It is not that there isn't a legitimate place for skepticism, just that it should be intellectually honest and fair. After writing the comment this note is linked from, about the reincarnation article, I happened to catch a documentary about codes supposedly embedded in the Torah and the Old Testament which pinpoint specific people and events in our current time. The format of the documentary was similar to "In Another Life" in many ways, and it seemed persuasive. I'm keeping an open mind, but I'm not convinced.

If you're not familiar with this, the researchers take out all the spaces between the letters, replicating how the ancient text was originally written. Then by applying a code of skipping letters at a fixed interval, they encounter names, dates and other words which they translate into English.

They find something significant while skipping, say, five letters, or 49 letters. That means that they did not find anything significant while skipping six letters, or seven letters, or 48 letters, etc. And that means that they kept looking until they found something they wanted. There is the assumption that the author applied a five-letter skip, or a 49-letter skip. And there is the use of the novel "War and Peace" as a control, where no such effect was found in any combination. So if there is objective and accurate reporting--which is a significant "if"--this still is an interesting result. What we don't have is whether nonsense or trivial information showed up in all these combinations--like "Burger King" paired with "whopper" and "fries". A completely objective report would have to include these as well, if they appeared, or it would have to have looked just as hard for them and be able to state that they did not appear. Also, as I recall, one of these matches in the show was the word "truck." What ancient Hebrew word were the authors of the study equating with "truck"? Just the letters which phonetically spelled "truck" in English?

Something else occurred to me after I watched the show. One of the most compelling types of evidence they present occurs when meaningful words will cross another word, like in a crossword puzzle. But, isn't where the letters fall out vertically entirely dependent on the width of the margins used, along with the size of the letters and the amount of space between each letter? Am I missing something? I was a professional typesetter for several years, so this occurred to me. What letters line up vertically is a function of how wide the margins are, if you are using a single running block of text with no spaces in-between. You could also change the entire configuration all the way down by tightening up the spaces between letters ("space band") or between particular letters ("kerning") on just one line, no less all the lines (typesetters do this intentionally when fitting ad copy into a particular space on a page). That means that presumably the computer software tried every possible formatting combination before it could derive the cross-word pattern that was interpreted as being meaningful and significant. Another consideration is that even a one-letter content error in copying over the centuries would throw the entire thing off all the way down the line, because the letters are all run together. Finally, it occurs to me that in hand-written copy, letters don't line up vertically as they do in computer-generated copy. They will be jogged-off from each other. So determining what letters line up vertically would be a judgement-call.

Only if, in antiquity, there was an absolute standard of scroll width, letter size and numbers of letters on a page, such that each copy exactly matched the layout (as well as the content) of the original, there have been zero content errors over several thousand years of copying, and all the letters line up exactly vertically, would this crossword evidence have any validity, in my opinion. So far as I know this could be the case, but the fact that these variables weren't fully accounted for and discussed in the program suggests to me a certain lack of rigor.

Now. Back to reincarnation. Researchers like Dr. Ian Stevenson are well-aware of these kinds of possible alternative explanations. That is why they have specifically chosen these types of cases. They have designed their research so as to eliminate every possible alternative explanation they could think of or had ever heard. So it is quite valid to be skeptical and to try to debunk this work, although anyone who tries will have to come in behind Stevenson, because he has been trying to debunk it himself for 40 years. But there is a difference between competent, honest skepticism and dishonest and/or incompetent skepticism, which ultimately reveals itself to be cynicism, not skepticism.

And in my opinion, there is also a journalistic obligation to quote competent, intellectually honest skeptics. The problem is, there may not be very many competent, intellectually honest skeptics left in this area of reincarnation research, because those people have been convinced by the evidence presented. Therefore, if journalists feel compelled to quote a skeptic, they are likely to end up with an incompetent one.

Not that they are the standard of scientific inquiry, but I think it is telling that the producers of Sci-Fi Channel's new show "Proof Positive," wherein they examine three paranormal phenomena per show and try to decide if it's genuine or not, have chosen two reincarnation cases in their first few episodes. In both episodes, the reincarnation case was judged "proof positive." You would think that of all the paranormal phenomena, reincarnation would be one of the least likely to get their stamp of approval.

Reincarnation is one of these controversial subjects which may seem far-out to us in the West, but it is going to turn out to be real. I understand how confusing and unsettling that is, by having watched the documentary on Bible codes last night. That show seemed quite convincing--but I'm just not quite ready to buy it. There are too many alternative explanations. Besides that, I personally think they are trivializing the pursuit of hidden knowledge in the scriptures. There is hidden knowledge alright, but not predictions about people like Princess Diana, or even President Kennedy.*

Reincarnation is another matter. The evidence and the research is much more solid. However, perhaps watching that show last night helped me understand the position of people watching my documentary and visiting my website, and reminded me what I'm asking of them. Perhaps all I can ask is that you, also, keep an open mind. I would suggest, however, that before forming an opinion, if you have sufficient interest, you obtain a copy of Dr. Stevenson's results and read them for yourself. His books are easily obtainable through the library, or in bookstores. I think you will find that the actual research bears little resemblance to the "straw man" mockup that the skeptics create, and that their arguments have already been anticipated in its design.

*The hidden knowledge in the Torah is along the lines of its being symbolic--as, for example, the historical journey following Moses parallels the journey in consciousness of the seeker of Truth toward God-Realization.