by Denyse O'Leary
The Lama has no problem with evolution in principle. But he clearly (though tactfully) rejects Darwinism (non-purposeful evolution) as an explanation for the history of life on earth. However, he rejects it for somewhat different reasons than many Christians do. He is not troubled by the prospect that humans and apes may be genetic cousins but he has three primary reasons for doubt.
First, he does not agree that the development of the universe is random. Indeed, Buddhism places law or karma in precisely the place where most Christians would put God. But the law of karma requires causation rather than randomness. The Lama writes,
From the philosophical point of view, the idea that these mutations, which have such far-reaching implications, take place naturally is unproblematic, but that they are purely random strikes me as unsatisfying. It leaves open the question of whether this randomness is best understood as an objective feature of reality or better understood as indicating some kind of hidden causality. (P. 104)
Second, he rejects the idea that the mind is not real and that therefore consciousness is an illusion. Many people do not realize that a central axiom of materialist science is that the mind is merely a buzz created by the neurons, with no real power to affect anything. That is, the materialist is not just saying that there is no God, he is also saying that there is no you. But the Lama does realize that. Indeed, he was forced to, in a dialogue with a materialist scientist that he recounts in Single Atom,
I said to one of the scientists: "It seems very evident that due to changes in the chemical processes of the brain, many of our subjective experiences like perception and sensation occur. Can one envision to reversal of this causal process? Can one postulate that pure thought itself could effect a change in the chemical processes of the brain?" I was asking whether, conceptually at least, we could allow the possibility of both upward and downward causation.
The scientist's response was quite surprising. He said that since all mental states arise from physical states, it is not possible for downward causation to occur. Although out of politeness, I did not respond at the time, I thought then and still think that here is as yet no scientific basis for such a categorical claim. The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientific fact. I feel that, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, it is critical that we allow the question to remain open, and not conflate our assumptions with empirical fact. (p. 128)
As a Buddhist, he places a great deal of emphasis on the idea that the universe is top down, not bottom up. To him, the mind is real and creative. It is independent of matter. On that, he is not prepared to budge, as his reacton to the scientist shows. He writes further,
In order for the study of consciousness to be complete, we need a methodology that would account not only for what is occurring at the neurological and biochemical levels but also for the subjective experience of consciousness itself. Even when combined, neuroscience and behavioral psychology do not shed enough light on the subjective experience, as both approaches still place primary importance on the objective, third-person perspective. Contemplative traditions on the while have historically emphasized subjective, first-person investigation of the nature and functions of consciousness, by training the mind to focus in a disciplined way on its own internal states. (P. 141)
In other words, no view of mind is accurate if it dismisses the you in you.
Third, he rejects the idea that no one genuinely feels compassion (altruism). Strict Darwinism accounts for altruism as simply the way that your selfish genes compel you to spread them. Your feelings are useful illusions that help spread your genes. He acknowledges,
Some more dogmatic Darwinians have suggested that natural selection and survival of the fittest are best understood at the level of individual genes. Here we see the reduction of the strong metaphysical belief in the principle of self-interest to imply that somehow individual genes behave in a selfish way. I do not know how many of today's scientists hold such radical views, As it stands the current biological model does not allow for the possibility of real altruism. (P. 113)Revisiting the topic and choosing his words carefully, the Lama writes,
I am told there is in fact an entire discipline called Ã¢â‚¬Ëœevolutionary psychology.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ To an extent I can see how evolutionary accounts can be given for the emergence of basic emotions such as attachment, anger, and fear. However ... I cannot envision how the evolutionary approach can do justice to the richness of the emotional world and the subjective quality of experience. (P. 181)His views come as no surprise because the development of compassion is central to the Buddhist understanding of spiritual growth. But they proved unacceptable to many neuroscientists.
Next: Part Four: Materialist neuroscientists vs. the Lama
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