04 November, 2005

Don Colxote, the Lord of PFMancha

Writing in the Prison Fellowship newsletter, BreakPoint, Charles Colson (former Nixon administration felon turned born-again Christian) attempts to enlist the aid of the HH Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in his quest to confound the evils of "scientific materialism" (Fundamentalist code-speak for "evolution"). Unfortunately for him, while the Dalai Lama may indeed be a fellow spiritualist, Colson's attempt to twist his words to align with his own goals falls far short of the mark.

Colson begins by noting that the Dalai Lama, writing in his most recent book The Universe In A Single Atom, rejects the metaphysical stance known as materialism. For Colson, this indicates some degree of consonance with his own, Christian, views. So far as it goes, this is true enough if unsurprising.

However, from this single point of similarity he goes on to make the following simply staggering non sequitur:
If this sounds familiar, it ought to: These are the very arguments that we have made here at “BreakPoint” and that other proponents of intelligent design make. In view of the profound differences between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity, it simply isn’t credible to dismiss intelligent design as simply “a repackaging of [Christian] creationism.”
The logical implication of this statement is that a rejection of materialism equals an acceptance of ID. Aside from the fact that neo-Darwinism does not depend upon a materialist metaphysic, the fact that many Christians (non-materialists by definition) accept evoluion absolutely falsifies Colson's abortive argument. What's worse for Colson in this instance is that the Buddhist doctrine of "dependent origination" explicitly rules out any first cause and the Buddhist teachings on causality rule out any intelligent direction on the course of the development of life. We are left with the reality that although Buddhists share the Christian denial of materialism, they cannot be supporters of ID.

So what does the Dalai Lama have to say about evolution in his book? Well, nothing specific that I can find, however he does have the following to say about science:
My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: 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.
In this he's certainly different from the main class of creationists, Colson no doubt included.
Buddhism must accept the facts — whether found by science or found by contemplative insights. If, when we investigate something, we find there is reason and proof for it, we must acknowledge that as reality — even if it is in contradiction with a literal scriptural explanation that has held sway for many centuries or with a deeply held opinion or view.
Again, no creationism here, and a very high opinion of science.
As my comprehension of science has grown, it has gradually become evident to me that, insofar as understanding the physical world is concerned, there are many areas of traditional Buddhist thought where our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with those of modern science.
Well, it doesn't seem like much of a leap to posit that the Dalai Lama very likely has no problem with evolution, contrary to Colson's attempt to paint him as a fellow traveler.

Clearly Colson is way off the mark in using the Dalai Lama as an example to attempt to demonstrate that ID isn't just a "repackaging of Christian creationism". In reality, of course, ID is just that.

Colson closes his article by portraying the pro-evo crowd as academic bullies, attempting to silence scientific dissent:
It is the close-minded academics who are being dogmatic, foreclosing scientific inquiry. They call even the merest mention of scientific evidence suggesting that life couldn’t have arisen as a result of an unplanned, random process as “religion,” and they throw it out.
There are a few problems with this:

1) The biological theory of evolution has nothing to do with how life arose, but how current forms have arisen from a common ancestor.

2) Evolution isn't random; this is a common creationist error. Mutations are random, but natural selection is anything but.

3) There simply is no credible scientific evidence that calls the neo-Darwinian paradigm into serious question. This "evidence" to which Colson refers is based on religious belief and speculation arising from that belief. Anyone who doubts this has merely to look at the amount of real scientific research being done into ID: none. Contrast that with the vast amounts of PR and political sleight-of-hand being employed and the reality becomes quite clear: ID is nothing but our old friend, creationism, in some spiffy new clothes.

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