Do Buddhism and Quantum Theory Support the Idea of Original Sin?

Do Buddhism and Quantum Theory Support the Idea of Original Sin? May 8, 2015

reincarnationGenerally, I’ve rejected the doctrine of Original Sin (the idea that we’re all burdened with the mark of sin passed down since the fall from Grace for which Adam and Eve were responsible), but believe it or not, it was a non-religious show on NPR that got me thinking about it again.

I was listening to radio show last night on philosophy (yes, I’m that nerdy) and they were talking about the philosophy behind the doctrine of reincarnation.  I was intrigued, especially since they weren’t taking a theological angle. And the deeper they got, the more interesting it became.

If you’re not familiar, the idea of reincarnation is one that, although embraced as a tenet of Buddhism, is claimed by others from various world religions. In a nutshell, it’s the belief that we have lived past lives, and based on how we live them, we come back again in the form of other lives in order to learn something, gain wisdom, etc, with the hope of ultimately achieving a state of nirvana. This is, in a lot of ways, comparable to the Christian idea of heaven, though that’s over-simplified.

For starters, I struggle with the whole reincarnation thing. If I’m supposed to learn from my past lives (and therefore my past mistakes), why can’t I remember them? On a more esoteric level, I tend to adhere to the idea that individual consciousness is a construct of the human brain that we need in order to function as a sentient being. So when we die, there’s really no need any more for the “self” to continue. In fact, I’ve supposed in earlier posts that we might rejoin some kind of “collective soul” after death, rather than maintaining some sense of individuality. After all, the separation of “self” from “other” is at the root of so much suffering, so it stands to reason that, in order for suffering to end, the separation of individuals from one another also has to end.

Maybe theres some kind of collective reincarnation going on, like we’re trying as a species, or some kind of collective consciousness, to reach that much closer to God. But as for individual, personal reincarnation, I’ve always been skeptical.

But these philosophy guys pointed out that it’s actually science – not philosophy or religion – that seems to open the door of possibility for such an idea as reincarnation. They pointed out that, within quantum theory, there are certain quantum “elements” (or maybe more accurately, quantum “events”) that may well be connected, though seemingly very far apart by our standards of space and time. So maybe the limitations of space-time we have (in vain) tried entirely to explain with both Newtonian physics and Einstein’s relativity theory are fabrications of human imagination that simply break down on both infinitely large and infinitely small scales.

And consider that, if consciousness – or even the human “soul” – aren’t bound by the properties of matter and time as we tend to understand them, why couldn’t they be some sort of connective tissue from one space-time event to another? And we still do embrace the Newtonian idea that matter and energy can’t be created or destroyed, so why wouldn’t this also apply to the potential endurance of human soul-consciousness over…God knows how far or how long?

From there, I got to thinking about this in my more Christian context. Generally, I have rejected the idea of Original Sin because it makes God seem like a real jerk. Even if you take the creation story of Adam and Eve from Genesis as myth (which I do), how does bearing the burden of the sins of those who preceded us work with the idea of a gracious, loving God?

But if we’re all connected, for good or bad (something I do wrestle with a lot), then why wouldn’t the mistakes of our predecessors be both a burden and an opportunity handed down over time? I mean, we realize that decisions made by those before us affect the economy, environment and socio-political landscapes we inherit. So in a sense that is the “burden of our fathers and our fathers’ fathers.” Right?

But more than that, what if I’m Adam, in a way? I don’t mean I was a guy running around in a garden with a fig leaf strapped to my junk. But what if I am – what if we all are – in some way the manifestation of some consciousness still trying to work through some Gordian Knot of selfhood that isn’t necessarily bound by the space-time that we tend to think defines our experience of life?  What if the mistakes (read: sins) of those from other times and places do continue to try and work themselves out and through us? Isn’t that sort of what we’re talking about when we pray, from the Lord’s Prayer:

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

If God places that invocation of the Kingdom in our midst in our hands (a notion of God’s willing ‘weakness” or vulnerability that I relate to), wouldn’t we have already achieved it, were it not for some collective need to work through the sins in both our individual and collective past and present?

