When We Evaluate Zen Buddhism by it’s Own Standards

The book The Three Pillars of Zen (by Phillip Kapleau, ed., 1965) includes a series of explanations and teachings by a series of master teachers of Buddhism. One of them, Yasutani, starts out in his first lecture by telling us the following:

We need therefore to return to our original perfection, to see through the false image of ourselves as incomplete and sinful, and to wake up to our inherent purity and wholeness.
.    .    .
How can we bring the moon of truth to illumine fully our life and personality? We need first to purify the water, to calm the surging waves by halting the winds of discursive thought. In other words, we must empty our minds of what the Kegon sutra calls the “conceptual thought of man.” Most people place a high value on abstract thought, but Buddhism has clearly demonstrated that discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion. I once heard someone say: “Thought is the sickness of the human mind.” From the Buddhist point of view, this is quite true. . . So long as human beings remain slaves to their intellect, fettered and controlled by it, they can well be called sick. (p.28, 29)

On reading this, my first thought went back to a brief encounter I once had in a bookstore. I walked upon a store clerk speaking to a customer. The clerk explained that he was very familiar with Christianity, and that Jesus taught essentially the same things as Buddhism. Part of me wanted to butt in and explain that he really did not know what he was talking about, and part of my just sighed in frustration, not knowing where to start when someone was so seriously mistaken. In the end the introvert in me won, and I walked away without saying anything, frustrated that there were people in the world who thought such things.

The quote above begins with telling us that it is false that we are sinful. By contrast, the Bible tells us repeatedly that all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus forgave sin, but He never taught that it did not exist. He instead told sinners to “go and sin no more.” If we want to know Jesus’ reaction to sin, read Matthew chapter 23. Deep down all people know that they commit sin, for we have an inherent moral law which acts upon our hearts. The contrast between the essential teachings of Christ and Buddhism could not be more clear.

The Buddhist teacher then tells us that we should “halt the winds of discursive thought” and “discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion” and “thought is the sickness of the human mind.” These statements and the ideas behind them are central teachings of Zen Buddhism, at least in the form presented by Yasutani.

While we may need more calm in our lives, the statements above are clearly false. When we measure them, even by their own yardstick, they are found wanting.

It strikes me quite odd that Kapleau gives us his book, which is a 350-page discourse that tells us we should not listen to discourses. It asks us to think about Zen to get well, even though thinking allegedly makes us sick. We are asked to discriminate between Zen and non-Zen, even though discriminatory thinking is a delusion. If, as this book tells us, it is bad for us to discriminate between ideas, and we should empty our minds of thought, why should I read Kapleau’s book which is full of ideas and thoughts? By Zen’s own standard, Kapleau’s book is leading me to delusion by teaching me how Zen works. Further, if we have “inherent purity and wholeness” then how is it that our thinking is sick and we are in need of Zen?

If a Zen master gives us an answer to these questions, he would again be explaining things in a way that we should discriminate true from false. But the book just told us we should not discriminate between thoughts. Such is merely the beginning of the nonsense in this book on Zen Buddhism.

But Kapleau and Yasutani are partially correct. They tell us that our minds are fettered and sick, which is true. They are incorrect on what do do about it, though. The Bible tells us that God’s word can “renew our minds” (Romans 12:2). It tells us that we should actively think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise (Philemon 4:8). Only in God’s word, the Bible, will we find the answer to our sick minds.

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Who Is More Reasonable In Religious Discussions?

The book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism responds to the claims of modern atheists who are fond of trying to take the rational high ground in the discussion of religion.

Tom Gilson is the editor of True Reason and also the author of a chapter in the book that reviews a 2011 debate between Christian William Lane Craig and atheist Sam Harris. Gilson summarizes the arguments of both Craig and Harris while not trying to prove whether Craig was correct or not. Gilson lists six major points of logical argument that Craig presented in the debate, then spends the rest of the chapter explaining Harris’ positions, with the goal of showing which man was reasonable.

