Reincarnation: A Critical Examination
Edwards (Paul)
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See "Martin (Raymond) - Review of Paul Edwards. Reincarnation: A Critical Examination".

"Martin (Raymond) - Review of Paul Edwards. Reincarnation: A Critical Examination"

Source: Religious Studies, 33, Issue 03, September 1997, pp 349-352

First and Last Paragraphs
  1. In this hard-hitting book Paul Edwards dons the mantle of a warrior in the battle against what he considers to be a dangerous and often immoral irrationality, much of it encouraged by ‘Eastern religions’. His adversaries are those who espouse reincarnation1 and related doctrines, such as karma. Typically Edwards directs his attacks at credulous non-philosophers who have embedded their beliefs in elaborate world-views, which they explain incautiously. Edwards takes advantage to inflict some heavy blows, often delivered with great bravado. As the chapters roll by, battle after battle is won, foe after foe vanquished. All good fun, no doubt, and one is tempted to accept it in that spirit. Many who share Edwards' point of view will find his critiques more than sufficient. However, since Edwards rarely considers ways in which the views under examination could be reformulated so as to avoid his objections, some may be left wondering how he would have fared had he done so.
  2. …. Long discussion of Edwards’s discussion of Astral Bodies.
  3. Whether or not Edwards’ critique of the views he considers is sufficient, he has surveyed many of the major arguments and sources of evidence for reincarnation2 and related doctrines, much of it in obscure places, and, thus, has made the task of people who want to think philosophically about reincarnation3 a great deal easier. He has provided clear, uncompromising arguments from a point of view that, while it may (or may not) be overly dismissive, is quite prevalent among contemporary philosophers, particularly in the analytic tradition. And, finally, because he writes so clearly and engagingly, and even partly because he tends sometimes to be so outrageously smug, many, such as myself, will find that his book is not only useful but also enjoyable.

COMMENT: Review of "Edwards (Paul) - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination".

"Edwards (Paul) - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination - Introduction"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Introduction

Full Text
  1. It is well-known that the main philosophical tenets of Christianity and Judaism — belief in God, life after death1, and miracles—have been subjected to a devastating critical examination by a number of the greatest Western philosophers. Hume, Diderot, Kant, Mill, and Bertrand Russell are just some of the names that occur to one at once in this connection. No Western philosopher has offered a similarly detailed critique of reincarnation2 and the related doctrine of Karma probably because very few people in the West had taken these theories seriously. Unfortunately this is no longer true. The belief in reincarnation3 and Karma has been steadily gaining support in recent decades. This is no doubt due to the decline of Christianity, but it is also, very regrettably, one aspect of the tide of irrationalism that has been flooding the Western World, especially the United States. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive and systematic evaluation of reincarnation4 and Karma and the present volume is designed to fill this gap.
  2. I have attempted to state, fairly and fully, all the main arguments offered in support of reincarnation5 and Karma. I have tried to show that this evidence is worthless. It has been claimed that such facts as child prodigies, deja vu experiences, hypnotic regressions, and the reincarnation6 memories of a number of children, mainly in India and in other countries where belief in reincarnation7 is widespread, can only be explained by reincarnation8. None of these claims stands up under critical examination.
  3. I also try to show that there are grave conceptual problems connected with these doctrines. I try to show that the law of Karma is no law at all, offering only post hoc explanations. Reincarnationism9 is not an empty theory in the same way, but many facts are clearly inconsistent with it. These facts include, but are not limited to, population increases, the fact that life in the universe is relatively recent, and various features of evolutionary history. There are other more basic reasons for rejecting reincarnation10. One of these concerns personal identity. Neither of the two criteria for personal identity — bodily continuity11 and memory — are satisfied in alleged cases of reincarnation12. There is also the altogether fatal problem of specifying a credible way in which a person can come to inhabit another body after its original body has died. Reincarnationists13 are committed to the absurd notion of an astral or "spiritual" body and the even more absurd view that such a body invades the prospective mother's womb at conception or at some stage during gestation. Finally, we have enormous evidence that the mind or consciousness cannot exist without the brain. Reincarnationists14 and other friends of the occult get extremely irritated and defensive when the brain-mind dependence facts are mentioned, but their irritation will not make these disturbing facts go away.
  4. I refer to the problems of finding a way in which the mind of a human being could make its transition from one body to another as the "modus operandi problem." This problem also arises in connection with the belief in a God who is supposed to interfere in the world. I have added to the main body of the book an "Irreverent Postscript" on the difficulties that believers face in this connection. This postscript is "irreverent" but entirely serious. I don't think that believers have an answer.
  5. The description just offered does not cover the entire scope of the book. I have also dealt in considerable detail with the claims of leading figures of the new immortality movement which arose in the United States in the mid-1970s. The writers targeted in this connection are Elizabeth Kubler-Ross; Raymond Moody, the author of the bestselling "Moody (Raymond A.) - Life After Life"; Karlis Osis and Erlandur Haraldsson, who specialize in deathbed visions; and Stanislav Grof and Joan Halifax, who have argued that certain experiences during LSD sessions support reincarnation15 as well as other supernaturalistic theories.
  6. I have not discussed one phenomenon on which some reincarnationists16 base their views. This is Xenoglossy, the alleged capacity of some individuals to understand and speak a language they did not learn in their present life. This topic has been treated in two splendid articles by Professor Sarah G. Thomason, a professional linguist, and in Ian Wilson's Mind Out of Time. I could not add anything of significance to their discussions and I refer the interested reader to their publications17.
  7. The writer most frequently criticized in this book is Professor Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia. I should like to make it clear that there is nothing the least bit personal in these comments. I have never met Professor Stevenson. I have occasionally corresponded with him and he has always courteously responded to requests for reprints of his publications. He has written more fully and more intelligibly in defense of reincarnation18 than anybody else and this is the only reason why he features so prominently in my discussions.
  8. In 1986-1987, I published a four-part series of articles, "The Case Against Reincarnation19," in Free Inquiry, and something should be said about the relation between that series and the present book. Space limitations prevented me from discussing several significant aspects of the subject in the articles and they are now covered in considerable detail. The discussion of the other topics that were covered in the Free Inquiry series has been greatly expanded. The articles generated a great deal of correspondence, a selection of which was published in the Fall 1987 issue of Free Inquiry. Most of the correspondents expressed their relief and pleasure that the case against reincarnation20 had at last been presented to a wide public. A letter I particularly cherish referred to my "irrepressible Voltairean sense of humor." The pronouncements of many religious apologists lend themselves to such treatment, but reincarnationists21 are perhaps better at offering wild absurdities than the apologists for Christianity and Judaism. I don't think I have missed too many Voltairean opportunities.
  9. I am indebted to my good friend Professor Michael Wreen, who read the whole manuscript and made innumerable helpful suggestions. I also wish to thank Tim Madigan and Champe Ransom for reading several chapters and offering valuable advice. Two good friends and former students, Pattie Eaton and Chris Padgett, helped me with the research for the original Free Inquiry articles. There was no way of expressing my gratitude at the time and I am happy to do so now. I am greatly obliged to Professor Bruce Reichenbach for sending me his publications on Karma and the work of other writers which I could not have easily obtained. I also want to thank my friend John Beloff, the editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, for repeatedly supplying me with bibliographical material. Joe Nickell kindly helped me to track down material about Sathya Sal Baba, a holy miracle worker who has a huge following in India and who has also impressed some Western writers. Finally, I wish to thank Susan Tiller, who has been typing all my manuscripts for close to twenty years. She is not only a superb typist, but she has also been a wonderfully supportive friend.

