Empirical evidence for reincarnation?: a response to Leonard Angel
If the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER were a scientific journal, its editor would have invited me to prepare a reply that would be published in the same issue as Angel’s article. Instead, I only learned about Angel’s article from friends who persuaded me to depart from my policy of ignoring criticisms published in magazines. I then sent to the editor a detailed reply, which he has found too long to publish (notwithstanding the considerable length of Angel’s article). I am given adequate space to reply to only one of Angel’s points, and accordingly I have selected one of his most egregious distortions.
Angel claims that I placed too much reliance on the verifying testimony of Haffez Bouhamzy, Ibrahim Bouhamzy’s cousin. I cannot say whether Angel made this statement from ill-considered guile or from carelessness. In either event, it seems risky, because anyone turning to my report could read (on page 283) the following:
At the end of my stay in Lebanon in March, 1964, the verifications of the statements attributed to Imad Elawar had come largely from only one witness, Mr. Haffez Bouhamzy. . . . I had no reason to doubt Mr. Haffez Bouhamzy’s testimony, but believed that I ought to check it against that of other witnesses. I therefore decided to return to Lebanon and did so in August, 1964.
After this passage I give the names of the additional informants I interviewed in August 1964. Angel makes no mention of this second trip to Lebanon made for the express purpose of extending the verifications. He states that Haffez Bouhamzy was a verifier for 28 items, which is true. What he leaves out is that of these items only 5 depended solely on Haffez Bouhamzy for their verification. (In this count I have omitted item I of Tabulation One of my report; although I recorded in the tabulation only Haffez Bouhamzy as verifying it, several other informants obviously did so also.) For all the other verifiable and correct items I found one or more other persons who verified them. Imad also made 20 other correct statements for which Haffez was not a verifier. I tabulated 61 statements in the two tabulations of my report (these are apart from Imad’s recognitions). Of these, 49 were correct for Ibrahim, 5 unverified, 6 incorrect, and I doubtful. Two of the items I list as incorrect were partly correct or doubtful.
Angel would disqualify Haffez Bouhamzy as a reliable informant because he said incorrectly that Ibrahim Bouhamzy had had tuberculosis of the spine. (In my full Reply to Angel I offered a plausible explanation of how Halfez came to misunderstand the organs affected by Ibrahim’s tuberculosis, but I do not deny that he was mistaken on this point.) In emphasizing this mistake, however, Angel overlooks the confirmation by other informants of all but one of Haffez’s 23 verifications for which there was another verifier. In confirming Haffez’s statements Nabih Bouhamzy made a valuable witness, because he had not been present when I had interviewed Haffez. (Haffez was present during my interview with Nabih.) Also, having lived in the United States, he spoke English, which obviated possible errors in translation. I interviewed Ibrahim’s brother Fuad without Haffez being present. In a footnote on pages 281-282 of my report of the case I drew attention to the concordance between Fuad’s testimony and that of Haffez in matters other than Ibrahim’s final illness. Angel does not mention this footnote or the nearly uniform agreement of other informants with Haffez.
Readers wishing to study my full reply to Angel with its correction of his other misrepresentations may obtain a copy by writing to me at the address below; alternatively, they could read my original report of the case of Imad Elawar and learn from doing so how misleading Angel was in other statements in his article.
In conclusion, I would like to mention that, since my investigation of Imad’s case, my colleagues and I have studied other cases that presented a similar problem: that of finding a person exactly matching the subject’s statements. Interested readers can find examples in reports – by myself and other investigators – of other cases with written records made before verification (Mills, Haraldsson, and Keil 1994; Stevenson 1977; Stevenson and Samararatne 1988; and Haraldsson 1992). Our endeavor in all such cases is not just that of finding a deceased person who matches the child’s statements; we want to be as certain as we can that the statements match the life of no one else. I believe that the case of Imad Elawar reaches this standard, and I continue to think it one of the strongest cases I have investigated. Since its investigation, we have found others as good or stronger. It is therefore particularly foolish for Angel to claim that if he could discredit the case of Imad Elawar, his work would be over.
Angel, Leonard. 1994. Empirical evidence for reincarnation? Examining Stevenson’s “most important” case. SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, 18:481-487.
Haraldsson, Erlendur. 1992. Children claiming past-life memories: Four cases in Sri Lanka. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 5:233-261.
Mills, Antonia; Haraldsson, Erlendur, and Keil; H. H. Jurgen. 1994. Replication studies of cases suggestive of reincarnation by three independent investigators. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 88:207-219.
Stevenson, Ian. 1974. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, 2nd ed. rev. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
Stevenson, Ian. 1977. Cases of the Reincarnation Type: II. Ten Cases in Sri Lanka. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.
Stevenson, Ian, and Godwin Samararatne. 1988. Three new cases of the reincarnation type in Sri Lanka with written records made before verification. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 176:741. (See also more detailed reports of these cases in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1988, 2:217-238.)
Ian Stevenson is Carlson Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia (Department of Psychiatric Medicine, Division of Personality Studies, Box 152 Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, VA 22908 U.S.A.).
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