To expand on MN 81: if the Buddha actually believed that Iron-Age Indian society existed in the Gangetic plain for a long time into the distant past, and that he lived in this society with its Brahmins and previous Buddha, then how genuinely can we take the claim of the suttas that the Buddha accurately remembered a massive number of his past lives?
I’m glad you brought up the lack of hunter-gatherer life memories. More broadly, it is quite problematic that all of the past-life memories mentioned in the suttas (which I have come across so far) take place within the paradigm of Iron-Age India. These past-life memories always involve a Brahminical society (with the same Iron-Age technology) and take place within the Gangetic plain. It seems most plausible that these ‘memories’ were in fact nothing more than confabulation, based on the societal context in which those ancient people lived.
Perhaps the better explanation for these stories is that overzealous followers wanted to elevate the Buddha after he passed away. Did the Buddha actually claim to remember all of his past lives, or did later followers themselves invent that claim as a way to elevate ‘the Buddha’ in their memory as a near-omniscient founder of their new religion? The latter seems more likely to me.
Another issue is that some of the Buddha’s teachings on rebirth don’t align with the current evidence. For instance, most of the current research on past-life memories involve subjects which remember immediately preceding human lives. This is not compatible with the claim in the suttas that human birth is incredibly rare and difficult to attain. It seems that a large number of people are being reborn as humans; even people with wrong livelihood, such as soldiers.
On the matter of wrong livelihood, there is also the problem of the sutta where the Buddha says that actors (or comedians) will go to hell due to drawing people into sensuality. If this is really the case, then why did he not place ‘actor’ under his definition for wrong livelihood? And what about the prostitutes and musicians of his day, which arguably stimulate sensuality even more than actors or comedians?
I agree, it is extremely impressive that there is so much profound wisdom in the suttas. But I feel the need to point out these problematic suttas, and figure out a way to address them without creating cognitive dissonance.
Apparently ‘flat earth’ is not explicitly mentioned in the EBTs, but it could be inferred (according to B. Sujato).
At the very least, there is a sutta where the Buddha talks about Mt Meru surrounded by the four great continents. This, of course, is false geography.
I agree on the likelihood of advanced civilizations on other planets, but there is no archeological evidence of past advanced civilizations on Earth. However, there is plenty of evidence of dinosaurs and such, and a relatively clear through-line of evolution to modern humans. The stories in the suttas simply do not match up with the evidence at hand.
The current scientific understanding is of course flawed and will change, but the understanding in the suttas is more flawed and will not change with the evidence. To expect that future scientific developments will somehow draw us closer to the stories of the suttas is, in my mind, a bit unrealistic.