Recently in a conversation with a Hindu regarding their belief systems, that person told that a Canadian physicist named Dr.Ian Stevenson from Virgina University has scientifically proved reincarnation exists. When I went through some of his articles it puzzled me. How does one respond to that???


@Anuraag Great question :slight_smile: @Lakshmismehta may have some thoughts on the best way to respond to the person in this situation. Regarding Ian Stevenson, his first book was not initially published because his interpreter had been accused of lying. Stevenson admitted that the man had lied in certain cases, but did not allow this fact to invalidate his research. He often worked in countries where he did not know the language or the culture well, which is a serious issue with his studies. Furthermore, because Stevenson was working with young children the likelihood of researcher bias or the families coaching the children would be high.

As I do believe in evil supernatural forces, I would say that in cases that really do appear genuine you would have to consider that a possible explanation apart from reincarnation. However, most, if not all, of these cases seem to be fraudulent.

Critiques of Stevenson’s work include:

  • frequently there was contact between the deceased family and the family of the child prior to the research being conducted
  • the families interviewed were mainly poor, but the child often claimed to be the reincarnation of someone from a wealthier class, which could suggest ulterior motives
  • the types of minor discrepancies that often occurred are what would likely happen if someone was repeating information they had overheard
  • local interpreters who believed in reincarnation may have unintentionally distorted their translations
  • in a town of 2,500 kids, 170 of whom have two birthmarks, there is a 71% chance a birthmark will correspond with the entry or exit wound of a deceased person, showing that birthmark data is not strong evidence

Champe Ransom, whom Stevenson hired as an assistant in the 1970s, wrote an unpublished report about Stevenson’s work, which Edwards cites in his Immortality (1992) and Reincarnation (1996). According to Ransom, Edwards wrote, Stevenson asked the children leading questions, filled in gaps in the narrative, did not spend enough time interviewing them, and left too long a period between the claimed recall and the interview; it was often years after the first mention of a recall that Stevenson learned about it. In only eleven of the 1,111 cases Ransom looked at had there been no contact between the families of the deceased and of the child before the interview; in addition, according to Ransom, seven of those eleven cases were seriously flawed. He also wrote that there were problems with the way Stevenson presented the cases, in that he would report his witnesses’ conclusions, rather than the data upon which the conclusions rested. Weaknesses in cases would be reported in a separate part of his books, rather than during the discussion of the cases themselves. Ransom concluded that it all amounted to anecdotal evidence of the weakest kind.

  • Why do reincarnation stories typically involve people from the same region of the world?
  • Why are events between lives rarely remembered?
  • Why doesn’t everyone remember a previous life?
  • Why do people generally remember only one previous incarnation and not multiple? (in Stevenson’s cases)
  • Why are well documented cases found only in a limited number of countries?
  • Why do memories of a previous life fade away as the child grows older?
  • In some of Stevenson’s cases, the personality of a person who was not yet dead appeared in a child - how is that possible?

This abbreviated critique notes several weaknesses in Ian Stevenson’s reincarnation research based on an examination of the cases at the University of Virginia’s then Division of Parapsychology. The analysis raises issues about the use of leading questions, the inadequate depth of the investigations, the substantial allowance left for memory distortions and embellishment in the case reports, and the likelihood of contamination by normal sources in the vast majority of cases due to communication between the families of the deceased and the families of the “reborn” long before any investigation ensued. In addition, the weaknesses of the cases are somewhat obscured by Stevenson discussing them in a general way in a separate part of the report or book rather than in the actual presentation of the case itself. The critique concludes that both the behavioral and informational features of the “rebirth data” are weak

In Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds.), The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death . Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 571-574 (2015)

You can read comments on Stevenson’s work int he preview of this book for free:


@Anuraag, the information that @SeanO has shared is very helpful. There are several methodological issues raised regarding Dr. Ian Stevenson’s work. His work has been around for a while. I found that the article here provides a helpful summary on the methods and possible alternative explanations for his observations, an excerpt is below.

Leading reincarnation researcher Dr. Ian Stephenson, head of the department of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Virginia, believes there is compelling evidence for reincarnation. Proponents give five proofs: hypnotic regression, déjà vu, Xenoglossy, birthmarks, and the Bible.

The first proof is hypnotic regression. Reincarnation proponents cite examples of individuals giving vivid and accurate descriptions of people, places, and events the individual could not have previously known. Today there is a small branch of psychology that practice past life therapy, the belief that one’s present problems are the result of problems from a previous life.

However, the accuracy of facts attained from hypnosis remains highly questionable. First, some people are known to have lied under hypnosis. Second, human memory is subject to distortions of all sorts. Third, under hypnosis a patient’s awareness of fantasy and reality is blurred. Dr. Kenneth Bowers, a psychologist at the University of Waterloo and Dr. Jan Dywane at McMaster University states:

“. . .although hypnosis increases recall, it also increases errors. In their study, hypnotized subjects correctly recalled twice as many items as did unhypnotized members of a control group but also made three times as many mistakes. During hypnosis, you are creating memories.”{3}

Fourth, studies have shown that under hypnosis, patients are easily influenced by leading questions. In the process of hypnosis, the patient is asked to release control of his or her consciousness and body. Hans Holzer states, “Generally women are easier to hypnotize than men. But there are exceptions even among women, who may have difficulty letting go control over their bodies and personalities, something essential if genuine hypnosis is to take place.”{4} In this state, memories can be altered by the cues from the hypnotist. For these reasons, many law courts do not consider testimony under hypnosis reliable evidence.

