Summer Institute on Science and Religion at the Jefferson Center

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This is a report on the summer institute, “Exploring the Borderlands: Science and Religion in the 21st Century,” held by the Jefferson Center for Science and Religion. In the words of the Center, the conference featured workshops on “such ‘hot’ issues as the stem cell controversy, the evolution vs. Intelligent Design squabble, whether homosexuality is a ‘chosen lifestyle,’ … whether Buddhism speaks to neuroscience, how does a Muslim scientist look at religion and freedom, [and] is our universe simply ‘accidental’ .…”

The Jefferson Center, www.thejeffcenter.org, was founded a few years ago in Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. According to its Website, the Center is concerned with, among other things, “dogmatic and tyrannical religious groups opposed to change, freedom, and human rights.” Thus, they “seek a humanistic and naturalistic alternative to dogmatic, supernatural, and fundamentalist religious thought and the values that come with them” and promote “progressive, rational, and critical thinking, … caring for our planet and all humanity, … [and] working to end all forms of oppression and discrimination in both society and especially in religion.”

To further some or all of these ends, the Center organized its second summer institute, a 2.5-day affair held over the weekend of August 4-6 at the Unitarian Center in Ashland. For a summary by Nigel Leaves, go to their Website and click on “Current Newsletter,” or “Newsletter Archive,” as appropriate.

The conference opened Friday evening with one of three keynote lectures, “Can Science and Religion Live Together without Driving Us Crazy?” by the journalist Margaret Wertheim. Ms. Wertheim argued that science and religion are indeed driving us crazy but for deeper reasons than meet the eye. Specifically, she was concerned with the manner in which science has expanded to include psychology and human behavior, and even religion itself. She decried the “physicalizing” of psychology; it seemed almost as if she was censuring psychologists for applying quantitative tools to their discipline.

Ms. Wertheim blamed materialism for alienating religious believers who argue that we are not reducible to wholly material entities and claimed (I suspect correctly) that materialism is more important to literalist religious believers than “Darwinism.” I thought she went a bit overboard in describing scientists as “intellectual fascists” who claim that there is only one way of knowing. I would argue that there are many ways of thinking, but there is only one way of knowing for certain: by empirical observation. Instead of defending science against those who believe whatever they think, Ms. Wertheim blames science for revealing what I would say are unpleasant truths. Though surely not a postmodernist who thinks that you may believe anything you want to believe as long as it is congenial to you, Ms. Wertheim came across as a fellow traveler.

The following morning, Munawar Anees presented an interesting talk on “Science and Religion: The Muslim Context.” He argued that the debate over science and religion is nonexistent in Islam. Seeking knowledge is an obligation, a gateway to the divine. Knowledge changes, whereas the Koran is constant, so the correlation between the Koran and science is always changing. I know little about Islam, but I had the impression that Mr. Anees was describing a liberal view of Islam and conflating it with Islam as a whole. My suspicion was confirmed when he brushed off a question about the Muslim creationist Harun Yahya, who has great influence in Turkey, if nowhere else. Nevertheless, the talk was a fascinating overview of Islamic thought and the history of Islam from the Golden Age through the colonial period to the present. Mercifully, Mr. Anees did not wholly blame colonialism for the intellectual condition of much of the Muslim world today.

Following a break, Alan Sanders and Tim Murphy discussed “Genes vs. Choices: The Example of Sexual Orientation.” Mr. Sanders explained clearly if perhaps in too much detail how traits such as homosexuality have complex contributions: genetic, psychosocial, and biological. To those who claim that homosexuality is a choice, he asks, “Precisely when did you decide to be heterosexual?” What I found most interesting about the talk, however, was the older-brother effect. Specifically, the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to become homosexual. Sisters do not matter, stepbrothers do not matter, half-brothers by the same father do not matter, growing up in the same household does not matter. What matters is having the same biological mother. The older-brother effect makes crystal clear that male homosexuality has, at the very least, a strong biological component.

The point is important, because, in his portion of the talk, Mr. Murphy noted that people are more inclined to accept homosexuality when they think it is a biological trait, inasmuch as a biological explanation undercuts claims of moral or religious transgression. Still, Mr. Murphy was at pains to point out that biology is not the same as moral defensibility and noted that things get sticky when we ask whether science can “cure” homosexuality or predict it.

After lunch, Taner Edis discussed “The Accidental Universe.” Defending naturalism, Mr. Edis argued that all we discover can be explained without recourse to “spiritual realities over and above what is realized in the physical world.” He is impressed, however, by liberal religion and deemed it good for science, even though it depends on transcendent entities and is maddeningly evasive about the relation between science and religious belief. He showed how naturalism explains what we observe from the bottom up, for example, by self-organization, and that life and mind are assembled from the “lifeless substrate” of inanimate objects. He is not impressed by the liberal theistic view that evolution is God’s way of creating, a view that he calls ID (intelligent design) Lite. Novelty, he argued, can be injected by chance events operating within a framework of physical law.

If there was a low point to this otherwise splendid conference, it was the keynote address, “Buddhism and Science Today,” by Alan Wallace. After an interesting start concerning the history of science, Mr. Wallace burdened us with an overlong (well over his allotted 1.5 hours), rambling plea for a new science of consciousness based on introspection. He argued that William James had pioneered such a program but claimed it was scuttled by the behaviorists. He castigated present neuroscientists for assuming without evidence that the mind is nothing but the functioning of the brain, yet provided no evidence whatsoever that introspection can lead to anything as scientifically useful as, say, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Like an intelligent-design creationist, Mr. Wallace seemed to think that he supported his own position by poking holes in someone else’s. I thought he was searching in vain for a sort of “consciousness of the gaps.” Indeed, perhaps the very lowest point of the conference came when Mr. Wallace discussed seriously the question, “Do electrons have consciousness?” though to be fair he admitted that panpsychism was not very likely. Near the end of his talk, Mr. Wallace gave some quotations by the Buddha, but it was a considerable exaggeration to claim that his presentation was in any way about Buddhism and science.

