Using the Science Classroom to Advance a Sectarian Agenda

David Barash writes:

EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t.

Does Prof. Barash do the intellectually honest thing and inform his students that The Talk is just his personal opinion? Or does he posture dishonestly as if The Talk is supposed to be The Truth?

Barash continues to explain how he abuses his authority in the classroom:

There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible. Stephen Jay Gould called them “nonoverlapping magisteria,” noma for short, with the former concerned with facts and the latter with values. He and I disagreed on this (in public and, at least once, rather loudly); he claimed I was aggressively forcing a painful and unnecessary choice, while I maintained that in his eagerness to be accommodating, he was misrepresenting both science and religion.

At first, I though Barash has using his science classroom to preach a New Atheist talking point. But then I noticed that Barash does not truly believe religion and science are incompatible. For he is the author of a book that attempts to harmonize the religion of Buddhism with the science of Biology – “Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science.”

In fact, in a less read piece, Barash has been explicit about this:

The connection—or disconnect—between science and religion has been a matter of debate as long as the two constructs have existed. Some scientists accept the late Stephen Jay Gould’s suggestion that the two are “NOMA” (nonoverlapping magisteria), claiming that science and religion occupy distinct realms, the former concerned with what is, the latter solely with what should be. Others (including myself) reject the NOMA notion, pointing out that religion makes many claims about the real world that are frequently contradicted by scientific fact.

There is, however, an intriguing exception: Buddhism. Perhaps this is because Buddhism is as much philosophy as religion. Science and Buddhism have met, and they get along remarkably well. Instead of NOMA, think “POMA” (productively overlapping magisteria). That is the premise underlying my most recent book, Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science.

Well, well, well. There is an exception. Why, of course! Barash, who is described as “an aspiring Buddhist” just happens (by coincidence, I suppose) to think (or claim to know) that science is incompatible with every other religion except his religion. How convenient is that? It looks like The Talk comes with a sectarian agenda. But should the biology professor be pushing his sectarian views in his science class?

So given that it turns out Borash does not believe religion and science are incompatible, when Borash uses the word “religion” in his Talk with his students, is this supposed to be code-speak for “Christian?” Is the public university professor trying to bash his Christians students without being too obvious about it?

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33 Responses to Using the Science Classroom to Advance a Sectarian Agenda

  1. Allallt says:

    You haven’t taken a moment to explore whether Buddhism is fundamentally different in a way that means it is compatible with modern science.
    (Being compatible doesn’t make it true.)

  2. TFBW says:

    Looks to me like this is another case where “religion” (in the context of “religion and science are incompatible”) is shorthand for theistic religion. It’s not the first time I’ve had cause to point this out recently. Also, it looks like he’s using “science” as shorthand for “evolution” in a similar manner. Running it through the universal translator, I get, “theistic religion and evolution are incompatible.” Even then I’m still not sure I’ve captured all the nuance of his position, which seems to hold that belief in God necessarily entails rejection of evolution.

    In any case, if his point is that Buddhism is way more compatible with evolution than Judaism/Christianity is, then the man should be severely censured for teaching religion from a publicly-funded pulpit which is supposed to be reserved for science. Doubtless, Jerry Coyne will be banging the “separation of church and state” drum just as long and loud about this matter as he did when Eric Hedin at Ball State U was accused of bringing Intelligent Design into the science class. I see he’s already started, with such scathing criticism as the following.

    I admire him for standing up to public opinion and accommodationist organizations like the NCSE. But I’m not so sure that this stuff belongs in a science class.

    Ha! Cop that, Barash! Coyne is ever-vigilant in his promotion of separation of church and state. Just as well for Barash that there’s no such thing as a Buddhist Church, or there would really have been hell to pay.

  3. Michael says:

    You haven’t taken a moment to explore whether Buddhism is fundamentally different in a way that means it is compatible with modern science.
    (Being compatible doesn’t make it true.)

    First, Barash makes science and Buddhism compatible through cherry picking.

