Ask An Atheist: Reincarnation and Rebirth
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By Jim Downard
Can you debunk reincarnation and rebirth?
Reincarnation beliefs may be thought of as falling into a subset of psychical research, where people’s mental perceptions of it are matched up against external evidence. Roughly a quarter of the planet have cultures that accept rebirth as something that happens, which means most cultures don’t consider it, and so it is highly relevant that reincarnation stories tend to occur among peoples whose religions expect that to be true (just as visions of the Virgin Mary tend to be in Catholic contexts).
If reincarnation were a general feature of life, stories of it would be occurring cross-culturally. If motivated enough, believers can marshal compendiums of star cases to illustrate that, but they run into the same problems Christians might have in documenting miracles or demonic possession in exorcism cases.
It would certainly be interesting if reincarnation occurred (even if sporadically) as it would have implications for the nature of mind and the structure of the universe, but like near death experiences given in Christian apologetics, more may be due to the expectations of the believer than anything real.
Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose. He’s always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor’s in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).