TED Conversations

Bernard White


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Can we ever design an experiment which can determine whether God exists?

I just find it hard to believe when people say : "There is no evidence for God". Yes there isn't because we can't design an experiment to prove or disprove this hypothesis.
However a very important thing, Which I devoted a whole TED Debate to (Here is the link to that debate : http://www.ted.com/conversations/17001/can_god_be_defined_or_in_othe.html), is that to work out whether the hypothesis is true we must first define what we mean by "God" (and "existence" for that matter), which I have found doesn't prove to be very successful. Otherwise we can't advance into going to making experiment for this hypothesis.
In science (I believe) theories can only be disproved and never proved to be "certain", so in this sense everybody has to be an agnostic about God, unless some genius in the TED community can come up with an experiment.
While another problem remains that we base all data we have on experimental data we have gained from the past, and expect the future to be consistent.

So in this sense I am a strong agnostic / Ignostic because God hasn't really been defined (and only has subjective definitions) and that I can't genially think of an experiment to determine whether God exist of not. So yes in the literal sense there is no "evidence" but that's only because no experiment have been done.
(Also there remains the slight problem with the fact that there is a degree of uncertainness in everything, and that no matter how logical and rational a hypothesis may seem it can always be proved false, or untrue)

My final point would be I see no correlation with an absence of evidence, and an evidence of absence! (This is very important)

And of-course, I apologize for repeating myself (if I have done so!) and my awful spelling and grammar.
Just so I say now, so I get no confusion, this is just an honest enquiry as to whether it can be done! (Not trying to reduce "God" in any way!)


Closing Statement from Bernard White

I'm slightly worreid I won't do a good job of this summary but here I go :

I must first say this :
I implore everybody to look at my "new" God debate :
What does the theological implications do the "Psychology" and "Neuroscience" (and possibly biology) of religion/ "God(s)" have?
Link : http://www.ted.com/conversations/18226/what_does_the_theological_impl.html

This has been a wonderful debate with lots of interesting idea's. However I view, with the majority consensus, (and please correct me if I have got this wrong) that there isn't a experiment which can (dis)prove the existence of "God(s)".
I would just like to congratulate everybody for their amazing contributions to the conversation. It has given me a lot to ponder.
Kind regards (to all),

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  • Apr 7 2013: Sorry Obey No1 ...,
    TED's software is not letting me respond to your good point and implied (I believe), question at the point of its insertion. So, Im going to have to put this response up at the top of the heap - sorry.
    I think you'll agree, Buddhism (as a religion / ideology), has many permutations. There are some similarities when reading the literature - specifically "The Book of Going Forth By Day" ('Egyptian Book of the Dead'); "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" (which I can't put my hand on this moment .... Gurrrr!) and Qabalistic writings concerning the experiencial/exploration known as "Throne Chariot Rising".
    But back to buddhism; If you have a Buddhist temple and or book store near you, you may find an informative little book called "Short Descriptions of Gods, Goddesses and Ritual Objects of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal",2002 by Handicraft Association of Nepal, P.O. Box 784, Kathmandu, Nepal. There is an entire chapter on this, as well as "Taras" or Buddhist saints that are prayed to (such as "Green Tara", an early woman follower of the Buddha).

