..."On My Dying Day, I'll Receive Total Consciousness...So I Got That Going For Me..."

Friday, July 14, 2006

A strange post today, somewhat apolitical, more observational. What brought this all together were some recent posts on a few other blogs I check out concerning the ongoing battle between science and religion.

As I travel around, I have been listening to the Dalai Lama's newest book, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. The downside: it's read by Richard Gere. Ugh. But that's a whole different discussion about gerbils...(or should I say a-hole different discussion about gerbils...)

I really started to get into the Lama during my whole "what the Hell do I believe" stage, and it all came to a head the day I nearly got run-over by the Dalai Lama's car in Washington D.C. Again, a whole different story, but one that I credit a high degree of positive karma to.

Anyway, the Dalai Lama starts out with the premise that science untempered by religion makes us to be a series of biological and chemical interactions. This does not impel us to be kind to one another, and it tears down a sense of value between each other and within ourselves. However, religion untempered by science requires us to ignore what we see to be absolutely true, and furthermore, can actually emperically prove. This leads us to ignorance of the gift of our world.

His overall thesis is that science and religion must coexist. He is not embarking on the cliche'd journey where the two serve as a compliment to one another. Rather, he views them as world views that shape our reality. In other words, we individually apply what each view means to us as we form our own reality. In his mind, these are diametrically-opposed views that alone, because they are philosophies, have no compulsion to peacefully coexist. It is up to us to create their coexistance as it applies to us individually.

He did mention that as the spiritual leader of the Buddhist world, he has the convenience of being able to reject certain outdated Buddhist views or legends in lieu of emperical science to the contrary. But he extends that ability to everyone in that, again, our reality is of our own creation. It is up to us to create that reality, but the goal of that reality is peace. Our reality should take into account all views and create a world where those views are embraced, examined, and when necessary, are modified.

Man, I like that guy.

So this got me thinking about some posts on a few other blogs concerning, as always, the abortion debate, but many others as well, including cervical cancer vaccinations, HIV/AIDS medications, cures, and vaccines, intelligent design, evolution, and the like. What has been created is chaos. The conflicting views on each subject individually have created a war of ideas of which the two sides are absolute.

Deeper than this, though, are the base assumptions of the correctness-through-proof of science and the infallibility of religious doctrine. Science gives us a cure for a disease that ravages entire nations, but certain relgious sects, instead of tempering this discovery with moral warnings and obligations, takes a stance against that particular discovery.

The lesson that I believe the Dalai Lama is getting at is that of absolutism. Although there is a benefit to science, it is outweighed in certain minds by a larger moral absolutism that will not allow exceptions, even if the exception is a contradiction to the overall belief! If your belief is in the sanctity of life, the fact that there is a chance that a cervical cancer vaccine might contribute to an increase in premarital sex should never outweigh the benefit the vaccine provides in terms of the reduction of suffering* and the extsnsion of life. But strangely, it does, and it creates an inherent conflict within itself that somehow, a physical act of premarital sex is a larger moral dilemma than our using our gift of empericism to cure diseases.

The question becomes: which side has overstepped its role, moving from philosophy to "absolute?" Maybe our scientific push into cloning carries a true danger in that we don't understand cloning's implications on soul. But equally dangerous is the notion that our planet is 6,000 years old and that Americans are born to rule by divine rite.

As I reflect on this, it becomes apparent, at least to me, that the answer lies in the warnings that one imposes on the other. A balance is created not by some hokey compromise, because these are inherently uncompromising views. By compromise, you get "intellgient design" and other thoughts that appear to be the perfect blend of science and religion outwardly, but on little investigation are exposed to be a spin on one absolute or another. From a different perspective, just like intelligent design being a thin veil for creationism-by-another-name, science can not essentially advertise as absolute truth something that is still being tested as a theory, like the Big Bang, which leaves out an important question about what was even before that, and why. Just because something has been a theory for a long time doesn't make it an absolute.

Back to the balance issue: hokey, thinly veiled comproimises are not "balance." True balance is that we won't delve into certain scientific areas because we truly understand and feel the moral implications. We won't ignore scientific findings because they could violate some religious code. The human cloning issue is resolved if we realize that the technology possibly exists, but we choose to resist using that technology because we understand its moral implications. Conversely, the moral benefit of some scientific discovery, such as eliminating suffering from cancer because of stem cell research, should outweigh a fear that we will employ women to get impregnated so we can harvest their embryonic stem cells...which we could do, but are balanced by the moral implication and inherent worngness of that action. See the circle? Checks and balances, not absolutes.

When all you do all day is sit around in a purple robe and think about peace, you find an amazing product. Absolutism creates disagreement and conflict. This is not about being wishy-washy or the benefit of black-and-white right-and-wrong. This is about finding a world view that promotes peace and tolerance. I guess sometimes wisdom can't come from Southern Megachurches or Northern Catholic Megaperishes, but sometimes from a little dude who wears glasses, dreams about peace and wishes to be free from an oppressive state.


*yes, a basic tenet of Buddhism is that life is suffering, but this isn't what they mean. Trust me. The Lama told me.


Anonymous,  4:05 PM  



B Mac,  3:52 PM  

Big hitter, the Lama...

Heck of a post, and more than I can really digest on a Monday.

I think you're going to get a perfect example of moral absolutism in the next few days. The President is going to veto the use of federal money for stem cell research.

But I suppose that's cool, because God told him to do it. Seriously. They have a weekly conference call to brainstorm. I hear the Lama used to be in on those calls, but at one point he raised questions about the morality of the war. Now he's listed as an "enemy combatant".

Otto Man 12:26 AM  

Let me second Bob's "dude."

Smitty 7:48 AM  

You hit where I was headed, b mac. This is opening future diatribes about the federal stem cell issue.

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