Thursday, September 24, 2020

Buddhism: Cosmology, Emptiness, and the Big Bang

When I mention to various Christians that I teach about other religions, they often say, "Tell me about it!" And so here's goes--here's something brief about Buddhist views of the cosmos and modern science.
Buddhist scholars tell me it's all about nothing. And this reminded me of how 
Seinfeld became a TV hit in the early 2000s for a being a show “about nothing.” Maybe the show was on to something with its emphasis on nothing.

But first let's get the words right. The key words is shunyata, or emptiness. More specially, the Sanskrit Śūnyatā can be translated as "devoidness," "emptiness," "hollow, hollowness," "voidness." It is the form of noun form from the adjective śūnya, meaning "zero," "nothing," "empty" or "void." It comes from the root śvi, meaning "hollow,” plus tā, which means "-ness." (Monier-Williams, 2nd ed., 1899, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary)

This teaching of emptiness is found especially in Madhyamaka (the “middle way”). Moreover, it has resonance with quantum physics. As William Ames has commented, 
“We recall that in quantum theory many of the properties of, for instance, an electron are not intrinsic to the electron itself. They depend not only on the electron but also on the type of experiment that is being performed.” William Ames
This is commonly described through the famous two-slit experiment. Ames continues with another observation, 
“In Madhyamaka, too, attributes are relational and no intrinsic. A dharma by itself has no nature, any more than an electron can in itself be said to be either a wave or a particle.” William Ames
Not just nothing, but zero
The Buddhist focus on nothing and emptiness has at least one other significant contribution. And here again I turn to Dr. Veidlinger, my colleague at Chico State University, 
“The zero was developed in India, in connection with philosophical speculation about emptiness, and it is the Indian number system that was adapted by the West that lead to the notation used in the modern scientific world.” Daniel Veidlinger
The Big Bang and Buddhism
So far, so good. But, Big Bang cosmology might be a problem, at least according the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.
“From the Buddhist perspective, the idea that there is a single definite beginning is highly problematic. If there were such an absolute beginning, logically speaking, this leaves only two options. One is theism, which proposes that the universe is created by an intelligence that is totally transcendent, and therefore outside the laws of cause and effect. The second option is that the universe came into being from no cause at all. Buddhism rejects both these options. If the universe is created by a prior intelligence, the questions of the ontological status of such an intelligence and what kind of reality it is remain.” (Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom)
Ok, now a question
What do we do with in a world where Big Bang cosmology has become a standard? Let me know what you think?

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