Sunday morning began with a short interfaith service, which I could have happily survived without. But, then, we were in a Unitarian Church, and there was nothing offensive in it. Following the service, the ethicist and theologian Ted Peters presented the third keynote lecture, “The Stem Cell Controversy: Science, Theology, Ethics.” I thought it was a splendid talk, in some ways the high point of the conference, and a welcome relief from the previous evening’s affair (even counting the poor contrast of his visual aids; why, oh why do some speakers use blue letters on a violet background?). Mr. Peters began by outlining the possible benefits of stem cell research to fight nasty afflictions such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. His comprehensive talk was too wide-ranging to be summarized neatly here. Regarding therapeutic cloning, however, he noted religious claims that God endows a person with a soul at the moment of conception; because a human being is an end, not a means, the Roman Catholic Church and others oppose any therapeutic cloning whatsoever. Mr. Peters has a more nuanced position and argued that beneficence is not morally neutral. He further noted that a cell fertilized in vitro and not implanted into a uterus has absolutely no chance of ever becoming a person. He argued that the embryo stops being a mass of cells and individuates at approximately 14 days after conception, so he favors allowing research on cells derived from younger embryos.

My own talk, “Why (and How) Intelligent Design Fails,” followed lunch. You may see most of my slides here: www.mines.edu/~mmyoung/DesnConf.pdf. I blush to tell you that Mr. Leaves thought that I had “decimated in spectacular fashion the recent argument from Intelligent Design. He [I] argued that it was a sophisticated attempt to restore creationism. However, it lacked credibility and misrepresented both science and religion.”

In his summation, Mr. Leaves noted that the conference “revealed the tensions between the worlds of science and religion.” Yes and no. Several of the speakers referred to a conflict between science and religion, but that does not mean that they necessarily must conflict. We can tolerate ID Lite, as long as it holds views that are consistent with known scientific fact. The conflict is not between science and religion as such but between science and certain dogmatic religions that think they know better than to accept empirical facts they do not like. All rational people, whether religious or not, must oppose such views. As Mr. Edis pointed out, liberal religion is good for science. I will add only that we need liberal religion to help fight off the barbarians at the gates of science. Organizations like the Jefferson Center are crucial, and I was privileged to be a part of their second summer institute.

177 Comments

The conflict is not between science and religion as such but between science and certain dogmatic religions that think they know better than to accept empirical facts they do not like.

Or, for that matter, that they do not understand.

Okay, which religions aren’t “dogmatic religions that think they know better than to accept empirical facts they do not like” or do not know about or don’t understand?

Matt, thanks so much for coming to Ashland for this conference. Hopefully it will continue to grow in size. I’m glad you found the conference useful. As I think I mentioned to you in an email, we had another local coup at Southern Oregon University here in Ashland when they agreed to let me teach a course on the scientific failures of ID and creationism. It took a lot of convincing to get a university science dept. to allow a class that even mentions the word religion, even if it’s in the context of defending evolutionary biology. But I’m looking forward to it. Your book with Taner will be required reading. Cheers, John Williams

Okay, which religions aren’t “dogmatic religions that think they know better than to accept empirical facts they do not like” or do not know about or don’t understand?

Here’s a quote from H.H. the Dalai Lama

“If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenzin[…]o#Quotations

I don’t think, genrally speaking, that Buddhists have any problem at all with the direction and discoveries of science. Which doesn’t mean, however, that some don’t try to engage in form of apologetics. Which is how Wallace sometimes comes across.

Tim wrote:

Here’s a quote from H.H. the Dalai Lama

“If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”

Keep in mind that’s a quote from a man who is supposedly the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama and a manifestations of the Buddha of Compassion who chose to take rebirth for the purpose of serving other human beings. While I can’t prove all that wrong, I’m not seeing much scientific evidence to support reincarnation.

Keep in mind that’s a quote from a man who is supposedly the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama and a manifestations of the Buddha of Compassion who chose to take rebirth for the purpose of serving other human beings. While I can’t prove all that wrong, I’m not seeing much scientific evidence to support reincarnation

I’m not sure what your point is here. You asked above about which religion was willing to accept or include a scientific view. I gave you an example. But your reply (and perhaps I’ve misread you) suggests that since H.H. holds a religious worldview, he’s not to be taken seriously when he speaks favorably about the potential influence of science on his worldview. If I’m not misreading you, I’m curious to know what would be an acceptable answer to your question?

Tim wrote:

I’m not sure what your point is here.

Well, let’s see if you understand this version of the point:

If any of those monks had any real, scientific, proof of reincarnation then they could get a million bucks and the recognition of skeptics by going here:

http://www.randi.org/research/index.html

Belief in reincarnation seems to be a belief that is held irrationally, in spite of science – not because of it.

While I can’t prove all that wrong, I’m not seeing much scientific evidence to support reincarnation.

Nor will you, since it’s all symbolic.

You probably won’t find any scientific evidence for talking rabbits that race tortoises, either.

Normdoering, you seem to be having a hard time staying on topic. Your first post suggested that all religions put dogma ahead of science. I gave you an example which showed that this was not always the case. But you’ve not acknowledged that.

Instead, you point out that Buddhists believe that people are bound to a chain of birth-death-and-birth. You furthermore acknowledge that while you can’t disprove this there’s no scientific evidence in favor of it either. Then you go on to suggest that it’s up to the monks to prove that rebirth is a scientific fact. This really has nothing to do with your original question, or my answer to it. Really, it just smacks of moving the goal posts.

Leaving that aside, I’m curious why you think they (the monks - and for that matter, the lay practitioners as well) should prove what you yourself cannot disprove? I’m also curious whether you think their inability to prove what you cannot disprove somehow renders the Dalai Lama’s statement an invalid answer to your original question (i.e. the original topic which was about the relationship of science and dogma to relgious worldviews as perceived by the holders of those views).

