Well, first of all I believe the Buddha said “not self” as opposed to “no self.” There’s a subtle but important distinction there that is worth exploring, but that will have to wait for another time. I’ve also often slipped into the habit of quoting the Buddha as saying “no self” on many occasions, frequently to be corrected either by a Buddhist or by something I’m reading. Nonetheless, that there is a self in the essentialist sort of way you’re describing (a soul) was really not a focus for him as I understand it, nor frankly should it have been given the philosophical (and more recently scientific) problems that view posses upon serious reflection.

That said, I think it’s important not to mistake a strong but healthy skepticism on the part of scientists with bias as such. That’s not to say bias doesn’t exist among scientists, of course. They’re only human like the rest of us. Since there isn’t a person on the planet without at least some biases, to throw stones at scientists for having them is to ignore the glass house we all live in. However, science as a method properly understood and applied is a technique for compensating for our biases. So to say science itself is the source of bias is just plain wrong, unless of course you mean science is biased in favor of testable ideas that with enough repetition can produce a consensus regarding how the world actually works.

The burden of proof is always with those making the claim. It’s perfectly reasonable to offer a soul or a deity of some sort as a potential explanation for various human experiences, provided, that is, in doing so you are ready to explicitly state what it is you’re arguing for and you’re willing to rigorously and honestly address what pursuing that hypothesis means. Somehow we have to be able to test what you’re proposing. It’s one thing to be “open” to the possibility of outside forces like gods, aliens or whatever, but quite another to insist science tackle this question without being either specific or consistent when it comes to what exactly it is they’re supposed to be looking for and suggesting a means for them to find it. They can’t test a hypothesis that is vague and mysterious. Nor can they conclude that a failure to find a cause necessarily means god, aliens, angels, a soul, or whatever.

How do you define a soul, for example? If it’s real and detectable as you suggest, wee need to begin looking for it somewhere. I haven’t heard you or others offer any suggestions as to where we should even begin looking, let alone what it is we’re supposed to be looking for. Indeed, so far it’s not simply a problem of us not finding evidence for an essence, but that all the evidence we are finding indicates we don’t have one. People experience dramatic changes in behavior and perception when they lose part of their brain to a stroke, tumor, or other injury. If there was an unchanging soul or essence guiding us that is immune to such injuries we should expect strokes and other brain injuries to have no effect. And how do we explain the appearance of hallucinations after certain brain injuries that weren’t taking place before? True, there are those that exhibit these kinds of phenomena without us knowing exactly what’s going on. But that there are things people see and do that we so far don’t have an explanation for is not evidence of a soul or deity at work. It’s just a gap in our knowledge, and history has demonstrated time and time again that these gaps have a tendency to keep narrowing. Not being biased in such cases means being agnostic rather than jumping to conclusions about either souls or physical injuries, genes, or other physical explanations.

Likewise with gods. Which one are we looking for? Is it Christ, Vishnu, or Zeus? You have to define your terms if you want science to start testing these “outside forces” that so far no one has been able to detect. Hallucinations are actual documented phenomenon that generally correlate with various brain injuries or activity. They can even be induced by stimulating parts of the brain. Likewise, people can “train their brains” to have what’s commonly referred to as spiritual experiences. They can also take drugs that induce these feelings or visions. But in each case when an explanation has been found there’s been physical basis for the experience that underlies them all. That said, something quite profound and unexpected could turn up to explain the cases we haven’t yet figured out. But to accuse science of not looking for one when you and others haven’t really told them precisely what it is you want it to look for (or even seem to agree on what it should be) isn’t really fair.

My position is simply that these gods, etc. are manifestations of various archetypes and to look upon them as real in the literal physical sense you seem to be implying is only likely to render religion a laughing stock rather than a relevant cultural force. I would argue such literalism is a self inflicted wound that is actually destroying what little credibility religion still possesses. A truly meaningful experience doesn’t require the person having it to understand the cause. Indeed, when truly living such experiences in the moment we can’t actually be dwelling on what the cause is. By telling us the cause matters you’re effectively taking the focus off the experience itself and places the focus on a kind of ideology — a vague and rather nondescript one, but an ideology nonetheless.

That said, if you want science to be open to particular ideas then you have to give them something to test besides vague references to “outside forces.” It may be true we lack the technology to detect what it is you’re looking for, but the first step in building a detector/test of some sort is knowing what it is we’re trying to find. Unfortunately, I suspect what you want them to seek will not be consistent with what other religions describe. Are Christ and Zeus when viewed literally even compatible? Are they just different names for the same force in your view? I honestly have no idea. How do we explain the vastly different descriptions of them offered by those that claim to have seen or experienced them? It’s not that 10 people look out the window and see someone throwing lightening bolts. It’s more like one person sees someone throwing lightening, another sees someone rising from the dead, a third sees a virgin descending from the heavens, a fourth thinks they were Cleopatra in a past life, and so on. Many of these people think the others are heretics or heathens that have obviously strayed from or never possessed the truth. You’re raising far more questions than you’re answering here.

US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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