Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Defending Buddhism against Loftus

John Loftus: A religion by definition must be about supernatural beings and/or forces. Atheism therefore is not a belief nor a religion. I really don't know how much plainer I can get.

VR: Quite apart from the fact that this was something Loftus said, I doubt that this is true. Buddhism, as originally conceived by Buddha, doesn't make any essential reference to the supernatural. As I understand it, Buddha did believe that there were supernatural beings, but one of the essentials of his teaching was that either those supernatural beings have achieved Nirvana, in which case they won't do you any good, or they are still subject to the cycle of birth and rebirth, in which case they can't do you any good.

I don't see anything in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism that makes any essential reference to the supernatural beings or forces.


Religion is harder than it looks, certainly to define. You may have to adapt Justice Stewart's dictum with regard to pornography: I can't define religion, but I know it when I see it.







35 comments:

Papalinton said...

A singularly memorable quote from the Dalai Lama in response to a question about what he would do if science found a central tenet of Buddhism was untrue:

"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."


Also a part quote from memory is, paraphrased, 'Buddhism does not accept a theory of God, or a creator and that for a Buddhist, one's own actions are the creator, ultimately'.

He also notes that some have likened Buddhism as a science of mind rather than a religion. He was not perturbed with that idea.

Anonymous said...

He also notes that some have likened Buddhism as a science of mind rather than a religion. He was not perturbed with that idea.


It's that easy? Okay, Christianity is a science of nature.

Problem solved, apparently.

Papalinton said...

No. Christianity is the mythology of christ.

Papalinton said...

Read this latest book:

http://www.amazon.com/Bodhisattvas-Brain-Buddhism-Naturalized/dp/0262016044/?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwsamharri02-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0262016044

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized

"Buddhist doctrines about meditation, compassion, and well-being have begun to greatly enrich the scientific study of the human mind--but we have long needed a careful analysis of the philosophical merits of these ideas. In The Bodhisattva's Brain, Flanagan has delivered it in fine style. This is an unusually wise and useful book."
-- Sam Harris, author of the New York Times best sellers, The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith

"What has Buddhism to teach us about human flourishing? What has neuroscience to teach us both about human flourishing and about the claims of Buddhism? Owen Flanagan's adventurous and intriguing pursuit of answers to these questions is matched by the impressive ingenuity of his attempts to accommodate those answers to the commitments of scientific naturalism."
-- Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality?

"In this masterpiece of insight and clarity, Flanagan takes us on a profound but still personal journey, as he contrasts philosophies of life held by Westerners and those held by Buddhists. Ever true to the path that logic carves, shrewdly sensitive to the human search for happiness, and with a unique accumulation of knowledge, Flanagan has given us something very new: comparative neurophilosophy."
-- Patricia S. Churchland, Professor of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego

Well worth reading.

One Brow said...

There is nothing in the Four Noble Truths, as you stated them, that implies a cycle of death and rebirth. However, to the extant that rebirth is built into Buddhism (and perhaps there are Buddhists who do not accept it), Buddhism does accept supernatural forces/entities (the entity that is part of the rebirth, the force that requires the entity to be reborn). So, it would qualify for a religion under the defintion you offered from Loftus.

finney said...

That Buddhism is harmonious with scientific findings doesn't exclude its religious character, Papalinton.

Here's my working definition of religion: A set of loosely or rigidly defined beliefs or attitudes that attempt to answer the question "why does the world exist?" and "how should we live?"

B. Prokop said...

Anyone who thinks that real live Buddhists do not believe in the supernatural needs to get out more. I studied Buddhism extensively while I was stationed in Korea, and I can assure you that Korean Buddhists, at least, worship, pray, believe that this world was created, that there is another realm of reality beyond the one we see with our senses (which is more real than "nature"), believe that the dead are still with us, and anticipate a life after this one.

If that ain't belief in the supernatural, I don't know what is!

Karl Grant said...

I spent two weeks in Seoul and agree with B. Prokop. I found Korean Buddhists believing goblins (Dokkebi, hope I spelled that right), Kumiho (nine-tailed shape-shifting foxes), Gwishin (ghosts) and I forget what else. Now it has been three years since I vistied South Korea and I was only there for two weeks so I am not exactly an expert on Korean Buddhist mythology.