On the other hand, I’m beginning to think that your original question was mostly flippant, not wholly considered, and that I’ve taken you more seriously than you expected to be taken.

Belief in reincarnation seems to be a belief that is held irrationally, in spite of science — not because of it.

It’s not a “belief” – it’s a symbol.

Indeed, the very POINT of Buddhism is that there is no individual ego that is not a part of the larger universe and vice versa. Hence, no individual to BE “reincarnated”.

I don’t expect you to understand that, however. So I won’t interrupt your latest anti-religon rant.

Have at them theists, and enjoy.

(yawn)

Okay, which religions aren’t “dogmatic religions that think they know better than to accept empirical facts they do not like” or do not know about or don’t understand?

Tim gave an excellent example and refutation, Buddhism.

Keep in mind that’s a quote from a man… While I can’t prove all that wrong, I’m not seeing much scientific evidence to support reincarnation.

Moved the goalpost. What does having support for a religious belief have to do with dogmatism? Tim showed that Buddhism is not dogmatic when it comes to scientific evidence.

Belief in reincarnation seems to be a belief that is held irrationally, in spite of science — not because of it.

Incorrect. Science has nothing to say on the matter of reincarnation, which means that beliefs in reincarnation are not in spite of science.

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank wrote:

Nor will you, since it’s all symbolic.

So, this Dali is only symbolically the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama? This Dali was only chosen randomly as a child?

I don’t think you know as much about Buddhism as you pretend to.

Tim wrote:

Normdoering, you seem to be having a hard time staying on topic. Your first post suggested that all religions put dogma ahead of science. I gave you an example which showed that this was not always the case.

No, you gave me an example of a claim that isn’t supported by the facts.

Are you familiar with the term “burden of proof”? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden[…]l_fallacy%29

I am surprised that no members of the Bahai faith showd up to present their views. My wife is a Bahai, so I am familiar with the ideas. It is interesting in that the founder, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, expressed forcefully this idea in the following passage:

“If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.”

One of the few religions that explicitly states that science and religion should agree.

Ms. Wertheim argued that science and religion are indeed driving us crazy but for deeper reasons than meet the eye. Specifically, she was concerned with the manner in which science has expanded to include psychology and human behavior, and even religion itself. She decried the “physicalizing” of psychology; it seemed almost as if she was censuring psychologists for applying quantitative tools to their discipline.

ah yes, the quintessential sociobiology haters that now target evo psych.

as if no human behavior ever has been demonstrated to have any genetic components to it.

will the nature/nuture dichotomy NEVER die?

I will add only that we need liberal religion to help fight off the barbarians at the gates of science.

please keep repeating that in private to PZ. eventually, it might start to sink in.

No, you gave me an example of a claim that isn’t’t supported by the facts.

Oh Norm, that’s really, really sad.

Do you really mean to say that it’s not a fact that, the Dalai Lama, a religious leader and spokesperson for millions (but not all) Buddhists said “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change”? Do you really mean to say that this factoid does not speak directly to your question?

Do you really mean to say that an opinion expressed in the form of “if X happens , then Y” is the equivalent of a truth claim?, or of an assertion about some fact of the world? Can you explain to me the truth claim embedded in the phrase “Buddhism will have to change”? Can you show me what fact is asserted in that statement? Can you show me why the statement is anything more than just the Dalai Lama’s opinion (one that seems to have dashed your preconceptions about religious worldviews)?

But I know what you want, Kippy. You want to be able to say that if the Dalai Lama really meant what he said, he wouldn’t believe the things he does. But there are two problems with that. The first has already been pointed out to you - as science has nothing to say about multiple lifetimes, it is a nonsequitur to hold these beliefs as contradictory to the Dalai Lama’s statement. The second and even bigger problem is that you really have no idea (1) what the Dalai Lama thinks, and (2) what Buddhist tenets or practices have to say at all. As such you really have no idea the extent to which the Dalai Lama and all the other Buddhists in the world have accepted scientific facts about the world and about people which contradict ancient tenets. In other words, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

Now I’m going to bow out here as I really have nothing else to say.

It took a lot of convincing to get a university science dept. to allow a class that even mentions the word religion, even if it’s in the context of defending evolutionary biology.

John, it would be worthwhile explaining the exact nature of the hurdles you ran into in trying to make a convincing case to teach a course of this subject material.

Especially in light of the other thread on PT where Allen MacNeill attempts to justify the structure and results of his ID course at cornell.

If you get a chance, I think an elucidation of the details would be most useful in parsing the value of such a course.

from my own perspective, I still have yet to see how a course that directly attacks the nonsense in the “design inference” is more appropriate or effective than simply a well taught course on evolutionary theory to begin with.

Who is your target audience for such a course?

Tim wrote:

Do you really mean to say that it’s not a fact that, the Dalai Lama, a religious leader and spokesperson for millions (but not all) Buddhists said “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change”?

No, I don’t mean he didn’t say it. It’s easy to say things. What I’m saying is he doesn’t live it, he doesn’t do what he says.

If he is going to let science judge, then he should take the evidence for reincarnation to people who can investigate it skeptically and scientifically. He should doubt it.

If he does doubt it, then he must also doubt that he is the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama and thus no more deserving of that title than a child chosen at random.

Do you really mean to say that this factoid does not speak directly to your question?

That’s right, it doesn’t speak to the question. Even loonies can say the right thing and then go off and live according to a superstition.

You are in fact an illustration of the failure of rational thought in the face of superstitious claims. If there is no proof against a rabbits foot being lucky, then you think it is rational to call the rabbit’s foot lucky.

You never bothered to find out what “burden of proof” meant.

…as science has nothing to say about multiple lifetimes, it is a nonsequitur …

Actually the question has been explored by skeptics who have found the evidence for it so lacking and often mistaken that the belief should fall into the realm of a cultural delusion.

