A Friendly Discussion: The Scientific Atheist and the Tibetan Zen Buddhist on Prayer, Truth and the Meaning of Life

This is not a “typical” blog, but a reproduction of a conversation I had on Facebook that seemed important enough, interesting enough, to be shared with you.  The names have been changed to protect the inquisitive, but the ideas put forth are worthy of more thought and introsepction.  I’m still mulling them over in my head.  So here it is, a friendly discussion between a scientific Atheist and me, a Tibetan Zen Buddhist….

It began with a link on my friend, SB’s Facebook page:

Anonymous Comment:
I think prayer works because it focuses the prayer’s attention on doing something about the situation.  Christians are the voices and hands of Jesus.  The New Testament is about living the life that follows Jesus.  The Old Testament does speak of natural disasters that punish evil doers.  I believe that it rains on the just and the unjust.  Pat Robertson seems to me to be preaching only from his interpretation of the Old Testament.  Prayer should be a call to action.
Kitty adds her two cents’ worth:
Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer. ~Author Unknown
Anonymous Comment:
That is true.  Prayer should lead to focus and actions.
(SB’s husband) JB:
‎”It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good, and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.” — Robert G. Ingersoll, Which Way? (1884)
“What is the purpose of prayer?  What can a finite being on Earth possibly tell an omnipotent, omniscient, Universe-creating deity that he/she/it doesn’t know already?  If prayer actually worked, the Pope would live forever.”  Infidel Guy
Anonymous Comment:
I think that Infidel Guy and Robert G. Ingersoll lack ample experience to comment on this subject.
SB:
The whole point of this is that Pat Robertson is a nut job and has accused everyone of causing God’s wrath unless you’re just like him….yikes. I think that even devout Christians make fun of him. He’s just so wrong.
Kitty:
Yes, SB…and (in response to Anonymous), prayer is a mighty and powerful thing, but so many people tend to use it either as a way to get God to give them all the things they want or as the Pharisee did in Jesus’ parable: “look at me God, see what a great person I am”.  And sadly for too many Christians, “I’ll pray for you” is a rote and meaningless response to disaster, need and a request for help.  It’s a way to sound like you’re doing something when you’re asked to pitch in.  Jesus DID things throughout the Gospels and only PRAYED near the end of his human life.  I have always liked Mother Teresa’s praying–done as she was helping others, active physical praying with hands that were working, eyes open to see the sacredness in the people she was caring for.  Her entire life was a prayer.  THAT is the kind of praying that will make a change, not the mouthing of words that mean nothing to the one saying them and certainly not when the pronouns being uttered are I, me, mine.  And thus endeth the lesson for today.  Blessings to you all!
Anonymous Comment:
I was trying to say that.  Thanks.
JB:
To Anonymous:  FYI:  Ingersoll’s father was a Presbyterian minister who should have had some familiarity with prayer and passed it on to his son but he rejected it. Scientific studies in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 as well as others have established beyond any reasonable doubt that prayer has no effect on anything.  In fact in certain instances it actually has a negative effect on sick persons who realize they are so bad off people are praying for them and they get worse instead of better!  My experiences with it, when I went to church in my younger years and actually believed it might help, were uniformly and completely negative and accomplished nothing when attempting to help grievously ill loved ones: they all died.  Like the Infidel Guy says: if prayer actually worked, the Pope would live forever as millions of Catholics worldwide pray for him every time he gets sick.  If it worked, we also would always get what we want, have millions of dollars and would never be sick.  This obviously doesn’t happen however so it’s obvious any results, either positive or negative from prayer, are sheer coincidence and belief in its efficacy is pure superstition.  You of course are at liberty to believe what you want.
Kitty:
Our conversation inspired me: https://knottykittehsavestheworld.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/i-pray-these-words-that-thou-may-hearest-me/

(If you haven’t read this blog o’mine, you might want to, because then JB’s response will make more sense.  Just saying.)
