Evaluating Wisdom Traditions

By wisdom tradition, I am including both religious and philosophical belief systems and practices. It should be obvious that not all wisdom traditions are true. The simple fact that they contradict each other is evidence enough of that. But the harder question is, how do you know what to accept and what to reject within a wisdom tradition. I want to answer that question now.

The simple answer is that it requires reason and skepticism. Reason helps to to think clearly and logically. But reason can be hijacked by blind acceptance of authority and tradition. That is why we need a healthy dose of skepticism. A questioning attitude is required to keep reason on the right track. We are aiming for truth, not the support of dogma.

Now in order to evaluate the beliefs and practices of a wisdom tradition, we need a criterion, a rule or test by which to judge them. Since our aim to to know the truth to the best of our ability, we must base our criterion on the available evidence.

Naturalism

Every belief and practice is seen through the filter of one’s particular worldview. It is impossible to not see things from a point of view. To think, we must think with a worldview. The worldview of Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism. The bottom line of naturalism is that only the natural world exists, either as a single universe or a multiverse. This conclusion is based on substantial evidence that we will not discuss here.

Since Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism, that means that we believe that only the natural world exists. Because this is our guiding principle, that means that, when evaluating another wisdom tradition, our first question should be, “Is the belief or practice naturalistic?”

I specifically picked Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism as the four main traditions because they are more naturalistic than other wisdom traditions. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are among the least naturalistic, and therefore were not chosen. But Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism are not completely naturalistic. Therefore their beliefs and practices need to be carefully evaluated.

Take Buddhism for example. Buddhism talks a lot about gods and ghosts, rebirth, multi-life karma, after death Nirvana, and the six realms. All of this is supernatural, not naturalistic. Philosophical Taoism also drifts into supernaturalism sometimes when dealing with the Tao. And Religious Taoism jumps right into the supernatural, making Laozi a god, and adding many other gods and demons. Even Stoicism gets off track with some of their beliefs about God and Providence. None of this is really in harmony with philosophical naturalism. So we reject all of this.

Evidence

Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism because the evidence for the supernatural is non-existent. By evidence I mean empirical evidence, and inferences based on it. By empirical I mean that the evidence is based on experiment and observation, that is, science. Science tells us what exists. There is no better or reliable method of objective knowledge. Any belief or practice that contradicts science is wrong.

But science does not tell us about the subjective experience of the mind. This is the realm of introspection and reason. This is where the wisdom traditions come in. They help us form a spirituality, but which I mean the expanding and deepening of awareness of our union with reality. It is this subjective world that is the hardest to navigate. We begin with the scientific study of the brain and behavior, and move to introspection and intersubjectivity, which means evaluating experiences among many people. To these we add the tests of logical consistency, explanatory power, practical usefulness, and beneficial results.

So in evaluating a belief or practice we begin with science as the best evidence, then move to psychology and neuroscience, then to philosophy, and finally to spirituality (religion). Notice we move from the most objective evidence to the most subjective. Every belief or practice should go through this evaluation. Then we can assess the strength of the evidence for the belief or practice. Some beliefs or practices can be accepted, others rejected, and some we need to suspend judgment on until the evidence is sufficient.

Naturalized

As I have already indicated, Buddhism’s doctrine of rebirth, as it stands, cannot be accepted. We have no evidence that people are reincarnated. In fact, the evidence is against it. The mind is what the brain does, once the brain stops, the mind disappears. But does that mean that there are no insights in the rebirth teaching?

If a belief or practice is not naturalistic, the question becomes do we reject the belief or practice, or can we naturalize it? That is, can the belief or practice be reinterpreted to be naturalistic? We should try to naturalize a belief or practice for the sole reason that it may reveal a hidden truth.

Again, let’s look at rebirth. Is there any way that a part of us continues on after we die? The answer is yes, we continue in our DNA. The Buddha knew nothing of DNA, so maybe the fact that traits are passed down led him to believe that karma was true, and hence, rebirth. But this is not a very helpful interpretation for us.

Another reinterpretation is that our lives leave a lasting impact on the people and things we touch. We influence many lives, for good and ill, and this influence lives on after we die. We call this our legacy. Here is a more helpful reinterpretation of rebirth.

One last reinterpretation, which is actually taught by meditation teachers, is that each day we are reborn. Everyday is the beginning of a new life. We are free to make today what we want. This is another helpful reinterpretation of rebirth.