…The second and even bigger problem is that you really have no idea (1) what the Dalai Lama thinks,…

Up to a point, that’s true. But he hasn’t renounced the title of Dali Lama which requires him to the reincarnation of the previous one.

As such you really have no idea the extent to which the Dalai Lama and all the other Buddhists in the world have accepted scientific facts about the world and about people which contradict ancient tenets. In other words, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

Up to a point, I don’t know. “Is the pope Catholic?” - probably, but maybe not really. “Is the Dali Lama a Buddhist?” I’m a little less sure of that.

You appartently don’t know what you’re talking about either.

Now I’m going to bow out here as I really have nothing else to say.

Or any ability to learn.

just curious, how would one go about testing scientifically whether one is a reincarnated entity or not, give the Buddhist definition of what is supposedly transfered from one entity to another through reincarnation to begin with?

It does seem akin to the “trying to prove whether there is a soul” issue.

If we say “spirit” or “essential essence” is transfered, how can one possibly quantify that?

IOW, the Dalai Lama is perfectly safe in saying he would change if science proves him wrong, as the very tenets of most religion (inlcuding Buddhism) are really untestable to begin with.

as to “walk the walk”, if nobody changed their religions based on scientific evidence, all religions would still proclaim we are living on a flat, geocentric earth, would they not?

there is definetly an aspect of psychology involved in some sects that is lacking in others. It is demonstrably the case that even within xian sects, not all sects reject evidence out of hand, and many incorporate the evidence into their teachings. the ELCA is a good example; in fact the history of the split between the ELCA and the Misouri synod is a great example of how the very sects withing religion itself can come from acceptance of scientific evidence.

Not recognizing the difference between sects is just as bad as religious sects not recognizing the difference between “science” and “religion” to begin with.

Bahai founder, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, expressed:

“If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.”

I know less about Bahai than Buddhism, but such statements as presented above or the one by the Dali Lama are not enough in themselves. Does this guy really know what the “standards of science” are? If they really do contradict his beliefs will he back off of his beliefs or try to redefine science? IDers will tell you they know science standards even while they want to redefine them.

It could be true.

Or it could be a con job by a cult leader.

It’s just not enough by itself.

Sir_Toejam asked:

just curious, how would one go about testing scientifically whether one is a reincarnated entity or not, give the Buddhist definition of what is supposedly transfered from one entity to another through reincarnation to begin with?

It does seem akin to the “trying to prove whether there is a soul” issue.

Remember the concept of “burden of proof.” Who has it here? And is this even evidence: http://www.skepticreport.com/print/[…]tion29-p.htm

You might want to check out this book, Reincarnation: A Critical Examination - by Paul Edwards: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/15[…]ttoddcarrolA

Is it possible to prove there isn’t a soul? What if we can make an AI that passes the Turing test? What if we can scan the neural connections in our brains and copy our personalities into robots and virtual reality avatars? If we can account for what we are through neural nets, then there is no room left for speculating about souls. It would be like speculating about invisible hamsters on invisible wheels that make your car go.

I think most religions that have some base in non-material souls (which ones don’t?) are going to have a problem with those new technological abilities. Indeed, remember what Matt Young wrote about Buddhist Alan Wallace:

… Mr. Wallace burdened us with an overlong (well over his allotted 1.5 hours), rambling plea for a new science of consciousness based on introspection. He argued that William James had pioneered such a program but claimed it was scuttled by the behaviorists. He castigated present neuroscientists for assuming without evidence that the mind is nothing but the functioning of the brain, yet provided no evidence whatsoever that introspection can lead to anything as scientifically useful as, say, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Like an intelligent-design creationist, Mr. Wallace seemed to think that he supported his own position by poking holes in someone else’s. I thought he was searching in vain for a sort of “consciousness of the gaps.” .…

That anticipates the problem of what Ray Kurzweil calls “Spiritual Machines.”

Sometimes it’s good to doubt supernaturalism not because of the weakness of supernaturalism, but because the incredible strength of naturalism and materialism which are providing us with the scientific progress now exploding around us.

good references, but I think you miss my point when speaking of the issue of the Dali Lama.

all they have to do is redefine “soul” such that if intelligence/cognition can be passed to an artificial entity that can pass the Turing test, they will simply move the goalposts and say that the sould encompases more than what can be determined by the turing test.

all I’m saying is that you can claim they “aren’t walkin’ the walk”, but they can always just move the goalposts into the next gap, thereby claiming that their ideology has NOT been refuted by science.

I hope that’s a bit clearer way of expressing what I meant.

on the more uh, “concrete” side, you do agree that various sects have actually accepted a varying amount of scientific evidence, and that their ideologies have changed as result, yes?

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Sir_Toejam wrote:

all they have to do is redefine “soul” such that if intelligence/cognition can be passed to an artificial entity that can pass the Turing test, they will simply move the goalposts and say that the soul encompases more than what can be determined by the turing test.

Well, the term in Buddhism is “atman” and it’s not exactly like Western ideas about the soul: http://www.themystica.com/mystica/a[…]a/atman.html

It’s already vague. It already suffers from that “it depends on transcendent entities and is maddeningly evasive about the relation between science and religious belief” syndrome Matt Young identified with “liberal” religions through Taner Edis’s comment.

The atman concept originally conected to a kind of vitalism and supernaturalism that theories like Darwinian evolution have undermined.

You say:

… they can always just move the goalposts into the next gap, thereby claiming that their ideology has NOT been refuted by science.

And I agree, that’s why I said: “…not because of the weakness of supernaturalism, but because the incredible strength of naturalism and materialism which are providing us with the scientific progress now exploding around us.”

It’s not just that concepts like atman are weak and explain little, it’s that science already has better concepts, naturalistic and materialistic concepts, with richer and more technologically useful explanations. Religion can not compete with that.

… you do agree that various sects have actually accepted a varying amount of scientific evidence, and that their ideologies have changed as result, yes?

