by Denyse O'Leary
In its spring 2005 newsletter, the Society for Neuroscience announced that the Dalai Lama had agreed to be the first-ever speaker in an annual lecture series, "Dialogues Between Neuroscience
and Society," in Washington, DC. As we have seen, the Lama comes from an ancient tradition of contemplation of mind, and he is intensely interested in (and financially supportive of) new tools that might assist understanding. So why did hundreds of neuroscientists sign a petition protesting his lecture?
Well, as non-materialist neuroscientist Mario Beauregard and I recount in The Spiritual Brain, a protester explained,
Neuroscience more than other disciplines is the science at the interface between modern philosophy and science. No opportunity should be given to anybody to use neuroscience for supporting transcendent views of the world.
Well there you have it. Neuroscience is one of the handmaidens of materialism, and must not be co-opted by anyone who doubts materialism.
But the story is really more complex than that. While the protesters claimed that they did not want science entangled with religion, they were actually pretty entangled themselves. One key grievance was the Lama's acceptance of the doctrine of reincarnation.
But that raises the question, why should neuroscientists - as neuroscientists - care whether the Lama believes that he is the reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama? Neuroscience as a discipline will likely find the subject unresearchable. Only current brains can be researched by neuroscience. If a mind were formerly instantiated in the brain of another body, how would the neuroscientist know? The whole question is precisely the sort that neuroscientists should politely refuse to get involved in because it does not suggest useful research directions. But the protestors did want to get involved because, for them, materialism amounts to a religion. Hence the uproar.
As it happened, the Lama gave an excellent speech on science and ethics, of the sort quite typical for a religious leader, and the whole affair died down quietly. But it was a troubling reminder of the allegiance that many in science still feel toward materialism.
Next: Part Five: Other reviews of Single Atom: Materialists and non-materialists continue to lock horns
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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