Gilson states “What rational, logical, reasoned arguments did Harris use to respond? One struggles to find any reasoned answer at all. He paid Craig’s deadliest arguments no attention whatsoever.” (p.65, emphasis in original)  Gilson goes point by point through Harris’ presentation, then points out:

Granted that Harris thinks religion is wrong, bad, and evil. Granted that he thinks his conclusion is the only rational one. What we want to know is, what makes his conclusion more rational than Craig’s? A tirade is no answer. Ignoring logical arguments that undermine your position is also no answer. Arguing fallaciously is no answer. . . Craig made a point of employing rational argumentation in his speeches. We haven’t asked here whether his reasoning was sound or not. Neither did Harris–he ignored every one of Craig’s arguments . . . (p.71, italics in original)

Such a response seems to have become a pattern. In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris spends an entire book asserting that morals have a material cause. The glaring weakness is that nowhere in the book does he explain how he can derive human well-being from pure matter. Harris spends a great deal of energy asserting that human well-being is a moral good, but no energy explaining how we can get morals from matter. Even assuming the morality of human well-being is itself is a weakness, since moral questions are designed to determine whether morals exist at all, not assume from the outset that they exist. But even if we accept his assumption that human well-being is morally good, he spends no ink telling us exactly how morals are grounded in world that only contains matter and energy. (For more on the weaknesses of The Moral Landscape, see here.)

Our atheist friends seem to have a lot of salty rhetoric that appeals to the taste buds of those predisposed to their position. Like Harris, they repeatedly claim that they are the reasonable ones, but offer no substance to show that this is so. What many atheists, including Sam Harris, seem to fail to realize is that merely asserting that you are rational does not prove that you are, even if you fill a book with the repeated assertions.  In many of these discussions, it is the Christians who stand on the reasonable ground.

For more on the reasonableness of Christians and the irrationality of atheists, I recommend the book True Reason by editors Gilson and Weitnauer.

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Do Scholarly Skeptics Agree About Early Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection?

Gary Habermas is the world’s leading scholar on the resurrection of Jesus. This is not an exaggeration, for his research and publications are impeccable. He has researched every publication on the resurrection, ancient and modern.

In the presentation below, Habermas maintains that even using the sources that critics and skeptics accept, we can trace the reports for Jesus’ resurrection back to within 6 months to three years of the event. As he says in the video below, we do not have to depend on the memory of eyewitness accounts from many years later, even though the eyewitnesses are good enough.

In the New Testament, we have early writings, going back to less than a few seasons after Jesus actually rose from the dead.

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Literary Critics Examine the New Testament

The facts presented in the New Testament have a large amount of corroboration from sources outside the Bible (see here, and here, and here). The typical objections to these facts is claiming the Bible to be historical fiction and dismissing miracles outright. To see the fallacy of these typical objections, see here and here.

Let us turn to how the style of writing is evaluated……not by laymen, but by literary scholars. I know of two who were atheists who were teaching literature at the university level, then became Christian when they turned their eye toward the Bible.

Dr. C. S. Lewis was a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge. He said the following:

 All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job. And I am prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legend or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic. I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff. (Christian Reflections, 209)

Dr. Holly Ordway was also an atheist with a PhD in literature, teaching at the university level,  who then became a Christian partly by reading Christian literary works:

 I read through the Gospel narratives again, trying to take in what they said. I had to admit that–even apart from everything else I had learned–I recognized that they were fact, not story. I’d been steeped in folklore, fantasy, legend, and myth ever since I was a child, and I had studied these literary genres as an adult; I knew their cadences, their flavor, their rhythm. None of these stylistic fingerprints appeared in the New Testament books that I was reading. In Paul’s letters, I heard the strong, clear voice of a distinctive personality speaking of what he knew to be true. The Gospels had the ineffable texture of history, with all the odd clarity of detail that comes when the author is recounting something so huge that even as he tells it, he doesn’t see all the implications. (Not God’s Type, 117)

 So when we examine the historical narratives of the New Testament, we have not only external, factual corroboration of the minute details, we also have testimony of expert witnesses that tell us the accounts do not exhibit the style of fictional writing.  As with anything historical, we cannot prove the New Testament narratives the same way we solve a math problem. Instead we look at the evidence and determine what is reasonable. The New Testament accounts show all the signs of being exactly what they claim: eyewitness accounts of actual historical events.

Lewis and Ordway demonstrate that when educated people look at the evidence with reason in mind, the conclusion is in favor of the truth of the scriptures. We would all do well to read the Bible with these facts in mind.

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Hume on Skepticism

David Hume (1711 – 1776) was the king of the skeptics. Many, if not most, of the modern skeptical attacks on Christianity are warmed-over versions of what David Hume said more powerfully. Here are a couple of interesting tidbits that Hume wrote that are relevant to other arguments for Christianity.

