Rebirth Part 2: Is There Scientific Evidence of Rebirth?
The concept of reincarnation and rebirth has successfully captivated human beings over the ages. Although the terms “Reincarnation” and “Rebirth” are often used inter-changeably, there is a significant difference between the two concepts. Reincarnation is normally understood to be the assumption of another body by a permanent self or a “soul”. According to this doctrine, after the biological death, the soul transmigrates into another body. Rebirth, on the other hand, is the idea that it is not a “permanent self” but a form of subtle mind-stream which conjoins with a new life after the death of its previous one. This mind-stream carries within itself karmic imprints from previous births. Also, rebirth doesn’t necessarily have to be in human form, a human being can be reborn as any other sentient being, depending on the karmic cycle.
Reincarnation and rebirth are mainly eastern concepts and form the basic tenets of the three major eastern religions of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. However, Hinduism and Jainism talk mostly about reincarnation of the soul, or Atman, Buddhism focuses on rebirth of consciousness.
The doctrine of Buddhism discounts the existence of a soul or Atman. According to ancient Buddhist texts, there is no permanent self which moves from one life to another. Instead, it is the consciousness or the stream of consciousness which, upon the end of one life, joins another, much like a flame which is transferred from one candle to another. There is a certain relationship between the past and the present lives, neither are they identical, nor completely distinct.
Such transmigration of consciousness is the effect of Karma, and this process of rebirth continues until the consciousness attains Nirvana, or complete independence of material wants and desires. Only then, can the “self” be free.
What Does Science Say?
Please see Part 1 of Rebirth Series: Is There Scientific Evidence of Rebirth is here>>
In our present world, driven with science and rationality, the opinion is divided about the existence of the phenomenon of reincarnation. However, scientists have routinely been presented with evidence to at least partially support the notion of rebirth. Reincarnation or rebirth serve as the only conceivable explanation for children as young as three years of age, having detailed knowledge of their past lives, where they stayed, what they did, even how they dies. Other evidence of reincarnation includes xenoglossy, or ability to speak in a language with a person has never learnt and existence of matching scars and birthmarks.
What Constitutes Proof of Rebirth?
In science, generally, to refute a theory, you only need one refuting piece of evidence. At least, that’s the standard used when refuting theories. In other words, science cannot unequivocally state there is no rebirth or reincarnation as long as there is one instance of rebirth. Professor Ian Stephenson’s landmark work, widely accepted in the scientific community as valid, presents multiple instances of children with memories of previous lives. To read more about his work, see part one of this series>>
The Body is Reborn Every Second?
In theory, the human body is constantly being reborn. Cells in the body are constantly reborn. Even though we might hold the illusion that we are unchanging, in fact we are a different physical human being now, than we were one month ago. The same is true of the Universe. Of every atom and molecule in the Universe. We are constantly recycling, even within our “one lifetime.” It is, perhaps, for the more science-oriented, easier to accept the notion of some form or rebirth. It’s easier to accept recycling of energy and matter, certainly, than extinction.
The landmark work of Fritjof Capra, The Tao of Phsyics, still best introduces the parallels between modern physics and eastern philosophical thought: “Quantum theory thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe. It shows that we cannot decompose the world into independently existing smallest units. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated “building blocks,” but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole. These relations always include the observer in an essential way. The human observer constitute the final link in the chain of observational processes, and the properties of any atomic object can be understood only in terms of the object’s interaction with the observer”
The concepts of basic oneness, “cannot decompose”, and observational processes could interchangeably be used when discussing Quantum Theory or Buddhist Teachings. Mr. Capra wrote: “If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. … This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.”
Nasa Scientist and Physicist Thomas Campbell
Thomas Campbell, and eminent scientist, believes in reincarnation. In a review on a video featuring Dr. Campbell, the site Beyond the Psychic Veil summarized the argument this way:
“There is no time. There is no space. Everything is one. Hence, we are all experiencing everything all at once. That means you are you, you are the neighbor, the dog (yes animals may reincarnate as well), the kid on the skateboard, the grouchy guy in the corner store, you are me, the Dalai Lama, Jesus, Hitler, Joan of Arc. You are everyone, all at once, in all points of time, and all points of space. However … you are focused on seeing and experiencing reality through your perspective only at this time.”