    To a larger point, the early greek consciousness explorers, such as Plato are taught only in 'philosophy' coarses. The closest the western ed. system has to meteaphysics studies are psi or consciousness research. But, his (Plato's), ideas of a hidden, unseen 'ideal' form - existing beneath our 'physical', perceptual experiece has been resurrected by quantum physicists as a metaphor to describe David Bohm's "Implicate Order".
    Just as humans have turned the inner explorations of the Buddha into either a religion on one hand or a 'phylosophy' on the other - rather than actually following The Buddha's work example. The same could be said for 'followers' of a god head, known at that historical time as Jesus.
    The (and I will say), great Buddha experienced the great, vast 'void' and the heart of all reality. The fact that he did not anthropomorphize it, did not make it any less real to him.
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      Apr 7 2013: Sorry to interrupt in this conversation. (I just thought from your reply to Obey No 1, you might know about this topic!)
      But I personally have never got why Buddhism is held in such high regard compared to other religions.
      It believes in reincarnation, and that the dalai lama is the Buddha "reincarnate", (which from many of the New Atheist perspective or there needing to be evidence to make any claim valid, I don't see much evidence to suggest that reincarnation is correct, at this current moment in time.) and that "desire is the root to all suffering". While I would say rationalization was, but am happy to debate this with many.
      I mean, do Buddhists want us just to be zombies? With no desire, or wishes. I am afraid I could not live in a world like that.
      Buddhism, has a focus on getting rid of consumerism (and focus more on happiness economics), yet when my brother visited some Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka, some Buddhist monks forced him to pay to see the monasty, and made him pay more if he wanted to stay. Which seems rather ironic.
      Also I find it rather odd when people say Buddhists are the most "peaceful" when they have extreme discrimination against Islam, which goes contrary to their own beliefs.
      I hope you can help with this dilemma I have.
      While I am willing to accept that Buddhism does have some amazing insights into what people fulfilled and happy (Which to be honest, I feel is quite amazing, and the main reason they are held in such high regard. And their research into meditation) I just disagree with (from what I understand of my very limiting knowledge of Buddhism) with some of the things they say!
      I just view Buddhism in the same light, as I view all religions. (Which is strong agnosticism concerning their spiritual beliefs)
      • Apr 7 2013: its not like you have to go all or nothing . take what you like and be on your way.there's truth in a lot of different religions. i don't see any thing wrong with taking bits and pieces to form your personal belief.
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          Apr 7 2013: :D True! Sometimes I forget that...
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          Apr 8 2013: I totally agree Nathan....well said:>)

          Many religions and philosophical beliefs started out with some good ideas.....the golden rule for example. Many times, however, dogma created after that is sometimes not so useful in our global community.

