Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stigmata & reincarnation

I ran across an article by Ian Stevenson entitled "Birthmarks and Birth Defects Corresponding to Wounds on Deceased Persons," in which he defends reincarnation. The editor regarded this line of evidence as “the strongest proof yet of reincarnation.”

One risk of rolling out your best argument is that, if your best argument turns out to be unsound, then any fallback argument will be even less cogent.

There are, of course, many objections to reincarnation, but for now I’m going to concentrate on just one specific to this particular line of evidence.

Stevenson’s contention is that certain birthmarks and birth defects in the living paranormally reproduce the same features in the deceased. Hence, this is evidence of reincarnation.

As I read this, I can't help thinking of the stigmata. This seems to present a parallel case. It, too, would paranormally reproduce analogous physical features of the deceased.

So, by parity of argument, we'd have to conclude that the stigmatic is a reincarnation of Christ or Buddha, &c. (since the phenomenon is reported in both Christian and non-Christian cultures).

Yet I hardly think that's the most plausible interpretation of stigmata. For one thing, the stigmatist doesn't regard himself as a reincarnation of Christ or Buddha. Moreover he doesn't share the knowledge of the deceased. Furthermore, I assume that, in theory, reincarnation would only occur in one person at a time. The same soul or personality passing from one body to the next. But, in theory, more than one stigmatic at a time could exhibit the stigmata. Finally, stigmatics can be both male and female. Yet the template (e.g., Christ, Buddha) is male.

Point being: even if certain physical features in the living paranormally reproduce features of the deceased, I don't see how that singles out the same person as the template, rather than another person as the template. But if the stigmatic is not a reincarnation of the same person in a former life, then that undercuts comparable evidence for reincarnation from birthmarks or birth defects.


  1. I have a friend from Nigeria who was telling about a test they did in a village once. A woman had three stillborn children over the course of three years, which represented a possibility of reincarnation. So after the third child was born a mark was made on it's head. The woman later gave birth to a fourth stillborn with a the same mark.

    I hardly believe in reincarnation, but I trust this friend and his story certainly causes one to pause and think. I tend to think that if there was something supernatural about the children and no-foul play was involved then the answer is occultic or satanic.

    I think this could hold true of the birthmarks, beyond them being mere coincidence.

  2. Steve what do you think of St. Francis and Padre Pio's stigmata

  3. LonelyBoy,

    I'm comparing one type of paranormal claim with another type of paranormal claim. One would have to sift the evidence for both, on a case-by-case basis.

    The case of Padre Pio is controversial. Some critics attribute his stimata to fraud.

    The stigmata are often used as an argument for Catholicism. If, however, non-Christian cultures axhibit parallel phenomena, then the stigmata lose their evidentiary value.

  4. According to Hugh Montefiore, "There have been hundreds of cases of reported stigmata, but only about fifty of them seem to have been adequately documented," The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates, 262.