Yes, I agree. But accepting science costs – sometimes what’s left of such a “liberal” religion looks like a hollow shell, vague, evasive, full of holy words and concepts that have not really become symbolic, but just meaningless.

Comment #124553

Posted by normdoering on August 30, 2006 10:45 PM (e)

Tim wrote:

Do you really mean to say that it’s not a fact that, the Dalai Lama, a religious leader and spokesperson for millions (but not all) Buddhists said “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change”?

No, I don’t mean he didn’t say it. It’s easy to say things. What I’m saying is he doesn’t live it, he doesn’t do what he says.

If he is going to let science judge, then he should take the evidence for reincarnation to people who can investigate it skeptically and scientifically. He should doubt it.

If he does doubt it, then he must also doubt that he is the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama and thus no more deserving of that title than a child chosen at random.

Do you really mean to say that this factoid does not speak directly to your question?

That’s right, it doesn’t speak to the question. Even loonies can say the right thing and then go off and live according to a superstition.

You are in fact an illustration of the failure of rational thought in the face of superstitious claims. If there is no proof against a rabbits foot being lucky, then you think it is rational to call the rabbit’s foot lucky.

You never bothered to find out what “burden of proof” meant.

…as science has nothing to say about multiple lifetimes, it is a nonsequitur …

Actually the question has been explored by skeptics who have found the evidence for it so lacking and often mistaken that the belief should fall into the realm of a cultural delusion.

…The second and even bigger problem is that you really have no idea (1) what the Dalai Lama thinks,…

Up to a point, that’s true. But he hasn’t renounced the title of Dali Lama which requires him to the reincarnation of the previous one.

As such you really have no idea the extent to which the Dalai Lama and all the other Buddhists in the world have accepted scientific facts about the world and about people which contradict ancient tenets. In other words, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

Up to a point, I don’t know. “Is the pope Catholic?” - probably, but maybe not really. “Is the Dali Lama a Buddhist?” I’m a little less sure of that.

You appartently don’t know what you’re talking about either.

Now I’m going to bow out here as I really have nothing else to say.

Or any ability to learn.

[soapbox]

Norm,

You are very bright and probably good looking but you are making some misdirected statements. It may very well prove (At this point it is probably a safe working assumption) that we are simply a product of our chemistry. Science can tell us lots about that. Religion admittedly can’t tell jack about it. But you are equating a couple of dissimilar items. Buddism is essentially a practice, not a religion. Yes, you can perfectly well demonstrate otherwise by pointing to (especially tibetan)some buddist texts but you would be missing the point.

The Dali Lama is both a practitioner and a political figure. China. Problems. He is the guy the poor bastards look to. His politics do enter the fray.

THat said, you do not understand the practice of meditation and conditioning the mind in the buddist fashion. There is a well understood concept to folks who are advanced meditators that the mind is simply an organ. You can shape it. More importantly, you can observe it. You can watch it work. Until you learn the practice, you will not understand completely. It makes intuitive sense but when you become comfortable with it it is completely different than the initial intuitive understanding. It is not brainwashing. There is no presupposition. You discover the same thing as everyone else all by yourself. Now Budda, he took it a little farther and made this whole damn suffering bit into kind of a main cornerstone of the practice but what he figured out was really real. It is a repeatable experiment. It is not doctrine. The Dali Lama is human though and fallable and subject to foibles himself so perfection isn’t really necessary. He does a better job than most people who are born into religion. And he is an honest politician who works actually for his people.

To claim that his understanding of reincarnation is wrong though, because we can make a robot with emotions, is to utterly misunderstand the point. Lots of folks go round burning incense and mumbling prayers and so on because they like it. But this is not a case where they then try to rope you into ponying up your share to the church upon pain of death or flogging or whatever. It is certainly laughable when your friendly neighborhood psycic tells you that you were Marie Antoinette in a past life but that really isn’t what they are getting at. Yes I know that they can trace all their past lives through the Dali Lamas but, just think of it this way, at least you won’t pay $5 to hear you were the dali lama in a past life. Or either learn the practice or believe people who have. The point of past lives is generic, not specific. [/soapbox]

Yes, I agree. But accepting science costs — sometimes what’s left of such a “liberal” religion looks like a hollow shell, vague, evasive, full of holy words and concepts that have not really become symbolic, but just meaningless.

lesser of two evils.

BWE wrote:

… you do not understand the practice of meditation and conditioning the mind in the buddist fashion.

Maybe not. But I once did meditate – not Buddhist, TM, transcendental meditation, a few decades ago. I gave them sixty bucks and a basket of fruit and flowers and they gave me this mantra – “eye-ing.”

The promises got a little too weird (floating during meditation, bringing peace to the world through meditation effecting other, non-meditator thoughts). The kind of stuff you should be able to really prove to James Randi, but never was.

The meditation didn’t seem to do much for me, I gradually stopped because I seemed to be wasting my time.

It is not brainwashing.

And you know this how? Because you don’t feel brainwashed?

I would say it’s a form of self-imposed sensory deprivation and sensory deprivation is a technique used in brainwashing.

There is no presupposition.

Bullshit.

You discover the same thing as everyone else all by yourself.

That’s a presupposition right there, what others tell you they’ve discovered, what made it seem worth meditating in the first place.

Now Budda, he … figured out was really real.

That’s another presupposition and a doctrine.

The Dali Lama is human though and fallable and subject to foibles himself so perfection isn’t really necessary. He does a better job than most people who are born into religion. And he is an honest politician who works actually for his people.

I’m not saying he’s a bad guy. And as “religions” go, Buddhism seems better than any religion I know of. But, from where I sit, it does not appear to be free of all supernaturalism and superstition.

