It seems like more and more people are viewing science as an alternative to religion, believing in the views of science because they are based on emperical evidence. Scientific knowledge is based on experiments, on seeing the same result produced again and again; but Buddhist practice is also emperical. In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la says that these teachings are a scientific method for increasing the capacity of our mind – they are called scientific because they depend on conducting experiments. We are told ‘try developing inner peace and see if it makes you happy’; we try it and it works, consistantly, time after time.
Consistantly stable results are what science calls proof; really, it just proves a probability. The philosopher Hume pointed out that making an empirical study of swans might lead you to conclude that all swans are white; but this is only because you haven’t seen a black swan yet. In the same way, we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. Why? Because it always has. This establishes a high probability that it will do so again tomorrow; but it does not prove that it definitely will.
The Buddhist methodology offers empirical evidence, like science does; but it also provides a logical basis. The logical reasoning establishing ultimate truth underpins all of Buddha’s teachings – so we can be confident not only that having inner peace makes us feel good, but that there can be no other true cause of happiness. Empiricism and logic together can give us a faith that is beyong the mere belief we have in scientific theory. I’m not saying science is wrong: it does generally seem to explain things quite well. But I still have more faith in my religion. For example, quamtum physicists can predict the behavior of quantum particles by analysing their previous behavior; but the teachings on emptiness can explain why the behavior of sub-atomic particles is affected by our perception.
I love science, it made this computer; but I don’t have faith in it, because I don’t believe it can take me anywhere fundamentally different. Science can manipulate the world, but because it is purely empirical it can only make changes to what we already have in front of us. Only Buddha explains that the very nature of this world depends upon our mind: that logic gives us the power to form a different kind of empiricism, one that is based on internal, not external, observation.