Keep an open mind about science and religion

by Aaron Hamilton, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 24, 2005

I recently saw a book review and another article about the Dalai Lama and his views on science. This interested me in learning more about the Buddhist viewpoint on evolution and the big bang, etc. However, all I usually hear about here in the USA is the Christian "intelligent design" propaganda drowning out all else. I think we need to hear other opinions besides theirs.

What role does science have in religion, and what role does religion have in science?  Science cannot handle the supernatural. It must be materialistic by its own nature--if the supernatural exists, there is no such thing as a scientific “fact” since all things could have a million different supernatural explanations.

However, there is no way to keep discussion of religious beliefs out of science as science tackles the big questions. Religion can open people’s minds (including those of scientists) to new ways of thinking about a problem. However, it can also limit the creativity and moral growth of a culture, if one religion dominates and constantly insults and argues against any alternate belief system that emerges.
In America, the dominant religion is trying to make everyone believe that there are only two beliefs: monotheism and atheism. The whole “intelligent design vs. evolution” debate is a political weapon to reinforce this artificial duality. The creationists do not want “equal time for all viewpoints” like they say they do. I’ve never heard them suggest that any other religion besides the “jealous god in the sky” variety get any mention in the schools. The preachers and politicians insert the same propaganda into every discussion of science: their assertion that being a created r  obot doomed to serve a cruel supernatural overlord is more "meaningful" than being a unique, irreplaceable result of a beautiful series of accidents (they don’t phrase it that way of course).

The many polytheistic faiths would of course ask why the creationists always refer to their intelligent designer in the singular. They could ask, doesn’t the world look like it was designed by a committee?

Taoists would credit the effortless natural workings of the energies and forces generated by the unlimited Tao. When the cynic asks, who created God, the Taoists have the answer: Tao created God. The eternal Tao is so far above a God, it cannot be described as a creature or ‘intelligent designer’. A God must plan, must design, must speak or take action to create something. Tao creates just by existing.

Buddhists would explain the world as the result of the infinite number of causes and conditions that shaped our current impermanent form and karmic potential. To a Buddhist there are many universes, and innumerable causes that could be both natural and supernatural which constantly create new worlds, which themselves will eventually fade away. Even worlds we would see as heavens and hells are not the ultimate goal of someone seeking the path of the Buddha. The Buddha mind or Nirvana is not a place to go like a heaven or even an everlasting pure land, but something beyond time and space and all that is limited.

I feel that scientists and followers of each religion should make sure to find their own voice. They should demand equal time for all beliefs (if one gets taught, all must get taught) and not let themselves get drawn into a “Christianity vs. materialism” duality which only serves to marginalize other beliefs. I say this not just out of a sense of fairness or to make sure kids get exposed to a diversity of religions.

I also feel that if only one religious viewpoint dominates the media and the public debate (at the moment, this would obviously be Christianity in most parts of the world due to their aggressive missionary efforts) this lack of diversity will limit humanity’s moral development (which is caused by debate, not conformity) and will stifle the creativity of everyone, including scientists. A researcher who only hears a Christian message will miss ideas and insights compared to one who has access to Buddhist and Taoist and Jain ideas about the universe as well.

I don’t want to advocate trying to turn each religion’s mythology into “theory” like creationists do. Nor should religious leaders tie their beliefs to a specific scientific hypothesis, since when new discoveries are made and ideas change, the religion will look foolish (remember Copernicus vs. geocentrism?) However, when a Christian demands equal time for different ideas, there should be advocates of other viewpoints ready to take it. The diversity will do us all some good.

The websites below are just one example of how “Intelligent Design” might be contrasted to ideas derived from another religion, in this case Buddhism.

[Of course, the Buddha himself might just say the creation of our world is not even an issue. Who cares if mutation alone or some outside interference molded our temporary form? But I think the idea that the Buddha is not the Creator and that the Creation was not expected to be perfect are very interesting and valid points in contrast to the monotheistic view].