I’m not ready to sign on the doctrinal dotted line, but it got me thinking. And now, hopefully it’s got you pondering along with me. You’re welcome or my apologies, depending on your propensity for nerdy navel-gazing.

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  • Dorfl

    Hi, I’m a physicist.

    The most important thing to understand about quantum physics is that if somebody brings it up during a religious discussion you can safely ignore every word they say.

    • Christian Piatt

      Seems to be a broad brush, and a little judgmental.

      • Dorfl

        I know, but it’s true. Quantum mysticism is basically the flip side of creationism. Instead of dismissing science they don’t understand because they think it contradicts their theology, they affirm science they don’t understand because they imagine it supports their theology. In both cases there is at best a very superficial understanding of what the science actually says, because it’s only considered important to the extent it seems to be relevant to their religious views.

        • derse handrich

          Theory is irrelevant?

          • Dorfl

            I’m not sure what this question refers to. Could you clarify?

          • derse handrich

            Yes, thanks for asking.

            Science and Rebirth

            Imagine a world void of aggression and competitiveness where all
            pleasure can be derived – not from material interaction and physical experience
            – but from an internal silencing of the mind.

            This would be the end of war, of famine, of the root causes of human
            suffering – greed, hatred and delusion – and their counterparts of jealousy,
            anger, fear, violence, and hostility.

            There would be no more fighting to get more from someone else because you
            could now get as much as you want internally without taking anything away from

            This is possible you know. Ask anyone who has authentically experienced
            deep states of meditation. Or ask anyone who has gone through a near death
            experience and ask them if their life hasn’t changed. CEOs have given up their
            wealth and ambition, simplified their lives and dedicated themselves to the
            betterment of society. Everyday people with normal fears and desires lost their
            fear, both the fear of death and the fear of not having enough. Life has become
            peaceful and fulfilling for the first time for these near death experience

            So what happened during those minutes or hours when the brain waves and vitals
            were flat lined that changed these people? What could have made such a radical
            difference in these people so that it alters their entire focus on life?

            A clue may be found in many recent studies on consciousness that are pointing
            to a radical hypothesis – that consciousness is not produced by the brain. The
            Buddhist Theravada Forest Tradition basically says the same thing, “Citta (mind)
            transcends death.”

            So the question is; if consciousness is not produced by the brain, where does
            it come from? And where does it go after the brain dies?

            Research indicates that within the brain are about 100 billion specialized
            cells called neurons, about the same number as stars in our Milky Way galaxy, that
            receive and transmit information, store memory, and enable our bodies to

            Inside each neuron are microprocessors, quantum computers actually,
            that manage the cell and manage the interactions of the cell with other cells.

            It’s right here at the level of subatomic particles within these mini quantum
            computers that some theorize consciousness resides.

            The physics of subatomic particles is very strange. Particles seem to be
            capable of being in more than one place at a time, and all constantly
            interconnected throughout the universe called subatomic entanglement.

            Something causes the subatomic particles to group together under certain
            circumstances as in the human brain, however these circumstances apparently
            have nothing to do with life or death, as the subatomic particles survive death.
            Therefore, certain groupings will hold together even if the brain is dead. This
            is an explanation of out of body experiences and near death experiences where
            the brain is temporarily idling while a person can see and hear out of their

            Since these subatomic particles are not confined to a physical body per se and
            are just conjoined temporarily in what is called subatomic entanglement within
            a structure (cell), then when the body dies, these sub atomic particles are
            free to spread back out into space, although even in space they hang together
            again because of subatomic entanglement.

            Therefore, the conclusion seems to be that consciousness occurs at all times at
            the subatomic level and can exist outside of the body separate from the brain.

            So what happens to these clumped, released particles when a body dies? Do they
            go to some kind of new host? Dependent upon what? Here is where Buddhism seems
            to have a leg up on many religions in explaining karma and its uncanny ability
            to replant itself in subsequent life forms – a good explanation of where these
            clumped particles end up.

            Why do they end up in a particular form at a particular time? It could be
            because they ARE consciousness, and as consciousness become that bridge from
            existence to existence seeking resolution in a host that vibrates at the same
            level as their preceding conscious experience. Therefore one’s bodily and
            mental actions would necessarily dictate one’s next existence.

            Many religions stress the importance of a kind and gentle mind. Why is this? Is
            it because this type of mind programs the particles’ consciousness to an extent
            that the next existence will be more contented than the one we are in?

            Think what this would mean to the world if enough of us followed these
            precepts. And think, theoretically, what a difference this might make in your
            next existence.

            Will the hurt and harm you do to get ahead, or to satisfy selfish interests and
            desires be a detriment or a boon when the consciousness of your little particle
            group gets together after your demise to look for another host? Will they
            choose an animal! Will they choose an advanced being? Will they choose a hell

            Why not play the odds and be kind and gentle. What do you have to lose? You
            might have a lot to gain.

            ‘You’ might even disappear!

          • Dorfl

            The thing is, this:

            Inside each neuron are microprocessors, quantum computers actually, that manage the cell and manage the interactions of the cell with other cells.

            is made up. It has no real basis outside of the fact that Roger Penrose thought it would be cool if brains worked that way.

          • derse handrich

            I am interested in science and look forward to scientific breakthroughs. Has it been proven how neurons work at the elementary particle, quark, or gluon levels?

          • Dorfl

            It has not, which is kind of the point. People claiming that neurons have quantum computers inside them are simply making this up out of thin air. We have no evidence that anything like that is actually going on inside neurons.

          • Jon-Michael Ivey

            It has however been shown that olfactory sensory cells rely on quantum phenomena to tell the difference between certain chemicals which are too similar to tell apart by merely chemical means but have difference masses and resonances. The human nose is weak compared to those of many animals, but can still distinguish between more scents than would be possible without quantum effects.

          • bill wald

            No, the current “scientific” theory is simply the latest best guess. Nobel Prizes are awarded to people who can demonstrate that last year’s best guess was wrong.

            Logically, no “law of science” can be proven, only demonstrated to be wrong. Newton’s theories, for example, are still useful for distances as large as the solar system or large enough to be seen with the human eye. They are approximations that don’t hold for big or small distances and sizes. It is a function of scale and accuracy of measurement.

          • Kitsune Inari

            And “best guesses” are VERY good guesses. And they only change to get even better.
            “Laws of science” can’t be deductively proved, but inductively they’re more than good enough and their predictive power is beyond reasonable doubt.

            Then again, pseudoskepticists have anything but reasonable doubt.

    • derse handrich

      Physicists are usually open minded. Consider karma for example. Just as particles arise randomly from waves of energy, thought patterns arise from what Buddhists would call a lifetime continuum consciousness, or ingrained habit patterns that transfer from lifetime to lifetime. As a physicist you must recognize that there are many things we humans can not detect or perhaps never know because of our very limited facilities. Stay cool and open. That’s how one experiments and learns. Remember, all knowledge is dead the minute is is recorded. Only this moment contains the potential of creativity.

    • LOL! This is the statement of a “physicist” who is a “true believer” in the religion of physics and who thinks only their religion is correct and all other religions are wrong. Otherwise, even a real physicist would be interested in what is said about quantum physics by anybody.

      • Rust Cohle

        “In the Middle ages healers conjured up evil spirits or magical spell; now, in the 21st Century, they turn to black holes and ‘above all’ quantum physics.”

        Quantum Quacks: Part 1

        • Dawkins is a genetics quack.

          • Rust Cohle

            Hustlers like you really hate real science.

      • Dorfl

        You can also safely ignore people who claim that some scientific field is itself a religion. That’s not a claim I’m making from any particular position of authority though, just experience of arguing with people who are wrong on the internet.

        For any lurkers reading this:

        I’m obviously interested in what is being said, or else I wouldn’t have taken the time to comment. The thing is that I’m interested in these particular claims in the same way as biologists are interested in the claim that lemmings jump off of cliffs or historians are interested in the claim that Columbus proved the Earth isn’t flat. They represent common and very basic misunderstandings in the fields we are working in, that we would very much like to see corrected.

        • If you were truly interested in what was being said, you would not use the word “ignore.” Basically, you just say that if a person does not play by the rules of your frame of reference then they should be ignored. That attitude isn’t science, it is ideology. Or to be more precise, it turns genuine practice of the scientific method into an ideology and dogma.

          • plantman13

            So far, I haven’t seen that you have any inkling as to what the scientific method is.

          • If you don’t know what the scientific method is, then I suggest you use your favorite search engine to look it up. I don’t need to inform you about it. If you have an actual point to raise for a rational discussion, then by all means just say it.

          • plantman13

            Actually, I do believe I have. One only has to look below this post to see my premise.Put up or shut up. I would point out you accuse me of the very thing you are guilty of. You bad-mouth a physicist without actual points other than a “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” attitude and some vague comment about religion wherein we must guess which definition of the word you are using and which may change on a whim. How disappointing. I come here for intellectual stimulation and debate but rarely find either. I did not say I didn’t know what the scientific method is and I can only conclude, by the sparse intellectual content of your comments you certainly don’t. I may be wrong. Show me to be so and I will sing your praises from the house tops. I bear you no malice…I do not know you. Sadly, this country of ours has become a quagmire (giggity-giggity) of anger and disregard for our fellow citizens. Perhaps this great hostility disguised as debate comes from too much Fox news where the winner is he who shouts the loudest and has the cutest insults. Perhaps we might present our views with a modicum of civility, if that is not asking too much. Show me the error of my ways that I may become enlightened.

      • plantman13

        Webster defines “religion” as the expression of man’s belief in and reverence for a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. Your post leads me to suspect you either don’t know what religion is, you don’t know what physics is, or both. To “believe” is to accept without evidence. Physics is not a belief system…religion is. No, I would not be interested in anything someone like you has to say about quantum physics, unless I was in need of entertainment.

        • Plantman, you seem to like word games but you don’t seem to play fair. Words have multiple meanings and connotations, so you can’t just use the ones you prefer and say that others can’t use the other meanings and connotations.

          Religion does have a “supernatural” connotation, but it is definitely and certainly not the only, nor an exclusive connotation. Neither Merrium-Webster-dot-com nor Dictionary-dot-com requires that a “supernatural” connotation must accompany the use of the word religion. For you to cite a dictionary and yet demand such a limited connotation demonstrates that you don’t know how to use a dictionary.

          Similarly, your narrow (or should I say narrow minded?) definition of “believe” is erroneous because “believe” can plainly mean “to accept something as true, genuine, or real” which exactly defines the belief in the premises, assumptions, and credo of science.

          • plantman13

            Well, Greg, perhaps next time you make a statement you will graciously inform us as to which meaning you imply. I went with #1 as the most used and accepted and it appeared you also were using the word in that context. Whether or not the various dot-coms require a supernatural connotation, it is irrefutable the word “religion” has been used precisely as I have indicated for centuries.
            It is always funny when “believers” accuse me of narrow mindedness, ignoring their own obvious blinders to a wider reality.
            Your previous post implied physicists engage in a religious exercise where they sit around at the club, brandy snifters in hand, making up ways to thwart jesus. So my original comment stands. You appear to be ignorant of the scientific method and how knowledge is gained through observation. And while you say your “belief” is the acceptence of something true, you have shown no evidence of that supposed truth (and the world is filled with evidence) other than your own opinion. Thus my definition of your belief stands as well.
            We can play semantics all day. Howabout you come down off your intellectual high-horse and show me the meat? I change my views whenever I am confronted with superior evidence and perhaps you will be successful but so far you have shown me a pretty thin game. You have shown nothing to convince me you have any idea what “physics” is and you split hairs on the subject of religion. Take a stand. Let’s see what you’ve got. I reiterate, physics is not a belief system, religion is. My core comment stands unrefuted while you dance with words. Show me yours, I’ll show you mine. Cut the obfuscation and get to the chase. Otherwise, I can only assume you to be the typical poster who makes smart-assed comments as though that means something. Quippy one-liners do not an argument make.

