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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 5 1 STEPHEN STRAUSS isanaward- winning science writer and former columnist with the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto. He now free- lances and writes a regular science column for the Canadian Broadcast- ing Corporation. IN DECEMBER OF LAST YEAR, Nature magazine, depending on how you view it either the first or second most important science publication in the world, published an article headlined “Buddhism on the Brain.” While most of the piece detailed a conference on the human mind held at the Dalai Lama’s headquarters in Dharamsala, buried within it was a paragraph which undoubtedly caused some of the relentlessly scientific readers of Nature to clean their glasses and begin reading the startling words out loud. Fred Gage, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, who had presented his research showing that the mam- malian brain can change and adapt during adulthood, reported a conversa- tion with the Dalai Lama. “At one point I asked: ‘What if neuroscience comes up with information that directly contradicts Buddhist philosophy?’,” said Gage. “The answer was: ‘Then we would have to change the philosophy to match the science.’” The shock value for scientists was not what this said about the plasticity of Buddhism, but rather hearing the words in the context of the near H- bomb-level conflict between science and religion playing out in the United States. I can give you some sense of the incendiary nature of this dispute from that classic literary measure of the public mind—newspaper headlines. “Keep Your Church Away From My State,” reads one in Syracuse’s Post Standard/Herald Journal. “Darwin Faces God In Kansas Trial,” exclaims the Ottawa Citizen. “Evolutionary War,” announces the Boston Globe. Cosmic Design or Cause and Effect? Testing for God In the war between religion and science, the big battlefield is biology. At stake is how we view life, the existence of a creator, and the very nature of knowledge. Stephen Strauss suggests that the answer to at least some of these cosmic questions may be found in our DNA. Opposite: A strand of beta DNA, DNA’s most common form. ALFREDPASIEKA/SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY