De-incarnation: From Lama to Film Student

Lama Osel Before and 'Oz' After (image from El Mundo)

Lama Osel Before and 'Oz' After (image from El Mundo article)

23 years ago a Spanish baby boy was recognised by the Dalai Lama and other important Tibetan lamas to be a reincarnation (tulku) of a well known Lama called Thubten Yeshe. His story was widely reported and received wider attention as it happened to coincide with the release of a Holywood blockbuster called The Golden Child (starring Eddie Murphy!) which was based around a story about a young reincarnated lama.

After a short flurry of media attention the boy, named Osel Hita Torres, dropped back into the relative obscurity of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Within the tradition he remained an important figure however and was sent to a monastery in India to receive a traditional Tibetan education alongside tutoring in Western subjects. High hopes were held by Lama Yeshe’s followers that Osel would take up the mantle of leadership vacated by Lama Thubten Yeshe and usher in an era of greater integration between Tibetan Buddhism and the Western world.

These hopes were rather soundly dashed a few days ago however when Osel gave an interview to a Spanish newspaper El Mundo in which he stated that he was now agnostic and more interested in cinematography than being a spiritual figurehead. He also spoke critically of his upbringing describing how:

At 14 months I was recognized and taken to India. I dressed in a yellow hat, I sat on a throne, people worshipped me … I was taken away from my family and put in a medieval situation in which I suffered a lot. It was like living a lie.


Dr. Monster and making Buddhism a Religion

NetsukeAfter a number of posts covering skeptical issues I thought it’s about time to examine another study on the topic of religion.

This time the study title is “When Buddhism Became a ‘Religion’: Religion and Superstition in the Writings of Inoue Enryo” published in 2006 in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies by Jason Ananda Josephson.

If the title sounds confusing don’t worry, the basic premise of Josephson’s article is that it was not until the Meiji period and the arrival of foreign influences that the concept of ‘a religion’ developed in Japan and as such prior to this period Buddhism was not ‘a religion’. Josephson argues that in seeking to make Buddhism fit with the ‘Western’ category of religion a number of practices and beliefs particularly those relating to demons and magic which had previously been central to Japanese Buddhism were eliminated.


Christians BUS-ted for Causing Offense!

The original Atheist Bus Campaign

The original Atheist Bus Campaign

Those living in London may have noticed that for the past few months a new front has opened on the age old battle between religion and atheism- the space on the sides of buses. The opening of this unlikely new battlefield was due to an idea thought up by the comedy writer Ariane Sherine after she noticed an ad on public transport promising eternal damnation for non-believers. Her idea, which she wrote about in an article for the guardian, was to offer an alternative and positive non-religious message to counter negative religious messages. This message seemed to hit a nerve amongst the rationalist community and almost immediately offers to fund such a campaign came flooding in.

The response when a collection campaign was eventually created was phenomenal, raising £150,000 in a matter of days and gaining the support of the British Humanist Association and Richard Dawkins. The campaign finally culminated in a number of standalone ads across London and, more notably, a fleet of buses appearing across the capital and in a select number of other cities with the slogan ‘There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life’ emblazoned on the side.


Guest Article: The Roots of our Ancestry, Need not be the Roots of Our Morality

Chris Kavanagh: The following article was submitted by my good friend Joseph Finch (a fine pianist), it touches on some sensitive issues and proposes some interesting thoughts on science, religion and morality and as such I think it’s a good fit for the blog.

All the opinions and arguments below are Joe’s and not mine (though I do find his argument quite compelling) and as such all credit (or criticism) should be directed his way. I’m sure he’ll be happy to discuss any responses in the comment section. Anyhow, without further adieu here is the article.

During the 19th century, in the new context of Darwinism, Europeans hypothesised that Africans were more closely related to earlier ancestors of human beings than they were. The hypothesis is of course incorrect as all human beings are equally related to a common ancestor which we share with chimpanzee and bonobos, however, the moral conclusions that were drawn from the false belief were considerable and abhorrent  to say the least. The belief in a racial hierarchy and the subsequent treatment of other races as ‘subhuman’ is too well chronicled to need any further explanation.

We traditionally place the blame for such behaviour on the inaccurate scientific hypothesis. ‘How could they have thought such a thing?’ we ask as though the idea that inter-special versions of homosapiens existing is a self evidently ridiculous and bigoted one. But the tendency to place the blame for the evil of the behaviour on the hypothesis is misplaced. There truly is no reason that members of homosapiens more closely related to earlier ancestors than us might not have survived, and if this had happened, would eliminating our moral consideration of them according to how closely related they were to us be morally justified?


Science vs. Religion Part 4: All in the Mind

Dr. Raj Persaud

Dr. Raj Persaud

The final talk at the CFI ‘Science vs. Religion’ event was a talk by Dr. Raj Persaud a well known psychiatrist and TV personality (who has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons recently). Unfortunately, I found this talk to be the weakest of the four but this is somewhat understandable given that Dr. Persaud was a last minute replacement covering for Baroness Mary Warnock’s absence.

His talk was lacking any real underlying topic or coherent message and instead was a sort of mishmash of separate topics that seemed to have been cobbled together in order that the two topics of ‘religion’ and ‘science’ got a mention. As a result, I got the impression that his appearance at the event may have been due to a frantic last minute search (and a personal favour to the organisers) rather than because he had a lot to say on the topic of ‘Science vs. Religion’.


Science vs. Religion Part 3: So, there is no God!

Good God/Evil God: One in the same?

Good God/Evil God: One in the same?

The third talk at the CFI ‘Science vs. Religion’ event was a discussion by the philosopher and head of CFI London Stephen Law on ‘the empirical evidence against God’.

From the title of the talk I was expecting a whistle stop tour through topics such as abiogenesis, evolution and some of the scientific theories of the origin of the universe however none of these subjects were touched and, in actual fact, I didn’t really note any ’empirical evidence’ being discussed. Instead, what Stephen Law presented in his talk, seemed to me to be more a philosophical argument against the monotheistic concept of God. I realise it is a distinct possibility that the philosophical definition of empirical means something entirely different than from what I understand, however, my definition of empirical is something like ‘evidence that can be scientifically identified and tested’ and in this regard Law’s talk was somewhat lacking.

With that said the philosophical argument he did present was quite interesting and entertaining and from my perspective it seemed to be quite well argued. The central thesis of the argument was that you could replace a ‘Good God’ with an ‘Evil God’ in the most common arguments used to defend a Good God’s existence and they work just as well in reverse, suggesting that they are not particularly compelling arguments as they can be used to defend the existence of any type of God, even seemingly absurd ones like ‘Evil God’.


Science vs. Religion Part 2: The Big Bang Debate

xh3602The second speaker at the CFI ‘Science vs. Religion’ event was the popular science writer Simon Singh. Simon Singh is an excellent public speaker who gives very polished talks and he also happens to be one of my favourite science writers.

His talk on this occasion was on the Big Bang and the all too familiar battle between unyielding, dogmatic conservatives and progressive, open minded pioneers. The slight twist in this tale was that it was actually the religious figures who were being more open minded and the scientists who were being dismissive.

However, before parapsychologists and pseudoscientists everywhere get to celebrating, there is an important point worth recognising. Namely although the Big Bang story does illustrate how resistant to change everyone, including scientists, can be it also illustrates how as more and more evidence came in supporting the theory the scientific consesus did in fact shift. Thus the Big Bang is a good story for highlighting that science is somewhat unique as an endeavour, in that, no matter how much people resist a concept, when it  is true the evidence for it will eventually overcome any resistance.