    • justinwhitaker

      Hi, I’m a religion scholar focusing on Buddhism with a philosophy (including phil of science) background.

      I agree.

      Quantum physics, most famously butchered in “The Secret” and most anything that Deepak Chopra says/sells, is a wonderful and fascinating area of philosophical and scientific exploration. But what it offers for religious understanding is virtually nothing, imho, except that an appreciation of QM can really open one’s eyes to a true sense of wonder about the world. Of course that doesn’t need to go in any particular religious direction though. Religious people should study QM, but not because it might prove this or that religious idea.

  • Jo Ann

    Family Systems research has traced family dysfunctions through multiple generations. (Either 7 or 17–I remember being astounded at the number.) That sounds a lot like “sins of the fathers.”

  • derse handrich

    ” In a nutshell, it’s the belief that we have lived past lives, and based on how we live them, we come back again in the form of other lives in order to learn something, gain wisdom, etc, with the hope of ultimately achieving a state of nirvana.”

    In Buddhism there is no ‘we.’ This is where Buddhism loses everybody. There is no soul entity (anatta) that progresses. But there is a future existence based upon the present conditions. Look at it this way; You wake up in the morning no different from when you went to sleep last night. Similarly, you wake up in a new life depending upon the sensitivity and refinement of your mind state which then seeks a life form to replicate those tendencies. Ie; physical existence. There is no soul over viewing this process or taking notes. It is a morphing of present mind into future mind. Nothing stands outside of this. There is no self, no soul, only action and reaction. And there apparently is no way to escape this seemingly endless death and rebirth. But the Buddha said there is a way to escape, and that way is to refine the sensitivity of the mind. This is a practice that goes against the grain of everything sacred to physical existence, for example sitting very still with an empty mind. But in fact this is what refines the sensitivity and increases the vibrations on a micro particle scale. The Buddha would have explained it differently in this modern culture but did the best he could 2500 years ago in the science where he found himself.

  • Rust Cohle

    Quantum woo – RationalWiki

    Quantum mysticism – Wikipedia

  • Rust Cohle

    Christianity, or any other hope of an afterlife, is just a denial of the reality of death, according to Terror Management Theory which is supported by hundreds of scientific articles published in journals.

    Terror Management Theory | Published Articles

    Stephen Cave’s TED Talk is probably the best introduction to Terror Management Theory:

    • Sadly, Mr. Cave entirely misses the point of what contemplation of death is all about. He can only think and analyze from the outside, and doesn’t know how to inquire of his own mind what the stories mean on the deepest level of our psychological need to mythologize.

      • Rust Cohle

        Sadly, you miss the entire point, because you think you have some special “inside” information about an imaginary friend.

        • LOL! Your response is jut a variation on “I know you are but what am I?” You may now hop on Pee Wee’s bicycle and ride into your sunset.

          • Rust Cohle

            Do divulge your magical “insider” information, if you actually have any. Put up or shut up.

          • LOL! More Pee Wee Herman style of debate.

          • Rust Cohle

            You’re obviously psychologically projecting.

            You claimed insider information by deprecating those who can see only from the “outside” (read what you wrote.)

            Time for you to grow up and actually admit what you wrote.

        • Here’s my response when I first heard this in December 2013.

  • bill wald

    On the other hand, does any religion except Christianity have a doctrine that the human race began “sinless” and has been going downhill ever since? Is there any evidence that humans are more “moral” than we were 4,000 years ago? Were not the old people complaining about the civility of their children 4,000 years ago?

    • friendly reader

      Yes. To begin with Buddhism (since that’s what we’re talking about), you have the gradual degeneration of the dharma. All things are impermanent, including Buddhism, so you begin with the best and most reliable Buddhism in the time of Shakyamuni himself, then things gradually decay until Buddhism is completely forgotten and a new Buddha must be born (Maitreya). How far we are along in that process varies from group to group. Pure Land Buddhism, which I mentioned in Piatt’s last post on Buddhism, puts us squarely in the age of Degenerate Dharma, where people must rely on the Buddha’s compassionate means over (or instead of, it varies on the branch) their own efforts.

