Every religion has something to say about God, heaven, hell and rebirth. I prefer the God theory of Steven Jay Gould which sticks to the Occam’s Razor principle – if you hear something in the dark, you begin to walk faster. If it is nothing then you didn’t lose anything, but if it is something that could harm you then you have gained a head start on making an escape. Life is like a walk in the dark and you don’t know if there is a higher power or not. By being mindful about the possibility of someone watching your every move, you do a few good things and hope to gain good Karma.
And the Hindu religion has a leg up on the whole Karma theory. Just like the Newton’s law, every action has a corresponding reaction or result. The Karma theory considers good and bad as relative, so it is not prescriptive about your actions. The fruits of your Karma are to be enjoyed or suffered in this life or in later lives. As the Buddha said, there is suffering and there is a cause for suffering.
The Karma that is not ready for enjoyment this life is transferred to your future lives and so you can be born with a baggage of bad or good Karma. Well, this obviously leaves us with a serious dilemma about why the suffering afflicts children before they even comprehend Karma or the mentally-disabled who do not understand the cause but feel the pain.
Karma theory would assign all suffering to the bad Karma one earned in one’s previous life. Your bad Karma offers you an opportunity for reducing the deficit of good Karma by blessing you with a sick or a handicapped child or a dependent. Is it all a way of allowing the human mind to deal with the helplessness of the situation? What is the natural state for a human mind? Can it really be happiness if there is so much suffering around us all the time? Or is it equanimity to deal with the inevitable pain but making suffering optional?
Can rebirth explain the super-exponential increase in population during the last 100 years? Are other animals being born as humans? Can humans be born as other life forms? The Karma theory says you can move from one life form to another. So if you are fond of eating a lot of meat, then you could be reborn as a carnivorous animal.
Well, that should explain the population growth then! And here is how it would go.
Humans love to kill. Even though the planet has so much to offer for all species, humans kill each other and other species at will. Putin and the Ukraine, Assad and Syria, the drug lords of Latin America, conflicts between Israel and Palestine, ISIS’ murderous rampage across Iraq, and so on. If we have evolved to kill, then we must be reborn as willful killers, i.e. humans. We are thus accumulating bad Karma with each generation and being reborn in larger and larger numbers instead of moving to other life forms like zebras which live mindfully and do not kill wantonly (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_Zebras_Don’t_Get_Ulcers).
The suffering we see all around is the net accumulation of bad Karma with each generation. But there is good news. Birth rates continue to fall, mostly because of the education and empowerment of women (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/topics/birth-rate-and-fertility/pages/2/). Rather counterintuitively to what one would expect from evolution, the educated and wealthy women want to have fewer children – mostly to ensure that each child has a good standard of living (http://www.unm.edu/~melaniem/MosesBrownEcolLet2003.pdf).
The net bad Karma is being reduced for each generation thanks to the educated and empowered women! We will reach a steady state in the coming decades and net bad Karma will be zero and birthrates will equal deaths and maybe some humans will even be lucky enough to be reborn as mindful zebras! It will be a peaceful and cooperative world of unselfish genes and cooperation will indeed trump conflicts, as Mark Pagel argues.