So if a belief or practice is not naturalistic, try to reinterpret the belief or practice into a naturalistic belief or practice. If you cannot naturalize it, or a naturalized version is not helpful, abandon it. There are plenty of beliefs and practices that are aligned with Bodhidaoism.

Coherence

Coherence, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, is “the quality of being logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible.” Not all the beliefs and practices of other wisdom traditions will be coherent within Bodhidaoism. A belief or practice should only be accepted if it cohere with Bodhidaoism. If a belief or practice does not fit in the Bodhidaoism system of beliefs, then it should not be forced to fit.

All the beliefs and practices of Bodhidaoism are suppose to be logically integrated, consistent, and intelligible. If they are not, then we have a problem. That problem needs to be solved, whether by modifying the belief or practice, or by rejecting it.

Likes and Dislikes

One of the criterion that is not included is our own personal likes and dislikes. Just because you like an idea doesn’t make it true. Likewise, just because you don’t like an idea doesn’t make it false. We are aiming at a worldview that matches reality, not creating a fantasy land.

This is the problem with the New Age movement. People shop the spiritual market place looking for little trinkets to add to their spiritual shelf. This is why they run from one guru to another, from one spiritual practice to another. They are looking for comfort, not truth. They want the next spiritual high, not the hard and painful road to self-transformation. They want better lives, not to become better people.

Awakening to Reality as it truly is, is not necessarily a pleasant experience. But what do we want, the truth or fantasy? Bodhidaoism is not the path for those interested in illusions and feel-good highs. It is for philosophers, lovers of wisdom, people who want to know the truth as best we humans can. That means that we follow the evidence, not whims and wants.

The Four Disciplines

There are four disciplines that Bodhidaoism draws on for evidence and guidance. They are science, psychology, philosophy, and religion. I have listed them in the order of authority. Science is our most sure means of knowing the objective world. Psychology, and its various sub-branches, are the next surest means of knowing about the brain, behavior, and to a lesser extend the mind. Philosophy comes in as a close third to psychology, because a lot of psychology is philosophy. And last is religion, which is so diverse and contradictory that finding stable ground is hard.

Remember that Bodhidaoism is based on philosophical naturalism. That means that the more naturalistic a religion is, the better and more evidence based are its conclusions. This means that Buddhism, Taoism, and Stoicism are better are at reflecting the real world than Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. But there are aspects of these, and other religions as well, that may offer insights into our relationship with nature, humans, and the universe.

Science

Science is, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2014), “systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied.” As I have said, science is our most reliable means of knowing the objective world. Who can deny its success in explain the world? As Carl Sagan explains, “One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error correcting machinery at its heart” (1996, 27).

There are two major branches of hard science, the natural sciences and the formal sciences. The natural sciences include cosmology, geology, chemistry, and biology. The formal sciences include mathematics and logic. This is the source for our surest evidence about the world.

Psychology

Psychology is, according to the APA College Dictionary of Psychology (2016), “the study of the mind and behavior.” It includes psychology proper, and I would also include the other social sciences as well. This would include economics, political science, human geography, demography, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, jurisprudence, history, and linguistics.

The problem with psychology is that is part science and part philosophy of mind. And the parts are not always even. Freudian psychoanalysis has been largely discredited as a valid psychotherapeutic system. Most scholars agree that psychology is an infant science that is still struggling to become a full fledged science. Part of the reason is because psychology is trying to study the subjective mind. This is beyond objective observation and experimentation.

From a psychological perspective, phenomenology is an important help “in which mental events should be studied and described in their own terms,” to quote the APA College Dictionary of Psychology (2016). In other words, it attempts to understand the workings of the mind from the inside. In this sense, it has some similarities to Buddhism.

It should be noted that both Buddhism and Stoicism have had a major impact on psychology, being the inspiration for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. This goes to demonstrate the psychological insights of both Buddhism and Stoicism. This is one of the reasons that these wisdom traditions are important to Bodhidaoism.

Philosophy

Philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom.” Seneca said it best, “Philosophy is the love and pursuit of wisdom” (Letters 89.4-5; Long 1984, 160). It used to be about the art of living, but has become more specialized and disconnected from the world. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy gives the best modern definition, “philosophy is roughly the critical, normally systematic, study of an unlimited range of ideas and issues” (1999, xxix).