JB:
It would be nice if these things worked but I haven’t changed my mind.  I studied and tried the visualization technique(s) over the years too:  nothing.  Maybe I was doing it wrong or maybe they’re all just wishful thinking.  There’s no science to back them up I’m pretty sure.  I just definitely know it’s not for me.  I ‘m open minded and  really wish they did work believe me!  We could certainly use them!  Unfortunately I remain steadfastly unconvinced.  Got any proof?
Kitty:
My husband.  Took me 48 years to figure out how to ask for him, but I did get him.  And between you and me and the fencepost, I also believe that we create our reality, so if you think it, it will be.  Have you ever seen “What the Bleep do We Know?”….it will bend your mind and expand it and pull it around like taffy.  Too much to go into in a simple comment space, but we may have to all meet up some day and talk about it.  Chaos theory and infinite possibilities–and infinite probabilities, all existing simultaneously until we look at one and lock it into reality.  And after we have discussed all of it, maybe even watched the movie together, we’ll have to have a Three Stooges marathon to help us settle back into this world.
SB:
Kitty, I would love to see a conversation between you and JB in person….two of the most intelligent people I know…would be so interesting! I also enjoyed the article about prayer…
Kitty
I blush in modesty….thank you for enjoying my little effort to get some of the craziness in me head straightened out on paper.  HUGS
Anonymous Comment:
I’d like to listen also.  Maybe they should write the book.
JB:
I can’t write a book now.  My son and I are struggling through researching all the Confederate casualties at Gettysburg now.  Over 20,000 names!  What a pain!
(Reply to Kitty): I did see “What the Bleep” but can’t say I share your enthusiasm that we create our own reality.  Believe me, I wish we could!  I and the people I know would be much, much, much better off than we are now!  The premise of the film was that quantum mechanics proves that a conscious observer is necessary to create reality.  Not true.  Would the universe not exist at all if no one were here to observe it?  Of course it would.  Did dinosaurs consciously create their environment (including the asteroid that destroyed them)? The assertions of the movie are very similar to the Advaita and other Hindu teachings I’ve read over the years but I now know this is false by simple observation.  We’ve all seen unconscious things in our daily lives but know full well the universe continues to exist without their consciousness.  The universe might end for them but certainly not for us and it’ll still be here when we’re gone as well.  I’ve never heard of anything in science which supports a theory that consciousness creates everything.  Certainly not the theory of quantum mechanics which, as I understand it, explains what MIGHT be going on at the quantum level but the observer assumption is not part of the theory because it cannot be tested in such a way that if it were false it would fail any test.  You would have to see what would happen without a conscious observer monitoring the experiment and that’s impossible and thus unscientific.  Even if the assumption were true, assuming we create our own reality is going quite a bit too far.  Even David Albert, the professor from the Columbia University physics department who was featured in the film, is quoted in Salon.com as saying:  “I was edited in such a way as to completely suppress my actual views about the matters the movie discusses. I am, indeed, profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness. Moreover, I explained all that, at great length, on camera, to the producers of the film … Had I known that I would have been so radically misrepresented in the movie, I would certainly not have agreed to be filmed.”  That should give you some indication as to how many scientists view the movie.  I’m sure you can find many others as well.  Physicist Richard Feynman said:  “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum   mechanics”.  I think I’ll take his word over the producers of the film.  The examples provided in the film are silly also.  The claim that natives couldn’t see Columbus’ ships because they didn’t know what they were is ridiculous.  There were many problems with the 1993 transcendental meditation experiment in Washington, D.C. too (the murder rate actually went UP during the period of the experiment not down).  The people who reviewed the results were also followers of the Maharishi, there was biased data selection in the Emoto experiment portrayed in the film, etc., etc.  Many of the people involved in the production were affiliated with new-age institutions such as the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Maharishi University of Management and many, like the movie’s producers and directors, were devotees of Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old warrior channeled through a woman named TZ Knight.  I really don’t think this even approaches scientific inquiry.  To get an alternative viewpoint to your way of thinking, you may want to read the following, among many others sites:  http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2005/04/what_the_bleep_.htmlhttp://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=83 In the end, the idea that the universe is all and only about us, and that everything in our lives are products of our minds is to me erroneous and self-serving. Try selling that idea to tsunami survivors in Southeast Asia or all those dying of cancer or heart disease every day.  I don’t think they would agree.  Oh, well!  To each his/her own!  Sorry to ramble on so!!
