A friend sent me an email suggesting I have a look at a website whose author has apparently been making a lot of noise over at the e-Sangha discussion board. The site has the deliberately cheeky name "The Buddha Was Wrong." There's nothing really new here, it's the same tired old retreads of the materialist/skeptic position.
Take his article on Rebirth as an example; he states that "there are literally hundreds of scientific studies of brain death which proves the mind does not exist when the last neuron in the brain fires." This is the kind of zero content statement materialists love to throw around. What studies, where and by whom? Obviously there are no such studies, nor ever could be even in principle. How can you prove that mind does not exist?
On the contrary, materialist science is quite unable to account for what philosopher of mind David J. Chalmers calls "The Hard Problem." That is, the simple reality of knowing; consciousness or in Pali citta. Consider the difference between facial recognition software looking at your face and your best friend doing the same. In both cases, there is an initial impact of light waves on a sensitive mechanism (eyes, camera) then the signal is converted and sent to a processor (fibre-optics to a computer, nerves to a brain) where further parsing and decoding occurs. In both cases the output is a "recognition" of your face. But only in the case of your friend is there a subjective, first-person singular experience of seeing.
This end-point of knowing is so perfectly immediate and simple that it cannot, even in theory, be reduced to an algorithmic explanation. There is either a knowing (in the case of your friend) or there is not (in the case of the facial-recognition system.) Everything else in the system can be explicated algorithmically, at least in theory. This last and crucial step cannot.
Why is this important? Because if mind were a physical process, depending on neurons, then it would have to be capable of an algorithmic explanation. "Neuron A fires and sets off neuron B which constitutes knowing." Even to put it in these terms demonstrates the absurdity of it. No, the Buddha was right after all.
Incidentally, perhaps the only statement on this web-site that I agree with is this; "Without the concept of rebirth, the rest of Buddhist philosophy breaks down and becomes irrelevant." I've been saying that for years.
Fortunately, we don't have to abandon rebirth or accept materialism. There is really zero evidence for the latter and quite a bit for the former. The author of the site mentions the recently deceased Ian Stevenson, just to dismiss his meticulous case-studies as "anecdotal." Really, by the nature of the problem, how could there be definitive evidence that isn't of an anecdotal nature? Anyone who has taken the trouble to look into Dr. Stevenson's work will know that he has collected hundreds of cases where a child's past life memories have been objectively verified, even to the remembering of specific names and details of someone's life in another town.
But there are other indicators of rebirth in the common domain. For instance, the remarkable cases of child prodigies. Someone like Mozart learning to play the piano at seven, or Morphy learning chess even earlier simply by watching adults play. The remarkable thing about these individuals is the culturally specific nature of their precocious ability. It isn't a case of strong general intelligence, but of coming into the world with a narrowly specific skill already there, taking only a little nudge to recover.
Furthermore, any parent will tell you that children come into this world with strong personal traits. And the case of identical twins proves that there is something other than either nature or nurture at play. Twins who came from the same zygote, with the same DNA down to the last base pair, and raised by the same parents, can still manifest different personalities.
I could go on. There is the odd phenomenon of people developing strong affinities to a particular foreign culture or historical period. There is love (or aversion!) at first sight. A totally irrational sense that I already know this person, this person is important to me.
None of this this will convince the "skeptic" (in quotes because most of them aren't sceptical at all, in the real sense). Their minds are already made up and they don't want to be bothered with what they dismiss as anomalies. And admittedly, none of this should count as final definitive evidence. But it is fair to say that all of these things are more easily explained with rebirth than without it.
Back to the Buddha Was Wrong website; the author's strong bias shows through in many spots. In his entry for "The Buddha" he shows a picture of a mud shack and claims that this is what the prince Gotama's famous palace must have looked like. I'm not sure what he was trying to prove with this, but it just shows the typical ahistorical prejudice of the modern materialist. Ancient India was quite a bit more advanced than this, as both archaelogy and literary sources attest. Nor is there any justice to his snide comment that "There were no tooth brushes in those days and human hygiene wasn’t much better." Even a cursory reading of the Vinaya texts demonstrates that there was meticulous attention to personal hygeniene not excluding oral. There are numerous passages about the proper manufacture and use of "tooth-sticks." The author doesn't serve the credibility of his cause with such ludicrous historical errors.
I won't go into his very protestant diatribes against the monastic order, for fear of sounding partisan, except to note that like many of the "skeptic" critics who denounce cultural baggage, he quite fails to notice the enormous pile he is dragging around himself.
Finally, for a really good web-site with numerous articles dealing with all the issues involved in the confrontation of Buddhism and materialism you can't do better than "Buddhism vs. Materialism."