The Challenge of Science and Spirituality
Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Tokyo
Submitted to "Workshop on Computer Science and Information Technology" held by Science and Spiritual Quest II, in Paris, on May 23-26, 2001.
The challenge of science and spirituality to the modern world comes in many ways. One is the relation of spirituality to science and technology. Very often, for instance, Christianity has been condemned for oppressing the development of science, such as the cases of Galileo and Darwin. There were actually unhappy histories. On the other hand, modern science took its form only in cultures influenced by the Christianity. The Christianity has played a special role in forming modern science. I will stress the distinction between the science as a system of knowledge and scientific research as a human activity. While the former is independent of religious spirit, the latter requires ethical, existential and spiritual considerations.
Another challenge is related to the Japanese culture. It was historically formed under the influences of many Asian cultures, especially Chinese and after coming to Japan it developed more of less independently until Japan was exposed to western cultures. I observe that the syncretization of Buddhism and Shintoism was most influential in forming the Japanese religiosity and Japanese people tend to think a religion is what promises you worldly happiness, so that Japanese religions could not check the development of science and technology in terms of spiritual values.
As a conclusion I will point out three tasks for Christian scientific researchers in Japan.
1 Christianity and Science
1.1 Science emerged only in Christian background
Christianity has had an especially close relationship, sometimes friendly and sometimes stormy, to the development of science. Many historians have noticed that the modern science took place in cultures influenced by Christianity and that the relationship between the two is more than coincidental. Christian monotheism denied the reality of the gods, spirits and demons that, in the beliefs of many religions, inhabit the world. Christianity thus secularized the world, removed tabus to scientific inquiry, and made scientific investigation a legitimate human activity.
Likewise Christianity endorsed human labor. It did not, like the Greek or Chinese philosophers and the teachers of many religions, separate spirit from matter. Jesus was a son of a carpenter and some disciples were fishermen. The story of creation in the Bible gave humanity a dominion over physical nature. Hence the technology could have a legitimacy and dignity within Christianity.
1.2 Christianiy and environmental crisis
For this very reason, however, an impressive number of ecologists began attacking Christianity in the 1970's for its contribution to human destructiveness of nature (cf. Lynn White Jr.). Christianity, they said, gave a spiritual endorsement to human superiority over nature as "Imago Dei" and to the human exploitation of nature that has brought the world to resource and environmental crises. The famous proclamation of God in Genesis 1:28b "Fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven and every living thing that moves upon the earth." was then regarded as the very origin of environmental crisis.
It should be noted, however, that more detailed study of the Old and New Testaments shows that the concept of man as "Imago Dei", by which man created by God in His image stands higher in rank than the nature and is given the right to dominate the nature, is exceptional in the whole context of the Bible (characteristic of the P-tradition part of the Genesis). Although the concept of man as "Imago Dei" was loved by early Greek Christian philosophers, the mainstream of the Bible presupposes that man was made from the dust of the ground, was breathed into his nostrils the breadth of life and became the servant of the nature. The criticism by the environmentalists like Lynn White Jr. is, so to speak, based on a secularized version of "Imago Dei".
1.3 Historical conflicts
Of course we must note another side of the story, the warfare between science and religion. Science has often attacked specific religious beliefs and the church has often responded by attacking or even trying to suppress the work of science, like the Galileo case. Today most Christians regret that effort. In Gaudium et Spes of the second Vatican Council, it is written "We deplore certain habits of mind, sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science. The arguments and controversies which they spark lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed." In 1992 the Pope restored the honor of Galileo. It is not, of course, that Galileo was entirely right and the church entirely wrong in that dispute. The important point is that Galileo was making a significant advance in the history of science and he was using methods that have advanced knowledge. Even though many scientists disagreed with Galileo at that time, the church was wrong in opposing his scientific descriptions on the basis of Her interpretation of a few verses of Scripture and its traditional beliefs. It was even more wrong in trying to suppress ideas that She opposed.
A still more momentous controversy followed the work of Darwin. "The Origin of Species" challenged the prevailing views of Christians and most other people on the belief about creation and the human self-understanding. Still now, in some places of US, people are still trying to prohibit the teaching of evolution in schools. We remember that in October 1996 the Pope sent a letter to the Pontifical Academy of Science saying that the evolution theory of Darwin does not contradict with the Christianity. It was my big surprise that I heard a voice from some Catholic in Japan deploring the acceptance of evolution by the Pope. We must recognize that even if the human body including the brain originates from other anthropoid, it is still, and even more so, the marvelous creature of God. Therefore we should encourage discussions of the meaning of evolution and would think it important to continue revising and enriching ideas about evolution as well as theological traditions about creation.