Kitty:
No apologies necessary.  You told me some new things that I did not know, and I’d like to address some of them.  I had suspected that the film had been biased, because of the inclusion of “Ramtha” –and the fact that (his) words were given as much credence as the scientists’ comments.  And I consider the film to be PART of how things might work.  If no one were here, would the universe still exist?  Of course.  Because of the infinite possibilities, because each and every possibility exists, no matter who sees it or not.  Schroedinger’s cat, you know.  Doesn’t matter whether the experiment is observed or not, it does exist.  Just because we cannot observe it does not make it nonexistent.  We are limited by our collective “What we know” and the agreement that “THIS” is the world. MY concept of us creating our reality works like this: We have at least two realities.  One is the common world reality, where we agree that “this* is a chair, and that *that* is a tree.  We also have our own personal reality, which may or may not mesh completely with that world view.  Mentally ill people certainly do not mesh with the common world view–but I don’t think that their (other) world view is necessarily false.  They may actually be seeing something different than we are that is just as valid, just as real–just not what the rest of us have agreed upon in order to interact with a common starting point. I believe that we create our reality with the choices we make.  And I mean every single choice, not just the obvious major choices like which college you’re going to attend, or taking this job over that.  I mean, quite literally, EVERY choice.  Which means that every action is essentially a choice, this over that.  And each time it happens, there is a branching from the path–but every other choice also branches off, infinitely.  I believe in infinite universes; we don’t see them because we are focused on our common world view.  (It is possiible, occasionally, to make choices that bring us back and connect us to an alternate branching made somewhere in the past.)  I also suspect that some of the paranormal activity we do acknowledge (some more than others, haha) is actually “bleed over” from other universes.  The dinosaurs exist in other realities where the asteroid did not wipe them out. Our secondary reality is our own, personal reality.  Again, it may mesh completely with the common world reality.  But think of how many times you thought things were going swmimingly, only to discover that the other person/people in your life were unhappy with the situation?  Your view of the shared reality was different from theirs, causing conflict because you didn’t hold a common view.  Thus your shock when the lover suddenly (to your mind) ends the love affair, or the dismay to discover that while you thought you were doing a great job, your boss did not…and you’re no longer employed. What is reality?  What is real?  “Real” is like “Truth”.  Very dynamic, very fluid–and mostly based on your point of view.  (Thank you Obi Wan Kenobi, for pointing that out.)  The reality of our world today is vastly different from the reality of the world 20 years ago, 40 years ago, 300 years ago.  Choices changed it.  But again, I believe that somewhere, where we no long focus, there is our world, in a different reality–but just as “REAL” and just as valid as the one we are living in today.  And get ready to have your mind blown: if we could look at those worlds, we could see ourselves–the alternate self who made another choice.  Who is to say that *we* are really the person whose name is Kate or John?  Maybe WE are the “alternate selves”.  The wonder of this concept of mine is that it doesn’t matter.  Whether we are the dreamer or the one in the dream, our perception of ourselves and of our world is “real” and valid.  It is the truth.  Well, it is OUR truth. And like Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?  Is truth unchanging laws?  We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?”  Even scientists are working within this paradox of infinite choices, infinite universes.  They observe their experiments and get AN answer in THIS common world reality.  I believe that there are other results in other realities.  So our scientific knowledge is also limited by the agreed upon, common world reality.  Doesn’t mean we should stop trying to find things out… And as for your being “Dumber than dirt”…that inquisitiveness you talk about is what I refer to as “questing intelligence” and I prize it over any super IQ level a person can show.  You can be very smart and not have that drive, that “want to know why”–and frankly, I consider smart with out wanting to know why as very boring.  You, sir, are NOT boring!  This thread is precisely the kind of discussion I enjoy the most.  So now the ball is back in your court…looking forward to your next volley of thought! Namaste!
