All About Buddhism

Question from Vitor:
Good evening, how are you? My name is Vitor and I am only a seeker of knowledge, I can not stand to see people self-deceiving but I can do nothing. The apex of my disappointment are pseudosciences and promoters of insanities and follies.

I would like to discuss some matters with you. For there are not many who can discuss these subjects in search of skeptical knowledge, without traps of thought and cognition, and self-delusional beliefs coming from mysticisms, esoterisms, religions, pseudosciences and other nonsense.

Like any other human being, I have doubts that I would like to discuss with someone. Maybe I may be bothering you and I’m sorry, maybe you can not always argue with me but whenever I can I’ll be grateful.
Below are some things that both bother me.
If it is not uncomfortable, may I discuss various matters with you?

1. What you think about Buddhist cosmology?
2. The silly idea for suffering in Buddhism ?
3. About Nirvana in Buddhism?
4. Reincarnation, what do you think?

Answer by SmartLX:
1. Buddhist cosmology holds that the universe consists of a large number of different planes, each corresponding to a different mental state. There is no evidence for the other planes, let alone the idea that they are at all connected to the thoughts in human brains. Separately, the cyclical model of the universe very gradually fading between existence and nothingness does not match any hypothetical cyclical cosmologies that would work within the laws of physics (e.g. a Big Bang / Big Crunch cycle).

2/3. The “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism hold that suffering can be eliminated by freeing oneself from desire. Achieving this is by definition reaching a state of Nirvana, and in fact you become a buddha yourself if you manage it. This is an incredibly unrealistic goal for a living human being. The list of people who have even claimed to achieve it is very short, and it includes people like Jim Jones. (Incidentally, another part of the enlightenment of Nirvana is being free from ideas, which is in stark contrast to the principles of the Age of Enlightenment.)

4. Reincarnation, like the doctrines of many other religions, requires the existence of a soul independent of the body which maintains a person’s identity after death, in this case to insert into a subsequent body. There’s no evidence of identity surviving the death of the brain in any form.

The Targets of Atheists

Question from Frank:
Why do atheists always talk about how Christians are fake, but never mention Islam as a really fake religion?

Answer by SmartLX:
Atheists have all the same reasons to deny and oppose Islam as they do Christianity, but they will naturally challenge religion in the form in which it appears in their own community.

The atheists you have the opportunity to read or listen to mostly live in countries with a Christian majority, or at least where the majority of religious people are Christian. Christianity is therefore the religion with the greatest impact on their daily lives, and the religion whose apologetic is the most prominent in the arena of debate. Therefore they most often inspired, provoked and otherwise motivated to discuss and criticise Christianity. In Muslim countries, it’s different.

There is also the fact that in many countries devout Muslims have threatened (and often succeeded, say in Bangladesh) to persecute and even kill critics of Islam. Though unfortunate, it is perfectly reasonable for people to withhold their criticisms of Islam if they believe their safety to be at risk.

The important thing to remember is that most the criticisms of Christianity apply just as well to any other faith, including Islam. The core supernatural claims at the heart of the scripture are unsupported by available evidence. Believers who gain political power in numbers invariably attempt to legislate in favour of their religion, and in particular to enforce religious morality upon non-adherents. People spend vast amounts of time, effort and money doing things which have no purpose except to please an invisible entity for an intangible reward, supposedly withheld until after death.

A Moment in Hell

Question from Mirek:
There seems to be many hellish NDEs with the same imagery:

A person sees absolute darkness, hears people suffering, feels sadness, coldness, emptiness, then calls out to God or Jesus, and a white light, or God’s hand appears and takes them out.

Here is an example from George Foreman:

http://www.near-death.com/experiences/rich-and-famous.html#a23

Another example is a pastor who was electrocuted when he was an atheist, and saw the same thing, called out to God, was pulled out.

Do these similarities give hell more credence?

Answer by SmartLX:
Not really. The main reason is that multiple genuine NDEs aren’t the only explanation for the similarity regarded by many as plausible. There are two other major factors likely to contribute.

One, the standard NDE story is by now traditional and very well-known. If someone who’s at least familiar with it has an ordinary dream or hallucination during a life-threatening situation, it is likely to follow the same pattern as it’s what the victim expects on some level. If there is no memory or a fragmented memory of the period, the existence of this very specific expectation for the experience can shape a memory over time until it fits very well. And if someone just makes up an NDE story, they will deliberately follow the pattern to match the expectation of their audience.