Only philosophy and religion give a person an overall view of reality and life. A worldview, as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary (1999), is “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” We need this to even function in the world. All people have one, but most are not aware of theirs. Most have a religious worldview, formed and shaped by a religion, usually Christianity in the United States.

The difference between religion and philosophy is that philosophy is more naturalistic and critical. It questions everything, sometimes to an extreme. Science grew out of philosophy, and was for centuries known as natural philosophy. Philosophy, then, is the birthplace of science. Until science answers a question, philosophy is out next best place to find answers.

Religion

Religion is defined by Daniel C. Dennett as, “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought” (2006, 9). It is this supernatural aspect is one of the things that corrupts the conclusions of any religion. The more the supernatural is present, the less reliable is the religion.

Another thing that corrupts the usefulness of any religion is the submission to authority. The founder said it, they believe it, and that settles it. Contrary evidence is either ignored, rejected, or reinterpreted to fit what they already believe. The founders authority condemns them to live at the level of the founders knowledge. Since most religions were founded before the age of modern science, these religions are old and out of date.

That means that anyone dealing with a religion must approach it with a critical eye. You must sort out the wheat from the chaff. We can see many trying to do this through secularizing their religion. We see this in Humanistic Judaism, Secular Christianity, Secular Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism, Humanistic Paganism, and many others. This secularized version provide helpful insights into what a religion can offer once the supernatural is eliminated.

Bodhidaoism is not a religion, it has no social system and avows no belief in supernatural agents of any kind. It is a philosophy, a way of looking at the world through the eyes of science and philosophical naturalism. If religion was humankind’s first attempt at understanding the world, then Bodhidaoism is the updated version.

References

Dennett, Daniel C. (2006) Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguin.
Sagan, Carl. (1996) The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House.

How to Develop a Worldview

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a worldview as, “The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.” Everyone has a worldview, a philosophy of life, but few are conscious of it. This is because a worldview is like a pair of glasses, it is something we look through, not something we look at.

Most people don’t consciously choose their worldview, rather it is inherited through one’s family, peers, or culture. The problem is that not all worldviews are equally true or promote human flourishing. And people stubbornly refuse to change their worldview, even when it is no longer working for them. This is especially true of people raised in a strong religious family or culture.

But some people do become aware that their worldview does not match up with reality and decide to change. The problem for many of us is that all ancient worldviews were born before modern science, so their picture of the universe and humankind is inaccurate. Humanism is the only popular and modern worldview that is honest with what science has revealed about the Cosmos. But Humanism generally lacks a spiritual dimension. Spiritual Naturalism, also a newer worldview, has done better, but it is more of an umbrella term covering many traditions attempts to secularize and modernize (such as Secular Buddhism and Humanistic Paganism).

So how does one go about developing a worldview of their own. What does one need to think about and what issues does one need to work through? I will warn you that it will not be easy. It is was easy everyone would be doing it. You will need a knowledge of science, psychology, religion, and philosophy to begin with. The deeper your knowledge of these areas the better. Let’s call your worldview by your first name. Mine would be Jayism.

Epistemology

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. How do you know that what you believe is true? You must first answer the question of what truth is. There are three popular conceptions of truth, the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, and the pragmatic theory. You have to decide which one is the right one. You also have to decide how the other theories relate to it.

You also have to decide whether truth is subjective, objective, or something else. If you say that truth is subjective, then no one is right or wrong. If it is objective, then you have to determine how it can be outside the human mind. Where in the outside world is truth located? Animals don’t know the truth. And if it is something else, what is it? And is truth even possible?

You will also have to decide what knowledge is. Is it justified true belief? Then you have to answer the Gettier problem. When we say that we know something is true, are we speaking of how sure we are (which is subjective) or how right we are (which is objective). How do these relate to knowledge.

Then you will also have to deal with the issue of justification. By what standard do you just the truth or falsehood of a claim? Do you base it on evidence? If so, then which evidence? Most people choose their beliefs based on what they like. Is is the path to truth or deception?

Should we trust science or not? Is their divinely inspired revelations or not? Do spirits of the dead or ascended master communicate through mediums? Where does personal experience fit into one’ theory of knowledge?

Metaphysics‎

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that deals with what exists and how the universe came to be. Does God exist? If so, what kind of God? Is there one God or many gods? Is this God transcendent, immanent, or both? Is the universe God, or did God create the universe? Are their angels, demons, heaven, hell, or other supernatural beings?

