort of mind may experience existence. If this were the extent of the analogy’s point then I would be fine with it.
But the problem is that religious believers make specific claims of what we will see and experience after death of the body, and they do so with an extremely high degree of certainty despite an abyss of rational support.
4. Meeting the mother
The “religious” baby claims that she knows they will meet the mother, and the baby knows the mother exists because she says that everything around us is the mother.
But in the analogy, the baby knows about the mother from objective, observable, tangible, physical evidence. This would compare with the universe itself – which atheists obviously do believe in – not with the Abrahamic deity.
The comparison of the mother to God doesn’t work because there is not a body of objective evidence that indicates an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being outside of space and time that created the universe exists; and the information believers present as evidence relies upon the use of non sequitur reasoning to conclude that their conception of God is the logical implication of that evidence.
Of course religious believers disagree about the implications of the evidence they present, and I address their arguments elsewhere on this site. But my point is that for the analogy of the mother to be convincing, it would ironically depend on the skeptic accepting the view that the real world evidence actually points to God. However, if that were the case then the skeptic would not be a skeptic anymore and the analogy would serve no point.
5. The mother will take care of them?
The “religious” baby claims that she knows the mother will take care of them. This of course is meant to be compared to the Christian heaven where people will live closely with God.
This is another poor comparison. Not all mothers take good care of their children. Some abandon their babies, others are abusive. The babies cannot be certain that the mother will take care of them.
But more significantly, the babies in the analogy actually have a much stronger reason to believe that the mother will care for them than we have to believe that a god would take care of us. The babies live a safe life, protected in the womb and all their needs are met with no effort required on their part, whereas in life outside the womb, humans experience tremendous stress, malice, inequality, scarcity, and suffering, and even most of those who do not suffer the worst conditions sill need to work hard and struggle to maintain a decent life.