This to me, sounds like superstitious behavior:

When Lhamo Thondup was barely three years old, a search party that had been sent out by the Tibetan government to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama arrived at Kumbum monastery. It had been led there by a number of signs. One of these concerned the embalmed body of his predecessor, Thupten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who had died aged fifty-seven in 1933. During its period of sitting in state, the head was discovered to have turned from facing south to northeast. Shortly after that the Regent, himself a senior lama, had a vision. Looking into the waters of the sacred lake, Lhamo Lhatso, in southern Tibet, he clearly saw the Tibetan letters Ah, Ka and Ma float into view. These were followed by the image of a three-storied monastery with a turquoise and gold roof and a path running from it to a hill. Finally, he saw a small house with strangely shaped guttering. He was sure that the letter Ah referred to Amdo, the northeastern province, so it was there that the search party was sent.

It’s from the site Anton Mates linked.

So, this Dali is only symbolically the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama? This Dali was only chosen randomly as a child?

Yes.

I don’t think you know as much about Buddhism as you pretend to.

I studied it for several years and have a license to teach it. My knowledge of it, unlike yours, doesn’t come from doing Google searches. (shrug)

Up to a point, that’s true. But he hasn’t renounced the title of Dali Lama which requires him to the reincarnation of the previous one.

The Japanese Emperors all claim descent from the Sun God Amaterasu Omikami. It is a symbol of their political authority.

Just like the Dalai Lama (who, you seem quite unaware, is the titular head of the Tibetan state).

PG

BWE: I don’t think further discussion between us is fruitful. Enjoy your whiskey.

Hmmm. Was the previous discussion?

PG

My “attitude” is that I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Must get frustrating.

Comment #125127

Posted by Corkscrew on September 1, 2006 02:25 PM (e)

I think there’s a distinction to be drawn here between irrational and arational beliefs. Most religions believe stuff that’s unsupported by facts (arational) but many avoid believing stuff that’s actively contradicted by the facts (irrational).

The only question is whether arational beliefs count as dogma. That’s a valid issue - I’d say no, but that’s just my opinion.

I agree. Is it dogma to make claims about subjective interpretations? Especially when there is no right answer? A mite different from telling us we’ll go to hell if we jack off. (Can I just do it till I have to wear glasses?)

I would add that making yourself feel good by excersising is roughly equivelant to making yourself feel good through meditating. Or, possibly put as “learning to enjoy the moment”.

Norm

No, the Dalai Lama and the other institutional figureheads of Buddhism do make Authoritative Assertions based on revealations from gods, crows, visions and reincarnated memories. PG is not wrong, you are. Or, at least I share PG’s view there to put it more open mindedly.

Here’s another question to consider: Is religion an institution or a belief system? I’m defining religion as the institutions, however losely tied together. It’s the institutions where people of like mind get together and drive themselves deeper into their cultural illusions.

The Dalai Lama is part of an institution — not that disimilar from the Vatican.

and that’s where I have to get off the bus. Like I said, I have read his books and seen him speak twice, I see just a man who lives his philosophy. I have not read or heard any authoritative assertions of supernatural events taking place. There is no doubt that he is the head of a theocracy though and this is pretty scary by itself. I’m sure there used to be a lot of nasty things done in the name of gov’t in tibet.

SteviePH

Posted by Steviepinhead on September 1, 2006 03:37 PM (e)

BWE:

-You may not have said it, but I’ll bet you thought it.-

Nope. Indeed, I hardly ever think about “it” at all.

Less discursively, I realize that some have found Popper’s Ghost’s style of discourse abrasive (the same was said of “ts” and “mobius,” who may or may not have been previous “incarnations,” heh heh, of PG’s). Nobody, and certainly not PG—who I know only through these pages—has appointed me his defender, any more than anyone appointed me summarizer-in-chief of Pim’s “trainwreck” thread.

But neither am I one of his detractors.

Man, I’d like a doubleshot of humor please. Extra dry, no olive.

Posted by David B. Benson on September 1, 2006 04:52 PM (e)

At the risk of Lenny Flank disagreeing with me, I will flatly state that Zen is so abstract that it no longer is ‘part of’ Buddism. Yes, it grew out of the Buddist tradition in China and was brought to full flower in Japan. But it is perfectly possible to combine Zen with a variety of religious experiences: I knew a Zen Quaker, who had indeed studied in a Zen monastery. A most impressive individual.

The most important book in Zen is Dogen’s 8th(?) century “Instructions for the Zen Cook”. No it is not a cookbook. At that time the cook was one of the officers in a Zen monastery and Dogun provides instruction in this office. For example, “When you are washing rice, just wash rice. Pay attention to every grain.” Note the ‘pay attention’. The (partial) practitioners of Zen of my acquaintance were extremely alert to their surroundings.

“When you are driving the car, just drive the car. Pay attention to every vehicle.”

That is the essense of Buddism in general too. You can push the envelope however far and zen is not pushing for Nirvana so to speak like other folks might but that’s the beauty. It’s like flavors.

Comment #125163

Posted by Popper’s ghost on September 1, 2006 05:00 PM (e)

PG jumped on me unnessesarily and ridiculously so I spent a little time frustrating him

What you did was write

What school did you say you were just starting at?

I know one thing for absolute certain fact but it’s a secret that I only tell my friends.

You also have a hole in your head that your brains are leaking out of.

So don’t play the victim here.

Don’t forget I said you like guys.

All apologies.

None needed. No harm, no foul.

:)

Steviepinhead Wrote:

we usually manage to understand each other without quite as much acrimony as others tend to encounter

There is actually only a very small minority of posters at PT who encounter acrimony from me – those who are transparently dishonest, like someone who writes things like “What school did you say you were just starting at?” and “You also have a hole in your head that your brains are leaking out of.”, and then “graciously apologizes” by writing “PG jumped on me unnessesarily and ridiculously so I spent a little time frustrating him”, and continues with “PG buried a small, obvious point in a barrage of ignorant, arrogant and overexuberant verbosity”, or like someone who, after I’ve been told I have a hole in my head, writes “give the attitude a rest already would ya?”, “do you suffer from asperger’s syndrome or what?”, etc. (in addition to making false charges against PZ – someone who thinks his faulty memory is evidence, as when he claimed that you called me an ahole). And one can count on others who’s intellectual dishonesty I’ve called out to join in on the attack; we’ve already seen Lenny do it. Most people here don’t engage in this sort of dishonest behavior, but they also don’t comment on it; I do. And you’re one of the very few people who, when they do comment on it, does not jump in with the dishonest attack-the-messenger chorus, which I appreciate and consider a sign of intelligence.