          Actually, it makes more sense to me, to evaluate all beliefs and practices and see what works for us as individuals. As thinking, feeling, intelligent humans we have the ability to sift through information to determine what feels like "truth" to us as individuals:>)
      • Apr 7 2013: Hi Bernard!
        I'm not a Buddhist and no an expert. But I will try to express my thoughts in this area - as always, subject to change and revision.
        The real man, who recieved the title Buddha, meaning 'enlightened one', was a high born person who turned his back on wealth and privilege of his position to try to find out what is real and important, for himself. If nothing else, he was certainly a courageous fellow - hence my admiration.
        The main question most associated with him is the search for an answer for the reason (if any), for human suffering. I believe his answer is often misunderstood - ie. the need to extinguish all human desire and passion. This was obviously a very (com)passionate person! Still, I disagree with him on this. This boot camp is to spawn questions.
        Again, we have the disconnect between 'religion', theology - and experiencial exploration on the other side - pun intended:) with regards to reincarnation. Which by the way was believed in by greeks and jews of Jesus' 'physical'/historical time (see Gospel account of Jesus' short eulogy of his cousin John, when hearing of his cousin's murder) and Qabala. I don't like religion, theology and dogma. I try to rely on personal experience instead. I have found (through personal exploration), evidence for past lives (for me,) not as a theological mechanism - such as in Buddhism or Hinduism. And there is some interesting documentation and research on this area. I, at this point think core-entities (along with their family of lives-experiences), come back at specific times and for specific reasons or projects.
        So, is the current Dali Lama the once historical 'Buddha'? I can't say and won't judge. During a prayerful meditative consecretion of my ascension studio, the god-head Jesus AND Its (apparently), very close companion Gautama Siddhartha did chime in with effectionate best wishes for me! A completely unexpected and wonderful surprise that still warms my heart! Problem? QED non-locality?
      • Apr 9 2013: Hey Bernard!
        This could be a very interesting idea for an other side discussion!
        ObeyNo1 ... has more direct experience with Buddhists and Buddhist teachers. I think he may be willing to give us his input.
        I think part of the Buddhist 'mystique' is the life of the man, himself. I'm sure alot of this is now shrouded in legend and religious paradigm, But, what we believe we may know - is facinating, inspiring and ponderous, even if we may not agree with his conclusions that were based on his dimensional explorations.
        I wouldn't want this side discussion to become too complicated. But, it might be interesting to compare / contrast his experiences and teachings with more contemporary practicianers of the west; such as Emanuel Swedenborg, Dion Fortune, Sylvan Muldoon, Robert Monroe, Robert Bruce, William Buhlman or even Russell Targ. Just a thought, Bernard.
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          Apr 9 2013: I'll think I'll write that debate right now, before I forget! (and might start it up!)
          I'll need help writing the description though! (Because I don't much about Buddhism!)
      • Apr 10 2013: Hi Bernard!
        It may be possible that we could have some practicing Buddhists in our discussion group who may also like to contribute too!
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          Apr 10 2013: Agree.
          I can't thumb you up any more! How annoying!
          How do we find them though?
      • Apr 10 2013: Hi Bernard!
        Ha,Ha - I can!
        If they choose not to come forward from our group, for there own reasons. We could try to find interested folks in the "Religion" conversation areas. I'll start looking with you tommorrow in these areas, if you wish. We'll see what happens ...
        I think you should try to give me an idea of how you would like to present this idea to them (for me first), - assuming, of course you think my help would be useful to you.
        Meanwhile, my wife is STRONGLY encouraging me to get off the computer and get ready for bed. It's 11:50 PM here and old farts like me need our rest you know!
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        Apr 10 2013: I dont claim to be an expert or a buddhist, but seeing it inpractice really broiadened my understanding.Don't get me wrong there is some good stuff in the core teachings of Buddhism. Its probably the cultural practice that can be sexist, e.g. don't hold your breathe for a female dalai lama. Buddhist leaders are men.

        other thing I found was reincarnation was sometime used to reinforce status. If you were born into power and money you must deserve it. If born dirt poor you must deserve that. But I guess most the issues were a sexist culture.

        As to why it is held in so high regard, I guess in part it might be because it is less familiar than the abrahamic traditions, so we see it divorced from the culture, and there are some powerful concepts that reason ate with people. I think it compares very favorably with the the old testament god and the apocalyptic aspects of the new testament and aspects of Islam.

        Buddhists are also not seen as a threat to western countries and not tied to the mess in the middle east etc. But we tend to forget Tibet was a funeral Buddhist mess. Buddhists are fighting other groups in Myanmar etc.

        Overall I find the core Buddhist teaching less objectionable than other Morality and evil god of the old testament, ordering genocide, regulating slavery, ordering homosexuals to be killed, and drowning everyone except Noah's family etc. Maybe others do too.
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          Apr 10 2013: Actually If you don't mind me asking, would you be willing to start up the debate. Seems I don't know very much about Buddhism! :) (I can try and help you though!)
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          Apr 10 2013: I had a similer experience Obey....participating in the practice of Buddhism, broadened my understanding. There are some powerful concepts that resonate with me, many similar to Sufism, in my perception, which I also practiced and explored.

          One thing I discovered, and was disappointed with, is that with both these beliefs/practices (Buddism & Sufism), as well as the other religious/philosophical beliefs I explored and practiced over a period of many years, people within the group did not walk their talk. They were not "living" what they preached, and that never made sense to me, even as a child, when I witnessed that in the catholic church.

          I see no point in aligning myself with any group of people who preach the good "stuff", and do not truly "live" what they are preaching. To me, PRACTICING the beneficial concepts in our everyday life is more important than preaching it, while contradicting the beliefs in the life experience.

          We see this all the time here on TED....people who claim to believe in a god who is unconditionally loving, and yet he/she/it will send a lot of us to everlasting suffering in hell??? Those folks who claim to believe in a loving god support that belief??? It doesn't make sense to me.

