Buddhism has nothing to fear
Buddhism has nothing to fear from science, and can withstand critical rational
Now I know all the arguments about the poisoned arrow, and the need to avoid wasting time
in fruitless speculation, and this may well be applicable to our own personal
practice of Dharma. But most of us will at some time or other have taken Bodhisattava vows
and we need to remember that millions of people are sufferring from the deluded view that
life has a purely physical basis with no spiritual dimension. Life is pointless and death
is the end.
This bleak, deluded view of Materialism
is not only a major obstacle to the spiritual progress of those who (often reluctantly )
suffer from it, but it also generates fear, aggression and denial in those who oppose it
but dont know how to argue against it. This denial and aggression against
Materialism manifests as anti-science,
bigotry, Creationism, Biblical literalism
and is quite possibly a contributory factor to Jihadism.
But theres no reason for Buddhists to adopt the same head-in-the-sand and
turn-the-clock back approach. Buddha didnt tell us to criticise and examine his teachings without
good reason. He knew that his Dharma rested on unassailable metaphysical foundations.
materialism is THE greatest obstacle to spiritual progress in the modern world. Any path
that can blast its way through this obstacle will provide an escape route for millions of
searchers for truth.
The increasing antagonism between theistic religion and science is now becoming such a
serious concern to scientists that a recent edition of the New Scientist magazine was
devoted to the topic:
As New Scientist bluntly says in "Enemy at the gates",
"their aim is to destroy science" via a wedge strategy that starts with an
attack on Darwinian evolution in the form of the "theory" of Intelligent Design.
Every scientific theory that touches on man's place in the universe will likely be
attacked: the Big Bang, the age of the Earth, etc. Anything that contradicts Holy Writ is
blasphemy to fundamentalists.
Science in conflict with religion
The conflict between science and religion is probably more acute now than at any time
since the Scopes trial in the 1920s. One of the reasons is the perception that
Darwinism in some way destroys spirituality. But in fact, if you think carefully about
emptiness and impermanence, Darwinism
makes more sense to a Buddhist than does creationism.
And, on careful examination, its difficult to see how creationism makes much sense
to anyone, since there are two
conflicting creation myths in Genesis.
Intelligent Design is an attempt to salvage some sort of semi-Biblical
creation story out of modern geology, cosmology and biochemistry. But it is doomed to
failure, because even if its conclusions were true - that some systems are just too
complex and interdependent to have occurred by evolution this doesnt prove
anything about the designer. It neednt be the God of the Bible or the Allah of the
Koran, as the Pastors of Pasta have pointed out.
Buddhism doesnt have the same degree of antipathy towards science as do the
Abrahamic religions. This is probably because the Abrahamic religions are based on
revealed (if inconsistent) truths, whereas Buddhism is based on experienced truths.
These revealed truths are either inspired by God or are
the literal unmediated word of God whose contradiction is punishable by death.
In contrast to the 'revealed' religions, Buddhism could almost be described as a form of
spiritual humanism, as its objectives are to achieve the ultimate in human potential. In
Buddhism, being a God is
no big deal. It doesnt lead to enlightenment, it just gets you a better class of
samsara for a while.
In the western world religion has not only been in conflict with science (in recent
centuries) but there is a far older religious conflict with philosophy, free enquiry and
rationality in general. In 399 BC Socrates claimed The unexamined life is not worth
living, before he was executed for heresy.
'The unexamined life is not worth living'
The unexamined life is not worth living is where the Buddhism started out,
a couple of hundred years before Socrates. If Prince Siddhartha Gautama had decided that
his pampered life of luxury in the Palace was worth living, the world would never have
heard of Buddhism. Its because he decided to examine real life, warts and all, that
we have the Four Noble Truths. In contrast to Socrates, Buddha didnt get executed
for heresy. Maybe ancient India was a more tolerant place than ancient Greece. Or maybe,
being a Prince, he had friends in high places.
Of course we can argue till the cows come home whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a
religion. But these terms may purely reflect our western historical experience of the
antagonism between religion and philosophy/science (in the early days, Science was known
as Natural Philosophy) If Buddhism is indeed a religion, then its one
that has arisen out of the same quest for truth that was the basis of western philosophy.
In contrast to the increasing polarisation between science and the theistic religions,
there is an increasing convergence between Buddhism and science. Both systems are
empirical. They rely on repeatable, verifiable experiences rather than instructions
revealed once and for all from some otherwise inaccessible source.
This convergence of Science and Buddhism presents an opportunity for skilful means to
present the Buddhadharma to intelligent people in the West, who are not impressed by
fundamentalist dumbing-down, yet who equally reject the idea that they are nothing
but biological machines, with no spiritual aspect.