Science journalist James Hrynyshyn, in a blog post, asserts his firm belief that science and religion “simply cannot be reconciled.”
Even the Dalai Lama’s famous quote, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change,” fails to make a dent in Hyrnyshyn’s belief, as he airily suggests that the Dalai Lama “may not have thought this through.”
Hyrnyshyn insists that the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation, regardless of what the Dalai Lama says, is irreconcilable with science. He appears to assume that this doctrine is essentially no more sophisticated than the common western (new age) notion of reincarnation. That’s like refuting the Christian belief in God by assuming that it’s no more than some idea about a big guy in the sky with a white beard and a thunderous voice. A serious critic has to do better.
Why should anyone consider the possibility that the Dalai Lama knows what he’s talking about? Well, aside from his international stature as a leader and scholar, his long history of engagement with scientists, his many writings*, and his Nobel Peace Prize, as well as Hyrnyshyn’s judgment that he is a “nice guy,” the Dalai Lama is supported by many centuries of highly skilled empirical research in the Buddhist meditative tradition.
On the other hand, one can note the historical reluctance of western science to engage in subjective research on the mind. Looking at the different strengths of both traditions, we can see at least that reconciliation at some point is far from being ruled out. Rather than looking at the same things differently, they have been looking at different things. Personally, I have one foot firmly in each camp. I see many questions, but no direct conflict.
What do you think?
Charlie Four-niner says
Reconciliation doesn’t always mean complete agreement or any agreement at all. Often it is just a state of friendship and harmony between parties, recognizing that each party believes in hypotheses that have yet to be proved or disproved if ever they will be.
Reincarnation isn’t the best word to use when contemplating the Buddhist beliefs of Karma and rebirths. The word reincarnation implies a soul or something that goes from one body to another. Even using the phrase “stream of consciousness” probably implies too much stuff of the self.
Comparing Buddhism and Christianity, as Mr. Hrynyshyn does in his blog, is not comparing apples to apples or even apples to oranges. It’s more like comparing apples to sparkplugs. It’s ridiculous. Buddhism by many definitions isn’t a religion at all.
Charlie Four-niner says
If, because of Johnny Walker’s previous Karma, causes due to his actions, along with whatever conditions apply, he is “reborn” as Sally Jones in another state or as a gnat, then Johnny Walker no longer exists. What exists is Sally Jones or a gnat connected somehow to J. W. by the laws of Karma.
There’s no way to prove or disprove that Sally or the gnat do not have a karmic connection with Johnny. Supposedly only highly realized beings can recall their previous lives. Of course that doesn’t prove anything to anyone except to them.
Karma and rebirth are only a hypothesis useful to the practitioner to keep them working on a particular spiritual path toward a goal. In the end, when the goal is achieved, it doesn’t matter if the hypothesis was true or not.
I think that Buddhist beliefs and science can be reconciled eventually. Both are about change.
Personally I see enormous similarities between “reincarnation” and the scientific theories of evolution and the workings of DNA. Maybe one day we’ll find out that they are different ways of describing the same thing.
K Gowen says
'I think that Buddhist beliefs and science can be reconciled eventually. Both are about change.
Personally I see enormous similarities between “reincarnation” and the scientific theories of evolution and the workings of DNA. Maybe one day we’ll find out that they are different ways of describing the same thing.'–
It seems to me that one could conceive of that part of inquiry that currently is called 'science' as a particular portion of the larger, longer-arced quest to perceive and understand called 'Buddhism'.
Just how it is that we currently believe controversy and even conflict to be marks of authenticity– that's another question worth considering.
Within Buddhism there are many ways to express rebirth/reincarnation. Thich Nhat Hanh discusses karma and rebirth in terms of our dna sharing between the generations. Our ancestors live on in us and have rebirth. Their karmic burden is also carried by us in our genetic tendencies toward disease or addiction or blue eyes or violence or meat eating!
Buddhism dwells in reality. So long as science describes reality Buddhism dwells in science.
Alan Murray says
A science and a Buddhism that truly reflect Universe as it is, would be one and the same explication. Trouble here is inherent in language, or any other media used to describe what is. All media are secondary or tertiary reflections of what is and must be interpreted by the reciever's mind frame.
Is reincarnation real? In as much as my ten year old self was me, any post death vestige will be 'me'. I am now, at age 55, some reflection of my child but he no longer can be found in any material world.