If you don’t believe in God, is the universe eternal or did it have a beginning? Is there only one universe or is there a multiverse? Is the universe sacred, or is nothing sacred? What is the universe made of? Is it matter, energy, information, or something else?

Anthropology

Where did life come from? Where we created by God or did we evolve from apes? If you accept evolution, was it a natural process or did God have a hand in it?

What is culture and what influence does it play in personal beliefs and practices? What is society and what influence does it have? How much is nature and how much is nurture?

What is human language and what affect does it play in shaping our thoughts and beliefs?

Psychology

What is a human being? Do they have souls? Do they have spirits? What is the mind? Is the mind what the brain does, or is it some spiritual essence? If we have a soul, when does it enter the body? At conception, at birth, or at the age of accountability?

What is temperament, personality, and character? Where is it located? Is it in the intellect, the will, the emotions? What are emotions or thoughts or choices?

Human Dilemma

Animals don’t need worldviews, why do humans seek meaning in life? What is wrong with humans that we suffering, kill others, harm others, and are generally unhappy? What went wrong? When did it go wrong? And what is the cause or causes of these problems.

Ethics

How should we live our lives? What are the rules of right behaviour? How do we become better people? What does it even mean to be better people?

Should we love our neighbor as ourselves, or should we look out for our own best interests? Is goodness dependent on the consequences of our acts, or does it deal with intention? What’s the difference between hot cognition and cold cognition, and how does this relate to virtues

Do we have any responsibility towards animals and other living things? Should we treat the earth with respect, or should we use its resources in whatever way makes us the most money?

Does happiness (eudaimonia) have any connection to virtues and right living? If so how?

Spirituality

Is there such a thing as spirituality? Can you be spiritual but not religious? What is spiritual awakening?

Does your spirituality include acceptance, mindfulness, and the seeking of inner peace? What do these even mean?

Do you believe in mystical and the mystic way (Purgative, Illuminative, Unitive). Are mystical experiences real, or are the just mental? If there are just mental, do they tells us anything about the real objective world?

Do you believe in spiritual direction, churches, memberships, clergy, or religious orders? What kind of organization should your worldview promote? Or do you believe in the sole practitioner and go it alone?

Spiritual Practices

If you believe in spirituality, what spiritual practices do you think will help you live out your worldview? Let me list a bunch: Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Sabbath, Secrecy, Submission, Reading, Prayer, Friendship, Service, Meditation, Study, Simplicity, Confession, ,Guidance, Celebration, Frugality, Chastity, Sacrifice, Giving, Stewardship, Journaling, Accountability, Spiritual Direction, Affirmation, Fellowship, Chanting, Concentration, Lovingkindness Meditation, Tonglin, Body Scan, Mantras, Mindfulness of Breathing, Mindfulness of one’s Posture, Mindfulness of one’s Physical Activities, Mindfulness of the Parts of the Body, Aspirations, Rites of Passage, Shinrin Yoku, Physical Exercise, Self-Compassion, Tantra, Visualization, Self-Dialog, and Walking Meditation.

How will you determine which ones are good, and which ones are helpful? Which spiritual traditions will you borrow from? How will you customize them to your needs?

Conclusion

Developing your own worldview is difficult to begin with, but if you want to make one that is in harmony with the real world and systematically coherent, you have quite a challenge on your hands. Most people find it easier to take a ready made worldview and customize it. I think this is the best route for most people.

But then there are people like me. I tried to customize two religions, Christianity and Buddhism. But after I was done, I didn’t feel like I could really call myself Christian or Buddhist. I know call myself a Spiritual Naturalist, but that it too general. It says enough to separate me from other religions and philosophies, but not enough to really get at what I believe.

I have spent 34 years studying philosophy, religion, psychology, and science, and only now feel confident enough to develop my own worldview, which I call Bodhidaoism. I have answered all the questions I have asked above, and I have carefully came to my own conclusions. It is in hopes of helping others, that I share my own worldview with you.

The Four Wisdom Traditions

There are four wisdom traditions that Bodhidaoism draws on for inspiration. They are Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, and Humanism. You will see that I list them in chronological order, not necessarily in order of importance. Although Bodhidaoism takes its name from Buddhism (Bodhi) and Taoism (daoism), Stoicism and Humanism are just as important. I felt that listing them in chronological order was better than listing them in alphabetical order.