Past life recall can also be attributed to the influence of culture. Cultures heavily steeped in the doctrine of reincarnation create an environment conducive to past life recall. The countries of India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and western Asia have a very high number of cases. Many who make claims of past life recall win the respect of their society. In areas like these the culture can have a strong influence on one’s subconscious mind. If reincarnation is true, past life recall should be prevalent in all cultures, not primarily in one area.

Finally, the majority of the incidents occur among children. Dr. Stephenson states, “Many of those claiming to have lived before are children. Often they are very emotional when they talk of the person they used to be, and they give minute details of the life they lived.”{5} Children are the most susceptible to suggestion and their testimony should be viewed with caution.

At best, the evidence from hypnotic regress can only suggest a possibility of reincarnation, but it does not conclusively prove it.

DĂ©jĂ  vu refers to a distinct feeling you have been to a place or performed an event before, while engaged in something that is presently happening. Reincarnation proponents attribute this to a previous life. However, researchers give alternate explanations. In our subconscious, we often relate a present event with a past one that the conscious mind does not remember. Since the two events are similar we often fuse the events together in our minds, thus creating an impression that we have experienced this before. Other researchers have shown that the data that enters the eye is sometimes delayed for a microsecond on its way to the brain. This leads one to think that they have seen the data before.

Xenoglossy is the sudden ability to speak a language one has never learned. Reincarnation advocates attribute this as the language one spoke in a previous life. However, cryptoamnesia can account for this phenomenon. In cryptoamnesia, an individual forgets information that was learned earlier and recalls it at a later time, not knowing its source. It is possible that one can hear foreign terms through the media or as a child and recall these when prompted.

The fourth proof is the appearance of unique birthmarks that are similar to those possessed by a deceased individual. However, it is difficult to show any connection to reincarnation. Similarity does not prove sameness.

Mark Albrecht’s book, Reincarnation - a Christian appraisal was one of the first books I read and it addressed some of these claims of Dr. Stevenson on past life recall.

Gary Habermas and JP Moreland - Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality may be another good resource. Some concerns raised by these authors including those discussed above are :

  • Ian Stevenson himself illustrates and concludes that much of his data appears to fall on a continuum that it does not permit a firm distinction between reincarnation or possession later by a disincarnate spirit. For reincarnation to be true, according to Stevenson, the spirit must enter the body between conception and birth and possession is when spirit enters after embryonic development. In a couple examples he shares, the deceased died during the individual’s life making reincarnation impossible.
  • If another spirit has control to speak through a child, how can one rule out the possibility that the child (rather impressionably) accepted the spirit of the deceased person as himself or herself?
  • There is yet no fail safe way to determine that another spirit mut have entered before birth, as required for reincarnation hypothesis. If reincarnation is pre-birth entry, it is still impossible to distinguish it from pre-birth possession. Why would pre-birth spirit entry necessitate the conclusion that reincarnation occurred?
  • How do we bridge the gap between an individual’s detailed knowledge pertaining to a person who lived in the past and the assumption that the two people are one and the same? The identity question needs further evidence.
  • Albrecht cites absence of written information prior to investigation, unreliability of memories and perception, lack of neutral observation, and average gap of 3-4 years between initial symptoms and publicity allowing for contamination of findings.
  • Lack of answers to moral philosophy supported by reincarnation is another problem. What is the sense in which person in the present reap what they have shown in the past in these evidences?
  • Albrecht cites cases of fraud, either intentional or unintentional.

So based on these lines of evidence, the authors conclude that reincarnation has no real data that cannot be seriously challenged.

I look forward to hearing any follow up updates you may have about this conversation. May God open your friend’s heart to consider these issues. God bless!

1 Like

@Lakshmismehta @SeanO
My apologies for the late reply
Thank you for taking time to answer my question. Sadly in the conversation I didn’t get perfect situation to mention this very issue. But in the conversation I came to know that the other person accepts Bible as word of God which is infallible and when I asked his view on Jesus, he said “He is son of God,In fact every prophet can claim themselves as son of God because God has give them that right, and regarding Jesus’s divinity he was not agreeing that actually God came to earth in human form.” At one point he said, " Sometimes God comes in human form but he possess spiritual body which looks like material body for us, that is why Jesus suffered on the cross, and possessing material body makes God contaminated so he can’t have material body. And even in the case of prophets also he stick with that. When God has choosen them they become spiritual beings and can’t sin and can’t be in material body.
I concluded by saying, That’s what entire crucifixion is all about. And I quoted John 3:16 and our argument came to an end.


@Anuraag, no problem with the delay :slightly_smiling_face: I am glad to know you got to converse with your friend a little more about his views on Jesus and you turned the conversation around to how God chooses us in Christ. Way to go! May God continue to work in his heart. With my family too, I hear the same objections as your friend. They are willing to accept a lot of things about Jesus but not His claims to divinity. I hope you will have a chance to dig deeper from the bible on the misconceptions he holds about Jesus as your friend seems open to the bible.