    Second, elsewhere, Barash writes:

    The Buddha urged his followers to be sensitive to the suffering of all sentient beings. His First Precept is to commit oneself to ahimsa, or nonharming. The Mahayana Buddhist ideal is to go further, and to become a bodhisattva, an enlightened individual who vows to relieve the suffering of all beings. In the ‘Metta Sutta’, Theravada monks and lay adherents vow to practise loving kindness: ‘Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.’ And here is the first verse of ‘The Bodhisattva Path’, by Shantideva, a revered eighth-century poet: ‘May I be the doctor and the medicine/And may I be the nurse/For all sick beings in the world/Until everyone is healed.’

    This is not compatible with evolution.

    But these two points are tangents for this thread. Focus on the main point of this thread:

    Buddhism is a religion. IF Buddhism is compatible with science, as Barash maintains, it is not honest to teach others that “religion is incompatible with science.” The honest way to phrase it would be, “Most religions are incompatible with science.”

  4. Allallt says:

    It is pretty easy to define religion in such a way as to exclude Buddhism. (Also, the quote is not contra-evolution; there is a difference between descriptions and prescriptions of reality.)

  5. Michael says:

    It is pretty easy to define religion in such a way as to exclude Buddhism.

    So you think. Does the science professor define “religion” for his students? Look, the words “religion,” “compatible,” and “science” can all be defined in many ways. The issue here is whether the science professor should be preaching his Talk in his science class. Question for you – should he?

    (Also, the quote is not contra-evolution; there is a difference between descriptions and prescriptions of reality.)

    Prescriptions of reality are incompatible with science.

    And you are wrong – Buddhism, as portrayed by Barash, is indeed incompatible with evolution.

  6. Allallt says:

    I live in the UK. Here very few people see the conflict between evolution and religion. But the professor should have done a better job of pointing out that he is only talking about religions which make specific knowledge claims (e.g. young earth interpretations of the Abrahamic religions). Even when a religion make a specific knowledge claim (different from a values claim) his talk only really applies to religions which won’t adapt to scientific discoveries; it is YEC’s refusal to adapt to science that creates this issue.
    Buddhism, even if you accept it as a religion (which I don’t; it has no gods), doesn’t make specific knowledge claims about the universe that is scientifically falsified. It is, therefore, compatible (but not supported).
    In a culture where people are going to reject evolution on patently religious grounds, it may be important to intentionally separate the two.

    Saying science is not sufficient to make prescriptions about reality has precisely nothing to do with whether a person can rationally accept evolution and have clear morals.

  7. ccmnxc says:

    “Even when a religion make a specific knowledge claim (different from a values claim) his talk only really applies to religions which won’t adapt to scientific discoveries; it is YEC’s refusal to adapt to science that creates this issue.”

    Boy, isn’t the prof so lucky that there are so many willing to clarify for him that when he says religion and science aren’t compatible, it is really more “certain denominations/aspects of certain religions” are incompatible. I think Crude has talked about reverse-strawmanning before, in which a New Atheist (or secular Buddhist?) makes an inane claim, and it has to be “clarified” to the point where it is a much more moderate, sane claim, but isn’t actually what the original person actually said in the first place. Not that I think Barash is too stupid to distinguish between those in the YEC/anti-evolution camp and those who are religious simpliciter. It’s just that his claim and lecture to his students would be much less impressive and relevant if “religion” became “a small to moderate portion of Abrahamic theists.”

  8. Kevin says:

    The clarification of what he “really” meant reminded me of this Richard Carrier jewel:

    ““For all readers, I ask that my work be approached with the same intellectual charity you would expect from anyone else…. [O]rdinary language is necessarily ambiguous and open to many different interpretations. If what I say anywhere in this book appears to contradict, directly or indirectly, something else I say here, the principle of interpretive charity should be applied: assume you are misreading the meaning of what I said in each or either case. Whatever interpretation would eliminate the contradiction and produce agreement is probably correct. So you are encouraged in every problem that may trouble you to find that interpretation. If all attempts at this fail, and you cannot but see a contradiction remaining, you should write to me about this at once, for the manner of my expression may need expansion or correction in a future edition to remove the difficulty, or I might really have goofed up and need to correct a mistake.””