In-Page Footnotes ("Edwards (Paul) - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination - Introduction")

Footnote 17:
  • S. G. Thomason, "Do You Remember Your Previous Life's Language in Your Present Incarnation?" American Speech (1984), and "Past Tongues Remembered?" Skeptical Inquirer (Summer 1987).
  • Wilson's book was published in London and New York in 1982. The discussions of Xenoglossy occur in Chapters 5 and 6.
  • There is a reply to Thomason by Robert Almeder in Skeptical Inquirer (Spring 1988).
  • The same issue contains a rejoinder by Thomason.

"Edwards (Paul) - Reincarnation, Karma, and Competing Doctrines of Survival"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 1

  1. Reincarnation1 and Karma
  2. Reincarnation2 and Dualism
  3. The Logical Advantages of Reincarnation3 Over Other Forms of Survival
  4. The Body Snatchers
  5. Choosing Our Parents or McTaggart’s Hats
  6. The Alleged Benefits of Belief in Reincarnation4
  7. The Plan of This Book

"Edwards (Paul) - The Moral Argument"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 2

"Edwards (Paul) - The Law of Karma"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 3

  1. The Pseudo-Empirical Nature of this Law
  2. Karmic Administration Problems
  3. The Emptiness of Karmic Directives
  4. Some Startling Implications
  5. Karma and a Fair Starting Point
  6. How Karma Consoles a Grieving Mother
  7. “Cosmic” Claims

"Edwards (Paul) - Child Prodigies, déjà vu Experiences, and Group Reincarnations"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 4

  1. Child Prodigies, Homosexuality and Other “Unexplained” Facts
  2. Déjà vu Experiences
  3. Reincarnation1 and the God-of-the-Gaps

"Edwards (Paul) - The Rise and Fall of Bridey Murphy"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 5

  1. Virginia Tighe and Bridey Murphy
  2. “A Parapsychological Classic”
  3. The Hearst Expose
  4. The Real Case Against Bernstein
  5. Cryptomnesia
  6. Bridey Murphy in the Astral World
  7. The Case Remains “Controversial”

"Edwards (Paul) - More Hypnotic Regressions and 'Progressions'"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 6

  1. The Interplanetary Regressions of “Sir” Alexander Cannon
  2. Note on Cannon’s Titles
  3. Voltaire and the Beheading of Shirley MacLaine
  4. Reincarnation1 International”
  5. Futurology
  6. The Journal of Regression Therapy
  7. Does Past-Life Therapy Work?