SB:
I think JB and Kitty, that you both, with your inquisitive and intelligent brains, should write a book…a back and forth of ideas and realities. It would be really really interesting. At least an article of these comments would be fantastic and we could both use the money! My son and I will sell it for you! Loved reading all the comments. JB…you have met your match with Miss Kitty.
JB:
SB: I think you’re loco! Kitty is smart but any scientist with any knowledge at all would probably laugh at me! I’m just a curious novice, that’s all. Thanks for the mention though!  This isn’t a “match”.  Just a friendly discussion that’s all!
Hi, Kitty: Each of us perceives the universe from our own perspective depending on all that has happened to us during our lifetimes.  Agreement of our personal realities create our perception of the universe as we know it (a chair is a chair, a star is a star, etc.).  In that context, mentally ill people do mesh with the world view in that the world view agrees something is wrong with these folks (like myself for example!).  The choices we make most definitely do create our reality but I’ve read that we actually don’t make these choices consciously.  Rather, our brains compute all our decisions on a second-by-second basis based on environmental factors, other people’s ideas, and past experiences without us even being aware of what’s going on.  I believe more than one experiment has proved this.  We think we, as individuals, are making these decisions but it’s actually just our brain computing what to do next without our knowledge.  Because of this, I, and many others, don’t believe we humans really have free will.  We just instantaneously react to our environment based on what we’ve learned in life.  Depressing, I know!  As you say: anything anywhere in the universe does affect all other things in the Universe to one degree or the other no matter how slight that effect may be.  The effects are so insignificant in the overwhelming majority of instances, however, that they really have no effect at all and aren’t even considered in our daily lives.  My movements for example do affect the planet Jupiter to an infinitesimal degree but this doesn’t make any difference in the overall pattern of things.  In other words:  there are some very weird truths in the Universe but they don’t matter if they don’t affect us.  I think this may apply to consciousness and the Universe and am fairly convinced that our consciousness does not in any way affect the Universe.  Just my opinion of course.
The concept of multiverses is an accepted one in astrophysics and cosmology although I don’t pretend to know all the particulars of this mathematical concept.  It’s of course possible dinosaurs still exist in another universe but there is no way to prove it.  I don’t believe in the paranormal although there may be some biased evidence pointing to it.  As someone named James Huber once said:  “I’m a strong atheist.  I believe that gods are by definition supernatural beings, that the supernatural by definition violates natural law, violating natural law is by definition impossible, and impossible things by definition can’t exist.”  Narrow-minded?  Maybe:  but it makes sense to me.  Truth is subjective.  What some believe to be true is obviously not true for others. Choices DO change everything but you lost me when you said, “somewhere, where we no longer focus, there is our world, in a different reality–but just as “REAL” and just as valid as the one we are living in today.”  “Where” would this other world be?  In a multiverse of some sort?  OK.  But how can we prove this and isn’t proof and evidence the basis of all science?  Without proof there is only faith and that can’t be used for much of anything.  Imagine us using faith to get to the Moon for example.  Yes.  We could indeed be in another multiverse but, while this concept is fascinating and certainly possible, how does that help us in our own multiverse here and now?  In the realm of our universe truth in my opinion is what can be demonstrably proven through experiment and hard facts and this would be accomplished through the laws of physics.  Sure they’re not perfect by any means and we obviously don’t understand them completely (apparently they cease to operate in a black hole for example) but they explain much of the observable universe as we know it and are very useful in our daily lives and the progress of society.  They would be my “truth” against which to measure things, but that’s just me.   I don’t believe the Jesus story (there are nothing but the gospels to substantiate his existence and these are suspect) but I do agree the universe or universes is (are) infinite as are all possibilities.  However, all we know is THIS reality here and now and we are unquestionably limited by that fact.  While we can speculate about other realities, unfortunately at the present time all we can know and use is the reality we’re in.  