      Then there’s Hinduism, which has four ages, each successively worse than the last. We’re early in the Kali Yuga, the Black Age, which is the worst of all the ages, though it will get much worse before the universe ends and has to be recreated (don’t worry, it won’t happen for thousands of years).

      Both those traditions believe in cyclical periods of decay and then renewal, whereas Christianity tends to see only one arch of decline then restoration. Of course, that’s an oversimplification of Christian theology, as some branches consider the decline to have begun to be reversed at Jesus’ resurrection and anticipate gradual restoration rather a sudden intervention.

  • katta

    Quantum elements are physical objects and not spirituel objects!

  • Interesting to eavesdrop on the inner musings of a Christian grappling with the big picture of reincarnation/rebirth. As a Buddhist it is just now self-evident to me in the way that gravity has become self-evident after Newton put together the conceptual framework that allowed the new idea to be “perceived.”

    1. It is important to know that the Buddhist frame for karma-rebirth is not the same as other religious views of rebirth, such as the classical Hindu, the Albigensian or Rosicrucian Christian, Egyptian, Neoplatonist, etc. So, as you note, modern physics is catching up to Buddha’s view of reincarnation without individual entity, soul, or self. But in the Buddhist view this also means no universal soul or self as well.

    2. As it stems from the first, the idea of karma-reincarnation is as complex and nuanced as genetics and understanding the genome, or understanding global weather patterns and climate change. We “understand” plate tectonics, but can’t predict an earthquake or volcano. We “understand” weather but can’t predict the formation of hurricanes or tornadoes and can’t foretell how the jet stream will modulate. Likewise, we can “understand” karma in a general way, but can’t predict how it will be formed in new rebirths in a specific space-time reference.

    3. Karma and rebirth have absolutely nothing to do with morality or “learning from my past lives.” So the idea that memory should be there so we can learn from our past lives is an erroneous assumption. Karma means action, and the law of karma is no more “moral” than the laws of thermodynamics. When we put a hand into a flame, it hurts or worse depending on how long the hand is in the flame. We don’t say the flame is evil or that it was an immoral act or that the pain and blistering are “retribution” for our “sin” of putting our hand too close to the flame. Likewise, karma has nothing to do with the concept of “sin”, though unfortunately the idea of karma is too often translated into Western parlance using such ideas as sin or moralization.

    4. The selflessness of karma and rebirth are very difficult for beginners and those attached to the idea of a self to realize. For example, take the idea “So when we die, there’s really no need any more for the ‘self’ to continue.” That represents a Western view of rebirth, because in the Buddhist view the statement is based on the false assumption that there was a self to begin with in this life. The idea of a self, is just that, an idea, an image, i.e., a self-image. Our mental processes are creating selfie images constantly and stringing them together by means of memory and this concatenation of self images is put together and called my self. But outside the mental image, there is no objective self. So since there is no self in this life, there is no self that is reborn in another life.

    5. So what is reborn that warrants the prefix “re”? In the Buddhist context we can say it is the Dharmakaya, the body of reality, if we want to use religious terminology or to be poetical we simply say it is the ocean that is reborn as the wave. In the physics context we could say it is energy that is reborn. In the Christian context we can say it is God that is reborn. Every birth is the rebirth of that which is. But there is more, because there is the identity factor that connects one birth to another. And in the Buddhist context this identity factor is what creates the illusion of a self or soul passing from life to life. In our modern context of physics, we see this selfless continuity between lives in the field of wave dynamics. When a wave travels through the ocean there is no physical “thing” that is moving across the face of the waters. At any one location on the surface, such as indicated by a log or a duck, we see the object merely go up and down as the wave passes horizontally. The wave is not a “thing” at all, but the pattern of force traveling through the water creating the image of a wave. Likewise, a single life constitutes an up and down motion on the surface of the water but over “time” the up and down motions of the surface create the image of a wave traveling through the ocean, and this wave is just a force, not a thing. Thus, our rebirths are the expressions of the karmic forces that have been created and thus there is continuity without any soul, self, or entity passing from one life to another. What is reborn is just the karmic force or influence, not a thing. There is connectivity, but no “tissue,” other than what we might call God, Energy, Reality, Dharmakaya, Tathagata, Suchness, etc.