"Edwards (Paul) - Spontaneous Memories of Earlier Lives"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 7

"Edwards (Paul) - The Conservation of Spiritual Energy"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 8

"Edwards (Paul) - The Astral Body"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 9

  1. Bilocations
  2. Out-of-Body Experiences
  3. An Astral Grand Tour of the Next World
  4. Subsequent Corroborations
  5. Astral Tribulations
    … 5.1 The Problem of Astral Attire
    … 5.2 The Question of Memory Transfer
    … 5.3 Synchronisation
    … 5.4 The Identity Problem
    … 5.5 The Astral Body, too, Must Die

"Edwards (Paul) - Telephone Calls from the Dead, Birth Marks, and the Modus Operandi Problem"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 10

  1. Telephone Calls from the Beyond
  2. Tape Recorded Messages
  3. Birthmarks and Birth Defects
  4. The Modus Operandi Problem

"Edwards (Paul) - Dr. Kubler-Ross, Dr. Moody, and the New Immortality Movement"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 11

  1. On Death and Dying
  2. “One Hundred and Ninety-Three Clear-Cut Cases from All Over the World”
  3. Kubler-Ross and Dr. Moody
  4. Moody and His Critics
  5. Kubler-Ross, Osis, Haraldsson, and Grof
  6. A Note on Later Champions of Near-Death Experiences1

COMMENT: See Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

"Edwards (Paul) - The Fantasies of Dr. Kubler-Ross"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 12

  1. The Materialisation of Mary Swartz
  2. Robert Monroe, Instructor in Astral Travel
  3. The Astral Adventures of Kubler-Ross
  4. The Canadian Television Interview (1978)
  5. The Rev. Barham and the Four Celestial Informants
  6. Kubler-Ross as Teacher of Jesus
  7. Pandemonium at Shanti Nilaya
  8. The Break with Barham
  9. “Isn’t She Wonderful?”

COMMENT: See Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

"Edwards (Paul) - Dr. Grof, LSD, and the Amorous Snake-Woman"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 13

  1. Dr. Grof, LSD, and the Spring Grove Program
  2. The Therapeutic “Dyad”
  3. Psychiatrist and Metaphysician
  4. “The Supreme and Ultimate Principle”
  5. All Is Well
  6. Group Consciousness
  7. Grof and the Amorous Snake-Woman
  8. Karmic Cyclones
  9. Journeys into the Future
  10. The Death-Rebirth Experience
  11. “Gross Matter” and a Gross Fallacy

"Edwards (Paul) - The Population Problem and Other Commonsense and Scientific Objections"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 14

  1. Tertullian’s Objection
  2. Reincarnation1 and Evolution
  3. The Recency of Life
  4. The Population Problem
  5. The Absence of Memories

"Edwards (Paul) - The 'Interregnum': What Happens Between Lives?"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 15

  1. The Duration of the Interregnum
  2. The Bardo Body and Its Relatives
  3. Womb Invasions
  4. The Fruit of Forgetfulness

"Edwards (Paul) - More about Dr. Ian Stevenson, the 'Galileo of Reincarnation'"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 16

  1. Stevenson’s Standing
  2. The Initial Presumption against Reincarnation1
  3. The Holes in the Reincarnation2 Cases
  4. Wilson, Roll, and Chari
  5. The Fading of the Memories
  6. The Case of Dr. Barker
  7. The Problem of Western Children
  8. Stevenson and “The Man of Miracles”
  9. Some Notes on Miracles and “Holy” Lying
  10. The Ransom Report
  11. A Note Concerning Eyewitnesses

"Edwards (Paul) - The Dependence of Consciousness on the Brain"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Chapter 17

  1. The Scope of the Argument
  2. Alzheimer’s Disease and Comas
  3. The Body as the Instrument of the Mind
  4. The Absence of Direct Negative Evidence: Mill, Butler, Ewing
  5. A Note on Panpsychism
  6. The Brain-Mind Dependence Thesis and What It Is Not – The Confusion of Penfield, Thouless, and Ducasse
  7. Can the Brain Produce Thought?
  8. Epistemological Verus Ontological Priority
  9. “Extra-Cerebral” Memories
  10. The Mind and the Soul

"Edwards (Paul) - Irreverent Postscript: God and the Modus Operandi Problem"

Source: Edwards - Reincarnation: A Critical Examination, 2002, Postscript

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