          Actually, although this is not an "official" belief in Buddism and Sufism, the "idea" was certainly there that some folks were just "better" than everyone else....some folks, who reached a certain level (in their perception) seemed to feel that it was ok to preach the words, and NOT truly LIVE the beliefs.
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          Apr 10 2013: Well here the general theme of it is :
          Hope you look at it, and give me advice! (:D).
      • Apr 10 2013: Hey Bernard!
        Stop the presses ... ! Always wanted to say that!
        After talking to you last night, I experienced what felt like a cautionary nudge. Here is how it came out.
        If there are any practicing Buddhist in our group, why would they want to raise their heads from cover and make themselves a target of skeptical scutiny? Think of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck!
        We are after all, a known quantity. Our conversations here have not always maintained a consistant quality of civility.
        Any Buddhists (from within TED's 'Religion' areas), if asked to join in on a discussion would probably first look at our record or demeanor - which could well be a deal breaker. So,why should they bother?
        Might it actually be more fruitful for those folks (with these kinds of questions), to find a Buddhist discussion group (in TED or else where), and ask their questions of practicing Buddhists on their turf? Perhaps (for them), a safer feeling place?
        One last thought for us folks to consider is the meaning of 'peaceful'. Does that always mean passive(ist), - a sort of 'roll-over and play dead', ... 'turn the other cheak' ... ? I don't remember that we have ever really discussed or defined this? Can people who are willing to defend their culture, family or selves still be be considered 'peaceful' as apposed to aggressive or expansionist?
        Anyway, my thoughts for the morning, Bernard.
        Have a great day! Talk to you soon!
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          Apr 10 2013: Hey Jordan,
          Good points on several levels:>)

          TED encourages staying on topic with discussions, and because it is a public forum on which people can pop into a conversation at any time, it seems considerate to follow this preference.

          This discussion topic is..."Can we ever design an experiment which can determine whether God exist or not?"

          If this comment thread turned into a discussion of Buddhism, it may be confusing for new people coming into the discussion, and the TED TEAM may simply delete off-topic comments. So, your idea to start another discussion for a different topic is a good one:>)
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          Apr 10 2013: Haha! I shall start that new conversation right away, before I get too side tracked!
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          Apr 10 2013: Well here the general theme of it is :
          Hope you look at it, and give me advice! (:D).
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        Apr 10 2013: Bernard,
        Are you aware that the link you provide indicates "page not found"?

        Looks like it connects to a site now.
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          Apr 10 2013: Oh dear, no I wasn't.
          It is still being submitted to TED conversation people, so that may be why!
          Oh we'll, in 24 hours it 'should' be up!
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      Apr 8 2013: Hi Jordon I lived in a Buddhist country for several years, read and discussed a lot about it, went to temples with Buddhist friends, even Buddhist funerals, spoke with monks etc, also aware it is not monolythic. Its actually quite sexist in some practices but some of the teachings like the middle road etc resonated with me, an atheist.

      Buddhists are humans and not necessarily as peaceful as many assume, but perhaps the teachings have less potential or focus on warfare compared to their abrahamic traditions.

      I remember a great discussion with one Buddhist about whether the Buddha believed in gods. I suggested he probably did, but found them unnessary to escape the cycle of reincarnation. I note mythology about Buddha facing Mara etc.

      I'm not surprised about all the commonalities people can find, especially where mythologies may have influenced each other e.g. the Hebrews borrowing from the babyloniuans etc. Seems people looking for connections gloss over all the profound differences in many traditions.

      I agree the institutions are sometimes at odds with core teachings, but I personally think it most likely all religions and as spiritual beliefs are human constructs and the existence of gods and spirits is highly speculative and not necessary at all to end up with what we have in regards to religious beliefs and experiences so called prophets and conflicting scriptures and revelations.