    6. The burden of our forebears that we bear today is exactly right as one important dimension of the meaning of karmic fruit. We reap what we have sown and that sowing is both on the physical dimensions of earthly continuity and on the mental dimensions of continuity, but for us who live in the dimension of earthly continuity, it is more than enough to realize that our actions today will definitely bear the fruits of their development in the future generations. We are necessarily bound to those fruits as they take shape in and through the forces of space-time.

    7. The idea of “sin” is very important to confront, as it is the very idea of sin that maintains sin as an influence in law of karma. This is an extremely nuanced philosophical truth that is easily and readily misunderstood by philosophical beginners and people who believe in the literalization and objectification of evil. In Buddhism, the basic “sin” is ignorance. It is the primal ignorance that creates the separation from reality that is the source of all good and evil, i.e., the source of sin. In Christian myth this is represented in the story of eating from the tree of
    knowledge. This myth is alive in each of us, first as our own consciousness develops form the moment of birth to our self-consciousness, and also moment to moment in our current self-consciousness. It is our own sense of separation from God (to use the Christian terminology) at any and every moment that is the continuity of eating from the tree of knowledge and is the sin of the present moment. The original sin of the separation of self and other is at the root of all suffering. Knowledge rests upon the bifurcation of our perceptions so that we can perceive reality though a frame of reference. However, the simple polarizations of perception, such as high-low, left-right, large-small, become confused with the other simple polarizations such as pain and pleasure to form complex polarizations such good and evil, and then we become self-deluded about the ontological reality of the complex polarizations because these complex bifurcations become the basis for our mentally constructed self, our self-image of our self consciousness and the separation from the “other.” Thus, the original sin is believing in the reality of our individual self as separate from others as well as separate from total reality because we have based that self on our frame of reference that includes the complex polarization of good-evil. In Zen we have a saying, that the True Good is the Good that transcends, or is not subject to, good and evil. In other words, the True God is the God that transcends the deluded dichotomy of God and Devil.

    8. The idea that nirvana and heaven or analogous is correct. But suffice it to say, in both Buddhism and in Christianity both nirvana and heaven are grossly distorted and misunderstood by people who have only a superficial realization of Buddhism and Christianity, which unfortunately, means most of the people who “believe in” these religions without actually practicing and awakening to them.

    Lastly, for now, the importance of understanding that all theories “are fabrications of human imagination” can not be overstated. In Buddhism, this is stated as the “mind-only” teaching of the One Mind. All views, perspectives, and constructs of consciousness are only manifestations of mind. This is not the philosophical notion of idealism, but a psychological recognition that there is no way to bootstrap ourselves out of our psyche. The very idea of a “physical world” is an idea of our psychology. This fundamental realization is so disorienting that most people flee from it in confusion or fear. It is much safer for our the stability and fixation of our self-image to believe in the stability and fixation of a physical world. However, as noted in the post, even the most sacred ideas of the physical sciences “simply break down on both infinitely large and infinitely small scales.” This is because the simple bifurcation of large-small breaks down when taken to its own ends. In fact, all oppositions and bifurcations break down when taken to their extreme ends, and this is one of the ways we can learn that the bifurcation and opposition is itself a construct of the psyche and a manifestation of mind.

    • Rust Cohle

      > …can’t predict an earthquake or volcano…can’t predict the formation of hurricanes or tornadoes…

      Actually, all those things are predicted, with varying degrees of accuracy. Scientists have even been convicted* (later overturned in appeals court, for what it’s worth) for failing to sound the alarm on something as seemingly “unpredictable” as earthquakes. And have you never heard of a tornado watch and/or warning, or the Climate Prediction Center ?

