Figment of Scholarly Reasoning

Yet another ‘religion is bunk’ claim with a so called ‘scientific’ foundation, forms the basis of a recent news article in abc news. Such generalisations add nothing to science, nor to society, and miss the central point of Buddhism altogether – that the Path is verifiable.


Humans alone practice religion because they’re the only creatures to have evolved imagination

Says Maurice Bloch, in an article in the abc news.

He is not the first to boil religion and human existence down and flip it off with some vacuous oversimplification. The argument goes that through imagination we can relate to beings who are not directly present – be it a tribal or national leader, a rain deity or God himself. Therefore ??? Yes; all religion is imagination of a  ‘Bearded man in the clouds’. Communist China would probably agree.

The basis of Buddhism is that Enlightenment can be experienced by anyone. It is not a ‘revealed‘ religion where the truth has been published by God in a handy volume and your only duty is to believe it. Oh, and try to be a good person while you are at it. In fact Buddhism, like science,  starts from the opposite premise, that there is something that you don’t know, but should investigate. Bloch’s approach, carpet bombing all religion as Darwinian “key adaptation techniques” is a meritless tactic that is especially popular in this ‘New Atheist’ age of Richard Dawkins and cohorts.

All the claims of the Buddha are presented as verifiable. They cannot be ‘proven’ perhaps, but they can be experienced directly through the training of the mind. This is what people are doing when they are meditating. We begin with the premise that there might be something special that we do not know, a higher truth of some kind that can be experienced if the mind is directed in the right way. On the way to this discovery, one learns much about the workings of the mind as it is investigated directly. Then, even if you are not a fully enlightened being, there is direct benefit and an understanding that goes beyond intellectualisation, and certainly beyond mere belief in ‘imaginary social structures’.

Journeying in this way, the signs and pointers, the things you discover on the way marry up to what has been described by those who have gone before us. And so you gain a confidence in the Path.

The analogy is of a map – if you find the roads and landmarks on the map marry up to the experience around you, then you gain confidence in the map, and trust that it will continue to be correct all the way to your destination. The Buddha said this is like discovering an ancient path in the forest that leads to a city. You can follow the path, and tell others about it so they can go too if they choose. No one can walk the path for you however – you have to make the journey yourself.

Chris Frith of University College London, a co-organiser of a “Sapient Mind” meeting in Cambridge last September, thinks … that “theory of mind” – the ability to recognise that other people or creatures exist, and think for themselves – might be as important as evolution of imagination. Abc news quotes:

As soon as you have theory of mind, you have the possibility of deceiving others, or being deceived,” he says. This, in turn, generates a sense of fairness and unfairness, which could lead to moral codes and the possibility of an unseen “enforcer” – God – who can see and punish all wrong-doers.

Once you have these additions of the imagination, maybe theories of God are inevitable,” he says.


In contrast to the meditators journey into the mind, the above ‘map’ seems rather specious. Speculation on top of speculation, multiplied by a ‘long enough’ time period might result in …

So here is the proposition. There is something called Enlightenment. There is a way of being, and a way of training the mind. It is of immense benefit to the meditator at the beginning, the middle and the end of the way. It is something verifiable in direct experience, with the only caveat that you must train the mind in meditation first.


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2 Responses to Figment of Scholarly Reasoning

  1. Will says:

    Does it need to be either/or? The path of enlightenment following Buddha’s map or the the consequence of imagination and the awareness of other minds? Religion is not a simple social structure. Look at Buddhism? The path of enlightenment is overlaid with superstition and ritual that varies from region to region (Thailand, Tibet, Japan, America, all have developed different Buddhisms based on the original teaching). Religion is super social bonding. Reductionism is a simple trick, yes, but I think the ideas presented in the article help to form a complex picture of what we call religion. Benedict Anderson developed a theory of nation as a figment of the imagination that is quite persuasive. How do we imagine our kinship with people we’ve never met or seen? The same thing goes for religion. Co-religionists do indeed inhabit imaginary worlds. Food for thought (but let’s not digress too far from the path.

  2. This is a long shot but the ToM makes a lot of sense to me and needs not develop into religious thought

    My own w.i.p. is http;// and in it I suggest deference to a belief system is encumbersome

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