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Reincarnation: A Critical Examination

2.8 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1573929219
ISBN-10: 1573929212
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Edwards, noted philosopher and editor of the definitive Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967), tackles the concepts of reincarnation and karma with erudition, energy, and wit. His aim is to test the logical standing of reincarnation--and, in passing, the survival of consciousness beyond physical death--as a rational system of belief based on unambiguous evidence. Some of the eschatological flaws he finds are rarely discussed in writings by proponents: Who decides in what form an individual will be reborn? What physical or paraphysical process accomplishes this rebirth? Why are a person's ego and memory reset to zero each time? Edwards examines the evidence that supports reincarnation--dejavu, child prodigies, hypnotic regressions and progressions, birthmarks, spontaneous memories, and near-death experiences--and discovers that all is easily accounted for by other scenarios. The Bridey Murphy case, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Raymond Moody, and Stanislav Grof are subjected to some shattering criticism. Only Dr. Ian Stevenson, who has investigated the subject since the early 1970s, gets credit for professionalism and integrity, if not flawless methodology. Skeptic and reincarnationist alike will find this book enjoyable and challenging. George Eberhart --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"...a great book...it has the rigour of an academic text, with the clarity and accessibility of a good magazine article, plus the fun of a stand-up comedy act." -- Humanist in Canada, Summer 1999 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (December 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573929212
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573929219
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,514,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julio C. S. Barros on August 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
When I read this book, I understood why it took about three years for CSICOP to publish a favourable review of it. A typical case of tacit disowning...
Edwards devotes to much space to irrelevant issues, or to irrelevant authors. For example, he talks a lot about Near-Death Experiences. But instead of performing a deep analysis of the works of highly respected authors in the field, like Kenneth Ring and Michael Sabom, he prefers to make lots of jokes and fun of the works of Kübler Ross and Moody Jr., who are considered very weak even by their own peers. Susan Blackmore, in "Dying to Live" (1993), did exactly the opposite, performing high quality skeptical analysis of the works of these authors. An update on that would be highly informative, but Mr. Edwards decided to give us only laughs instead.
In fact, it seems that Edwards' phobia of analyzing empirical evidence is a long lasting illness. He was criticised by philosopher Robert Almeder for this in 1997, and had already received this very same criticism by Almeder in 1990. Another lingering disease of his is his "reluctance to engage primary source material" (that is, he doesn't read and cite scientific papers, but popular books mostly), as anthropologist James Matlock put it in 1997 and again back in 1990. Both these 1990 comments refer to Edwards' four-chapter article published in the "Free Inquirer" magazine, in 1986-87, on the reincarnation hypothesis. That is where his book came from, apparently with very few additions, and possibly with no improvements... (easy money, huh?).
Edwards' analysis of the works of Ian Stevenson is a complete failure. Actually, his analysis "seems" to have some basis. The first time I read chapter 16 (on Stevenson), I thought: "Wow, that's devastating!".
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Format: Paperback
If one has written a book entitled Reincarnation, even if only to discredit it, it would still be well to have a passing acquaintance with how it is supposed to work.

In chapter 16 of this book, author Edwards seeks to debunk Ian Stevenson. Here he informs us that most human lives are quite wretched, and that no one would want to incarnate into any such life. Since people are indeed born into such situations, he concludes that this refutes the notion of reincarnation, which Edwards declares straightaway to be "fantastic if not indeed pure nonsense".

Evidently, the author is assuming the act of reincarnation is voluntary.

Buddhists have been studying this "fantastic" idea of reincarnation for millennia, and their interest in this matter is well-known. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is essentially an instruction manual on how to avoid reincarnation. It describes death as something like the big sleep, and the bardo after death as a sort of dreamscape. According to this text, unless one has attained sufficient stability of mind through meditation and other practices, the process of reincarnation is INVOLUNTARY. And so, yes, people do get reincarnated into awful situations - because they have no more control over the process than most of us have over our dreams.

The idea that consciousness might exist independent of a physical body is also subject to Edwards' "fantastic if not indeed pure nonsense" dismissal. Apparently he belongs to the Alice in Wonderland school of investigation - first the verdict, then the evidence.
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Format: Paperback
Reincarnation is the belief that at some point after death we return to this world as a different person in another body. There are many variations on the theme. Some theories include animal life, even inanimate objects. So, if you are bad this time around, you might come back as a dog, or somebody's coffee pot. (On the other hand, if you are good, the possibilities are endless.) Some, like the philosopher Nietzsche, believed that the same events happen, over and over. In that case, I will have written this review, and you will have read it, countless times already - a wearying prospect at best. For millennia, belief in reincarnation, and its attendant notion of karma - the idea that our actions now will affect our future lives - has been a mainstay of Hindu thought. The idea has attracted many major league figures in western thought as well: Pythagoras, Plato, Swedenborg, Emerson, Goethe and Schopenhauer, to name a few. And it has, of course, received a great deal of attention from occultists, metaphysicians and students of what used to be called parapsychology.
Philosopher Paul Edwards, however, has taken stock of this situation and, out of the kindness of his heart, and what I can only surmise is a selfless devotion to rationality, has decided to disabuse anyone who will listen to him of this dangerous notion. The result is a tedious essay in pedantic nit-picking.
I am not a believer in, nor an apologist for, reincarnation. I am, I imagine, a sympathetic agnostic. When we get down to it, no one really knows what happens after death - no one, that is, who has yet to enjoy the experience. And those who have, ain't talking. So my displeasure in Edwards' grating text is not that of an adherent defending a sacred creed.
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