I agree completely that we MUST continue to pursue knowledge wherever we can in all disciplines as this will result in the progress of mankind and maybe in the eventual survival of our species (the Sun will fry and envelope us in a couple of billion years if we don’t find another place to live). I’m a very curious person and that’s what drives me to investigate things as much as I can in my limited little universe.  Thank goodness for inquisitive people such as yourself or we’d still be living in caves!  In my opinion, it’s the “why?” in life that drives society and our species to be better and better.  When the search for knowledge is throttled, civilization deteriorates and that’s what I’m afraid is occurring in the U.S. with the results of the 2010 elections and the advent of the Tea Party and its disciples.  I think the entire country is “dumbing down”, and this scares me to death!  Ignorance is NOT bliss in any context!  Thank goodness for open minded folks such as yourself and your quest for knowledge! Without it we’d be in deep, deep trouble!  I’m used to dealing with people on Facebook who are satisfied with what is or was and are easily offended by things I say.  My conversation with you is a very fresh and enlightening experience for me!  At least you listen.  I really enjoy these little exchanges also.  You can’t learn unless you listen to the other person.  It’s been nice listening to you! Oh, well!  Back to Travis’ and my Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg research project. We’re WAY behind schedule and our book is due to the publisher this summer.  It’s interesting but VERY tedious!
SB:
(to Kitty) I’m proud of son’s book (he took JB’s original research at the national archives and worked four years on researching each man there plus other information) and he found a great publisher and it was published last year. Now they have a contract for the companion book to be finished this summer but is a harder book to research because of lack of records in the south.
Kitty
Hey there, JB! Read your comments, and now I have some of my own to share: “Each of us perceives the universe from our own perspective” – absolutely.  Couldn’t be any other way.  And yes, we do then agree on the “norm” of the shared pers…pective of our current living situation.  But I would argue that “the world view agrees that something is wrong with (the mentally ill)” does not mean that they are wrong—only that we perceive them to be wrong because they don’t agree with us–on the common perspective.  But that may find its roots in my belief in reincarnation (For a full explanation of this, see my essay on this subject on www.cotcg.com, in the Library under Essays, called “Choosing to Live Again”).  When you live life after life, experiencing all that there is, perhaps being “tuned in” to alternate universes (as part of your life experience) may be a symptom of mental illness for those within what is your “common universe view”.  More simply, those who agree with the common view would of course view those who did not as wrong, “not all there”, or mentally ill. I would agree with you that many, if not most, of those choices are made on a very subconscious, even UN-conscious level.  Most people are simply not aware of themselves and their surroundings on a conscious, thinking level at all.  But choices must be made, and the brain WILL compute it, with or without input from the “self”, or ego, whatever you want to call the person of the person.  And most certainly our past experiences and our environment (nature and nurture) will strongly influence even those unconscious choices. Free will is an interesting concept.  It requires a precise definition before you can really apply the term.  If you say that free will is the opportunity to choose whatever you want without a specific limiter of what the choice is about, it does exist in a sort of symbolic, non-attainable way. (At least, not without a high cost, I think—the self awareness necessary for it is not something that is encouraged in our world, no matter what your nationality.)  Yes, we do rather tend to react as you say, instantaneously to our environment based on what we’ve learned in life.  So many people go through their lives in a sort of fog, just drifting like smoke through the air, going where the winds take them.  If free will means that we can choose our destiny—the path of our life—then it most assuredly does exist, but again most people just prefer to have someone else do their thinking for them and make their decisions based on external stimuli and past actions.  As far as making a difference in the universe, I must humbly but staunchly assert that you sir, are incorrect.  We DO make a difference.  Most people do not make perhaps a difference that we can see or measure…but we all make SOME difference.  The very fact life exists makes a difference to this universe, which would otherwise be nothing but interesting rocks and stars and gas giants, etc…Carbon-based life was a choice, rather than silicon or helium based life forms.  But as individual humans, our differences measured against the infinite scope of the universe would be so small as to appear non-existent.  