I received an email from David M. who didn’t like my review of Ian Stevenson’s “Children who remember previous lives” that was published three years ago in Skeptic Report. Specifically he objected to part two of that review, “The apparent belief system of Ian Stevenson”. He ignored my detailed explanation of the alternative prosaic explanations for what Stevenson had seen, and focused in on something he claims I invented, namely:
To state that cultures with specific beliefs, the change of sex, no gap between birth and death etc. never show evidence of these things is a complete fabrication.
He is referring to the fact that (according to Stevenson), reincarnations appear to coincide with the cultural beliefs of the society in which they are reported. For example, in cultures where they believe that you cannot change sex in a reincarnation, they don’t report cases of changed sex reincarnation. To me, these are indications that the children and/or the adults observing them are (knowingly or subconsciously), applying their pre-learned cultural beliefs to make the stories fit. In other words, this is a reason to doubt reincarnation. David claimed I had made this up.
Well, it was three years ago, and memory is flawed, so I went back to my review, and checked my notes against the book, and this is what I found. The paragraphs in bold below are from my original review.
Other trends are noted. For example, in cultures where:
They believe that you cannot change sex in a reincarnation, they report no cases of changed sex reincarnation. Where they do believe reincarnates can change sex, this is sometimes reported.
Was this a “complete fabrication”? I’ll quote Stevenson:
The proportion of (sex change) cases varies greatly among cultures; it ranges from 50 percent of all cases among the Athabaskan of the Canadian Northwest Terrorities to the complete absence of such cases in Lebanon and among tribes of southeastern Alaska…
When I questioned the informants in countries where sex-change cases occur, they told me that sex-change from one life to another is possible, but when I questioned the informants of cultures where such cases do not occur, they told me it is impossible.
(Page 178 – my bold.)
So if this is a “complete fabrication”, it must be Stevenson who is doing the fabricating. What about the next one:
They believe that there is no gap between death and rebirth, they always report no gap, usually with the device of a poorly remembered "intermediate life".
The Druses… believe that when a physical body dies its soul becomes immediately attached to a newly born physical body, that is, to the body of an infant just delivered to its mother. The Druses acknowledge no exceptions to this rule, and if an interval – even of a day – occurs between the death of the previous personality and the subject’s birth, they assume that an “intermediate life” filled the gap
(Page 176 – my bold.)
So that was Stevenson again. How about this:
They believe that there is no gap between death and rebirth there are no "announcing dreams", because rebirth is instantaneous. These dreams occur regularly where they believe there can be a gap.
The absence of announcing dreams in the cases among the Druses of Lebanon accords with the Druse belief that reincarnation occurs instantly at death.
(Page 175 – my bold.)
What about this:
They have a matriarchal society, the prior lives are more likely to be linked through the mother’s side of the family. The converse is true in patriarchal societies.
Among same-family cases of the Tlingit, I found a distinctive feature… in about 75 percent of the cases they are related on the side of the subject’s mother. This accords with the matrilineal organization of the Tlingit society…
Among… the Igbo of Nigeria… I have found the opposite… The Igbos have a patrilineal society
(Page 175 – my bold.)
They believe the spirits reside in a "discarnate realm" between lives, the children more frequently remember these "discarnate realms".
Stevenson tell us:
…different cultures show marked variations. I refer to memories of experiences the subjects claim to have had in a discarnate state…
Stevenson goes on to speculate how this might correlate to certain Buddhist beliefs. (Admittedly he doesn’t make a hard connection so possibly I overreached marginally in this point – but not by much.)
So none of my points were fabricated. I wonder if David actually read the book. Strangely, David also claimed these points of mine (even though “fabricated”), didn’t matter because:
Children at two years of age and slightly older (which are almost always the subjects of Stevenson's work) are unable to apply cultural beliefs to the commentary they give regarding a past life.
I call bullshit on this point in two ways. First, if the reincarnation claims do not fit the cultural beliefs of the parents, the parents will likely repress these obviously “false” memories of their children, and they will reinforce the “memories” that do conform to the cultural beliefs. So it hardly matters what the child is capable of at this age.
Secondly, in hardly any of Stevenson’s cases did he become involved with children so young. In the 14 cases covered in this book, Stevenson was only involved with one when the child was only two years old. The others were all older: one child was three, three children were four, one was six and seven ranged in ages from 9 to 21 before he even met them! (Stevenson doesn’t tell us how old his fourteenth case was when he met the child.) So who knows what these children really remembered?
And this was my main criticism of Stevenson – the book represents nothing but anecdotes. And as I think I demonstrated, Stevenson is credulously predetermined to believe reincarnation stories he is told.
Stevenson’s work is often quoted as being some of the best evidence there is for reincarnation. (It is because I was told this that I read his book.) Well, if Stevenson’s work really is the best evidence there is, we have no reason to suppose reincarnation occurs.