This isn’t evidence of rebirth, certainly, but the arguments are a fit with current Quantum theory. If, in fact, it’s a matter of perspective, rebirth becomes an easy notion to accept. The arguments are also very inline with Buddhist concepts of existence, emptiness, and self.
Past Life Regression
Putting aside physics, other types of evidence—albeit not accepted by everyone—is past life regression. Past life regression is a method by which a patient is put in a trance and guided by a series of questions into her past life. This can lead to the answers of many questions in an individual’s present life, for example, someone’s irrational fear of insects could be accounted to a trauma suffered in one’s past life.
Although many scientists have heavily criticized some pieces of evidence which prove the existence of reincarnation, some scientists are skeptical. The events which have occurred have no other rational explanation except reincarnation or rebirth. The field of science is heavily divided on this issue, although nothing in science contradicts the possibility of rebirth, and many scientists argue there is substantial suggestive evidence that rebirth is more than just a mystical concept.
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Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
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25 thoughts on “Rebirth Part 2: Is There Scientific Evidence of Rebirth?”
You write: “Reincarnation or rebirth serve as the only conceivable explanation for children as young as three years of age, having detailed knowledge of their past lives, where they stayed, what they did, even how they dies. Other evidence of reincarnation includes xenoglossy, or ability to speak in a language with a person has never learnt and existence of matching scars and birthmarks.”
I feel like you need more argument to say “only conceivable explanation”. Are you aware of other explanations? Could it be coincidence? Who reported the incident? What are the circumstances of someone who alleges someone spoke a language they have never heard? Was there a person present who spoke that language. How would you verify that someone never heard it?
My point is that to make your case stronger, I suggest you present the other explanations and work them. Just stating that it’s the only conceivable explanation might just be a limitation in yourself, and not the larger world, and in no way to do you begin to prove that in your essay. Seems a short cut. Maybe you could apply your open mindedness to that.
Well said. Part 2 in this series (this article) was written by one of our contributors. A different contributor wrote an in-depth piece on the subject which carried some of those arguments through. Personally, I agree “only conceivable explanation” is too strongly stated. Here’s the link to part one if you missed it: https://buddhaweekly.com/reincarnation-part-1/
In that piece, the contributor made this, along with several other arguments: “The best known evidence is the work of Ian Stevenson, who spent fifteen years collecting data from over 4500 people who spontaneously recalled past lives. According to Dr. Robert Almeder of Georgia State University, “This was important research, empirical research and I could not think of any alternative explanation as plausible for the data as that some people reincarnate.” … he went on to add: “Dr. Stephenson himself said, “It’s not unreasonable to believe, because this is the best fit on the data.” One of the reasons why the data is not refutable is the presentation of supporting historical facts, supporting the spontaneous memories of children 2-4 years old. These children had no exposure to past live history information, yet unfailingly gave details of past lives that were verifiable.
We plan to invite further contributions on this topic. It’s a conversation worth pursuing. Namaste.
you are all wrong.recently i have discovered the rebirth theory with evidence.and i challange the world scientist to speak to me on the subject.
What particularly is wrong? Just curious.
Mr. bakhtiar i must tell u ,rebirth is very occasional,I can tell an event when i was a small kid, but i do remember the instance, there was a little girl ageing may be of approxi 4 yrs heading the huge public along with punjabi band baja, bakhtiar g with ages i even got old but i do remember the instance. I asked my mother about the Jalsa, she replied none of her knowledge.I asked my grand mother , now she is no more, she told me the story.That a girl was murdered.The only answer, she was a girl , the only gunaah was what i come to know ,her gunaah ,was to stand on roof to dry her hair in sunlight, about rebirth i must tell u , she came with her identity, , recognition of name, place , and identity
The theory of animal’s rebirth was the challenging and most wanted question for the scientists in the past. But to day on ward it is no more question. I have defined this theory with great accuracy and evidence. According to my this rebirth theory i shall tell the scientists and the world that a human when dies how he rebirths in shape and life of Buffalo, cow, camel, birds , crocodiles, fish ,snake, lion , horse, dog etc, And when these animals dies rebirths in life of human . There fore i challenge the world scientists to discuss it with me and to inquire me about this discovery. I am intrusted to show this amazing discovery to the world. in Presence of Press and electronic media in Pakistan.