      Each to their own exploration I guess, but the certainty people exhibit in this'd most speculative field is amazing. So many conflicting beliefs held with such certainty.
      • Apr 8 2013: Hi Obey No1 ...!
        I agree with you, It's a fuddly mess - to be sure! I work (through diligent introspection), and skeptical, critical self-observation to find and release religious thinking. Religions / ideologies are a hinderance to stepping out in front of the status quo and find answers - dispite our still primative technology, stiff paradigms, and 'angle of perception' issues. Until then, I'll have to follow the personal existential way of accepting personal responsibility for what I find in my explorations and keep an open, skeptical mind to my best effort.
        Your experience with Buddhism exceeds mine and your points are well taken. I have begun collecting Buddhist sculpture from Tibet. The fascist chinese government is systematically trying to dismantle that culture. Beautiful sculptures, hundreds of years old are being chopped up for fire wood. How they choose to respond to this - I'm not going to judge.
        As I responded (Ithink to Bernard), I have personal experience with what I believe maybe past life experiences - using ultra-deep meditation. I can't verify the religious Buddhist tenent of reincarnation as an automatic mechanism leading to the eventual end of the Karmic process. But, I do think it may be highly individual - for each, individual (as a family of soul sets?).
        Anyway, thanks for your helpful and intersesting input. Much appreciated!
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          Apr 9 2013: I've enjoyed the discussion too. Thnx
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          Apr 9 2013: You know what, this would make a really interesting debate in iteself :
          "Why is Buddhism held in such high regard?
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          Apr 10 2013: It was also tragic when the buddhist statues in Afghanistan were blown up.

          I feel for the ethnic Tibetans. However, its probably no worse than what happened to indigenous peoples in the Americas and elsewhere colonised by Europeans. Although 2 wrongs don't make as right, and its kind of thee way things work, the strong thrive and the weak struggle to survive.

          Reincarnation is not something I subscribe to, so I won't comment on the supposed mechanics. It is all very speculative to me. Plenty of stuff on the web I guess.
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          Apr 10 2013: Put my comment in the wrong place. Some thoughts on perception of Buddhism above.
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        Apr 9 2013: Bernard,
        Why is Buddhism held in such high regard?

        Perhaps because it is a little more open.....less dogmatic? At least the original beliefs are less dogmatic. I think some segments of Buddhism are getting more dogmatic.
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          Apr 9 2013: Agree, it is worrying.
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          Apr 10 2013: In a way Buddhism doesn't treat humans as sinners that need the blood sacrifice of a god to be saved. We can improve ourselves etc etc.

          Many of the negative aspects I saw reflected the underlying sexist and heirachical culture. Westerners seem to focus on there core messages more than the sexist and heirachical aspects in Asian culture.

          While I don't subscribe to the speculative and mythical aspects, there are some breast teachings for all. There are some good teachings in the bible too, but more negatives as well. You have to cherry pick more in the bible to find the bits free of violence and sexism.
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          Apr 10 2013: Well here the general theme of it is :
          Hope you look at it, and give me advice! (:D).
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        Apr 12 2013: That is my understanding as well Obey...Buddhism does not tell little children they are sinners when they arrive in this earth school! Children come into our world trusting, honest, curious, loving little beings, and they are sometimes told they are sinners, and will have to spend their whole life struggling, suffering and sacrificing in order to repent! What a horrible thing to do to children!

        These same children, as grown adults, are asking the questions... How can I experience peace? Contentment? Happiness? Passion? What is unconditional love? etc. etc. etc.

        When children are indoctrinated with the idea that the life experience is about struggle, sacrifice and suffering, THAT is what they will experience. That bit of information, is enough to convince me that there is no god. I do not believe a god would create this beautiful world, send beautiful little innocent, curious beings here, and tell them they have to suffer and repent for something they did not do!!! Simply doesn't make sense.

        Buddhism seems to encourage more exploration, improvement through learning and being present in the moment. I like the opportunity to be free of certain structured practices and dogma, so I can explore EVERYTHING:>)

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