Papalinton said...

finney
"That Buddhism is harmonious with scientific findings doesn't exclude its religious character, Papalinton."

Absolutely. Thus, the title of Flannigan's book: 'The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized'
: )

Papalinton said...

From Wiki:

The refutation of the notion of a supreme God or a prime mover is seen as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions. In Buddhism the sole aim of spiritual practice is the complete alleviation of stress in samsara, called nirvana. The Buddha explicitly rejects a creator, denies endorsing any views on creation and states that questions on the origin of the world are worthless. Some theists beginning Buddhist meditation believe that the notion of divinity is not incompatible with Buddhism, but belief in a Supreme God is eminently considered to pose a hindrance to the attainment of nirvana, the highest goal of Buddhist practice.

"While Buddhist traditions do not deny the existence of supernatural beings (e.g., the devas, of which many are discussed in Buddhist scripture), it does not ascribe powers, in the typical Western sense, for creation, salvation or judgement, to the "gods". They are regarded as having the power to affect worldly events in much the same way as humans and animals have the power to do so."

"Though not believing in a creator God, Buddhists inherited the Indian cosmology of the time which includes various types of 'god' realms such as the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, the Four Great Kings, and so on. Deva-realms are part of the various possible types of existence in the Buddhist cosmology."

The following paragraph is taken from an article written by the International Buddhism Sangha Association and taken from the book
H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III]

Do Buddhists advocate supernatural powers? Actually, this is not a matter of advocating or not advocating. Rather, supernatural powers are that which everyone who is accomplished in the dharma possesses. Such powers are the manifestation of realization achieved through cultivation. They are phenomena that exist in the course of cultivation but are not the goal of cultivation, which is liberation from the cycle of birth and death. They are by-products that arise during one’s practice. These by-products called supernatural phenomena naturally exist in all liberating paths within the Buddha-dharma. Becoming attached to these by-products and regarding them as the goal is heretical supernatural powers. Applying these by-products in a free and unattached way and regarding them as illusory is treating supernatural powers based on the correct Buddha-dharma view."

Karl Grant said...

That's nice Pap, but it still amounts to the fact that Buddhists believe in forces that western science does not recognize.

Also, from Rev. Kusala Bhikshu (a Buddhist monk, so I think he would know a thing or two about Buddhism):

Does that mean that every Buddhist in the world is an atheist? No!!! I have met a lot of Buddhists who believe in God. I have met a lot of Buddhists who don’t believe in God... And a lot of Buddhists just don’t know. All three points of view are OK if you’re Buddhist because suffering is more important than God in Buddhism.

From Discover Magazine on poll showing the percentages of Buddhists that believe in God or gods, show the majority do believe in deities.

Papalinton said...

Does Kusala, an american buddhist, know it all because he is Amercan or because he is a Buddhist? The most that I can attribute to Kusala, Karl, is that his is a personal idiosyncratic experience, much like the basis of christianity, and none of any of it having transferable or transmissible value or that can be tested or scrutinized for its veracity at a broader level. And if he is a believer in a god as he purports to, then he is in the 33% minority of Buddhists that do.

But then christians are practiced in believing that their particular individual personal experiences are truths of a universal understanding. And we know that is a lot of tripe even in the most favourable of circumstances.

To postulate that Buddhism by association is something like christianity, with its panoply of other-worldly non-human creatures, is to do a disservice to Buddhism.

Yes there are some forms of Buddhism that treat Buddha as a god, as in elements of Thai Buddhism, but this is exception to the rule.

I am quite amused at Kusala's personal glorying of his achievements:
http://urbandharma.org/kusalainfo/index.html
In fact he seems ....... quite proud of his track record.

From Wiki:
"Ethnocentrism of any sort (including the idea of belonging to a 'school of Buddhism' as well as evangelism and religious supremacism) is, according to Buddhist thought, rooted in self-grasping and reified thought - the cause of Samsara itself. The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly argued that any attempt to convert individuals from their beliefs is not only non-Buddhist, but abusive: the identification of evangelism as an expression of compassion is considered to be false, and indeed the idea that Buddhism is the only true path is likewise false for Buddhists."

