Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Stupidity Shall Leave Us All Behind

In 2005 the Dalai Lama wrote, in a New York Times op-ed, about his view of science and religion. He related a story from his childhood that set the tone:

One night while looking at the moon [through a telescope] I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.

But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I'm sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

This week, a legislator from our neighboring state of Arizona made the news for arguing, in a hearing about uranium mining in her state, that we did not need environmental laws and, at any rate, the world is 6,000 years old. She repeated this twice, casually, as one repeats a universally accepted truth.

The problem is, the earth is not 6,000 years old. When a reporter asked her about this later she said, "I think people are welcome to believe whatever they want about how old the Earth is." Fair enough, but should they be in a position to legislate environmental policy if they believe the world is flat? A person has a right to believe that the moon is a divine sphere that emits light, but that doesn't mean the person is entitled to be head of NASA.

There are some religious people, like the Buddhist monk above, who feel that when an ancient claim made by religion is debunked by proven scientific data, the religious claim should be revised or junked. In their view, this does not diminish religion but enriches it, because what is most important is the search for truth.

Religion and science are not natural enemies, and to put them in conflict is childish. Indeed they are necessary partners. Much damage has been to the world by the application of knowledge with no reference to morality or the organizing myths by which human beings understand themselves and their place in the world.

It does not help that we elevate people to positions of power who believe that facts are in opposition to religion, and on that basis reject facts. This is delusional behavior.

Denial of material facts may, indeed, be a factor in our destruction. Some think it will be the Rapture, but it might instead be the Stupidity, as God shakes his head in dismay.

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