In his work An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume lays out his system of attack on religion in general and Christian claims in particular. In the midst of his skeptical work, he makes the following claim:

The Cartesian doubt, therefore, were it ever possible to be attained by any human creature (as it plainly is not) would be entirely incurable; and no reasoning could ever bring us to a state of assurance and conviction upon any subject. (Enquiry, p.159)

This is interesting. Hume is the same man who claimed that we cannot know cause and effect, not even that of knowing the cause of movement when one billiard ball strikes another. Hume was so thorough in his skepticism that he was willing to give up knowing cause and effect entirely, a quite high price to pay. Yet in the quote above he claims we cannot get to the point where we completely doubt our senses such as in Rene Descartes’ famous mental exercise of doubting all sense perceptions. The point is that even the king of the skeptics, David Hume, holds that full skepticism leads to not being able to know anything . . . presumably including the skeptical conclusions in Hume’s books. Thus Hume trusts his mind enough to make his points about skepticism, but conveniently mistrusts his mind when it comes to making conclusions about the existence of God.

Next, Hume touches on the nature of infinite regress, which is a point important in the Kalam cosmological argument. The Kalam says, briefly, that all effects require causes, the universe is an effect, and therefore the universe requires a cause. It quickly follows by saying that infinite regresses are impossible, therefore when we trace the cause of the universe, we end up with a first, original cause. Hume’s comment is as follows:

An infinite number of real parts of time, passing in succession, and exhausted one after another, appears so evident a contradiction, that no man, one should think, whose judgement is not corrupted, instead of being improved, by the sciences, would ever be able to admit of it. (Enquiry, 157)

It would appear then that the king of the skeptics, the fount from which most of the modern attacks on Christianity spring, would look upon the modern atheists who hold to actual infinites and say their judgement is corrupted.

Perhaps the most ironic of Hume’s statements in the book is found in the last sentence of the book, drawing his conclusion:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity of school of metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experiential reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. (Enquiry, 165).

Hume is giving a skepticism that most modern atheists would support. Can a person’s statement be measured in quantity? No. Can it be demonstrated so we can experience a physical test? No. Then commit it to the flames, for it is but illusion.

Let’s put Hume’s book and his skepticism to the test, and most modern skepticism along with it. Does Hume’s book contain quantity and measurement? No. Does Hume’s book show demonstration of things on which we can perform an experiment? No. Then commit Hume’s book to the flames, and his skepticism along with it, for it is but sophistry and illusion.

In conclusion, such skepticism is either self-refuting, inconsistent, or both. If we want to know truth, we should look to the New Testament, specifically John 14:6.

Posted in Skepticism | 2 Comments

Does the Euthyphro Dilemma Disprove God? (Part 4, final)

This is the last in a series of posts about a moral question called the Euthyphro Dilemma, which is sometimes given as a challenge to God. See the first three parts for an explanation of the problem and the first four responses.

 

Fifth, the skeptic’s use of the Euthyphro Dilemma does not explain how the concept of good can exist in a materialist world. If God does not exist, then only natural forces exist, and ‘good’ can only be the result of natural forces. But natural forces such as electromagnetism or gravity are morally neutral, and have no concept of good or evil. In a materialist world, natural forces have no choice but to exist and cannot be different than they are. Moral commands tell us that an immoral person ought to act differently, but a materialist world can only produce things that must act the way they do. Therefore natural forces in a materialist world cannot be held morally accountable for anything. Whence cometh good and evil? Forces without the ability to act differently cannot be held responsible for acting as they do.

If, as the critic claims, Euthyphro somehow eliminates God from existing, then all we have left are natural forces that must exist and good is eliminated. For all of atheist author Richard Dawkins’ logical flaws, he understands this point, for he has stated “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” But if good is eliminated, the main prerequisites of Euthyphro are eliminated with it. In a naturalist universe, the effects of nutrition would be the same, but the effects would not be morally good, for good would not exist.

My sixth objection to Euthyphro is given by Edward Feser. The first horn of the dilemma deals with divine command theory, saying that if things are good because God commanded it, then the command could be arbitrary.

It is a mistake to think that just because we have a command from God, it is somehow arbitrary or inconsistent. If we hold, along with Aquinas, that will follows the intellect, then God will always act in accordance with reason. Further, as Feser explains, the Euthyphro dilemma does not prove that God’s moral rationale is in any way independent of Him. The Euthyphro Dilemma, to be valid in proving anything about God, would have to show that God’s reasons for giving morally good commands are somehow based on something other than His own wisdom. No one really believes that God would command “Thou shalt steal” and make it so. Skeptics do not deal with this, but merely keep repeating the same old dilemma, as if it proved or disproved something about God. It does not. (for the rest of Feser’s ideas, see here).

God does command good. He does so because He is wise and the things He does reflect wisdom, and because His nature is good.

