Wasting Valuable Time on Rhetorical Nonsense

“If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction.”
– Judith Hayes

“Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.”
– Stephen Jay Gould

Recently, the Indiana Senate approved a bill that would allow public schools to teach Christian creationism alongside evolution in science classes as long as the schools include origin of life theories from various religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.

On the surface, it would look like the lawmakers are attempting to forge a fair and balanced approach. But in reality, this is just nuts.

First of all, whether you want to call it creationism or intelligent design, this theory is little more than fantasy. I don’t think I need say more in that regard. And Scientology? Their creation story is about as crazy as you can get. Something about a galactic overlord 75, 000, 000 years ago who ruled a number of planets, killed all his people and froze their souls (thetans), and sent them to Earth. These lawmakers really want school children exposed to that?

Another small problem: Buddhism has no creation story per se. So, it would be hard to teach. When I say no “creation story,” I am referring to the notion that life and the universe were created by a supernatural being. As  Nyanaponika Thera writes in “Buddhism and the God-idea”,

From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teachings on Anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality. … In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world.”

This notion doesn’t fly in Mahayana either. Nagarjuna explained with his logic that creation would be impossible since there is neither a subject or object of creation.

Now, Buddhism does have a story about a man named Malunkyaputta who approached the Buddha and asked him explain the origin of the universe.  According to this tale, the Buddha refused to answer basically because it would amount to rank speculation. The Buddha was not there at the beginning of the universe, so how could he know?

Malunkyaputta had some others questions as well, and you’ll find more on that at the end of this post.

But back to creationism: I have never really understood why Christians in particular have such an aversion to evolution. It certainly has more of an empirical foundation than their present theory. And why couldn’t God have created evolution? How would that in any way diminish their god’s greatness? Sounds reasonable to me, but no, say the creationists, evolution is false.

From what I have heard in the public discussions about this issue, most Christians are unable to come up with a coherent explanation for why evolution is false. I suspect most of them don’t understand why either, but have come to that opinion merely because their parents and church elders and teachers have told them it’s false. I have also long suspected that the seeds of this aversion to evolution are racial in nature. For instance, when reading about the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, it becomes obvious that those opposed to evolution didn’t mind being related to monkeys as much as they objected to being related to “Negros.”

In any case, I think the bottom line is summed up very well by Claire Vriezen at iowastatedaily.com

Creation stories are not equivalent ideas to tested and refined scientific theories and, as such, should not be taught alongside evolution. They cannot be falsified, nor do they have predictive power. On a further note, the state legislature of Indiana should not be spending time arguing about whether to amend the curriculum to allow for the addition of religious ideas in a science classroom. There are surely better uses of the time and resources of the state legislature.”

Or, as the Buddha is quoted as saying below, “wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind.”

Here’s how Walpola Rahula tells the story of Malunkyaputta in What the Buddha Taught:

The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as a ‘wilderness of opinions’. It seems that there were some among his own disciples who did not appreciate this attitude of his. For, we have the example of one of them, Malunkyaputta by name, who put to the Buddha ten well-known classical questions on metaphysical problems and demanded answers.

One day Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, saluted him, sat on one side of the road and said:

‘Sir, when I was all alone meditating, this thought occurred to me: There are these problems unexplained, put aside and rejected by the Blessed One. Namely, (1) is the universe enternal or (2) is it not eternal, (3) is the universe finite or (4) it is infinite, (5) is soul the same as body or (6) is soul one thing and body another thing, (7) does the Enlightened One exist after death, or (8) does he not exist after death, or (9) does he both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death, or (10) does he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist. These problems the Blessed One does not explain to me. This (attitude) does not please me, I do not appreciate it. I will go to the Blessed One and ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will leave the Order and go away. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is eternal, let him explain it to me so. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is not eternal, let him say so. If the Blessed One does not know whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, then for a person who does not know, it is straightforward to say “I do not know, I do not see”.’

The Buddha’s reply to Malunkyaputta should do good to many millions in the world today who are wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind:

‘Did I ever tell you, Malunkyaputta, “Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you?” ’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Then, Malunkyaputta, even you, did you tell me: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One will explain these questions to me”?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Even now, Malunkyaputta, I do not tell you: “Come and lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you”. And you do not tell me either: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and he will explain these questions to me”. Under the circumstances, you foolish one, who refuses whom? (i.e., both are free and neither is under obligation to the other).

“Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions,” he may die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One. Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: “I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a Ksatriya (of the warrior caste) or a Brahmana (of the priestly caste) or a Vaisya (of the trading and agricultural caste) or a Sudra (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall, short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black, brown or golden; from which village, city or town he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made.” Malunkyaputta, that man would die without knowing any of these things. Even so, Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not follow the holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether the universe is eternal or not, etc,” he would die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One.’

Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not depend on these views. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems, there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, “the Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life.”

‘Therefore, Malunkyaputta, bear in mind what I have explained as explained, what I have not explained as unexplained. What are the things that I have not explained? Whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, (those 10 questions) I have not explained. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained them? Because it is not useful, it is not fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. That is why I have not told you about them.

‘Then, what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? I have explained dukkha (suffering), the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them? Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. Therefore I have explained them.’


Random Moats

Sometimes I feel like Howard the Duck:

In recent months, Buddhists of all persuasions have been speaking out against Dennis Merzel, who as an ordained Zen teacher (and a married man) had sex with some of his female students. What’s more, he runs a business that promises folks they can become enlightened in just a few hours, for a whole lot of money of course. He’s been thoroughly denounced and condemned by all.

At the same time, many of these same folks sing the praises and quote the words of Chogyam Trungpa, a guy who was just as bad if not worse. Trungpa, who died in 1987, was a so-called “master” in several Tibetan traditions who had sex with his female students, drank like a fish, allegedly used cocaine, and at times, behaved horribly.

I don’t get it. One guy is condemned and the other guy is lauded. And they’re both birds of the same feather.

I must have missed this. According to msnbc.com,a couple of years ago, the world’s most useless machine, a small electronic box that turns itself off whenever you try to turn it on, hit it big on the Internet.

Now, a hacker dude named Danukeru has developed version 2.0, and it’s even more useless. However, there is a twist. In the new version after you try turning it on enough times, it “flips out in a fit of rage.”

You can get your very own useless machine (sorry, version 1.1 only) right here.

A study by Oxford University has just been released in which researchers have concluded that the human psyche “seems to be rooted to religious concepts”. Their definition of religious concepts is belief in the “existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.”

This is my kind of theism.

The Oxford researchers reached their conclusion based on the result of tests with young children around the age of five. The tests revealed that kids that age sort of naturally believe in supernatural stuff. I am not sure what that proves. Kids believe in magic and all kinds of things. I used to believe I had an friend named “Baa.” He was imaginary. I grew out of it by the time I was six, if not earlier.

The point is, as you grown up, you stop believing in magic and the supernatural, or you should. I am not so sure we are hardwired with a “God gene.” But I do think it is rather difficult for some people to cast off certain beliefs instilled in them at a very early age.

That is why I think people keep trying to drag God and Jesus into Buddhism. I say leave those guys alone, especially Jesus, the poor man has suffered enough already.

Speaking of religion, from the Telegraph.co.uk, here are five really weird ones:

1. The Prince Philip movement: “The Yaohnanen tribe on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu worship Prince Philip as a god . . .”

2. The Jon Frum movement: “Also on the island of Tanna is another cult which holds America in god-like esteem. The Jon Frum movement, which has been active since the 1930s believes an American man named Jon Frum will bring wealth to those who follow him. He is sometimes portrayed as black, sometimes as white.”

3. Jedi-ism: Yes, Star Wars is officially a religion. “In 2009, Daniel Jones, founder of the Jedi church in Holyhead was banned from a Tesco supermarket in Bangor for refusing to remove his hood for religious reasons.”

4. Raelism: “Founded by a French racecar driver named Claude Vorilhons, who renamed himself Rael, the Raelians believe that humans were created in an alien laboratory 25,000 years ago, that the aliens will be arriving in Jerusalem in 2025, and that Rael teaches peace and ‘sensual meditation’.”

5. The Church of All Worlds: “A neo-pagan religion founded in 1962 by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and his wife Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. It was inspired by a fictional religion of the same name in Stranger in a Strange Land, a novel by Robert A. Heinlein.” Now, that I can grok.