Yeah, right, all your ad hominems are “sincere”.

Was it something I said?

Lenny, the rabbit and the tortoise do not exist. The Dalai Lama does, he writes books, he has a website, you can read it (which you obviously haven’t) and you see the guy admits that he believes in a very actual, not symbolic, reincarnation.

First off, Norm, you need to learn what a “metaphor” is. Like I said before, you’re more literalist than the fundies are.

Second, let’s assume for your sake that the Dalai Lama not only beleives in reincarnation, but also in ghosts, flying saucers, pixies, and the Lost Continent of Atlantis.

So f’ing what? Why on earth is anyone other than the Dalai Lama obligated to believe whatever the heck the Dalai Lama believes?

Buddhism is intensely individual. It simply doesn’t matter what anyone else does or believes. It’s up to each individual to walk their own path. No one else can do that for them. Not even the Dalai Lama. Not even Buddha. If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

I do understand that, being a fundie and all, the very concept of a non-authoritarian religion is utterly beyomnd your understanding. Just like it is beyond Falwell and Kennedy’s.

Like I said before, under the feathers, you’re the very same bird.

Don’t make me pull a Popper’s Ghost.

In other words, present the evidence … as Norm did, in this case … that supports your claim.

If Dolly Lolly believes supernatural stuff, then I would have to agree he is probably wrong.

As would I.

And as would the Dalai Lama.

Norm needs to learn what a “metaphor” is.

He also needs to learn the difference between “exoteric” and “esoteric”.

Most of all, Norm needs to stop being more literalist than the f’ing fundies are.

Is this what you mean by “gracious”, Matt?

You [(Steviepinhead)] may not have said it, but I’ll bet you thought [PG is an ass]”.

Don’t forget I said you like guys.

At the risk of Lenny Flank disagreeing with me, I will flatly state that Zen is so abstract that it no longer is ‘part of’ Buddism.

No disagreement there. Zen, quite literally, teaches nothing at all. So there is nothing it can or can’t be a “part of”.

Anyone, in any circumstances, of any background, can “know thyself, and be what you are”.

And that’s all Zen is.

I will firmly request that you both and everyone else refrain from such invective and personal insults.

Does this count as such?

So f’ing what? … I do understand that, being a fundie and all, the very concept of a non-authoritarian religion is utterly beyomnd your understanding.

Most of all, Norm needs to stop being more literalist than the f’ing fundies are.

that doesn’t make it true by scientific epistemological standards.

Neither is “blondes are cuter than brunettes”.

So what?

It’s like flavors.

Indeed, the question to eb asked is not “is this right?” but “Is this right FOR ME?”

There’s no wrong way to be a Buddhist, as long as you be yourself.

So what?

BWE made a truth claim, a claim that I said something false:

he equated Buddism with Authoritative Assertion which is nearly the exact opposite of what buddhism is.

That’s not anything like “PG likes blondes and I like brunettes”. I argued that his statement is false; “so what” if it’s not true is simply that … that it’s false, nothing more than that. Talk about blondes and brunettes is a non sequitur.

PG

There is actually only a very small minority of posters at PT who encounter acrimony from me —those who are transparently dishonest, like someone who writes things like “What school did you say you were just starting at?” and “You also have a hole in your head that your brains are leaking out of.”, and then “graciously apologizes” by writing “PG jumped on me unnessesarily and ridiculously so I spent a little time frustrating him”, and continues with “PG buried a small, obvious point in a barrage of ignorant, arrogant and overexuberant verbosity “,

Transparently dishonest? Hmmm. Let me consult with Buddha and see what I’m allowed to say here…

Ok.

See, I told you he likes guys. The only part he disagreed with is the hole in the head business.

But I’m sure that in a past life, I watched the brains leaking out of the hole in your head. And I distincly remember that your Karmic punishment for taking yourself so seriously was to be brains leaking from the hole in your head for several more lifetimes. And when the sun stands still for a day is when your karmic debt will be paid. Isn’t that right? I’m sure if you slaughter a goat and read the entrails you would discover the Noble truth of my words.

There’s of course disparity between thinking that the Lama caused the omens versus thinking that the omens caused the Lama. Cf Popper’s Ghost referencing Russel’s teapots in space and tooth-fairy agnosticism.

If you think there’s no scientific conflict between “there is a tooth fairy” and “there is no tooth fairy”, or “there’s a teapot orbiting Mars” and “there’s no teapot orbiting Mars”, you are mistaken. Dawkins made the distinction between possibility and probability; it is possible that there’s a tooth fairy or a teapot orbiting Mars, but the “is” and “is not” statements are not at all equally likely, and it is likelihood that science deals with. This is distinct from metaphysical questions, which was my point about not being able to present evidence concerning the probability that the infant Dalai Lama received the “skandha” of his predecessor, or that I am Marie Antoinette’s reincarnation or inhabited by Popper’s ghost. Sadly, rather than having this point responded to, I have been insulted by people who haven’t taken the care to read or understand what I wrote or to distinguish it from what Norm wrote. As I said before, “I said nothing of dead folk moving about”.

Matt, is this what you mean by “gracious”? It looks very much like a personal insult to me:

But I’m sure that in a past life, I watched the brains leaking out of the hole in your head. And I distincly remember that your Karmic punishment for taking yourself so seriously was to be brains leaking from the hole in your head for several more lifetimes.