Email : email@example.com
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ANIMALS REBIRTH THEORY ( DISCOVERY WITH EVIDENCE )
This youtube video is by Dr. Bruce Greyson who headed a department at Virginia state University that had a continuing investigation on this topic.
The comment that ‘it is irrational not to believe in rebirth’ needs some qualification. As is set out in this piece it is misrepresented slightly. It basically means: if one were to face it with an open mind it would be irrational to not consider it as a possibility. From that statement it does not follow that it’s true or it is irrational to consider other possibilities. It makes quite a mild statement that since the evidence is there it is irrational to not consider the theory.
The fact is that the outcome of any analysis on the existence or rebirth or not, is beyond our control. We do not have choice on what we have to become in our next life, if at all it exists. The discussion on this thus will have no productive end. The important point worth noting is that there is no repetition of an individual, come what may. We do not see another Einstien,Gandhi or Krishna of the same acumen around us, though we wish they where here again.
Thanks, much respect to you and your views. My view, somewhat supported I think in Buddhist teachings, though, is that Karma (actions) do influence how we are reborn (so it’s not entirely true we can’t help control our path of future rebirths). That’s not objectively provable, of course; rebirth on the other hand may someday be objectively demonstrated by science. Some data strongly suggests it already (case data), and also certainly a vast quantity of subjective data. On the idea of the discussion having “no productive end” I respectively disagree. All discussions are productive and it’s not valid to say even light discussions are unproductive. On the assertion “there is “no repetition of an individual” that is not necessarily the case, again in my opinion supported by some case data. We don’t know objectively, but again subjective data suggests that some identification survives (i.e. in a vast quantity of carefully collected past memories from young children in several big studies point to this), so I don’t think that statement can stand either. I don’t think the important point is whether Einstien will be reborn with full memory of self, but only that whatever is reborn continues. In Buddhism, we tend to think of EGO rather than individual (individual is too difficult to define). Ego leads to attachment and suffering, etc, etc, (longer discussion i.e the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, etc), but ultimately we talk of ego not surviving. Ego is not the same as whatever we define as mind (which is what “survives” according to most beliefs; some say the soul, but Buddhist tend to point to the mind). Just because that selfish part that wants to cling to “I was once Joe Ingles of Florida” doesn’t mean that the essential mind of Joe Ingles didn’t continue as an ego-less mindstream… nothing’s objectively provable, but subjective evidence does support may of the Buddhist (and Hindu) beliefs in rebirth. And a wide body of data also suggests, that the unconscious mind does in fact retain identification from previous lives (i.e. the study of those many children who recall past lives in great detail). Some psychologists theorize that this ego is buried in what Dr. Jung would have called the Shadow (unconcious mind) in the same way a traumatized person might bury memories of their childhood because of abuse… it’s too painful to “recall” so the mind submerges it. This, together with the study data, at least leaves room for robust discussion and keeps it very much a positive one. Just my view, much respect to yours and thank you for commenting!
Mother gives birth an empty body of a child and the Surrounding and the time give birth the self /soul and heart of the child . So, like surrounding like mind, like mind like action ,like action like result and the result is what we every one are at now. Be it Einstien , Mahatma Gandhi , Lord Buddha or a renowned terrorist or anybody at present . Everybody’s present state is the result of their mind and action in their respective surrounding and time. So, if someone is given rebirth , he will be what his surrounding and time will determine…….So, in order to have a better life we need to get a better surrounding or a best surrounding . The Surrounding may be anything that influence our sense or feeling in our prenatal state or in our postnatal state or in our infant state or in our childhood……..So, the feeling of ” I ” or the self comes from our surrounding . I am this , I like this , I do not like this . In every moment our surrounding works on us which determine what we are at now….. So there will be no repeating of a character even if we take a rebirth …….
Lilamaya Nag, you have rightly put it. Adding to that, I would just like to say that…
There is already life, or the self, or the consciousness, in the sperm (in subtle form). The self is shaped through the psychological, behavioral, emotional, biological, physical, genetical, forces of their parents (basically of father, later through mother). After the birth of the baby, the self is further shaped by its environmental factors over time. And, as reaching certain age, becoming self conscious, it is also shaped by its own self persistence, practice etc..