Two, people going through the physical and mental states associated with near or temporary “death” are likely to have similar physiological reasons to experience certain things, even if they’re not fully understood. The white light in the distance, for instance, is consistent with temporary tunnel vision caused by lack of blood or oxygen to the eyes, growing brighter when the supply returns. Scientific American went into this six years ago.

I can take another approach to your question. Supposed visits to Hell, or samples of what you feel in Hell (coldness, emptiness, etc.) are potent emotional appeals but they don’t make much sense in most Christian theologies. God isn’t supposed to literally pull souls out of Hell, and certainly not after only a few moments. Your judgement happens, then either you stay in Hell forever or you never even see it. If on the other hand God is only showing you a vision of Hell instead of actually dangling you in there, He could supposedly do that at any time, not just when you’re at death’s door.

Being a teen is hard. Sometimes just being is hard.

Question from Anonymous:
Hi, I’m a six on the Dawkins scale, I’m lesbian, I’m 15 and I have religious fundamentalist parents. I am forced to go to church, my parents always force me to do things I don’t want to do. My mom tells me that when I grow up and get married to a woman, she will object to it, and I will be disowned. Currently I’m going to be a junior in high school, and this past year I took the SAT for fun (something a nerd would do, I know, I know). I turned out to score 2300 on the SAT. When I showed my mom the results she quickly dismissed it, and said the following:
“Are you sure you scored that much? Are you sure that a lesbian who is also a heathen can be that smart? You know what, you begged Satan for that score didn’t you?”
She also says I pray to Satan for my weight loss (in the past year and a half I lost 90 lbs after being diagnosed with PCOS). My mother is still waddling around at a hundred lbs overweight. I just got five pounds to lose. She says “God told me to diet using (starchy) soups and (overly drenched in ranch) salads!” She turns around at me and says, “You little devil worshipper! That’s why you have that damn PCOS!”

Recently, she got diagnosed with type two diabetes.

My question is, is why does my mom do this? Why does she deny my SAT score, deny my realistic weightloss, and yet she is nowhere in life? Why? I never went into arguments with my mom about the existence of an upper phenomena. I just say “Well, we have a difference of opinions, Mom. I respect yours though I don’t agree with it. And let’s just agree to disagree.”

In her reply: “Its not an opinion, it’s fact, it’s proven in the Bible!”

Now, most of my friends are Christians, and we just never eat into the debate of religion or spirituality.

So why does my mom?

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, that’s all pretty awful, and I feel for you. It’s not fun when you’re fundamentally and irreconcilably at odds with your parents while still officially in their care. I regularly hear from people in such circumstances, and it’s never a happy description. I’m reassured by your academic aptitude and your taking the initiative to test yourself; your circumstances aren’t seriously interfering with your ability to learn and to focus, and that will get you far along whatever path you choose to take in life. (On a side note, my wife has PCOS and I know that’s not much fun either, but there are treatments.)

Think of your mother’s worldview (which is probably even more simplified internally than the doctrine which was initially preached to her). In that view, God is the source of all goodness, all strength and all ability, and not only are all things possible with Him but nothing good is possible without Him. Prayer is a prerequisite for literally everything, because humans are worthless and hopeless without their Lord. There may be some sexism in there too, adding the idea that a woman needs both God and a man to function.

And then there’s you. Smart, capable, independent and getting steadily healthier and more confident despite a chronic condition, while consciously denying God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and having sworn off men for good. If she were to accept that at face value she would have to admit that there is a flaw somewhere in her worldview since it does not reflect reality, and examine the principles upon which she bases her whole life. Some of those principles are held as sacred by her congregation, so she feels a threat to her place in the community as well as her own identity. (How the congregation would actually react to some doubt on her part depends on the type of church, so you’d know better than me.)

So what does she do? She clings to the idea that you’re managing without God with help from the one entity with any power to challenge God. People have attributed abilities they did not understand to Satan for centuries, which for instance has led to many people being burned as witches. The devil is like a bucket into which Christians can throw anything they don’t comprehend rather than leave their comfort zone…and some will throw in a lit match too. It’s a simple coping mechanism that not every Christian uses but is nevertheless available to every Christian. Your mother seems quite fond of using it, sadly.

Some of your friends might possibly indulge in this behind your back, depending on how devout they are and how old-fashioned their theology, but they have the luxury of not thinking about you when you’re not around them for long periods of time. You’re a big part of your mother’s life on the other hand, so you’re there as a constant challenge to her worldview that she feels she needs to combat for her own peace of mind. That’s why she’s the one who accuses you openly.

