Science? Christianity? Excedrin Written All Over It? A Quasi-Buddhist's Opinion

Mar 15 2007 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Yet again, another Jesus flare-up. Rob Knop posted his personal religious views and the prophetical shit hath hit the fan. I swear the science and spirituality debate is like a bad case of hemorrhoids.
Some of us just never had these problems that result from self-identification. I stress the self part because, as Chris Rowan points out, the whole discussion really is about how individuals reconcile their personal views with physical realities. We only run into problems when we start trying to pigeon-hole everybody else.
Which is why when it comes to my personal beliefs/lack thereof, I do an end run around the entire issue by avoiding labels as much as possible.

Labels create an attachment, and being overly tied to a category that doesn't necessarily have the same boundaries from person to person will inevitably lead to conflict. For instance, I like Buddhism. There's a lot of truth to be found in Buddhist philosophy and I have a lot of respect for it (notice I specified Buddhist philosophy as opposed to a Buddhist religion. See, it's starting already!) Ironically I don't consider myself to be a Buddhist precisely because that would require that I form an attachment; something that I cannot, in good conscience, do as a Buddhist. So by refusing to be a Buddhist, I become a better one! (Buddhists everywhere are rolling their eyes at my shitty rhetorical paradox).
That being said, I have held a number of religious and philosophical outlooks. I've never found any of them to be in conflict with science. To illustrate, I'll just post for you a short essay I wrote for the Alliance for Science's Member Opinions page. It is focused on the evolution/intelligent design "conflict" in particular, but the message is applicable to all scientific endeavors. Likewise we can apply it to all religio-theo-philosophical worldviews.

Throughout my life I have described my religious and philosophical outlook in a number of different ways; I was raised Catholic and considered myself such through high school, then nondenominational Christian my first few years of college. Towards the end of college I deconverted to atheism, adopting more of a secular humanist worldview. Lately I have been investigating Theravada Buddhism as a non-religious philosophical perspective due to its compatibility with neuroscience and theories of consciousness.
Despite the vastly different outlooks I have held in my life, I have never considered any of them to be in conflict with the science of evolutionary biology. When I was Christian I believed that the Bible was, as the popular saying goes, a book that tells us how to get to heaven, not how the heavens go. Quite simply it was never meant to be a hard science book, but a metaphor for godly living. I reasoned that it was arrogant to try and fit God in a box labeled "science", and likewise if the evidence from the natural world suggested that evolution was the mechanism by which God chose to shape human life, then it would be nothing less than idolatry of the Bible itself to deny the natural evidence in favor of a narrow, rigid scriptural interpretation. In other words we were meant to merely study the creation, but worship the creator.
I also find no conflict between science and Buddhism. Indeed, a central tenant of Buddhism is that suffering is borne of ignorance. Evolutionary theory provides us with a mechanistic explanation through which we can alleviate suffering; we can understand and predict the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria with evolution and thus prevent outbreaks of "superbugs", or extrapolate how biota will react to the sudden introduction of foreign species. We can understand how to protect our food supply from diseases and pests by using other organisms and without destroying the effectiveness of pesticides. We can, using the explanatory and predictive powers of evolutionary theory, make the world a better place for those who come after us.
Intelligent design, on the other hand, is one giant argument from ignorance. If a biological phenomenon is purported to lack an explanation then "solving" the problem by saying "a designer did it" (thus concluding the phenomenon constitutes evidence of design) will get us exactly nowhere. No natural phenomenon should be regarded as intractable; this is intellectual laziness and not excusable, and certainly does future generations an injustice.
This is the strength of our science; anyone, of any religious creed or none, can agree upon the central tenants of the scientific method. We can also achieve consensus on evidence supporting the theory of evolution, provided we agree to leave religious or philosophical presuppositions at the door and let the natural world speak for itself. The supernatural, by definition, does not fall under the purview of science. Forcing God into a test tube is not doing science, for the result of any experiment will ultimately be then fixed upon a predetermined outcome. Herein lies the primary difficulty of Intelligent Design Creationism, who state that we can see the designer's handiwork in nature. However, the conclusion flows from the premises, creating a logical fallacy and empirical contradictions; IDC'ers like to trot out examples like Mount Rushmore as support for design, stating that it could not be the product of wind and erosion, but conveniently ignore the infamous "face on Mars", which is the result of natural processes. They give us no objective criteria by which we can distinguish what is actually intelligently designed. The supernatural, while being compatible with everything, never really explains anything. Multiple supernatural "explanations" are available for any given phenomenon, but there is no conceivable experiment to parse out what a correct one might be. Our only recourse, if we wish to progress as a society, is to agree to disagree on metaphysics and to get to work in the laboratory.

