by Denyse O'Leary
Here are two key differences between Christian and Buddhists' understanding of the issues around science, materialism, Darwinism and such:
1. Big Bang cosmology is NOT an aid to a Buddhist's faith
Big bang cosmology, which only really gained widespread science acceptance in the last fifty years, has often been used to support theistic religious belief in the West - as I explored in some detail in my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. The Lama, however, dislikes it much, and would prefer an eternal or automatically self-renewing universe. He explains,
From the Buddhist perspective, the idea that there is a single definite beginning is highly problematic. If there were such an absolute beginning, logically speaking, this leaves only two options. One is theism, which proposes that the universe is created by an intelligence that is totally transcendent, and therefore outside the laws of cause and effect. The second option is that the universe came into being from no cause at all. Buddhism rejects both these options. (P. 82)
Naturally, the Lama hopes that someone will disprove the Big Bang. I am glad he is so honest, compared to some atheist cosmologists, who attempt to undermine the Big Bang for what I suspect are precisely the same reasons - but without admitting the nature of their dissatisfaction.
2. Origin of consciousness vs. origin of life: Which is more important?
Western thinkers tend to place a great deal of emphasis on the difference between life and non-life, thus the problem of the origin of life receives considerable attention. But Buddhists are not especially interested in that problem, according to the Lama.
Much more important to Buddhists is the origin of the capacity for conscious experience. That is because Buddhists do not emphasize the difference between life and non-life, but rather the difference between experience and non-experience. For example, a Christian might think that a coral colony is closer to a dog than to a rock because the colony is, after all, alive.
But a Buddhist might think otherwise. He might consider the coral colony closer to a rock than to a dog because the colony is not a subject of conscious experience. The dog, by contrast, is a subject of conscious experience to some extent, in the sense that his canine mind, while limited, perceives what happens to him.
In other words, the Buddhist is primarily interested in the problem of mind rather than the problem of life. How does the mind arise? How does one become a subject of conscious experience, rather than an object colliding with other objects? And what is the significance of being a subject rather than an object? (The fundamental Buddhist doctrine of karma, whatever its merits, depends on the significance of being a subject and making morally accountable choices.)
Next: Part Three: Why does the Dalai Lama reject Darwinism?
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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