Following up the last two posts -- I want to focus on Lama Jampa's essay "We Are Not Kind Machines: A Radical Rejection of Scientific Buddhism." Please understand that the lama is not knocking science as much as scientism.
What is scientism? I found this definition of "scientism" on a PBS website:
"Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. Scientism's single-minded adherence to only the empirical, or testable, makes it a strictly scientifc worldview, in much the same way that a Protestant fundamentalism that rejects science can be seen as a strictly religious worldview. Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth."
The link in the paragraph above goes to a discussion of metaphysics that I found helpful, also. See also "Buddhism and Metaphysics." I realize now that the weird claim that the Buddha wasn't interested in the nature of reality -- a bit like saying chefs aren't interested in cooking --† probably is connected to the scientistic streak infecting Buddhism in the West.
Like many of you, I'm sure, one of the things that drew me to Buddhism in the first place is that it didn't ask me to believe anything that contradicts scientific knowledge. But I've also long believed that scientific knowledge has its limits. I see no logical reason to believe that just because a thing isn't subject to empirical observation or testing doesn't mean that thing cannot possibly be valid. As Lama Jampa says,
"This modern materialism adds nothing to the old Charvaka theories except the illusion that, if complex physical processes are described in minute enough detail, we the audience will not notice the sleight of hand involved when sentience is magically conjured out of non-sentient matter and Pinocchio becomes a real boy. In fact, materialism cannot explain how life arose out of non-life, how consciousness arose from the non-conscious, with any more compelling seriousness than the theist who declares that God simply said: 'let there be light.'
"The crucial point, therefore, is that dharma has nothing to fear from, nor any need to prostrate to, science. Science works well in detecting and quantifying things that have a material or mechanistic explanation, such as the structure of DNA.†It is the proper task of science to formulate and test hypotheses about how physical processes work.†This inbuilt limitation does not invalidate the usefulness of the scientific enterprise, but it does put it at some disadvantage in describing the nonmaterial, such as ethics, the nature of mind, and liberation from samsara--the core concerns of dharma."
The flip side of the Buddhism and science issue is that there are those who want science to "prove" the truth of Buddhism somehow. I've bumped into people who think the Abhidhamma is about quantum mechanics, for example. One suspects this approach could generate a lot of junk science, not to mention junk Buddhism.
The scientistic-materialistic crowd do not like to be told there are things the scientific method cannot measure, and when you do they nearly always retort that such a claim is a "god of the gaps" argument. But this assumes that the only alternative to what science can tell us is superstition and belief in unseen spirits. It's beyond their comprehension that the unmeasurable thing might be no more supernatural or the stuff of fanciful imagination than cats or gravity.
In his very excellent book Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic, B. Alan Wallace points out that the various branches of science don't agree on materialism and whether non-material things might be "real" in some way. And as I understand it (which isn't much), quantum physics really is challenging the belief in a universe "constituted of absolutely objective matter" and nothing else. But that which is not absolutely objective matter is not necessarily a "sky fairy." It may be non-material phenomena operating under their own natural laws, but which are not measurable by any way we yet know how to measure.
Really, is that so hard to understand?