Rebirth of the self after the death of the body is highly insignificant.
So, many Buddhist scholars and even monks too need to revisit the teachings of Buddha on the concept of rebirth.
We are reborn every moment, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year… Etc.
Enlightenment is Awareness and constant practice of Equanimity over fluctuating situations.
Some are born with special qualities or abnormal behaviour. That does not mean the exact rebirth of the self.
The sperm which is essense of the body is the result of so many essential things and thoughts.
Thank you ☸️
Bogus arguments for and against rebirth or reincarnation. Fact is what we see and experience in our life journey. Science will theorise and religions will foolhardily debate. Those who have seen and experienced will be sure of rebirth and those who have failed will not believe in it. Try to read An odyssey into other realms of thought,a book.
Hi and thanks for commenting. It would be nice if you would explain why you believe the arguments are bogus — both ways. I am personally open to all views, but there is nothing in the arguments that is not plausible, and even if you believe there is, please explain why, and cite your references in more detail. One book or one author isn’t a convincing counter-argument. Basically, I’m guessing, but with respect, this sounds like a strong personal opinion — a sort of “oh, what nonsense” reaction to a topic, without breaking down why you feel that way.
Further to the above, specifically, the author writes: “In science, generally, to refute a theory, you only need one refuting piece of evidence. At least, that’s the standard used when refuting theories.” Perhaps, that would be the best approach to making the counter argument…. “what is the one piece of refuting evidence?” One reason this topic remains an open one is there is no piece of refuting evidence. In kindness, Derek
re is scientific evidence of rebirth.
“In science, generally, to refute a theory, you only need one refuting piece of evidence. At least, that’s the standard used when refuting theories. In other words, science cannot unequivocally state there is no rebirth or reincarnation as long as there is one instance of rebirth.”
But no instance of rebirth has been proven, according to Jim Tucker, a colleage of Dr, Stevenson. see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-1BvpDZwiw
I don’t think this will ever be proven or disproven by scientific method. The body of evidence is strong, but anecdotal, therefore not acceptable as “proven” yet at the same time it is defitely not refuted. There is no refuting evidence. Which leaves us where we started, but the anecdotal evidence certainly is compelling.
Concur. Scientifically, one must be agnostic.
Dr Jim Tucker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-1BvpDZwiw), a colleague of Dr. Stevenson gives at least the following possible alternate explanations of memories of prior lives:
Parental Bias (Like placebo effects, I think)
Fraud by investigator
Fraud by parents
Delusion by parents
How would these be ruled out. For example, how would the investigator know that the parents had not investigated a “prior life” and talk to the child about it, then claimed otherwise? In other words, how could the investigator know the memories were spontaneous?
Coincidence is considered “unlikely”. by Tucker, but with only 4500 cases documented out of say 6 billion living people, couldn’t most “weak cases” without much detail be explained by chance (there are about 6 billion candidates for each “claim”? The strong cases could then be by fraud?
Dr. Tucker doesn’t report on any claims (vague or detailed) where the “prior life” person could not be found. This is a very important statistic and relates to the coincidence variable. As this number goes up, coincidence seems more likely.
Why are there no reports of prior lives as other than normal people: divas, animals, etc,?
I highly doubt all of those cases are fraud
For a scientific theory to be accepted to explain observed phenomena, the theory should explain all related phenomena.
How does rebirth explain where the “prior lives” come from to support population growth? I realize that this would require looking at the population of not just people, but all living beings, including animals and even divas (that can not be demonstrated through observation).
Still there seems to be no consideration of this question. Why??
This point has been discussed in other features. Feel free to expound here. The bottom line is, there should be no limit to population growth, since the universe is so vast, and — if you accept quantum theories of multiverse — quite beyond vast. There are limitless galaxie, stars, planets, universes. It would be silly to assume only the Earth is inhabited. When the earth finally extinguishes, as all things do, life will continue “out there.” Thanks for contributing, George!
So, my son who thought he was the child of “Aliens” who would come to claim him, might have had a prior life in another galaxy, far away?
I highly doubt all of those cases are fraud