The magic prescription to all this scientific/spirituality conflict? Keep it to yourself, or at least keep it jovial. Just have a small slice of humble pie. No Excedrin necessary.

7 responses so far

  • Warren says:

    Ironically I don't consider myself to be a Buddhist precisely because that would require that I form an attachment; something that I cannot, in good conscience, do as a Buddhist. So by refusing to be a Buddhist, I become a better one! (Buddhists everywhere are rolling their eyes at my shitty rhetorical paradox).

    Indeed. 😉
    The philosophy works for me as well, more than anything else I've encountered -- what I find frustrating is having to explain that no, I'm not worshipping when I'm meditating, nor am I praying, nor am I "getting in touch with my soul" or anything else equally silly.
    Actually what sold me on Buddhism was its explicit teaching that there is no soul at all. That, plus the incense. I've always liked the aroma of Nag Champa.
    Still, even Buddhism has had its jihads. That specific taint appears to exist in all religions, which shouldn't be surprising if we view religion in general as simply another manifestation of culturalism and territorial behavior, rather than some sort of expression of "Divine Will".

  • David says:

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  • Kelvin Wong says:

    "Ironically I don't consider myself to be a Buddhist precisely because that would require that I form an attachment; something that I cannot, in good conscience, do as a Buddhist. So by refusing to be a Buddhist, I become a better one! (Buddhists everywhere are rolling their eyes at my shitty rhetorical paradox)."
    It is not paradoxical. Buddha never said his philosophy is called Buddhism, neither did the monastic order nor did the people following Buddha called themselves Buddhists. Perhaps a more proper word would be dharmafarer and buddhadharma instead of Buddhist and Buddhism.
    On the other hand, perhaps you may be attached to detachment or non-attachement! Ah....
    caught on a cliff
    death drop on one end
    fire on the other end
    choose one, you drop to your death
    choose the other, you burn to death
    Quick! what can you do?

  • Rob Plop says:

    Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop. Okay got that out of my system... People who agree with Shelly Bats and Rob Knop that religion is OKAY, this is for you, so you can better understand why religion must be stamped out...
    Deuteronomy 22: 28 If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. 29 Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her
    Deuteronomy 7:1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations ... then you must destroy them totally. 2 Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.
    Leviticus 21: 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire.
    Shelly, I would like to buy into this Bible stuff like you do, but it seems too violent for modern society. Here is how a moderate Christian defends abortion...
    "The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life."
    That is the kind of stuff that Christians like Shelley are fine letting others believe. Here is another example...
    "By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG - AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine's just war. It simply doesn't pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God."
    Seems like that Christian has actually arrived at the right destination (one of the few who has), AMAZING! I guess the only problem remaining here is the compass (RELIGION), which can be unreliable and is easily misinterpreted.
    Leviticus 20: 27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them.
    Cheers to PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and myself), who can see the danger in sadistic "fairy tales".

  • Evil Monkey says:

    The problem, of course, isn't the fairy tales themselves. The problem is what happens when people take fantastical notions and treat them as real.

  • John Marley says:

    when people take fantastical notions and treat them as real.

    I thought that was the definition of religion.

  • daedalus2u says:

    While Buddhists' may have had their jihads, jihad is not really a core belief of Buddhism.
    "But not all religions are so threatened. Buddhists embrace modern science, and none more so than the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tibet

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