Based on what I’ve written so far, I’m inclined to think that your mother will be less hard on you after you move out some years from now. It will give her long breaks from having to internally justify her dependence on God in the face of your independence, so there won’t be that constant struggle that reignites when she sees you, and she’ll be able to just see her daughter again. This is purely a guess on my part, but I think one of my better-made guesses. And to address one thing specifically, it’s one thing to be revolted by the very idea of a same-sex partner, and another entirely to get to know the actual person. The mother of my best friend referred to my friend’s girlfriend as “it” from afar for a long time before finally building a relationship with her.

In the meantime, the onus is not on you to hide who you are and how you live for your mother’s sake. She needs to come to terms with the woman her daughter has become. That’s hard for many parents, but the focal point of religion will figure heavily in her process and you both may suffer for it. Be patient with her, answer any honest questions she has, engage whenever you feel it’s right to. Don’t feel you’re alone, like-minded company can be found locally and globally if you know where to look. These are your particular challenges in growing up – everyone gets some – and I think you’re as well-equipped as any to handle them.

Islam and Science Again

Question from :
The Quran has verses about the Big Bang, the formation of the embryo, the speed of light and other scientific facts. How do I explain to a Muslim that these Quranic verses are incorrect or that Quran is incorrect? When I discuss such matters with Muslims, the discussion becomes dead as both the sides have their explanations but are not convincing enough. Any help would be really appreciated. I watch your show online from time to time, some callers give very stupid arguments but all in all great work guys. Keep it up 🙂

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, we’re not affiliated with any show. Ask The Atheist with Tom Leykis isn’t us. You might instead be talking about The Atheist Experience, which I love but is not us either.

Anyway, the claims of divine scientific foreknowledge always rely on specific interpretations of passages in the Quran, so the question is whether these interpretations are justified, and the problem with discussing it with Muslims is that the answer to this question is extremely subjective. What’s not so subjective is whether it is convincing to non-believers; no matter how obvious the argument seems to Muslims, they can’t claim that it’s persuading people who don’t already believe. The propaganda is all one-way from devout Muslims, not testimonials from new converts. Therefore if they care about more than just feeling smug and reassuring their fellow Muslims (and they may not), they need to address what you find weak about this type of argument.

For excellent analysis of particular claims, check out TheIslamMiracle on YouTube. There’s a video for each one.

Package Deal: NDE (claim) + Miracle Cure (claim)

Question from Halil:
Do you think this proves miracles?
http://orthodoxinfo.com/death/miracle_russia.aspx

Answer by SmartLX:
If you’re going to give me nothing but a link, Halil, I will respond in kind with a nice in-depth thread on the Skeptics Society forum dedicated to this particular claim. Many, many problems with it. Respond to the criticisms from the other page if you want to advocate this as a miracle.

If this is the best apologetics Islam has to offer…

Question from Abu (“Muslim until death”, as he wrote in the name field):
I always feel pity for the stubbornness (to believe in Allah/God/Elohim/Ubangiji) of/by Atheists.

Thus I have a lot of questions to harden your brain (and if Allah wills for you goodness; you may take heed).

1) First of all: Why do you deny the existence of Allah [the Almighty God] ?

2) Second of all: Do you go with your life (here I purposely mean) for breathing, able to motionize, able to so likes of ?

3) Third of all: Do you think that everything goes freely by its power of nature ?

4) Fourth of all: If you think that Allah doesn’t exist, how all things came to existence ?

5) Fifth of last: I do argue to prepare for yourselves the last destination, there is a world to come after this, don’t let yourself be loser in Hereafter.

Bye !

Answer by SmartLX:
Interesting idea for you while I’m answering these: if none of the preaching has any effect on me, does that mean Allah wills me to reject him? The Bible talks about God hardening people’s hearts so that they’ll reject him; maybe some people just aren’t meant to be saved.

1) I deny that Allah exists (or at least I say that it seems very unlikely) because I do not believe that Allah exists, and I have decided to be honest about it. Even a genuine lack of belief is difficult for some believers to accept. Sorry folks, but there are people who truly disagree with you.

2) This one was honestly difficult to interpret, so tell me if I’m on the wrong track. I don’t think I need help to breathe, move and so on because there are mechanisms in my body which make these things happen for me. Even if Allah is real he doesn’t necessarily have to run everything manually.

3) I think everything obeys natural laws, only some of which we understand well enough to predict behaviour. An interventionist god like Allah would influence our lives by violating these laws, and I don’t think there’s good evidence that this is happening.

4) I don’t know how everything came to exist. To say that this lack of knowledge supports an assertion that a being with an equally mysterious origin must exist is an argument from ignorance. (It’s no accident that this is the most common hyperlink on this site besides the one for my Twitter.)

