Do Buddhists believe in God? Last year, science writer and blogger Razib Khan wrote that they do—American Buddhists, anyway. He drew his conclusions from the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religions Landscape Survey. Khan now contends that this is likely true of Buddhists worldwide, extrapolating from data supplied by the World Values Survey. In his April 15 post to Gene Expression, a Seed Media Group science blog, he takes a look at data from Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, and notes that Sri Lankans tend to fit into a similarly theistic pattern. To be sure, Khan does not claim that Buddhism is theistic, just that many of its adherents are. This, from his 2008 post on theistic American Buddhists:
This is not to say that I believe Buddhism is a theistic religion; one can’t deny that many people are Buddhists who are admitted atheists. It is to offer that to generalize about a religion one must look at the true distribution of beliefs and practices, not just scholarly inferences based on textual clues in their scriptures.
The first commenter to Khan’s post wonders if something was lost in translation. For my part, I’d point out that “nontheist” is a better word to use than “atheist.” The Buddha never contended that there was no God, although he considered eternalism and nihilism both mistaken. Of course, what the Buddha contended and what Buddhists believe can sometimes be two different things, as Khan points out. (Note: When we reported on the demographics of American Buddhists last year (Buddhism by the Numbers) citing a 2008 Pew Forum survey, many readers questioned the integrity of the Pew results.)
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.