  9. Talon says:

    Whatever Barash and Harris might say about Buddhism as a whole should be taken with a grain of salt, as materialist Buddhism is a small movement within the faith.

    http://www.dalailama.com/messages/statement-of-his-holiness-the-fourteenth-dalai-lama-tenzin-gyatso-on-the-issue-of-his-reincarnation

    It appears official Buddhist doctrine embraces a transcendent quality to sentient life, a soul and reincarnation, rather than the “meat robot with delusions of consciousness” model common to materialism/atheism. It’s also important to note that Dalai Lama has been a strong voice in interfaith dialogue between Buddhists and Christians, Muslims, and smaller minority sects and has called for respectful exchange between their adherents. The Dalai Lama’s approach is a sharp contrast to the mockery and disdain encouraged by New Atheism and it’s most vocal proponents.

  10. GoldRush Apple says:

    Buddhism seems like the “alternative” religion if one doesn’t necessarily want to go into Christianity – specifically Catholicism; it’s the “spiritual but not religious” option.

  11. calebt45 says:

    Allalt, here’s a good test for hypocrisy: take some of the statements put forward by people like Barash and ask whether you would allow the negations of those premises to be taught in a public classroom. E.g. Barash says “Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. ” and that if one holds to common descent, that’s not possible. Now, let’s take the reverse of that position: biology professor X takes some idea from the natural sciences and teaches his classroom that, in light of this idea, it’s just not tenable to maintain that humans aren’t radically different from other forms of life and aren’t made in the image of God. Do you the academy at large would be happy with this, or would we hear an endless screeching about how he’s a benighted fundy who can’t keep his religious views out of the classroom?

  12. calebt45 says:

    *do you think the academy…

  13. Rhaeyga says:

    Calebt, the problem is that Barash is right and Biology professor X is wrong. Think about it, if evolution is true, and God used it to create humans, then God is a monster. This contradicts the teaching of most religions, which take God as all-good. But there was much suffering and death during the evolution of life (and there is still much suffering and death). Evolution and religion are clearly incompatible.

  14. Michael says:

    Calebt, the problem is that Barash is right and Biology professor X is wrong. Think about it, if evolution is true, and God used it to create humans, then God is a monster.

    God did not use evolution to create “humans.” He used it to create us. And if He used it to create us, it could not be otherwise. I don’t think God is a monster because you exist.

    This contradicts the teaching of most religions, which take God as all-good.

    But we are not “all-good.”

    But there was much suffering and death during the evolution of life (and there is still much suffering and death).

    Indeed. It has helped to shape who we are.

    Evolution and religion are clearly incompatible.

    That’s “clear” only from a shallow, simple-minded perspective. Even Barash does not agree (although he speaks out of both sides of his mouth on this).

  15. calebt45 says:

    @Rhaeyga.

    “Evolution and religion are clearly incompatible.”
    Bollocks.
    On the problem of death and suffering, I recommend you read Brian Davies “The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil.”

    But anyway, you haven’t addressed my challenge: right or wrong, do you think it would be appropriate for somebody to teach the negation of Barash’s propositions in a public classroom?

  16. TFBW says:

    @Rhaeyga:

    Evolution and religion are clearly incompatible.

    Look, even if I accept your argument that God is a monster if he used evolution, I’m afraid that your conclusion still doesn’t follow from it. It only makes it incompatible with a specific subset of religious views. I don’t think it’s remotely incompatible with ancient Greek or Roman polytheism, for example — not for any reason that I’m aware of, at least. Your conclusion massively over-reaches its valid grounds.