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank wrote:

First off, Norm, you need to learn what a “metaphor” is.

Really?

Care to explain what the metaphor of the teeth means?

… my mother remembers very clearly, is that soon after I arrived in Lhasa, I said that my teeth were in a box in a certain house in the Norbulinka. When they opened the box, they found a set of dentures which had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. I pointed to the box, and said that my teeth were in there, but right now I don’t recall this at all. The new memories associated with this body are stronger. The past has become smaller, vaguer. Unless I made a specific attempt to develop such a memory, I don’t recall it.…

Does that mean that this new Dalai Lama will have the same bite as the last?

It’s amazing how any superstitious garbage can be attributed to metaphor, but in this case Lenny, I think its clear to those who’ve bothered to actually read the Dalai Lama’s website that you are are still so arrogant in your ignorance and confidence you’ve never actually bothered to look at the evidence that contradicts you.

First off, Norm, you need to learn what a “metaphor” is.

What a metaphor is not is a concrete statement that is called “metaphor” in a totally ad hoc fashion simply to avoid acknowledging an error in one’s claims or arguments. A metaphor is not a rhetorical tool employed as to make one’s claims impregnable to challenge.

PG, why don’t you like me? Is it the hole in the head thing? I mean, we can get past that little thing can’t we? I mean, I didn’t bring up any of the really embarrassing stuff. And I won’t. I promise.

Can’t we just be friends again? Like we were in the good old days? If it’s any help, I like you.

The new memories associated with this body are stronger. The past has become smaller, vaguer. Unless I made a specific attempt to develop such a memory, I don’t recall it.…

I (metaphorically speaking) am having the same trouble (metaphorically speaking) remembering (metaphorically speaking) what happened (metaphorically speaking) before the guillotine (metaphorically speaking) fell (metaphorically speaking).

Can’t we just be friends again?

Only if you were to post a sincere apology, explaining that your insults were in error and how they reflect your own personal failings. Only if you were to explain to Matt Young how he was wrong to call your insincere “apology” an apology at all, or to refer to it as “gracious”. Only if you were to admit that “PG jumped on me unnessesarily and ridiculously so I spent a little time frustrating him”, and “PG buried a small, obvious point in a barrage of ignorant, arrogant and overexuberant verbosity” are factually incorrect and convince me of your sincerity. Only if you were to convince me that you are a totally different sort of person than you appear to be.

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank wrote:

There’s no wrong way to be a Buddhist, as long as you be yourself.

Then they’ll show you that you don’t have a self.

… my mother remembers very clearly, is that soon after I arrived in Lhasa, I said that my teeth were in a box in a certain house in the Norbulinka. When they opened the box, they found a set of dentures which had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. I pointed to the box, and said that my teeth were in there, but right now I don’t recall this at all.

Of course, science can’t prove that the Dalai Lama’s mother’s recollection is incorrect or that the Dalai Lama had been cued as to the location of his predecessor’s teeth, but, as BWE noted about rocks rolling uphill, science can apply probabilistic measures, and thus there is a scientific conflict here.

Comment #125220

Posted by Popper’s ghost on September 1, 2006 06:41 PM (e)

-Can’t we just be friends again?-

Only if you were to post a sincere apology, explaining that your insults were in error and how they reflect your own personal failings. Only if you were to explain to Matt Young how he was wrong to call your insincere “apology” an apology at all, or to refer to it as “gracious”. Only if you were to admit that “PG jumped on me unnessesarily and ridiculously so I spent a little time frustrating him”, and “PG buried a small, obvious point in a barrage of ignorant, arrogant and overexuberant verbosity” are factually incorrect and convince me of your sincerity. Only if you were to convince me that you are a totally different sort of person than you appear to be.

My apology to Matt was, in fact sincere and here I am trying to stay on topic and you are making demands I can’t possibly meet. I never did apologize to you so if you are confusing my appology to Matt with one to you then I’m sorry, we should clear up the misunderstanding.

What sort of person do I appear to be? You appear to be a man with brains leaking out of a hole in your head. I could be wrong. If I am, I would be happy to retract my statement.

Being friends is easy. You just type a colon like this : then you type a close parenthases like this ) and when you put them together, you get this :)

See? Wasn’t that easy? :)

Here’s the emphasis: by saying that these signs are arbitrary, you’re saying that the new Lama was chosen because of the signs. That he was not yet the new Lama until they picked him. A Buddhist would say that the new Lama was found thanks to the signs. That in fact he was the new Lama all the time and therefore caused the coincidence.

There’s no scientific [conflict] between the viewpoints. There is no scientific way to distinguish them, which means there’s no conflict.

This is incorrect; to say that the new Lama was chosen because of the signs is to say something trivially consistent with common well established causal relationships. To say that the new Lama caused the coincidence is to assert an unknown causal mechanism for which there is no evidentiary support. It’s no different from saying that people who win lotteries win them because they are lucky, rather than that they are lucky for having won, or that someone who suffers misfortune after a black cat crosses their path does so because of the black cat.

Popper’s ghost wrote:

… science can’t prove that the Dalai Lama’s mother’s recollection is incorrect or that the Dalai Lama had been cued as to the location of his predecessor’s teeth, but, as BWE noted about rocks rolling uphill, science can apply probabilistic measures, and thus there is a scientific conflict here.

Those events are water under the bridge now, but what would be interesting is getting some skeptics to follow the choosing of the next Dali Lama with videocameras and see if the things they say can happen, actually happen. To watch and see if an impressionable child is guided and cued by monks who react to the child’s attempts to be such a chosen figure.

If the Dalai Lama is serious about science, he should instruct those who try to find his next incarnation to invite a scientific team to follow and record every step of the process.

Matt Young Wrote:

I will firmly request that you both and everyone else refrain from such invective and personal insults.

BWE Wrote:

You appear to be a man with brains leaking out of a hole in your head.

So much for the power of firm requests.

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