You can’t prove that we make a difference, but you can’t prove that we don’t.  So I shall stand on this side of the argument and hold your hand from where you stand on the other. And Truth is most assuredly subjective.  We are in complete agreement on that one.  As for un-provable concepts (other realities, for examples)…I guess it’s word-chopping, but I prefer to consider them as “un-provable but viable” rather than “faith”.  To quote that great scientist, Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black): “Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.” (Substitute the words “it was accepted as scientific fact” for “everybody/you knew”.) Just because we cannot prove it today does not make it UN-provable.  Our scientific methods and learning are as fluid as Truth.  So YOUR “truth” (against which to measure things”” is also a dynamic, changing truth and open to new knowledge, new proofs.  But that’s just me! Thank you for your kind words.  It is the “why” that drives me and the force in other’s intelligence that I seek out.  You are right when you say that so many people (and not just on Facebook, sadly enough) are “satisfied with what is or was and are easily offended by things [being said]”.  I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I do…it’s things like Sci, History, DIY, Discovery and those type of channels.  I adore “How It’s Made” and “Modern Marvels”.  Fortunately, so does my husband—although he probably wouldn’t BE my husband if he did not also share the need to know why.  And the discussion we are having (I was only using the tennis allegory, I do NOT consider this a match for how could we tell who had won? LOL) is the kind of talk I adore—and I’m glad we’re having it.  Would you mind if I use the marvelous cut’n’paste to put it all together into a blog?  I agree with SB that it should be put “out there” for others who might want to join in.  Let me know… And I am impressed that you are a published author…my publishing is all softcopy, nothing in hardback yet!  I appreciate that you take the time from your research to have this little chat with me.  We can talk about Jesus some other time, because I have some interesting ideas about him too.  <Grin> Namaste!
JB:
Right and wrong are subjective concepts established by the society we live in.  Nothing in essence is really “right” or “wrong”.  We just use these terms to define things in that way based on our subjective interpretation of things as the m…ajority of society interprets them.  Everyone is “right” in their subjective opinions but others think them “wrong” based on theirs.  What we consider “crazy” people are by their own standards perfectly normal (people think I’m “crazy” but I know I’m not; ha, ha).  But what does that really all mean when you get right down to it?  We have different subjective perspectives but so what? Scientists are now relatively sure that the universe came from absolutely nothing.  No divine entity, no god, simply not anything.  As physicist Stephen Hawking said, “As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing.  Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.  It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”  Physicist Robert A.J. Matthews of Aston University in England says the same:  “It is now becoming clear that everything can — and probably did — come from nothing.”  And the astronomy department at Cornell University the same:  “Space and time both started at the Big Bang and therefore there was nothing before it.”  If this is true (and based on science I believe it is) the remainder of your assumptions are unfortunately null and void.  There is no “divine” to return to after many reincarnations because there was none to begin with.  I unfortunately do NOT believe in the concept of reincarnation itself.  Believe me….I wish I did!  It would give me some comfort in my old age!  My first question to believers in this concept would be what actually reincarnates?  Science has found nothing in the human anatomy, physiology or neurology, which could possibly do this.   Human thought, memories, consciousness and everything else we associate with being “ourselves” comes from the brain.  All of these things can be influenced by alcohol, drugs, a rap on the head, and most importantly death.  They all die when our brains die.  What can possibly survive to be reincarnated?  A “spark”?  What exactly would that be?  As I’ve explained before, I also don’t believe in “free will” or that we really make our own choices.  Our brains do that.  As you say, our choices DO affect our lives (including the choice not to choose) but I don’t feel we really have any choice in any of these decisions.  We simply react to what’s going on now based on our unique past experiences and what they’ve taught us.  I’ve never heard any scientific description of “spiritual planes” or “mentor/guides”.   These are all in an invisible spiritual realm of some sort and as John Stuart Mill said, “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”  I therefore don’t rely on invisible support to get by.  