It should also be noted that just because I list only four wisdom traditions, I do not mean to imply that other traditions have nothing to say. Since I was educated in Christianity and sense the West is steeped in Judeo-Christian culture, it would be naive to think that it has no influence on me. Furthermore, I have also studied other spiritual traditions such as Neo-Paganism and Gnosticism, and they have insights to offer as well. My primary concern is to be true to my commitment to science and naturalism.

Buddhism (5th Century BCE)

Buddhism was started by a man named Siddhartha Gautama. Most scholars place him in the 5th century BCE. Scholars believe he was born in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu (near modern day Nepal), which was the capital of Shakya. His father was the ruler and stories tell of his attempt to shelter young Siddhartha from the harsh realities of life – old age, sickness, and death.

But he left his family on a quest for awakening and studied meditation from two Hindu masters, Alara Kalama and Udaka Ramaputta. Although they helped him reach advanced states of tranquility, he did not find the awakening he sought. He then tried years of strict asceticism. This ended up to be more of a hindrance than a help, and he felt that a middle way between asceticism and indulgence was wiser.

It wasn’t until he was 35 years old that he discovered vipassana or insight meditation and experienced awakening. After this he gained the title of the Buddha, meaning “the awakened one.” Vipassana is a way of spiritual transformation through the non-attached observation of body, feelings, and mind states. It is commonly referred to today as mindfulness meditation. It is a method of learning how the mind causes its own unhappiness and how to stop it from doing this.

The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths of suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering which is clinging, the end of suffering, and the Eightfold Noble Path leading to the end of suffering. The Eightfold Noble Path includes Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. He also the three characteristics of existence: not-self, impermanence, and suffering.

Taoism (4th Century BCE)

The term “Taoism” is the older Wade-Giles method of rendering Mandarin Chinese into English. The newer and officially recognized method by the People’s Republic of China, is the Pinyin or Hanyu Pinyin system. In Pinyin it is “Daoism” instead of “Taoism.” However, most people in the West still know it as Taoism, and so I use that to speak of it. But note that I use the new Pinyin system in Bodhidaoism.

Unlike Buddhism, Taoism was not started by a single person. It began as a movement. Until recently, the Tao Te Ching was the oldest surviving writing of this movement. It was said to have been written by a man named Laozi (which literally means “old master”). But most scholars reject this. It is more likely that the Tao Te Ching is an anthology originating in late 4th century BCE.

Taoism can be divided between Philosophical Taoism (Tao Chia) and Religious Taoism (Tao Chiao). Some scholars object to this division, but it does represent a clear distinction between the naturalistic sense of early Taoism and the supernatural leanings of later Taoism. Taoism became an organized religion in 142 C.E. when Zhang Daoling founded the Way of the Celestial Masters. He claims to have received spiritual communications from the deified Laozi. To me, this was a corruption of the philosophy of Taoism and renders Taoism after this of limited worth.

Philosophical Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with the Way (Tao) of Nature. Taoism teaches the practice of wu wei, or effortless action, which is similar to Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow. It also encourages naturalness, simplicity, and spontaneity. The Three Treasures of Taoism are compassion, frugality, and humility.

Stoicism (3rd Century BCE)

Stoicism began with a man named Zeno of Citium, who taught in Athens from about 300 BCE. It took its name from the Stoa Poikile or “the painted porch” where Zeno taught. Stories about Zeno say that he was a merchant. After surviving a shipwreck, he wandered into a bookshop in Athens and was read some writings about Socrates. When he asked how to find such a man as Socrates, he was directed to the Cynic Crates of Thebes. He studied many other philosophies until he started his own school.

The history of Stoicism can be divided into three phases, the Early, Middle, and Late Stoa. Unfortunately, only fragments survive from the Early and Middle Stoa. It is from the Late Stoa that we have Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. The Stoics looked at philosophy as the art of living, not as an academic exercise or limited to intellectual puzzles. Philosophy was a way of life that affected every part one’s activities and relationships.

Stoicism aimed to provide a philosophy of life, a worldview, which would give a person a unified account of the world. It teaching was usually divided into three branches: logic, physics and ethics. It is its ethical teachings that are important today. It was based on four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. It laid great emphasis on reason and the need to live in agreement with Nature. It also taught people how to achieve happiness (Eudaimonia) through spiritual exercises. It was a very successful school, becoming the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

Humanism (20th Century CE)

Humanism is a modern philosophical and ethical system. Although the term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century, it was not until 1929 that modern Humanism began. At that time, Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York. The advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. In 1930 Charles Francis Potter and his wife Clara Cook Potter published Humanism: A New Religion.