2 Independence of Science
2.1 Modern science with hypothetical nature
Persons interested in the dialogue between science and faith now find opportunities in the new scientific situation. Science has changed a great deal in the 20th century as compared with the science in the Enlightenment thought. No longer do they see science as the sole arbiter of truth, destroying one religious doctrine after another, and subjecting all of them to a monolithic scientific method that threatens to destroy them one by one. Modern scientists become too humble to seek after "The Truth." They are well aware that the findings they got from their research work have a hypothetical nature (not "The Truth") and that the objectivity of the results is not ontological but methodological and operational. No longer do they see science claiming to possess the final "Truth" or piecing together a comprehensive and impervious picture of the world.
2.2 The relation of science and religion
It is too premature to say that the old conflict between science and religion is dead. It would be better to say that the tensions and conflicts have changed. Science is less likely than in the past to seem to refute religion, although it still refutes many formulations of religious beliefs. It is more likely to ask people of faith whey they believe in God, what they mean by talking of God in the world. What even the Bible calls "acts of God" are now generally regarded as scientifically understandable phenomena of nature. It does not mean, however, that the Christians find no message in the stories of the Bible.
Science is a system of knowledge which human being has obtained with experiment, observation and reasoning during the course of history. It is hypothetical, because the current knowledge is based on the limited information available so far and could be changed when new data comes out. The "trueness" of the knowledge is judged by the fact that it can explain the available data. Two or more theories can both be true if they give satisfactory explanations of the experiments. They would only be discriminated if they give different predictions which could be tested by experiment. In this sense, science has no relation to spiritual thinking. Christian researchers of good old days found God under the microscope, or they thought they found God through the beauty and the order of nature. In modern science, however, our methodology is more hypothetical and functional, so that we are ascetical in speaking of scientific lows as godly order in nature.
On the other hand, scientific research is a human activity. Like many other human activities, scientists have the responsibility on what they do or do not do as scientists. Although the science as a system of knowledge may be ethically neutral, scientific research as a human activity has an ethical and spiritual dimension. For instance, we have to discuss to what extent we can make experiment on human cloning. When we decide what we study, it is a personal decision. We may sometimes be inspired by a religious thinking. I would like to stress that even if it is the case, the scientific results as a system of knowledge should be independent of all such personal motivation and should have its own scientific dimension.
2.3 Evolution theory
As an example of the interplay between science and religion, we would like to analyze the case of the evolution theory. As I mentioned in the previous section, the evolution theory of Darwin met a strong reaction from the Christianity. The reason could be summarized in the following four categories.
1) The evolution theory opposes to what is written in the first several chapters of the Genesis. According to the Genesis, the whole world was created in six days about 6000 years ago just as we see today. But we can easily understand the creation story of the Old Testament is written according to the world view of that time and the central message of the story is not how the living creatures came to earth in a scientific sense.
2) Even if we do not accept literally the creation story in the Geneis, we might argue that the human-centric view of the Bible is in contrast to the world view of the evolution theory, in which human being stands on the same level of other animals. The dignity of the human being, the freedom and the sin are left unfounded in the evolution-theoretic horizontal world view. This is the very reason that it was stressed in the encyclical "Humani Generis" (Pope Pius XII)that the soul of man is directly created by God, even if the human flesh may be emerged by the evolution. It should be noted, however, that the concept of man as "Imago Dei" is not, as discussed in the previous section, the central message of the Bible and the popular understanding of the evolution theory should be clearly distinguished from the evolution theory as science.
3) God's providence and wisdom have no role to play in the evolution theory, where living creatures have evolved by accidents and selections. From the Christian point of view, we see that the accidents and natural selections are also under God's plan.
4) Strong criticism is raised against the so called social evolution theory in that exploitation and despotism are justified in terms of the survival of the fittest. We can simply see that the social evolution thory is not a scientific consequence of the evolution theory as a scientific theory.
