History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

Darwiniana header image 2

Flanagan on buddhism, and the rising stupidity of the science community

December 30th, 2011 · 1 Comment

http://www.amazon.com/Bodhisattvas-Brain-Buddhism-Naturalized/dp/0262016044/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325272196&sr=1-1-spell: The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized [Hardcover]
Owen Flanagan

I just got a copy of this book. I commented here at length on Stephen Batchelor’s similar work on buddhism. This book deserves an even harsher critique, and I will probably review the book at Amazon. A quick glance shows so many points of attack for a critique that I am embarrassed near a massacre (purely in the mind).
Naturalizing buddhism isn’t going to work, for the simple reason that science can’t resolve the question of nature, or even define what it is. This leads the author to all sorts of nonsense in the name of science. To take ‘nirvana’ out of buddhism in the name of science is a brand of stupidity that leaves me breathless.
The issue here is not hard to resovle. The accumulate dross in a religion as old as Buddhism asks for some critical pruning. But the author cannot distinguish these accretions from the core Buddhist tenets of great profundity that cannot be taken away in the name of science. I am puzzled this kind of thinking ever gained a foothool, and feel a sense of alarm at the rising stupidity of the science community. It is starting to mimic all the dogmatic aridity and idiocy of the religions it critiques. More soon.

If we are material beings living in a material world–and all the scientific evidence suggests that we are–then we must find existential meaning, if there is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the natural rather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual (but not religious) inclinations are attracted to Buddhism–almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene. But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Buddhism is hardly naturalistic. Atheistic when it comes to a creator god, Buddhism is otherwise opulently polytheistic, with spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits. Its beliefs include karma, rebirth, nirvana, and nonphysical states of mind. What is a nonreligious, materially grounded spiritual seeker to do? In The Bodhisattva’s Brain, Flanagan argues that it is possible to subtract the “hocus pocus” from Buddhism and discover a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that could point us to one path of human flourishing. “Buddhism naturalized,” as Flanagan constructs it, contains a metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics; it is a fully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest of knowledge. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhism empirically, but Flanagan’s naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brain scan showing happiness patterns. Buddhism naturalized offers instead a tool for achieving happiness and human flourishing–a way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world.

Tags: General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 nemo // Dec 31, 2011 at 11:51 am

    It is good you have returned as I try to discuss this book. We have this discussion before, as you recall, but I hadn’t connected with Flanagan’s book. You are right in one way: I have tried persistently to forestall new age postmodern ideogies, but the attack on buddhism such as we see (entirely unnecessary) is a false secularism that ironically yields to group to semi-buddhist legacies (I won’t say ‘buddhism’ as such). There is no contradiction with modernity. As I pointed out many times here the framework of Schopenhauer tries to put these questions in a modern context with ‘transcendental idealism’, recognized by that philosopher to be explicitly close to what he called Upanishadism (he uses the term via a n ow archaic Persian/latin translation ‘oupnekat’)

Leave a Comment