Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Buddhism and the Grand Debate Over Evolution

The hottest topic on science blogs these days seems to be the Evolution/Creationism/Intelligent Design debate. It's an easy guess that three or four out of every ten science blogs will post something about the debate on any given day, and some portion of those posts will get pretty nasty.

That is to say, it's common enough on science blogs to see creationists and IDers labeled "idiots", "morons", "windbags", "liars", and much else along the same line.

Nastiness inspires nastiness and, in most cases, the blogger's nastiness inspires equal or greater nastiness from the commentators on his or her entry. When the blogger calls some creation scientist a fool, you can bet one of the commentators will add that he's a cretin too, if not a "fucking cretin".

A small part of me can understand that vitriol. I have certainly observed that creationists and IDers are usually ignorant of evolutionary fact and theory. Worse, many seem willfully ignorant of both fact and theory. And there is even considerable evidence that some of their leaders are actual liars. Yet, that's not all there is to this.

What's really going on with the science bloggers and their friends is fear. Most people will not call you an "idiot" merely for being ignorant on some subject, but they might indeed call you an "idiot" -- or worse -- if they are scared of your ignorance on that subject.

Many science bloggers, as well as many of their friends, are acutely aware the creationists and IDers are damaging to the cause of science with their ignorance, willful ignorance, and lies. The science bloggers and their friends have allowed themselves to fear those damages, and consequently, they have responded to the creationists and IDers out of fear. That's my guess.

Ironically, the other side is probably scared to death too. When Creationists and IDers are willfully ignorant, or when they lie, they are most likely reacting to their fear the science of evolution undermines their hope of obtaining heaven; or their fear that, by destroying someone's faith, it leads them to hell.

A good Buddhist might point out both sides could profitably meditate on the folly of our becoming attached to our ideas.

So far as I understand what Buddhism teaches, attachment typically leads to fear and other negative emotions, and those emotions can then lead to all sorts of false and silly notions. It is both false and silly to think that the 48% of Americans who disbelieve evolution are all morons. Again, it is both false and silly to think that all the people who do believe in evolution are deluded by Satan. Those and a whole host of other false and silly notions are ultimately the product of attachment; along with the fear, hatred, contempt, and so forth that so typically comes from attachment.

I am not so foolish as to think anything I say here will change the tone or character of the evolution/creation/intelligent design debate. That's a monstrous debate, and even if every last participant in it suddenly conceived a burning desire to read my essay here, very few would see any need to take my implied advice, and study attachment. Near as I can figure, that's because so many people enjoy their attachments. We -- most of us -- even like being scared to death of something if being scared to death of something gives us a feeling of involvement, meaning, significance. And the Grand Debate over evolution does exactly that for a huge number of people. It gives them a sense they are involved in something truly important.

Maybe they are indeed involved in something important. But I suspect the debate would be a lot less nasty -- and a lot more sane and truthful -- if we folks would practice a bit of non-attachment to our ideas. So, am I onto something here, or is my mind reeling from too much caffeine again?


BrandonE said...

I think you've shown a great insight into the problem behind the problem. This is universally applicable to all sociopolitical debates that get heated I think. Thanks.

Mystic Wing said...

Yours is a very sane and calm view of an incredibly volatile subject. I do think you're right in observing that fear is driving both sides on this debate, and that both would gain much if they could loosen their attachment a bit.

Both parties cause me some concern. Extreme scientists seem to want to deny the magic of life, while extreme Christians want us to deny logic itself. Surely there's got to be middle ground.

Anonymous said...

> But I suspect the debate would be a lot less nasty -- and a lot more sane and truthful -- if we folks would practice a bit of non-attachment to our ideas.

Aren't Buddhists attached to the ideas of Buddhism?

Paul said...

"Aren't Buddhists attached to the ideas of Buddhism?"

I suppose some Buddhists are, Patty, but I wouldn't paint all Buddhists that way. It would be painting with too broad of a brush, I think. For instance, Will Buckingham, over at the "Think Buddha" blog, does not come across to me as very attached to the ideas of Buddhism, even though he is obviously quite knowledgeable about Buddhism.

Paul said...

Hi Brandon,

Thanks for pointing out that the same problems beset many other sociopolitical debates! I quite agree.

Hi Mystic,

I'm thinking the "middle ground" is to recognize the legitimacy of mystical experiences. Mystical experiences neither deny all logic nor do they deny the primacy of observation. At the same time, they are nothing if not an affirmation of "the magic of life".

Good comment!

david said...


In Tibetan Buddhism , the teaching is that evolution is a reflection of spiritual evolution, the spirit is not some materialistic epiphenomenon.

Moreover it is a personal evolution. You were once a alligator, because of your fear, your anger etc. You are a human now because you are more evolved, softer, more loving, more willing to try to less agnry.

Also, it a very good point.. yes "Buddhists" are very attached to all kinds of ideas and views. But also remember the Buddha never said the word "Buddhism". Enlightenment/Buddha-hood is complete non-attachment. Being a "buddhist" or anything else for that matter is necessarily not being a Buddha.