From the example of the evolution theory, we have shown that the science as a system of knowledge should be distinguished from the human thinking motivated by science, which I will call "scientism". The scientism presupposes that the whole universe including human activities can be explained by science so that there could be no source of knowledge other than science. It also presupposes that all the problems in our life can someday be solved by science and technology.
3 Japan as a part of Asia
3.1 Japanese spirituality
"Asia is one." This is a famous word of Okakura Tenshin, a famous Japanese leader of fine arts, who saved Japanese old works of art in collaboration with Ernest Francisco Fenollosa during the big disorder of Meiji restoration more than hundred years ago . Of course we know that Asia is not one. Asia is in a mosaic of cultures. He simply wanted to encourage the Japanese as well as Asian peoples, who have lost self-confidence in front of the western civilization, contrasting the spirituality of the Asian traditional cultures with the western materialistic civilization.
3.2 Religions of Japan
The position of Japan in the world is unique. It is said that the Japanese race was formed as a mixture of south Asian, Mongorian and Oceanian races many thousands years ago. Since about 2000 years ago we have been gradually civilized under the influence of China and Korea. Before the advent of Buddhism and Confucianism, we had an indigenous animistic religion, called Shintoism, in which they worship as many as eight million gods. The rites in Shintoism have a close relationship to rice agriculture and therefore Shintoism has an earthly nature. People pray for good harvest, good climate, no disasters, no storms, no pests, good business etc. The Shintoism is still alive in modern Japanese and has a strong influence on the sentiment of the Japanese including Christians.
Confucianism was introduced to Japan from China and Korea in the 4th century. Buddhism came through Korea in the 6th century and is generally accepted by the rulers of that age. These two religions were syncretized to become a philosophical foundation of the early Japanese government.
3.3 Christianity in Japan
Christianity was introduced in Japan just 450 years ago by Francisco Xavier and was feverishly accepted by samurais (warriors) as well as ordinary people when Japan was experiencing a long war among local leaders. However, when the unification of Japan started, Christianity was suddenly forbidden and Japan closed itself except to China and the Netherlands. The isolation continued about two centuries. During the period of isolation, Buddhist temples were given a responsibility to observe that people may not secretly believe Christianity by means of a census registration system.
3.4 Japanese expansion in Asia
In the 1860's Japan opened herself again under the pressure of America, England and France. After the reopening, in Meiji era, the Japanese looked up in awe towards the western countries and strove to become a strong nation on equal status with them. With this in mind, and urged on by the model of the western powers whose world dominance was bolstered by their possession of colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Japan also embarked on a program of expansionism and obtained strongholds in the Korean Peninsula, mainland China, Taiwan and South East Asia. The second world war defeat put a stop to this territorial expansionism, but not without leaving deep scars in the hearts of peoples of many Asian countries against the Japanese.
And now, the Japanese have succeeded in securing other means of enhancing their influence all over Asia. Such means have led other peoples to call them "economic animals." The economic activities in Asia is criticized as a substitute to the military one. Japanese economy boosted until 1990 like a bubble, until the bubble suddenly bursted and the nightmare began as you will see today.
Unlike some other Asian countries, Japan is poor in natural resources: no oil, little amount of coal and minerals. We have very scarce farm land. Therefore rapid modernization resulted huge social distortion such as environmental problems. On the other hand, Japanese people keep the traditions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism. They love the nature without any idea of dominion over the earth and they respect the solidarity of the family and the loyalty to social groups. Observers agree that this loyalty is the source of economic development of Japan.
3.5 "Scientism" still strong in Japan
Japanese school education is still under the influence of the Enlightenment and treats science as a given truth. We Japanese tend to believe that all human and social problems will someday be solved by the development of science and technology. It is perhaps due to the history of rushingly accepting science and technology from western countries. In order to pass the severe entrance examination to universities, high school students have to, they believe, memorize the results in science without digestion. There is no real understanding of the science and scientific activities. I also regret that the new trend in modern science is not well understood by the Christians either. It is our task to show the real picture of science to the public.
4 Religious Situation in Japan
4.1 Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism
Is Japan a Buddhist country? or a Confucian country? The answer would be yes and no. Japan accepted several sects of Mahayana Buddhism mainly from China. A great number of Japanese Buddhist monks visited China to absorb various trends in Buddhism from 6th to 9th centuries. But around 13th century there came out a big movement to formulate a new Japanese Buddhism and many new sects started. They are very different from those in India or China. Until now Japan keeps Buddhism in this Japanized form.
