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- My 1987 book Beyond Death: Evidence for Life after Death1 offered a brief defense of personal survival and concluded that the evidence garnered from the best case studies on reincarnation2, possession, apparitions of the dead, near-death experiences3, out-of-body experiences, and trance mediumship is collectively compelling in ways not yet appreciated either by the public at large or by the scientific, religious, and academic community. More precisely, the book asserted that we now have, for the first time in our history as a species, compelling empirical evidence for belief in some form of personal survival after death. Given the general importance of the conclusion, I wrote the book for a generally literate audience and argued the case as simply as possible without doing violence to the complexity of the issues involved. It was a thin book intended for a large popular audience.
- Although the first chapter of Beyond Death was a defense of the belief in personal reincarnation4, no sooner had the book gone to press than new evidence emerged along with a number of spirited and sustained attacks on the belief in reincarnation5 – attacks that raised many objections and arguments not considered at all in the first chapter of Beyond Death. For example, in 1987 the magazines Free Inquiry and the Sceptical Inquirer collectively published no fewer than 100 journal pages, authored by at least three sceptics, devoted to showing either the falsity or the absurdity of belief in reincarnation6. Unfortunately, as a matter of policy, neither of those magazines would allow a response of more than 2,000 words (approximately eight pages) to the essays they published. During this time also, Geddes MacGregor's Reincarnation7 in Christianity came to my attention as an argument urging, persuasively, that the belief in reincarnation8 was legitimate9 for all Christians. Because I had argued earlier that Christianity had been and probably would continue to be the primary reason for the suppression of the belief in the West, it seemed that this topic deserved a fuller discussion than it received in Beyond Death.
- Also, between then and now, I found more persuasive evidence and more interesting discussions on the topics10 of apparitions of the dead, possession, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences11, and the validity of mediumship as a source of evidence for personal postmortem survival. As a result, this book seeks to offer a much stronger defense of personal survival based on a more careful assessment of the available empirical evidence than was intended or accomplished in Beyond Death. Given the breadth of the changes, the scope of the critical discussions, and the new material covered, it would be a serious mistake to classify this effort as a second edition of Beyond Death. The conclusion is the same, and some of the case studies are the same; but this book is quite different. Hopefully, the reader will find this book a much stronger and considerably more persuasive argument for reincarnation12 and personal survival.
- A word about the case studies is in order. My primary concern in selecting case studies has been to present the most compelling cases – most compelling in terms of the kind and force of evidence needed to counter the sceptical response. I have been forced, therefore, to exclude a number of cases that are extremely interesting and entertaining, because they did not have the appropriate logical features to be compelling in the way of evidential strength. In selecting particular case studies as offering the best evidence for personal survival, the entertainment value of the studies was not a relevant factor.
- When asked whether I believe in reincarnation13, my answer is that it makes little difference what anyone in fact believes in this matter; the question, rather, should be this: "If a person were to believe in reincarnation14 or in any case some form of personal postmortem survival, for the reasons defended in this book, would that person's belief be a rational belief?" My answer to this question is yes, and this book is a defense of that answer. As a matter of fact, my answer is even stronger because it goes on to assert that it would be irrational to withhold belief in the presence of the data and arguments presented here. Even so, on some days, like many people, I find it difficult to believe in much of anything.
- Of course, the plain and awful truth of the matter may be that some of us are not interested in finding rationally compelling answers on this issue. We seem more interested in being supported in beliefs we find congenial15, even if they are unwarranted. There are many who have a strong emotional interest in believing that reincarnation16 – or any form of personal survival – must be absurd, silly, rationally indefensible, or just plain boring. Where the emotional investment is deep, the fear of being wrong determines what one will see, or can see, as evidence. The only rational antidote for such fear is confrontation with the evidence17. And, as we all know, if the fear is deep enough, a calm philosophical confrontation is impossible.
- Even so, there is an undetermined number of people who are interested, able, and willing to confront their biases, just as there is an undetermined number of people who can be persuaded by the superior force of evidence and sound argument. This book is for them and is inspired by the American philosopher Charles Peirce's belief that the truth, sooner or later – however frequently crushed to earth and ignored – will arise and flourish just because it is the truth. So, in the end it makes little difference whether the world is persuaded by the truth in the short run. But it makes a world of difference that we find out what the truth is. And that is the only point to this book.
- I am very indebted to a number of people who have encouraged this project.
- Ian Stevenson took time from his busy schedule to share his research and his insight. As a matter of fact, he read carefully every line and footnote of an earlier version of this manuscript, made a long and detailed list of compelling suggestions and criticisms, and offered the use of his library. Such generosity and seriousness is a rare and enviable trait. As a result of taking his criticisms and suggestions fully into account, writing this book took at least a year longer, but hopefully the product is better thereby than it would otherwise have been.
- Similarly, Stephen Braude no less graciously gave the manuscript a hard reading and provided a number of very helpful criticisms and suggestions. In the end, while I still disagree with some of Braude's basic views on the role of ESP in accounting for data that dualists regard as evidence for postmortem personal survival, his comments were extremely pointed and required a good deal of attention and extensive rewriting.
Footnote 9: I don’t believe it. What are the arguments?
Footnote 10: This is a rag-bag collection of rubbish. The author evidently has something he wants to “prove”, and doesn’t care where his “evidence” comes from.
Footnote 15: This is true – on both sides of the fence – though it is presumably more congenial to believe in post-mortem survival than extinction.
Footnote 17: The issue is with the “evidence” itself, not what it’s evidence of. Most “intellectuals” – those who care about arguments – are naturalists these days, and even the appraisal of lots of this “evidence” demands a suspension of naturalist belief.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)