As one very cogent individual once said, “If we were made in his (god’s) image, then why aren’t humans invisible too?” To me our “sense of purpose” is what we learn as we develop in life.  To learn to do “good” rather than “bad”; to help life rather than hurting it; to find the truth in myth and superstition; in short, to the best of our abilities be a useful person helping civilization progress and become better and more knowledgeable as it goes.  In essence, be “Another Godless Atheist for Peace and World Harmony” as someone once said.  Acceptance of this concept doesn’t require reincarnation but simply a willingness in each of us to help improve the world in some manner or the other no matter how little our contributions may be during our lifetimes.  Everyone pulling together would create miracles.  Maybe it’ll happen one day!  We can only work toward this goal and hope. Remaining in the Zen “now” moment, while useful during our lifetimes, unfortunately stops when this moment reaches the death or malfunction of our brains.  After that there unfortunately is no “now” for any of us.  I wish there was!  Is there any proof the now continues? Of course we make at least SOME difference in our daily lives but only to those in our immediate vicinity as we encounter and interact with them during the day.  We can also influence others by what we say or do or otherwise communicate.  Others make a lot of difference to a lot of people (Obama for example and other world leaders), BUT physically, compared to the enormity of the Universe, the solar system or even our Earth, we make no difference at all.  If we did the Earth would react to each of the 9,000 or more human deaths which occur each and every day (over 11 million this year alone).  Some 103 billion people have died on the Earth, yet it keeps humming along without them.  Our body mass, compared with that of Jupiter, the Sun or the Universe, is totally insignificant in all respects.  It’s like we don’t exist at all.  That’s what I was trying to say. Life undoubtedly exists in infinite variety in any numbers of localities in the universe but that life has absolutely ZERO effect on us here on Earth.  Our civilization also has zero affect on those civilizations (unless they picked up some of our TV transmissions at some point:  ha, ha).  I, and many scientists, think carbon-based life was simply a chemical accident.  As Dr. James Watson (co-discoverer of the structure of DNA) has said, “I don’t think we’re here for anything, we’re just products of evolution.  You can say ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose’, but I’m anticipating a good lunch.” Silicon or helium based life forms, as well as any number of other combinations; probably exist in one form or the other throughout the universe.  We just don’t know it.
According to physics, we DO make a difference but only in our immediate small areas of habitation.  Our mass is infinitely too small to affect much of anything and its effect decreases with distance so, as I previously pointed out, we as in…dividuals DO affect Jupiter but the effect is practically nonexistent since we’re too small and far away.  Jupiter affects us also but again in a minor way as gigantic as it is, it’s so far away.  You’d best not hold my hand:  SB might get jealous!  Ha, ha! As I said:  literally ANYTHING is possible and potentially viable but unfortunately not provable.  I stand on the side of provable rather than that of speculation, myth, fantasy or faith.  In my book, faith is good for nothing but imagined false comfort during hard times. I remember Jones’ little discourse alright.  Of course we don’t know everything at the moment, and humanity may never accomplish this, but science through learning, study and experimentation has got us to where we are today and I would much, much, much rather accept this “proof” and approach than depend on myth, superstition and faith.  You’re right:  scientific “truth” at this moment in time is of course not the final truth, but science becomes more and more refined, precise and evolved on a daily basis and I’m confident will one day be able to explain our current mysteries as it has done in the past.  I hope we continue on the path of knowledge rather than descend again into the myths and superstitions of the past.  Think where we would be if not for the Dark Ages when the myth and superstition of the church ruled the roost!  If we continue the path of science, imagine where we’ll be in another 100 years! I’m strongly of the opinion that religion of any sort, belief in the supernatural, and belief in the efficacy of spells, rituals, etc. is simply wishful thinking on our part.  We humans feel small and helpless (and we are:  I’ve read that the only reason humanity survived is because the carnivores of the time didn’t like the way we tasted!) and sincerely want to have some sort of control over our lives.  Believing an invisible entity is watching over us, that we survive death, or that we can somehow influence our surroundings to our benefit is purely and simply a way to help us get through the day and make us feel better.  