      * Scientists Convicted of Manslaughter for Failing to Predict Italian Quake
      ABC News (London) | Oct. 22, 2012

      • Actually none of those things are predicted. Tornado alarms only go off after the tornado has formed. The idea that tornados are predicted only shows the misinformation that people pass along as facts The “tornado watch” forecasts only predict a wide range in which a tornado may form, and it has absolutely no predictability for where any particular tornado will form or which cities or towns will be hit.
        Likewise with earthquakes. You will have more success at a few seconds warning listening to your pets than the news. Today, there are absolutely no precursors for predicting earthquakes and any one who claims that there are is just a scientific quack.
        Please don’t pass around rumor and tabloid headlines as fact.
        FYI, read the story more carefully, it does not show the verdict was for “not predicting” the quake, The verdict was for negligence when the person told people that they were in no more danger of staying inside after a series of smaller quakes. If the person had told the truth and said “we can’t predict if the quakes will continue, so take precautions” then he would not have been found to be negligent in his job performance. His “crime” was trying to reassure people and telling them to stay inside as if he could predict earthquakes when he really couldn’t because no one can.

        • Rust Cohle

          Actually, natural phenomena are predicted, with varying degrees of accuracy. That’s why the Climate Prediction Center has “Prediction” in its title.

          • So we disagree on the meaning and distinction between “forecast” and “prediction.” To say the sun will show on the eastern horizon at 6:10 AM at a certain latitude and longitude is a prediction. To say the sky will be partly cloudy tomorrow is a forecast. Tornadoes are forecasted, not predicted. Right now, can you point to a single prediction of an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc. that has not yet happened by anyone? No you can’t because it can’t be done.
            And really? You’re arguing a point based on someone putting a word in their title? So do you believe that the Dept of Defense actually “defends” us and the Dept of Homeland Security actually “secures” our “homeland”?
            When I say I’m sure you will write another inane response, is that a prediction or a forecast?

          • Rust Cohle

            > Tornadoes are forecasted, not predicted.

            Climate is predicted. Deal with it, and dispense with your quantum woo.

            The National Weather Service agency that maintains a continuous watch on short term climate fluctuations and diagnoses and predicts them.

            Climate Prediction Center

  • Roger Hull

    I look at original sin from a Darwinian perspective. If I had to define original sin I would say it is selfishness. Selfishness has survival value (consider a baby) and is something we are all apparently born with and all need to “grow out of”. A religion, when taken seriously, can help with the “grow out of” part of this original sin of selfishness.
    Roger Hull

  • BTW, Christian, you don’t say which NPR program it was that stimulated you. Was it the Radiolab program on “After Life” or another show?

  • friendly reader

    Sidestepping the guy who takes his name from the most blatant Straw Atheist character in recent media (though I do agree that my hackles go up whenever I see people using “quantum physics” to defend religious ideas)…

    …if you’re really interested in a Buddhist take on something comparable to Original Sin (but not exactly the same), I’m going to repeat what I said in another post of yours and encourage you to check out Pure Land traditions, particularly Jodo Shinshu, which sees humans as trapped by our blind passions, and unable to escape by relying on self-effort (which, after all, reinforces the idea of self). Start here, or check out some books by Taitetsu Unno.

  • Martha Arenas

    But, science time and time again also change positions. As our species discover more truths, the metaphoric wisdom of the ancient peoples, proves more and more accurate for the modern world we live in.

  • Agni Ashwin

    “If I’m supposed to learn from my past lives (and therefore my past mistakes), why can’t I remember them?”

    From a Buddhist perspective, you’re not supposed to learn from your past lives. You’re supposed to learn from this life, which already contains everything you need from your past lives.

  • 0BZEN

    I hear a lot of maybe’s.

  • trinielf

    Well, it didn’t take quantum physics for me to reject Original Sin. The premise just flies in the face of basic ethics even at the most basic, common sense level.

  • Danny

    Mrs. Daloway couldn’t have said it any clearer.