    But suppose I overlook those objections and agree that evolution is incompatible with all gods and supernatural beings, leaving only whatever religions embrace naturalism. This presents a problem of its own. The argument is premised on the idea that death and suffering are evil, and a God, gods, or the supernatural would not permit such evil, so they must not exist. But if they do not exist, then what is “evil” exactly? A theist might offer an explanation such as, “evil consists in rebellion against the Will of God.” What does naturalism offer?

    On naturalistic evolution, life emerged from raw matter, energy, and the natural laws which govern them. There is no concept of “good” or “evil” in these things: raw matter, energy, and physical laws are completely amoral — they simply are what they are and do what they do. On naturalistic evolution, therefore, “good” and “evil” can be nothing more than illusions in the minds of human beings — things we like or dislike as a consequence of the evolutionary history which has shaped us. Had circumstances caused other traits to convey survival value, we may have evolved a different set of moral orientations. On naturalism, it seems, moral statements can’t be objectively true or false (if they can be true or false at all) because the objects to which they refer — “good” and “evil” — do not exist out in the real world.

    This poses a problem. In order to accept the problem of evil as an objection against the existence of God (and thus as a cause of incompatibility between evolution and religion), I have to accept that “evil” is a real thing, and not just a figment of human imagination. But if I accept naturalism, then I have no basis to believe that “evil” is anything but a figment of human imagination. By accepting naturalism, I undermine the very foundation on which the argument is built. The argument is supposed to be a slam-dunk, but it seems to be followed by an unavoidable face-plant, so it’s far from clear to me that “Barash is right,” as you claim.

    It looks to me like the whole “if evil exists, God doesn’t” premise might be simplistic, and require closer examination, but let’s not go there. Instead, let’s consider whether it’s appropriate for a science professor like Barash to be teaching junk philosophy in his science class in a fairly blatant effort to promote his non-theistic religious views. I’m thinking, “hell, no.” How about you?

  17. Michael says:

    I live in the UK. Here very few people see the conflict between evolution and religion. But the professor should have done a better job of pointing out that he is only talking about religions which make specific knowledge claims (e.g. young earth interpretations of the Abrahamic religions). Even when a religion make a specific knowledge claim (different from a values claim) his talk only really applies to religions which won’t adapt to scientific discoveries; it is YEC’s refusal to adapt to science that creates this issue.

    You are either confused or have not read Barash’s NYT article. He clearly has not restricted his focus to YECs.

    Buddhism, even if you accept it as a religion (which I don’t; it has no gods), doesn’t make specific knowledge claims about the universe that is scientifically falsified. It is, therefore, compatible (but not supported).

    Wrong again. From Wiki: “The picture of the world presented in Buddhist cosmological descriptions cannot be taken as a literal description of the shape of the universe. It is inconsistent, and cannot be made consistent, with astronomical data that were already known in ancient India. However, it is not intended to be a description of how ordinary humans perceive their world;[1] rather, it is the universe as seen through the divyacakṣus (Pāli: dibbacakkhu), the “divine eye” by which a Buddha or an arhat who has cultivated this faculty can perceive all of the other worlds”

    In a culture where people are going to reject evolution on patently religious grounds, it may be important to intentionally separate the two.

    More confusion on your part. Barash is using his science classroom to preach his atheism. Even the militant atheist Jerry Coyne felt the need to distance himself from this.

    Saying science is not sufficient to make prescriptions about reality has precisely nothing to do with whether a person can rationally accept evolution and have clear morals.

    I see. So you can have “clear morals” and accept evolution, but you cannot be religious and accept evolution. Huh? Your thinking is incoherent. Look, you are missing the point – Barash’s Buddhism is incompatible with evolution. If you disagree, explain how evolution occurs without there being any suffering anywhere.

  18. Allallt says:

    You’ll notice in my comment that I don’t say Barash’s speech is limited to YEC. Read it again.

    The cosmology of Buddhism is not literal (as your wiki quote shows).

    Atheism is the lack of theism. Pointing out that your lecture is a secular one is fine.

    Find me a quote from Buddhism that states the world exists “without there being any suffering anywhere”.

