Home » Cosmology, News, Philosophy » Dalai Lama says if scientific method finds Buddhist principles wrong, Buddhism must change.

Dalai Lama says if scientific method finds Buddhist principles wrong, Buddhism must change.

In Scientific American’s “Primate Diaries,” Michael Eric Johnson writes

According to the Dalai Lama, there is no conflict between his own spiritual pursuits and those of modern science. Quite simply, if any principles of Buddhist thought are found to be wrong by employing the scientific method, “Buddhism will have to change.” Just as he did in his 2005 address to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the Dalai Lama emphasized that his deeply held religious philosophy was both enriched and informed by an empirical worldview.

On the philosophical level, both Buddhism and modern science share a deep suspicion of any notion of absolutes, whether conceptualized as a transcendent being, as an eternal, unchanging principle such as soul, or as a fundamental substratum of reality. Both Buddhism and science prefer to account for the evolution and emergence of the cosmos and life in terms of the complex interrelations of the natural laws of cause and effect. From the methodological perspective, both traditions emphasize the role of empiricism.

This is a rare perspective amongst religious thinkers.

From a Christian perspective, the Lama sounds confused. One’s faith commitment is the lens through which one assesses such tools of thought as the scientific method: When, where, and how that method or various rules of logic, for example, show value can only be determined in relation to one’s assumptions about reality.

For example (and just for example), do we live in a universe that follows unchanging laws? A universe whose laws can change only under extraordinary circumstances? A multiverse where universes interact and the laws may change without notice? A chaos that follows no laws? A universe that exists only in our own minds? An illusion that we must get over?

All these views and many others have been held by respected thinkers at various times and places. What weight should we give each? That is where one’s prior commitments come in because they determine how to make use of the tools. What they are good for.

A theist, for example, will likely think that we live in one law-governed universe that is a reality outside ourselves, but that the laws were created by a Lawgiver who could suspend them for sufficient reason, the way a good judge might suspend a sentence for sufficient reason.

Then the scientific method is indeed a tool. But it does not happen to be a club. Evidence decides.

Johnson, of course, goes on to trash Virginia Heffernan, the tech writer who dared to doubt Darwin’s followers. But what else would you expect?

That’s the trouble with statements like the Lama’s. They give ammunition to science writers to attack a tech writer who rightly discerns that—for example—evolutionary psychology is utter bunk.

Those very science writers would easily see what awful bunk it is if they were not so emotionally invested in the Darwin cult from which that monstrous weed grew. And they imagine that their devotion has something to do with the scientific method. It doesn’t. Neither does “evolutionary psychology.”

One must suppose that the Lama does not completely understand this type of situation.

Note: Denyse O’Leary, for News here, wrote a respectful series on the Lama’s views on the universe here.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

6 Responses to Dalai Lama says if scientific method finds Buddhist principles wrong, Buddhism must change.

  1. Buddhism lacks a concept of truth, at least in an absolute sense. Truth and supporting evidence just isn’t as important in Buddhism as it is in Christianity.

  2. I think I’m a Buddhist!

    Denyse, you bring this up quite often, and I’m genuinely curious: what is it that you refer to when you refer to “the Darwin cult”?

    Could you describe to me who you are referring, to, and what their beliefs are?

    I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist (it may or may not, but I am happy to consider that it may) – but when you refer to it, it bears so little resemblance to anything I am acquainted with, I’d really like to know what you mean.

    (I do, btw, agree with you that much science journalism is terrible.)

  3. For what it’s worth, Elizabeth, I suspect Denyse, as would all the theists/IDers here, would regard the word, ‘cult’, as the correct definition of a non-scientific, religious movement, well out of the mainstream.

    They may not be a formal ‘fringe’ movement (indeed, formally, quite the contrary, at least until recently) but the reality is that they are an actual ‘fringe’ movement, in terms of claiming a scientific underpinning for their passionately held beliefs, despite the constant accumulation of an ever-growing mountain of empirical evidence running counter to their own non empirically-based, conjectures. But that’s just my two penn’orth.

  4. What truly egregious integrity on the part of the Dalai Lama! Awesome.

  5. To me, anyway, “the Darwin cult” are those scientists, philosophers, and science publicists who treat Darwin’s theory of evolution as though it is the most important scientific discovery of all time.

    It’s not. Really.

    They also extrapolate Darwinian evolution into the social and political fabric of society, where it doesn’t always work. Yet they argue continually that it does, despite evidence to the contrary.

  6. Did you say, ‘scientific discovery’, Barb? Darwin failed on both scores, didn’t he?

Leave a Reply