Having read the favorable reviews to Edwards book,I would like to present the skeptical view of his book. The book is well written, but it offers poor arguments in refuting reincarnation. Edwards argues that reincarnation must be false, since where do all new souls come from? He fails to realize that reality is infinite, and hence the number of souls could also be infinite. He then writes that people have no memory of other lives,thus having no memory they have no identity. Are we to say then that since very few of us had memories as children that we were never children? Obviously not. All claims should be scrutinized from a skeptical viewpoint. This is also true of those of skeptics such as Kurtz. Far from presenting an irrefutable case against reincarnation, this book presents a very poor one. All of his arguments can be refuted. I do recommend the reading of this book to see how some skeptics think, but it does not mean that all skeptics agree with Kurtz, or that his book represents the views of all skeptics. It certainly does not. I am a skeptic but I don't agree with his arguments.
When I read this book, I understood why it took about three years for CSICOP to publish a favourable review of it. A typical case of tacit disowning...
Edwards devotes to much space to irrelevant issues, or to irrelevant authors. For example, he talks a lot about Near-Death Experiences. But instead of performing a deep analysis of the works of highly respected authors in the field, like Kenneth Ring and Michael Sabom, he prefers to make lots of jokes and fun of the works of Kübler Ross and Moody Jr., who are considered very weak even by their own peers. Susan Blackmore, in "Dying to Live" (1993), did exactly the opposite, performing high quality skeptical analysis of the works of these authors. An update on that would be highly informative, but Mr. Edwards decided to give us only laughs instead.
In fact, it seems that Edwards' phobia of analyzing empirical evidence is a long lasting illness. He was criticised by philosopher Robert Almeder for this in 1997, and had already received this very same criticism by Almeder in 1990. Another lingering disease of his is his "reluctance to engage primary source material" (that is, he doesn't read and cite scientific papers, but popular books mostly), as anthropologist James Matlock put it in 1997 and again back in 1990. Both these 1990 comments refer to Edwards' four-chapter article published in the "Free Inquirer" magazine, in 1986-87, on the reincarnation hypothesis. That is where his book came from, apparently with very few additions, and possibly with no improvements... (easy money, huh?).
Edwards' analysis of the works of Ian Stevenson is a complete failure. Actually, his analysis "seems" to have some basis. The first time I read chapter 16 (on Stevenson), I thought: "Wow, that's devastating!". By the fourth time I read it, I would be saying: "This man (i.e. Edwards) is a fake!". If you read it really carefully, you will notice that he doesn't actually analyze the cases, or their empirical content, or the arguments for and against them. Strangely enough, he does make some deeper analysis of the weakest case reports, which led me to the conclusion that his problem is not incompetence, but unwillingness.
Some specific points are especially revealing. On page 140, he makes some unrespectful and uninformed comments about Stevenson's research on birthmarks. If Edwards were really a scholar (or even a decent popular writer), he would have made a review of the bibliography instead, and would have found an introductory article on this issue by Stevenson (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1993). There, he would really have spotted a very serious statistical mistake that Stevenson commited, and that seems to have remained uncriticized by skeptics until 2002 !!! (by Leonard Angel). Again, looking for information about reincarnation "researcher" Banerjee, I could only find jokes, laughs, and gossip in Edwards' book. But when I read Matlock's (supposedly a "believer") bibliography review of Past Life Memory Case Studies (1990), I found the following comment about Banerjee: "Banerjee...was caught tampering with experimental data, (and) must be considered unreliable...(and) he has been written out of serious parapsychology.". Wow! So, who is the "skeptic" and who is the "believer" after all?
And what has Edwards to say about the so called "best cases" studied by Stevenson and colaborators? Are they really good? What are their weaknesses and strengths? Did he read them? The "answer" is on page 277. There, Edwards says: "Better perhaps; but not good enough.". So that is all our "Awesome Scholar" (as Martin Gardner labelled him) has to say? "Perhaps"!!?? The man simply didn't even read the cases! Again, on page 256, where he comments on Leonard Angel's critique of the Imad Elawar case, he only says that he "does not have the space to comment much on it". Of course he does not. He used up all his space with gossips and jokes about Kübler Ross and etc! Even the apparently stronger arguments that he seems to have (from "insiders who have dissented", Barker and Ransom) turned out to be very weak and even imprecise in light of my further readings on the subject.
Edwards' main theoretical and logical objection to reincarnation is the "modus operandi" problem. "How could reincarnation possibly happen?" The answer is given by Edwards himself, when he confortably decides to throw away any "modi operandi" concerns when talking about his own philosophical persuasion, that is, materialism: "How could the brain create counsciousness?" "Why not?" he answers!!! (page 294). Possible "modi operandi" constraints is an intellectually stimulating and most relevant issue. But it has to be approached in an informed, coherent manner, and not a là "Jimmy Swaggert on the Pulpit".
To me, the most revealing (and shocking) passage in this book is when, on page 134, Edwards brutally disrespects Scott Rogo, in a rude comment about his murder in 1991, still unsolved then, saying how Rogo might solve it by calling the police station himself! Rogo was almost an informant of Edwards. Many of the gossips Edwards used in his book he learned from Rogo. And Rogo still had relatives alive that might feel hurt by these crude comments from Edwards. That is basically the mistake many skeptics-materialists commit. They get so desperate to wipe out the very idea of life after death that they end up forgetting that there is indeed life "before" death. And also, there are feelings and hearts that deserve to be respected and cared for.
This book, therefore, is very good if you want material for criticizing the pathological phenomenon of pseudo-skepticism. It is also of some value for giving a frame for criticism on reincarnation research, but then you will have to read much further if you really want to have a good idea of what are the strengths and weaknesses in the empirical evidence for reincarnation. I have done this. And I have concluded that the evidence seems to be weak. But it is certainly there!