Evolution and Buddhism
Today's New York Times has this interesting review of the Dalai Lama's new book, The Universe in a Sinlge Atom:
The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.
Actually, the most interesting part of the review is its opening sentence:
It's been a brutal season in the culture wars with both the White House and a prominent Catholic cardinal speaking out in favor of creationist superstition, while public schools and even natural history museums shy away from teaching evolutionary science.
That's wonderfully blunt, and makes a nice contrast with the overly respectful coverage of ID the Times has sometime provided in other articles.
As for the Dalai Lama, he's certainly a lot more sensible than many of the religious leaders in this country:
But this book offers something wiser: a compassionate and clearheaded account by a religious leader who not only respects science but, for the most part, embraces it. “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims,” he writes. No one who wants to understand the world “can ignore the basic insights of theories as key as evolution, relativity and quantum mechanics.”
Sounds good. Might have to check this one out. But the reviewer, George Johnson, does sound a cautionary note later on:
But when it comes to questions about life and its origins, this would-be man of science begins to waver. Though he professes to accept evolutionary theory, he recoils at one of its most basic tenets: that the mutations that provide the raw material for natural selection occur at random. Look deeply enough, he suggests, and the randomness will turn out to be complexity in disguise - “hidden causality,” the Buddha's smile. There you have it, Eastern religion's version of intelligent design.
It's hard to comment without having read the book, but Johnson's brief description sounds considerably better than what the ID folks say. It seems like the Dalai Lama is suggesting simply that we have more to learn about evolution; that our perception of randomness in the course of evolution might simply reflect our imperfect understanding of genetics.
If I'm interpreting him correctly, that's far more sensible than what the ID fokls say. The Dalai Lama is telling us we have more to learn. The ID folks are telling us that they have proved mathematically that at some point God waggled his finger and caused something to happen, and any failure on your part to acknowledge that obvious fact simply reflects your irrational predilection for atheism (and probably homosexuality and Communism to boot). That's a big difference.
Alas, the rest of the paragraph is more troubling:
He also opposes physical explanations for consciousness, invoking instead the existence of some kind of irreducible mind stuff, an idea rejected long ago by mainstream science. Some members of the Society for Neuroscience are understandably uneasy that he has been invited to give a lecture at their annual meeting this November. In a petition, they protested that his topic, the science of meditation, is known for “hyperbolic claims, limited research and compromised scientific rigor.”
Oh well. That one's annoying. And it's definitely annoying that he's been invited to address the Society of Neuroscience. Does he, er, know anything about neuroscience?