Papalinton said...

Karl
The Discover Magazine write-up of Buddhists believing in a god is a bit if a furphy. Quite misleading.

Indeed one of the commenters on the site you offered, named Paul, sussed it out:

"This is misleading. The question that the researcher asked is: “Do you believe in God or a Universal Spirit.” What is a Universal Spirit? Something pretty vague.
It is not a Creator God or a Law-Giver God or a God that desires worship or rituals or that punishes and rewards. If people answer that they believe in a Universal Spirit that is a metaphysical concept not a religious concept."

I probably wouldn't be hanging my hat on these statistics.

Cheers

Karl Grant said...

Paps,

The majoritity of your first response can summarized as such:

Kusala doesn't know jackshit about Buddhism because he's American! Just ignore the fact he is an ordained Buddhist priest and underwent Buddhist theological training.

Well, if you want to play that game (despite it being the ad hominem fallacy again, but I digress) we could ask what one dumbass Aussie's opinion of Buddhism, or any religion for that matter, is worth. Especially when his sole academic credentials appear to be the ability to copy-and-paste from Wikipedia and regurgitate Harris-Loftus-Dawkins-etc... propaganda lines.

To postulate that Buddhism by association is something like christianity, with its panoply of other-worldly non-human creatures, is to do a disservice to Buddhism.

Did you somehow miss that Bob and I have been to Korea? We know from first hand experience how prevalent belief in supernatural creatures and phenomenon are among Buddhists. Of course, I can see how Wiki scholar like you would be unable to grasp the implications there. But then again, maybe you could use that Wiki to look up the three supernatural creatures I listed of whom belief in is widespread in Korea.

Indeed one of the commenters on the site you offered, named Paul

One anonymous internet commenter, whose academic credentials are unknown and who might even be you versus Discover Magazine....you know what, I think your replies are getting more pathetic. And here I was hoping for some high-quality trolling. For shame Pap.

Papalinton said...

Karl
"Did you somehow miss that Bob and I have been to Korea? "

So Karl, following your jaunt to Korea, and your little foray into Buddhism, which is the one and only true religion, christianity or Buddhism, even with each replete with respective entourages of spectral dramatis personae?

Karl: "I spent two weeks in Seoul and agree with B. Prokop. I found Korean Buddhists believing goblins (Dokkebi, hope I spelled that right), Kumiho (nine-tailed shape-shifting foxes), Gwishin (ghosts) and I forget what else. Now it has been three years since I vistied South Korea and I was only there for two weeks so I am not exactly an expert on Korean Buddhist mythology."

What was your purpose in this comment Karl? Was it to denigrate Buddhism because 'they' believe in goblins and shape-shifting foxes, or was it to demonstrate that Buddhism is not unlike christianity with its retinue of phantasmic retainers? Either way, such belief is unmitigated superstition.
From Wiki; "Dokkaebi is a common word for a type of spirit in Korean folklore or fairy tales.
The Dokkaebi is a mythical being that appears in many old Korean folktales. Although usually frightening, it could also represent a humorous, grotesque-looking sprite or goblin. These creatures loved mischief and playing mean tricks on bad people and they rewarded good people with wealth and blessings. Dokkaebi are described as the transformed spirits of inanimate objects."

"Kumiho: "The gumiho (구미호 / 구 "gu" - nine) (literally "nine tailed fox") is a creature that appears in the oral tales and legends of Korea,[1], and are akin to European faeries."

So Karl, it seems Dokkebi and Kumiho do not emerge from Buddhism per se, but rather from much older oral folktales that Korean buddhists have been unable, unwilling or incapable of shedding.

I suggest just another case of fallacious misrepresenting of the facts, impugning Buddhism and lying [perhaps inadvertently] for jesus.

Papalinton said...

Karl
"Well, if you want to play that game (despite it being the ad hominem fallacy again, but I digress) we could ask what one dumbass Aussie's opinion of Buddhism, or any religion for that matter, is worth. Especially when his sole academic credentials appear to be the ability to copy-and-paste from Wikipedia and regurgitate Harris-Loftus-Dawkins-etc... propaganda lines."

