The only after-life theory that has attracted any scientific attention and support is reincarnation, usually called rebirth by Buddhists. And the only accredited scientist who has studied the phenomena was Prof Ian Stevenson (1918-2007) who was head of the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia. I met Stevenson during his several visits to Sri Lanka in the 70’s and 80’s and on one occasion asked him if he believed in reincarnation. He said he did but being a scientist and given the controversial nature of his research he kept his opinion to himself. I asked him if his findings could be explained in some other way and he said this. They could be explained as fraud but that he had done everything possible to cancel this out. It could be telepathy, where one person is unknowingly picking up someone else’s experience and mistaking it for their own memory. And it may be that it is eventually discovered that some memories are transmitted genetically and we are able to ‘remember’ fragments of our grandparent’s or great grandparent’s memories.
Stevenson’s research was published in peer-reviewed academic journals but was largely ignored by the scientific community. Philosopher Paul Edwards has written a detailed critique of his research called Reincarnation: A Critical Examination and Ian Wilson’s Mind Out of Time? The Claims of Reincarnation, also contains an in-depth criticism of the research. Wilson also hints that Stevenson was being dishonest, without saying why he thinks so. Nonetheless, Wilson’s book contains some very interesting research and it well worth reading. It’s enough to make anyone with an intelligent interest in reincarnation very cautious of much of the ‘evidence’ presented in its favor of reincarnation and I used to recommend this book to people. But after Wilson has converted to Catholicism and became a fervent believer in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin we are justified in not just doubting his judgment and his objectivity but even his sanity.
However, Ian Stevenson has his supporters too. One of the most eminent and articulate of these is Prof. Robert Almeder of the Dept of Philosophy Georgia State University. You can listen to Prof. Almerder’s assessment of Stevenson’s research on reincarnation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZhMDU9GcVg