  19. Dhay says:

    Allallt > Find me a quote from Buddhism that states the world exists “without there being any suffering anywhere”.

    Not so difficult: just google “nirvana and samsara are the same” (remove the “) for any number of discussions of the ancient Buddhist teaching that the world of suffering and the sufferingless world of Nirvana are the same, they just look different to the unenlightened. Here’s an example:

    So I’m having a hard time understanding the concept that “there is no distinction whatsoever between samsara and nirvana.”

    Is it because nirvana can only be understood by “wiping the dust” off of samsara? Or that because nirvana is the passing away of suffering,it is therefore empty? Or is it bc they are interdependent and thus empty?

    The text I am referring to is Nagarajuna’s
    Mulamadhyamakakarikah, section on nirvana.

    http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/7732/nirvana-samsara-emptiness-buddha-nature-permanent

    Nagarajuna is one of Buddhism’s intellectual heavyweights.

  20. Michael says:

    You’ll notice in my comment that I don’t say Barash’s speech is limited to YEC. Read it again.

    Okay – “he is only talking about religions which make specific knowledge claims (e.g. young earth interpretations of the Abrahamic religions)….his talk only really applies to religions which won’t adapt to scientific discoveries; it is YEC’s refusal to adapt to science that creates this issue.”

    You were clearly trying to spin things as if Barash was “only talking about” YECs.

    The cosmology of Buddhism is not literal (as your wiki quote shows).

    So according to Barash, Buddhists do not have to be literal, but Christians do? Why the double standard?


    Atheism is the lack of theism. Pointing out that your lecture is a secular one is fine.

    He was doing far more than this – he was misinforming his students that evolutionary biology has shown God does not exist.


    Find me a quote from Buddhism that states the world exists “without there being any suffering anywhere”.

    Read the quote from Barash I provided in one of my comments to you.

  21. calebt45 says:

    “Atheism is the lack of theism.”
    Not this one again. Agnostics also lack belief in God, so are they to be counted as atheists as well? On this definition, what word are we to use for the sub-category of atheists those who think there are good reasons to believe that God doesn’t exist?

  22. calebt45 says:

    *delete “those” from that last sentence.

  23. Peter says:

    Presumably his students are attending his class to learn biology – the good professor’s supposed area of expertise – not the theological speculations of a layman on the problem of evil.

  24. Dhay says:

    Allallt > You haven’t taken a moment to explore whether Buddhism is fundamentally different in a way that means it is compatible with modern science. (Being compatible doesn’t make it true.)

    The publisher’s blurb for David Barasch’s book (linked to by Michael) says:

    “Indeed, a major Buddhist text, the Avatamsaka Sutra, which consists of ten insights into the “interpenetration” between beings and their environment, could well have been written by a trained ecologist, just as current insights in evolutionary biology, genetics and development might have been authored by the Buddha himself.”

    Fail on almost everything, if the blurb writer understands the book’s content: the bit that’s correct is that the Avatamsaka Sutra is a major Buddhist text.

    That this massive, sprawling work consists merely of ten insights into whatever, is rapidly contradicted by trawling endlessly through the text; there are references to this ten, that ten, eg ten stages of the bodhisattva path to buddhahood, ten vows of Samantabhadra, but if there is anything at all about those particular claimed ten insights, the ones which “could well have been written by a trained ecologist”, into “the “interpenetration” between beings and their environment”, I’ve overlooked it completely — if some knowledgeable Buddhist knows differently, please give a link and either the start page or quote the section’s first sentence.

    The “interpenetration” that I do find in the Avatamsaka Sutra is the innumerable worlds, each of which contains all of the others — much as each jewel in (the Hindu god) Indra’s fabled vast bejewelled net reflects every other jewel and contains the image of all the jewels; it’s a lovely image, one that presumably gives a clear picture of aspects of the Buddha’s teaching for those who understand it — I confess I don’t — but it has nothing to do with ecology.