God is simple, i.e., not made of parts. What God has, He is. God does not have goodness, He is goodness. God does not have good properties, rather He is goodness itself. Therefore what God wills or commands is good, and must be so. He does not get this goodness from some other source, nor is it arbitrary as if He could will otherwise. When the skeptic presents Euthyphro, he must ignore the unity that is in God and present the dilemma as if 1) God could be arbitrary, and 2) goodness is separate from God’s essence. Neither are true, so Euthyphro is invalid.

Sixth, Euthyphro, and the criticisms of the Christian explanation, confuse the definition of goodness. In reality, things have natures, and good means that a thing fulfills its nature. Things are not good because we attribute to them a concept of goodness, but because they fulfill what their natures were designed for. As Edward Feser explains:

The actual situation, then, is this. What is good or bad for us is determined by the ends set for us by our nature, and given the essentialist metaphysics Aquinas is committed to, that means that there are certain things that are good or bad for us absolutely, which even God could not change (since God’s power does not extend to doing what is self-contradictory).

Therefore good is ultimately determined by whether we fulfill the potential set by our nature, not by comparing our actions to some external standard. Euthyphro seems to have no concept of this idea of good.

 

In summary, the following hold true:

  • Even if valid, which Euthyphro is not, the dilemma does not disprove God nor eliminate God’s moral standard.
  • The dilemma assumes that goodness is a property that can be applied to something, which is false. Things are not good merely because I can conceive of goodness in my mind, but rather good because their nature is good.
  • We naturally measure things in the world by an external standard of goodness which is separate from the things in the world. This is a premise in the moral argument for the existence of God.
  • The critic often assumes good, such as “good is something that benefits people,” when in fact the very question of what makes good is the point of all moral systems.
  • A materialist world has no sound explanation for the origin of the ideas of good and evil. The naturalist can tell us what is, but not what ought to be.
  • Euthyphro, and the analytic philosophy that supports it, has no answer for the metaphysical explanation of good being something that fulfills its nature.

 

The Bible tells us that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . .” (James 1:17). It tells us God will “equip you in every good thing” (Hebrews 13:21) and help us to “abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).  God’s commands are good because God is good. We would all do good to learn of God’s ways and submit to Him.

 

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Does the Euthyphro Dilemma Disprove God? (Part 3)

This is the latest in a series of posts about a moral question called the Euthyphro Dilemma, which is sometimes given as a challenge to God. See the first two parts for an explanation of the problem and the first two responses.

 

Third, as Aquinas pointed out in his fourth way, we cannot discern between good and better unless we have standard that is external to the objects being measured. I can only tell if one thing is whiter than another by having a measure of ultimate white to compare them to, for I would never know if one was closer to the ultimate unless I had some standard to measure all the objects by. If all I had were beings on earth to determine goodness, I would not be able to look at all of them and find moral flaws, for I measure them with a moral standard more perfect than all the beings . . . every human on earth has moral flaws. Therefore goodness cannot be determined by looking at flawed things on earth, which is the only option left to the materialist who tries to use Euthyphro to deny the existence of God.

Fourth, a critic might also reply: Goodness is when something benefits the individual person. Nutrition is good because it benefits someone, and sickness is evil because it hurts them. If God is the source of goodness, the Christian has to show how good things, such as nutrition, would not be good if God did not exist, or at least how God must exist for things like nutrition to exist. If things that positively benefit people can exist without God existing, then God is not necessary for good to exist. 

This is incorrect for several reasons. This criticism defines good as something that benefits people. Why is this so? What is inherently good about benefiting people? Some environmentalist might claim, as some undoubtedly have, that humans are a detriment to the earth and it would be ‘good’ if we all expired. Some atheists, like Richard Dawkins, tell us that the universe, at bottom, has no evil, no good, just blind pitiless indifference. So it is not universally accepted that good is something that benefits humans.

Further, this fourth criticism assumes that benefiting someone is good, it does not prove this is so. Defining what is good is one of the basic questions, and this fourth objection assumes good from the beginning. Next, if we look at an act and say that act benefited someone, therefore it it is good, we have measured the act against a moral standard that is independent of us, the individual, and the act.  There must therefore be a moral code independent of the world.

Also, this objection presents a false challenge. The challenge is not whether nutrition can exist without God, but whether nutrition itself is good, and where the concept of good came from in the first place. The king of the skeptics, David Hume, stated that people always seem to sneak in the concept that something ought to be, and do so without proving it.

 

The next post will have more explanations of why the Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma as it relates to God.

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