Ooooooo! A bit hot under the collar, are we? And it seems, as a good pious, righteous, believing and practicing christian, you have no qualms with slinging the odd bit of ad hominem yourself. I'm glad to note your are human. But christian, you are not; not in the true sense, you know, 'turn the other cheek', 'love your enemies', etc etc. Christianity doesn't seem to guiding much of your approach to those that don't have much respect for superstitious nonsense.

Oh Well!

Karl Grant said...

Pap,

First off, what I believe to be the correct religion has nothing to do with the fact that Buddhists believe in supernatural creatures not recognized by science, a point you have just conceded, thank you for that.

What was your purpose in this comment Karl? Was it to denigrate Buddhism because 'they' believe in goblins and shape-shifting foxes, or was it to demonstrate that Buddhism is not unlike christianity with its retinue of phantasmic retainers?

Nope, merely to point out that many Buddhists do believe in supernatural creatures as opposed to your statements above that they do not.

but rather from much older oral folktales that Korean buddhists have been unable, unwilling or incapable of shedding.

It's not just Koreans, I am sure that Wikipedia page on Kumiho had links to pages on Kitsune and Huli jing; the Japanese and Chinese versions of the Kumiho respectively.

I suggest just another case of fallacious misrepresenting of the facts, impugning Buddhism and lying [perhaps inadvertently] for jesus.

Ah, ad hominem again. Seriously Pap, you starting to sound like a broken record.

Ooooooo! A bit hot under the collar, are we?

No, my sides are hurting from the laughter. So I think this statement says more about your reaction to this discussion than mine. Oh well.

But christian, you are not; not in the true sense, you know, 'turn the other cheek', 'love your enemies'

Isn't it odd how many men who mock and ridicule Christianity are so quick to hide behind its teachings when the going gets tough? Sorry Pap, having burned that bridge you are not entitled to cross it whenever you feel like. After all, if Christianity is a bunch bullcrap like you keep saying, why should I show any respect to you? Now go to the blackboard and write I can not have it both ways one hundred times.

Karl Grant said...

Oh, by the way Pap, I will be busy playing World of Tanks for awhile, so I'll let you have the last word, I know your ego will not be able resist it. Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think the important thing isn't whether many Buddhists believe in supernatural beings. It's that this is not essential to being a Buddhist, while it is (arguably) essential to being a Christian.

B. Prokop said...

BDK,

ALL Buddhist believe in the survival of the individual after death. By definition this means that ALL Buddhists believe in the supernatural.

Papalinton said...

Karl
"PapaL: But christian, you are not; not in the true sense, you know, 'turn the other cheek', 'love your enemies'

Karl Isn't it odd how many men who mock and ridicule Christianity are so quick to hide behind its teachings when the going gets tough?"

Obviously sarcasm is lost on you.

Papalinton said...

Bob
"ALL Buddhist believe in the survival of the individual after death. By definition this means that ALL Buddhists believe in the supernatural."

Perhaps a bit of stretch, Bob. And not really a belief in the supernatural. And certainly not as jejune as the christian myth. Rather, as I understand it, Buddhists believe in cycles of life and death, a continuous process aspiring to reach a state of nirvanah and the length and number of those repeated life/death cycles is governed by the time one might take to reach that state of Nirvanah. Some never reach it and are in perpetual cycle. Others do. Some take longer, some shorter.

Papalinton said...

BDK
"I think the important thing isn't whether many Buddhists believe in supernatural beings. It's that this is not essential to being a Buddhist, while it is (arguably) essential to being a Christian."

Spot on. And my verbose way of attempting to articulate that point was that Buddhists in differing areas, Thailand, Korea, may have local mythology entwined in their personal conception, but that it is simply not pertinent to the practice of Buddhism.

Papalinton said...

Karl
"Oh, by the way Pap, I will be busy playing World of Tanks for awhile, so I'll let you have the last word, I know your ego will not be able resist it. Cheers."