It’s nice to wish these things were true but there is no evidence they exist.  Oh, well!  We can always hope!   I watch the same channels you do and LOVE “How It’s Made” and similar presentations.  I find them fascinating!  It’s wonderful and marvelous what the inquisitive, every striving mind of man has accomplished over the centuries.  Hopefully we’ll keep it up (we must to one day survive the bulging Sun)!  The neo-conservatives and Tea Party have me REALLY worried however!  They’re “dumbing us down”! I’m really not the brightest bulb when it comes to this kind of stuff:  I’m just curious.  I’ll probably be embarrassed and put to shame if a true scientist joins the conversation!  Still and all:  I might learn something so it’s up to you if you want to “blog” what we have said.  I’m sure others will think me stupid (as well I might be)!  I also must devote more time to my son’s and my work on the Gettysburg Confederate casualties so may not be able to participate for much longer (if that matters).      My publications are all strictly reference material for Gettysburg aficionados (number of soldiers in individual units, number of casualties, a long list of the Federal dead and other casualties, burials in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, etc., etc.) and the rest of the country could care less (hence my very small royalties twice a year or so).  Your article was very well written and knowledgeable.  I just don’t agree with its basic precepts which of course means ZERO to everyone else in the world, ha, ha!  Like I said:  I enjoy trading ideas with folks, but most of those I’ve encountered on Facebook are rather strongly tied to their ideologies and don’t much countenance by observations.  Oh, well!  “Different strokes for different folks”, I guess!  Exchanging ideas with you has been fun though!  Thanks! I’d like to hear what you have to say about JC because I, with scholars such as D.M. Murdock (Acharya S.), Earl Doherty, Ken Humphreys, Jim Walker and others really don’t believe he ever existed at all.  Interesting huh?!  All the best, and have a good one!  (The End:  I’ll bet you’re happy!).
Anonymous Comment:
OMG………………..
JB:
OMG what?  Just a friendly discussion.
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3 thoughts on “A Friendly Discussion: The Scientific Atheist and the Tibetan Zen Buddhist on Prayer, Truth and the Meaning of Life

  1. Knotty Kitteh Post author

    I have great admiration for Atheists, especially the scientific ones…if this life is all there is, and there is nothing beyond it…then “what is the point of living?” can be answered with this: Live the best life you know how. Do things that are meaningful to you and might even have some beneficial influence on others. Be the very best YOU. In other words, live exactly like all of those who hope for an afterlife, but still have this life to live first. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves to LIVE this life, no matter what our views are about faith, prayer, afterlife, reincarnation and so on.
    So many people of faith in the afterlife get caught up in the idea of the other life that they fail to fulfill the potential of THIS life. Nobody has been able to answer my question, so here it is and if you know the answer, please tell me: If “living is Christ, and dying is gain”, then why isn’t suicide a prime sacrament in Christianity? Wouldn’t it be the most blessed thing to do, to kill this body so that your soul could be in Heaven, with God?
    I personally cannot imagine going through this life with the belief that this is it. I do have my thoughts about reincarnation and an afterlife. But I appreciate the focus that Atheism brings to the moment we are existing in and hope that I can also show that kind of focus on each minute of this life, regardless of what my death brings. If anything.
    And if there is any brief synopsis of this blog, I think it would boil down to this: Every human being can only be absolutely sure of THIS life, this moment of time. Do the best with it that you can, be the best person you can for this moment. What happens later, if there is a later, will happen…later. Focus on what you know, focus on what there is now, each now as it happens. After all, it’s just a friendly discussion.

    Reply
  2. Trisha

    How awesome that you were all able to voice your beliefs with respect for your differences! That is a rare thing. I see a lot of rudeness and aggressive attacks when people talk about beliefs and I have a hard time understanding why people have to be that way. I love your open discussion!

    Reply
  3. John Busey

    I couldn’t agree with you more Knotty! Living what we have now to the very best of our ability, and helping civilization as much as we can, is far better than wishing and hoping for some reward after we die following rules imposed on us by organized religion to get there. I’m with you all the way!

    Reply

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