Science and a Renaissance of Faith


-By Upasaka Kuo Chou Rounds

Children brought up in the Christian faith are prone to stumble on the familiar contradiction: if God is all good and all-powerful, why is there evil and suffering in the world? Nowadays, when as adults we struggle to make sense of the beliefs that prevail in our culture, we are hampered by another contradiction: if science can explain the laws of the universe and solve the problems of the world, how is it that science has created the nuclear weaponry and the vicious chemicals that have become such a heavy burden on the world?

Mature religious people agree that, whatever they may call the ultimate principle of the universe, the suffering among living beings is due entirely to their own actions. In Buddhism we are taught,

No one can save us but ourselves;

Our own strength is greater than a reliance on others.

It is we who must walk the proper path;

The Buddhas are simply teachers and guides.

Mature scientists will equally grant that science alone cannot solve our problems for us, because though science can tell us how to do things, it cannot tell us what to do. The scientific method by itself is not concerned with moral questions. Thus science shows us equally how to create modern farms, modern machinery, and modem hospital care--and modern bombs, modern poisons, and (it is to be feared in the near future) modern mutants. It is religion that points to the difference between right and wrong and shows us how to develop the strength to do good and not do evil; religion tells us what new things we should not create and teaches us forbearance not to use them, if we have been fools enough to create them. Science is the hand that builds tools and weapons; religion is the mind that directs the hand to pick them up or lay them down.

Thus there is no proper contradiction between science and religion; their proper roles are complementary. But during the past hundred and more years, science has tried to usurp the greater role of religion, and even to maintain that religion should have no role. As an institution (from which many individual scientists, sometimes too late, have indeed dissented) science has insisted that questions of right and wrong have no place in the laboratory, and, in the hallowed names of pure research and academic freedom, has declared itself independent of anyone's concern for the consequences of its investigations. Scientists are wont to wrap their claims to freedom from accountability in the flag of Galileo's martyrdom and the other persecutions inflicted upon science by the European Church during its worst period. But now that Church is a force for peace, and it is science which designs the engines of disintegration and war.

Having split the atom, science has yet to find ways to bury the lethal wastes that result. Having created chemicals to foul the air and burden the waters with strange filths, scientists declare that we must rely on them to guide us in returning the planet to purity. Now scientists express pious alarm that other people should, wish to see them restrained in their pursuit of power over the working of human genes. In general, whatever new power they unleash in the laboratory and disseminate in the world, scientists claim they must be trusted to find the antidote, if only given enough time and money. There is an arrogance to this so stunning that it is hard to recognize it for the fraud that it is. How can scientists not be deeply ashamed? The answer is that shame at one's mistakes is something taught by religions, and scientists consider religions to be irrational.

The boast of science is that it has found the method to reveal the laws of the universe. And yet it has discarded as irrelevant the most basic of all the laws of life, the law of karma: as you sow, so shall you reap. If you make poison, you have created the conditions for a poisoning. It is you who have empowered the poisoner. "We merely find things out," scientists say. "The government, the public, and our corporate em­ployers must decide what use to make of our information." As well a gunman might say, "I merely squeeze a trigger and send a piece of metal into the air. The sensation in my hand is most interesting. My victim must decide what to do with the bullet."

In seeking the laws that govern the world, science has forgotten the laws that govern the seeker. Scientists imagine that when they enter the laboratory they can abandon their humanness along with their overcoats. Religion, they say, is subjective and based on faith, but science is objective and based on reason. Science is a body of proven knowledge universally agreed upon and carefully built upon experiments, which can be duplicated by anyone, but religion is a series of outmoded assumptions that contradict one another from country to country and from century to century.

These proud distinctions dissolve when one turns the investigation from the scientific method and apparatus to the scientist himself. Consider a being impelled by desires and apprehensions, limited in his perception by the range and purview of his senseorgans, shaped in his approach to everything by the structure of his thinking, and determined in his understanding above all by the quality and scope of his consciousness—in short, a human being: are all these conditions which govern his search not going to effect, in fact to entirely decide, what he chooses to look for, how, he goes about finding it, and what he is to make of it when he has it? The most ordinary operations of his daily life are based on a faith that what he perceives is objectively real. Religion can tell him that what he perceives is so heavily conditioned by the nature of the perceiver that we can not expect to perceive what is real with our ordinary minds. And it can tell him that there is no weakness in frankly admitting to the inevitable subjectivity of ordinary consciousness and in making use of the tool of subjective faith to allow one to accomplish what one should be doing in the world.

-Concluded next issue