    Then there’s the “current insights in evolutionary biology, genetics and development [which] might have been authored by the Buddha himself”. The first point to make is that if these insights are in the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha authored them 500 years after his death. From the phrasing, it is clear — correct me if I am wrong — that the “current insights” which traditional Buddhism as taught either by the Buddha himself includes, or which the Avatamsaka Sutra includes, includes evolution by natural selection, the gene, and (judging by “development”) epigenetics too. Um, no.

    The nearest to a Buddhist scientific idea seems to be pratītyasamutpāda, or “dependent origination”, which states that everything links via multiple causation and multiple effects to everything else. So we are all interconnected, aren’t we! Well yes, but in a rather trivial way, it’s something we knew anyway, and it’s a trivial banality at a physical level or a “deepity” at any mystical level.

    Going back to the ten vows:

    Further, when a person who recites these vows is on the verge of death, at the last instant of life, when all his faculties scatter and he departs from his relatives, when all power and status are lost and nothing survives, when his “Prime Minister, great officials, his inner court and outer cities [etc etc etc]” can no longer accompany him, these great vows alone will stay with him. At all times they will guide him forward, and in a single instant he will be reborn in the land of ultimate bliss arriving there, he will see Amitabha Buddha, The Bodhisattvas Manjushri, Samantabhadra, Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya, and others. The appearance of these Bodhisattvas will be magnificent and their virtues and merits complete. Together they will surround him.

    This person will see himself born from a lotus flower and will receive a prediction of Buddhahood. Therefore, he will pass through a incalculable number of eons and, with his power of wisdom, he will accord with the minds of living beings in order to benefit them everywhere, throughout the countless worlds of the ten directions.
    http://zen-ua.org/wp-content/uploads/avatamsaka_sutra_english.pdf (Page 4)

    “[H]e will be reborn in the land of ultimate bliss”, “born from a lotus flower”, “he will pass through a incalculable number of eons” — sorry, I have somehow missed how this “is compatible with modern science.”

    If you watch the more tolerant Christian discussion forums long enough, you will find posters popping up with distinctly non-orthodox or (often) neo-Hindu views, and they then attempt, with cherry-picked and misunderstood quotations, out-of-context, to “prove” that Christianity is “really” the weird nonsense they claim it is, rather than as it has been understood and practiced for millennia. I have the strong feeling that this is probably what Barasch is doing with Buddhism, shoe-horning it into “Science”, or vice versa.

  25. Dhay says:

    … So we are all interconnected, aren’t we! …

    Add: Us, and everything in the ecology and environment, and everything in the universe likewise.

  26. Allallt says:

    Read the comments. No where does it say that Buddhism claims there is no suffering anywhere.

  27. Dhay says:

    We are to ignore the quoted words of the highly esteemed Nagarjuna, and prefer what the modern-day discussion board commenters opine?

    The idea that samsara and nirvana are the same has been familiar to me since I first came across Buddhism in the 1970’s; that is, the idea is mainstream, not idiosyncratic and unreliable..

  28. Dhay says:

    Allallt > Read the comments. No where does it say that Buddhism claims there is no suffering anywhere.

    I tend not to pay much attention to comments — my point was made in the quoted post — but have now read through them. Dazzle links to a Rinpoche (Tibetan Buddhist Abbot) who says:

    Then in the Vajrayana tradition suffering itself is said to be bliss. The reason for this statement is that in this tradition the true nature of mind, spoken of as the union of bliss and emptiness, so that when the true nature of mind has been realized, suffering will be experienced as bliss. The great Tibetan yogi Milarepa expressed this in a song to his students which he gave in a place called Yolmo Kangra in Nepal, saying, “I am happy and at ease since I experienced suffering as bliss.”
    http://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/buddhism/cul/cul04.php

    I rather think this makes my point that, for the right-seeing Buddhist there is no suffering. Suffering is bliss.

    No doubt there is suffering for wrongly-experiencing Buddhists, but they are experiencing wrongly, are they not, and their opinion can be discounted?