In a similar manner Confucianism in Japan differs a lot from that in China or Korea. We respect superiors in the family or organization. The industriousness of the Japanese in labor, which is often pointed as the source of the high level of technological and economic development over such a short period of time, may originate from the Confucian influence. However, we Japanese are not Confucianists in the way that Koreans are.
All kinds of religious organizations, sects, temples, shrines, churches and congregations, are registered by the Japanese Government. The Government publishes a report on the religions in Japan every year. According to this statistics the total number of the faithfuls of all the religions is twice the population. Japan is, contrary to the ordinary expectation, a very "religious" country. The secret is that most Japanese people are counted both as a supporter of a Buddhist temple and a member of a Shintoist shrine automatically in a sense. A Christian may be counted three times as a Buddhist, Shintoist and Christian.
You may ask how one can believe in two religions. There is a long history. Just when Japan accepted Buddhism in the 7th century, a new theology emerged which syncretized the Buddhism with Shintoism. According to this theology, each god in Shintoism was identified with one Buddha or Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Buddhism thus succeeded in living together with Shintoism in Japan. Today in many Japanese houses both a Buddhist altar and a small Shintoist shrine are equipped.
There was also an effort to syncretize Christianity with Buddhism in the 16th century when Christianity come to Japan. Although such effort was not successful, ordinary Japanese people now think of a religion in terms of Buddhism as a model.
4.3 Religion and earthly happiness
What is the "religion" at all for Japanese people? For ordinary Japanese, religion is something which gives you spiritual peace and earthly happiness. As I described before, the Buddhism was deformed in Japan to a religion for earthly happiness, in contrast to the original Buddhism, which emphasized the emancipation from worldly attachments, i.e. salvation from the bondage of this world. Even the Christianity might well be accepted as a method to realize a happy life by Japanese Christians. I once heard a Catholic woman saying, "Since Mrs. A was an expert in prayer, her son passed the college entrance examination." It is not bad at all to pray to for an earthly happiness, especially for people in real need, as described in the Scripture. What they get is, however, a free grace from God and is not given as an exchange to their prayer. Prayer is not a magic. Some awakened Buddhist writers stressed that such worldly happiness is an upaya, a temporary means, and it is a free gift from Buddha. However, Buddhism in Japan, and perhaps in China, is characterized by such pursuit of worldly happiness.
4.4 Science and Japanese Religions
Contrary to Christian thought, Buddhism and Shintoism do not recognize a creator of the universe or of human kind. Especially the striking characteristics of Buddhism is its emphasis on relationship as the origin of everything. Buddhist thought places the animals and plants in this world in a relationship of struggle in an evil world. Since the beginning, Buddhists have prohibited to themselves the killing of animals for food, because animal life partakes of the same life substance as human life, although present day Japanes Buddhism has lost most aspects of this asceticism. Buddhism sustains the concept that all things including human kind are equal.
Buddhism and Shintoism love the nature. In spite of that, Japan experienced a severe pollution problem by the industry in the 1970's. There is a lot of discussion why Buddhism and Shintoism could not prevent the technological evolution to go too far in view of the balance in nature. The reason is, I presume, that the Japanese Buddhism and Shintoism tend to have worldly concerns rather than the emancipation from them and the horizontal view of the nature without human responsibility could not check the human activities.
So far I have described several aspect of the relation between science and spirituality in contemporary Japan. From these observations I could like to identify three major tasks for Christian researchers in Japan. Firstly, we have to show the Japanese people the true aspect of modern science. It is of course not a magic which solves everything. It is not a collection of fixed laws which are written in textbooks, but what is evolving day by day through research activities. Today's results may be replaced with tomorrow's discoveries. Such hypothetical nature of science is a key to understand the relation with spirituality. Next, we have to speak against such Christian religious people who think the science and technology (evolution theory, big bang, genetic engineering, internet, etc.) are the origin of today's social and human disorder. I would like to ask them to distinguish science from what I call "scientism". Lastly, we have to be critical to ourselves, scientists. Although the science as a system of knowledge is independent of spiritual values, we are responsible to what we do for scientific research. We have to arouse discussions among Japanese scientists concerning the spiritual and ethical considerations of scientifica and technological research activities.