5) This is not a question.

Rooting For The Ultimate Underdog

Question from Kyle:
I was wondering if you agree with me that even if we knew Christianity were true, any moral person would be morally compelled to follow Lucifer not God.

– God kills at least millions, Lucifer killed less than a handful of people.
– 1/3 of all angels rebel with Lucifer to fight a war against an omnipotent being they know they can’t win.
– Lucifer is cast out of Heaven for refusing to worship God.
– Lucifer sees human slaves so he gives them knowledge.
– God decides to torture his most beloved creation, the devil, for all eternity.

List could go on forever.

Answer by SmartLX:
When you don’t believe in either of these two characters a discussion like this is moot, of course, but think how many discussions are had over who is the true hero of Star Wars or Game of Thrones. In that spirit, there is certainly a discussion to be had over which of them is more moral – when you don’t define God as the source and model of morality and therefore incapable by definition of doing anything immoral.

The question in my mind is whether one would actually be morally compelled to follow the more moral of the two. If God controls who goes to Heaven and Hell, you would want to know that following Lucifer was actually of any use to Lucifer before potentially consigning yourself to Hell for no good reason. In most of the relevant theologies there’s no reason to think that Hell stops being an eternal torment if Lucifer acknowledges your allegiance (remember, it’s a punishment even for him), though maybe there’s a Satanist text that says otherwise. And is Lucifer expected to try another insurgency anytime soon for which he’ll need anti-Christian soldiers, by anyone other than the fear-mongering kind of Christian?

A Catholic PSA

Question from John:
1. Do you know that the shroud of Turin was never confirmed as a “miracle” or “real” by Catholic Church?
2. Do you know that Catholics are supposed to believe that they ARE mortal?
3. Do you know that Catholics acknowledge many of their rituals as “tradition” only?
4. Do you know that the strongest teachings in the Catholic religion are about “Free Will” of each human?

Answer by SmartLX (who also added the numbers above):
1. The Church never makes a definite judgement on the shroud, but the last three popes have made the trip to “venerate” it. They could be called out if they said anything definite, so they make the most of it by inviting people to consider it and wonder. Certainty is hardly necessary when the goal is to reassure the faithful.

2. Of course people are mortal according to the Church. Immortality through God and Jesus is the supposed reward for devotion to the church, so they need to emphasise that people don’t have it yet.

3. Many of the rituals are merely traditional because they’re not even claimed to do anything magical, but there are some claims they can’t back down from, like hundreds of thousands of transubstantiation events every week in all the wafers and wine. See article 1376 in the Catechism.

4. Belief in free will is required to even try to justify rewarding or punishing people for obeying or disobeying God with an eternity in Heaven or Hell. It’s still not justified very well.

Eben Alexander’s Adventures In Bed

Question from Halil:
Hello guys,

Recently I read about the Eben Alexander case, a neurosurgeon, who went to Harvard. He claims that he was in a coma, that his brain was 100 percent shut off due to meningitis. I’m sure many have heard of this. There was an article published by Luke Dittrich in 2013 which many atheists took at face value, as they believed that Dittrich proved many flaws in the Alexander story. However, now Alexander himself has come up with a rebuttal, and many of the people Dittrich interviewed said that they were misled by him, and that he changed actual quotes by Alexander.

If this is true, do you believe that Alexander went to heaven? He is a neurosurgeon, and says it could not have occurred as his brain was coming back online. He says that he has had hundreds of patients who have terrible, painful hallucinations when they come back online. Then he says when he was coming back, he hallucinated that his doctor and his wife were trying to kill him. What do you guys think, is Alexander proof of afterlife, or is it possible that even a neurosurgeon is incorrect?

Answer by SmartLX:
Of course it’s possible that a neurosurgeon is incorrect, because neurosurgeons disagree about things all the time (the most common example is how best to treat a given patient) and they can’t all be right.

Anyway, Alexander’s response to Dittrich would constitute proof of an afterlife if Alexander’s response were perfect and Dittrich’s points were the only things keeping it from being a certainty, which isn’t the case. Dittrich’s isn’t even the only major response to Alexander’s claims, because Sam Harris, Michael Shermer and Oliver Sacks chimed in too.

To address your one specific point on the details, Alexander says his patients have told him about having horrible hallucinations while coming “back online” but that doesn’t mean all hallucinations in that state are unpleasant, especially when the few pleasant ones are likely to be characterised by believers as NDEs. That’s a convenient way to explain away any experience that doesn’t fit his claim, including his own experience. And none of this says anything about what dreams may come as the brain is going “offline” before the inactive period.