No. it's not a case of 'having the last word', but about correcting misinformation or half-truths, on the record. In this case it is having the 'last three words'.

But I guess that subtlety might too be lost in the weave of this thread although I have tried to nuance it as a brick to the head.

Cheers

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob said:
ALL Buddhist believe in the survival of the individual after death.

This is not true. An old friend of mine is a Buddhist priest, and does not believe this. I was a Buddhist for a time, and did not believe it. My other Buddhist friends did not believe it. And those that I do not know, it never came up as something essential.

That's not to say that it is not important in some sects of Buddhism. But you way overstated things.

B. Prokop said...

Well, "No True Buddhist" denies the survival of the individual after death! (smiles)

Anonymous said...

Another distinction between Buddhism and western theism is that Buddhism is not a 'revealed' religion, so one isn't forced to believe in or defend sacred texts. Such texts can be as much of a hindrance as an aid to enlightenment. 'They are all demons' words...', as one parable ends.

One Brow said...

Blue Devil Knight said...
This is not true. An old friend of mine is a Buddhist priest, and does not believe this. I was a Buddhist for a time, and did not believe it.

So, no cycle of death and rebirth?

B. Prokop said...

One Brow,

I'm with you on this one. I've never met BDK, but I have met many, many Buddhists (all Asians), and every last one of them believed in "the soul" and in life both before birth and after death.

And all the Korean Buddhists whom I knew credited Buddha with being the Creator of All, which in my books equals God. I also understand that the Buddhists of Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka (and, I think, Bali) regard Buddha as divine.

Blue Devil Knight said...

One brow: that is an important piece of many (perhaps the majority, especially in Asian countries) sects of Buddhism. But many practicing Buddhists don't buy into that, or any of the more supernatural stuff, in a literal sense any more than the majority of Christians believe Noah really built an ark.

I found those Buddhists that did believe such things were almost tentative in that belief, and certainly never told me it was crucial, that I couldn't be a Buddhist without it.

However, I should have been more clear on this: Bob is right that probably the majority do believe in some supernatural elements, including karmic cycling.

Papalinton said...

Bob says, "And all the Korean Buddhists whom I knew credited Buddha with being the Creator of All, which in my books equals God."

That seems perhaps a somewhat idolatrous notion when one considers as Karl's Rev. Kusala notes:

"Did the Buddha believe in God, the One God of the desert, the God of the Christians, Jews and Muslims?
Well... No... He didn't... Monotheism (only one God) was a foreign concept to the Buddha, his world was filled with many gods. The creator god Brahma being the most important one.
At the time of the Buddha, the only people practicing the religion of the One God of the desert, were the Jews. Remember, it was still 500 years before Christ came into the world."

There hardly seems to be much equivalence between Bob's perspective with that of Rev Kusala.
And with BDK 's response to One Brow, noting: "One brow: that [Karmic cycling] is an important piece of many (perhaps the majority, especially in Asian countries) sects of Buddhism. But many practicing Buddhists don't buy into that, or any of the more supernatural stuff, in a literal sense any more than the majority of Christians believe Noah really built an ark."

An interesting collection of views.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add that being an atheist doesn't mean that you don't believe in God or a higher power. I should know, because I was an atheist for many years, and I believed in God.

What's more, a Pew Forum poll of religion in America showed that 21% of US atheists believe in God, (6% a personal God, 12% an impersonal force, and 3% did not know).

One can be an atheist and believe in God, just as one can be a Buddhist and not believe in any kind of rebirth or afterlife or anything else. I should know.

One Brow said...

Blue Devil Knight said...
But many practicing Buddhists don't buy into that, or any of the more supernatural stuff, in a literal sense any more than the majority of Christians believe Noah really built an ark.

Without a cycle of death and rebirth, is there more to Buddhism (on a fundamental level, I understand there will be many details) than simply reaching for enlightenment while in this life, via detachment from things? I agree that would not be a religion.

John W. Loftus said...

Here's something to consider in our endless debates; Cheers.

I'm not subscribed here.

John W. Loftus said...

There is No Such a Thing as “Mere Christianity”:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/10/argument-from-christian-diversity-there.html