The Humanist Manifesto was published in 1933 and marks the official beginning of Humanism as an organized movement. It says that, “The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions the world over are under the necessity of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience.”
In the years that followed, Humanism took a turn towards dropping its original religious language and became more secular. It was itself “coming to terms with new conditions.” In its latest statement, the Humanist Manifesto III, it says that, “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.” Humanism emphasizes ethics and looking to science rather than revelation to understand the world.

The Four Compared

It is interesting that the four wisdom traditions tend to be more complementary than contradictory. Many have noticed the similarities between Stoicism and Buddhism. And who can deny the similarities between Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The odd man out is Humanism. Humanism would deny the God of Stoicism, especially in the providence that they claimed for Deity. Humanism would also reject Buddhism’s claims of rebirth and cosmic karma. There are also aspects of Taoism, especially Religious Taoism that Humanism would reject.

But I contend that Humanism is right to reject them. “The time has come for…. Religions the world over [to come] to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience.” But Humanism has been to reactionary, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It tends to be too human centered and neglects or denies the spiritual aspects of human existence. You don’t need to believe in the supernatural to know that there is a spiritual aspect to human existence, a need to connect with reality and find meaning and happiness.

Buddhism and Stoicism deal with becoming better and happier people. Buddhism does this by developing consciousness, Stoicism does it by developing reason. Humanism and Taoism deal with our relationship with reality. Humanism does it by a rational and scientific approach to the objective world, Taoism does it by personal and spiritual approach to the subjective world. Humanism is the yang, Taoism is the yin, but together they bring us into reality as it truly is.

Christianity has shaped the language and the social structure we live it. Paganism has shaped our superstitions and imagination. Both have positives and negatives from a Bodhidaoist perspective. There is no creator God or magical beings. But they influence us, our thinking and our lagangage. The keys is to become aware of these influences and be wise in dealing with them. Rejecting some, accepting some, and modifying others. Bodhidaoism is not a closed system, but is open to revision and modification as we receive further light. Evidence is our final authority.

Hurricane Harvey, Climate Change, and a Post-Truth World

Is climate change real? There is a lot of confusion about climate change. Some question whether it is even real, while others deny that it is caused by humans. Many people feel disconnected from what the effects of climate change would be. Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey has hit Texas and Louisiana with what CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen labeled a “one-in-1,000-years type of event.”[1]

Did climate change play a part in this heart wrenching disaster? Washington Post reporter Ishaan Tharoor explains, “Climate change may not have ’caused’ Hurricane Harvey, but it seems likely that warming temperatures — the consequence of man-made greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere — exacerbated the storm conditions.”[2] We have never seen a storm in the United States like Hurricane Harvey. Eric Holthaus from POLITICO Magazine is blunt, “Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”[3] Michael E Mann, professor of meteorology and director of the Earth System Science Centre at Pennsylvania State University, states, “while we cannot say climate change “caused” Hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say is that it exacerbated several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life. Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.”[4]

So why is there still doubt about climate change? Eric Mack from Forbes warns, “Climate change arguments are among the least productive because typically I’ve found each side is working from their own set of facts or worldviews that are incompatible with each other and make it impossible to find any common ground.”[5] This is strange, isn’t it. They are working from “their own set of facts.”

There can be no doubt that worldviews not only determine what you see, they determine how you see. But facts, these should be true no matter what your worldview. Not seeing the facts because of one’s worldview happens. But are we really to believe that truth no longer matters? That all we care about is our comfort, our convenience, our self-interest?

A Post-Truth World

“Post-Truth” is the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016. It defines post-truth as, “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”[6] It seems that truth, the correspondence between thought and reality, is no longer that important.

We all need to learn how to think critically. It is a skill that we will need to maneuver through this post-truth world. A statement that says something is so, is called a claim. All claims are either true or false. Based on the evidence, we can do one of three things with a claim: accept it, reject it, or suspend judgment about it. Each choice should be based on evidence. If the evidence shows it is probably true, we should accept the claim. If the evidence is divided and could be either true or false, we should suspend judgment. If there is little or no evidence for the claim, we should reject it.

Is Climate Change Real?

