Andrew EC posed the following question in the “Godidit” thread:
If 500 Hindus claim to have witnessed a reincarnation, would you believe?
Is there any non-first-hand (i.e., testimonial) evidence that would convince you of supernatural/divine/miraculous/magic activity other than the religion you accept?
This is an interesting question because long-time readers of the blog (at least those with good memories) will know that I have referred positively to the work of (Canadian!) Ian Stevenson who spent several decades at the University of Virginia collecting and studying veridical reincarnation reports. I first was introduced to Stevenson’s work through Tom Shroder’s book Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives (Simon and Schuster, 2001).
The standard form of these reports is something like this: a child, perhaps four or five years old, begins insisting that he was killed in a farming accident in a neighboring state. He then provides a number of items of evidence. All the evidence is later corroborated. (Obviously Stevenson focuses on cases where there is no connection between the two families and no natural way the child could have gleaned the information.) The scenario is reminiscent of the disturbing 2004 Nicole Kidman film “Birth”. And as in that film, many of these cases occur in North America.
A naturalist should be loathe to consider evidence for reincarnation for obvious reasons. But what should a Christian do? Well the first thing they shouldn’t do is what many naturalists do: ignore all the evidence for reincarnation. On the contrary, they should first of all take it seriously as general evidence for supernaturalism of some kind.
But what else? That leads us to the really interesting question: could Christianity ever come to accept the evidence for reincaration? Well if we think of Christianity as analogous to a scientific theory — but one working at the level of metaphysics or worldview — then we should consider what the core, non-negotiables at the core of the theory are. Of course theism is at the core as well as the incarnation and atoning work of Christ and the Trinity. And a few other things too.
But is the denial of reincarnation also at the center of the most central, important claims of Christianity? That is a question that doesn’t have a simple answer. To ask “what would Christianity look like after the confirmation of reincarnation?” is sort of like asking “what would Christianity look like after aliens landed on the White House lawn?” We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
In the mean time I’m happy to consider the evidence and put it in the category of the as-yet-to-be-explained alongside other great mysteries like how “The Hangover 2” managed to gross $86 million at the box office this weekend. Now that’s a plot line that really should not have been brought back to life.