  29. Dhay says:

    Barasch > “Consider, for example, the extraordinary overlap between Buddhism and ecology. People who study ecology may not realize that they are also embracing an ancient spiritual tradition.”
    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38970/title/When-Buddhism-Meets-Biology/

    Ah, so merely to study ecology is to embrace Buddhism. Does that mean that I should continually recite the Buddhist chant, Namu-myoho-renge-kyo (“I honour the Avatamsaka Sutra”), when I read the local Council’s recycling advice leaflet? When I separate paper, tins, food waste and non-recyclable rubbish into separate bags by the gate, am I engaging in a Buddhist spiritual practice?

    Bullshit!

    I can’t wait for Barasch or some Barasch think-alike to claim that people who use the English names of the days of the week — the names of ancient gods — may not realize that they are also embracing several ancient spiritual traditions. It’s as fully weighty (or as fully specious) a claim as Barasch’s is.

  30. Dhay says:

    I spotted this in the Talk:

    Adding to religion’s current intellectual instability is a third consequence of evolutionary insights: a powerful critique of theodicy, the scholarly effort to reconcile belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God with the fact of unmerited suffering.

    “… unmerited …”: my Buddhist terminology detector just went off. David Barasch’s book blurb implies that Barasch is a “modern Buddhis[t], shorn of hocus-pocus and abracadabra”:

    Barash both demystifies and celebrates the biology of Buddhism and vice versa, showing in a concluding tour-de-force how modern Buddhism —shorn of its hocus-pocus and abracadabra — not only justifies but actually mandates both socially and environmentally “engaged” thought and practice.

    But I think not: “unmerited” suffering makes sense in the context of there being “merited” suffering, and in the context of the traditional Buddhist hocus-pocus-full abracadabra ideas of merit, karma, and reincarnation; Barasch’s Buddhism is not a shorn scientific version, such as Sam Harris aspires to, but the unreformed, unshorn, woolly unscientific version.

  31. Dhay says:

    David Barasch > Instead of NOMA, think “POMA” (productively overlapping magisteria). That is the premise underlying my most recent book, Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science.

    Well, nobody can accuse Barasch of not having a sense of humour.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=poma

  32. Kevin says:

    I wish I could “thumbs up” comments here. LOL

  33. Dhay says:

    The publisher’s blurb for David Barasch’s book (linked to by Michael) says:

    Indeed, a major Buddhist text, the Avatamsaka Sutra, which consists of ten insights into the “interpenetration” between beings and their environment, could well have been written by a trained ecologist, just as current insights in evolutionary biology, genetics and development might have been authored by the Buddha himself.

    So let’s see who an obviously knowledgeable Buddhist commentator judges has the same views on the “interpenetration” between beings and their environment as Barasch; ah, yes, it’s Joseph Stalin.

    I will not dwell on this issue here (plenty has been written on it elsewhere), but will point rather to a more sinister aspect of non-dualism: its compatibility with fascistic totalitarianism. Indeed, it is a little known fact that the metaphysics of deep ecology formed the basis of Joseph Stalin’s dialectical materialism, and hence for the ideological unity and repressive totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. In a passage that could come straight out of a deep ecological (or indeed Buddhist) text, but in fact comes from Stalin’s own pen, we read that:

    [N]ature [is not] an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but … a connected and integral whole, in which things, phenomena are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other …. [N]o phenomenon in nature can be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomena, inasmuch as any phenomenon in any realm of nature may become meaningless to us if it is not considered in connection with the surrounding conditions, but divorced from them; and … vice versa, any phenomenon can be understood and explained if considered in its inseparable connection with surrounding phenomena, as one conditioned by surrounding phenomena.

    That Stalin, one of the most murderous dictators of the twentieth century, endorsed precisely the non-duality that [Sam] Harris uses to ground his ethics [likewise David Barasch] should give pause for thought.

    [My bracketed additions in last paragraph only.]

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2015/05/all-good-intentions-but-does-sam-harris-have-what-it-takes-to-be-buddhist.html

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