So what is the evidence for climate change? The Union of Concerned Scientists says that the planet’s temperature is rising, carbon dioxide levels are increasing in the atmosphere, and we know that increased CO2 is the primary driver of global warming.[7] The National Aeronautics and Space Administration states that “The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling.”[8] They then provide several lines of evidence:

(1) Sea level rise: Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century.
(2) Global temperature rise: All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.
(3) Warming oceans: The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
(4) Shrinking ice sheets: The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.
(5) Declining Arctic sea ice: Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.
(6) Glacial retreat: Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world – including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.
(7) Extreme events: The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.
(8) Ocean acidification: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.
(9) Decreased snow cover: Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.[9]

In a joint publication of The US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, declared, “Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, accompanied by sea-level rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes. The evidence is clear.”[10]

Notice the last sentence, “The evidence is clear.” The US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society is the largest body of scientists, and they have collectively said that “humans are changing Earth’s climate.” Why doesn’t the American public know this? Why is there still doubt? It seem to be so clear.

What is the Consensus of Scientists?

If all this is so clear, why do we keep hearing on media that the scientists are in doubt? They are not. The vast majority of scientists believe that global warming is real and that humans are contributing to it. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration states that, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”[11]

Clearly the scientific consensus is that “global warming is real and that humans are contributing to it.” but, with few exceptions, this is not what you will hear in the media. And there still are millions of people who either deny climate change outright, or they are in doubt about it.

Why is there Still Doubt?

Money is why there are still doubts. Big oil is not going down without a fight. They know that they can’t fight the science, the evidence is there. So they have decided to cast doubt in the political and public arena. Nothing will get done as long as people doubt the science. That’s what they want. There is a great documentary called Merchants of Doubt, that explains this in detail. It traces the connection from tobacco industry tactics to the fossil fuel industry.

But for many Americans, the question is not about the facts. They see government intervention as a threat to freedom. They don’t want to change their lifestyle or way of living. They are not interested in looking too closely at the “boring” science. They prefer to listen to the “experts” of front groups that sound legitimate, such as the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, and others. As the Union of Concerned Scientists explains, “These organizations play a key role in the fossil fuel industry’s “disinformation playbook,” a strategy designed to confuse the public about global warming and delay action on climate change. Why? Because the fossil fuel industry wants to sell more coal, oil, and gas — even though the science clearly shows that the resulting carbon emissions threaten our planet.”[12]

It is funny, isn’t it. All this talk that global warming is a conspiracy and a hoax, and it turns out the other way around. The real hoax is the lie that climate is not changing because of human activities. Without studying the facts, one can understand why the American public is confused. But if, as the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, has said, “Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time,” then we have an obligation to inform ourselves. You could start by watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary entitled, Before the Flood.

Conclusion

I am not a scientist, but I have studied Climate Change and Environmental Science at several schools, including Curtin University, Chalmers University of Technology, University of British Columbia, and Dartmouth College. So I write this as an informed citizen of planet Earth. I can assure you that climate change is real, and that we are to blame for it. Those interested in living an evidence based life have no choice but to accept the reality of climate change.

But after you realize the truth about climate change, a sense of helplessness may set in. Sure you can xeriscape your lawn, use high-efficiency appliances, recycle and use recyclable packaging, replace your light with LED or fluorescent bulbs, install a solar panel, walk or bike more, and even buy an electric or fuel-efficient car. But that may not be enough.

The most important thing we must do is to change the government. That will take the majority of Americans believing in global warming. There are many hurdles to this – religion, ideology, and conspiracy theory thinking. Once the majority of the American people believe, they need to vote for politicians who believe in climate change. But this means that they need to view climate change, not as a side issue, but as “one of the defining issues of our time.”

Endnotes

1. https://thinkprogress.org/pence-im-not-anti-science-but-i-don-t-believe-in-global-warming-stem-cell-research-or-evolution-f823856e5198#.aeic8vdbw
2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/29/hurricane-harvey-and-the-inevitable-question-of-climate-change/
3. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/08/28/climate-change-hurricane-harvey-215547
4. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/28/climate-change-hurricane-harvey-more-deadly
5. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2016/11/11/donald-trump-says-climate-change-is-a-hoax-lets-discuss/#5da176971d50
6. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016
7. http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/science-and-impacts/global-warming-science#.WC5NaXUrJkU
8. http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
9. Ibid.
10. http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/exec-office-other/climate-change-full.pdf
11. http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
12. http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/fight-misinformation/global-warming-skeptic.html#.WC5ZLHUrJkU