P. A. Payutto
the outset we must acknowledge the innumerable blessings bestowed on us by
science. Nobody will dispute the enormous value science has for us. In order to
be able to give this lecture, I have travelled all the way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in
only one hour. Back in the days of King Rama I, you would have had to wait
three months for me to get here, and for that matter I probably wouldn't have
come at all. For this we must acknowledge science's contribution to travel.
Looking around at communications,
we see radios, telephones, fax machines, televisions, videos and satellites,
all of which have arisen from scientific and technological developments. Other
obvious areas of development are in the medical world, where so many contagious
diseases have now been virtually eradicated. Cholera is now quite rare, bubonic
plague no longer exists, and smallpox has all but vanished. We no longer have
to fear these infectious diseases. In olden times one could die from an
infected appendix, but nowadays an appendectomy is a relatively simple
operation. Even brain operations are getting easier. Sophisticated tools for
accurate examination and diagnosis are more and more accessible. X-Ray machines
are being replaced with computer X-Ray machines, and now we have ultra sound
and MRI. It's almost no longer necessary for the doctor to examine the patient,
the machines do it for him. These are all examples of extremely valuable
But on the other hand, when we
really look into it, we find that science, and in particular technology, has
created a great many problems for humanity as well. In the present time,
particularly in the highly developed countries, there is even a fear that the
human race, and indeed the whole world, may meet destruction at the hands of
this technological progress. It might be a very instantaneous kind of
destruction, at the flick of a switch, so to speak, or it could be a slow and
gradual kind of destruction, as the gradual deterioration of the environment.
Even within the immediacy of our
everyday lives we are threatened by dangers. We can't be sure whether our food
has been contaminated with chemicals or not. Sometimes the plants and animals
used for our food supply are treated with hormones to boost their growth. Hogs
are given special additives to make their meat turn an appealing red color.
Poisonous substances are sometimes used in foods as preservatives, flavor
enhancers or dyes, not to mention the uncontrolled use of pesticides. Some of
the people who sell these foods wouldn't dare eat them themselves!
Two kinds of technology
The application of science which effects the changes in the
natural world is called technology. Technology is dependent for its existence
on the knowledge obtained through science. It is the tool, or channel, through
which humanity has worked to manipulate nature in the pursuit of material
comfort. But at the same time, the dangers which threaten us are also
contingent on this technology. Technology is thus both an instrument for
finding happiness and a catalyst for danger.
Now in answer to all this, scientists
may counter that by "science" we mean only pure science. Pure science
seeks to discover and explain the truth, its concern is primarily the search
for knowledge. Whatever anybody wants to do with this knowledge is their
business, not the concern of science. Pure science tends to shake off
responsibility in this regard.
Technology has been accused of
using scientific knowledge to its own ends, but this is not entirely true.
Initially, technology was aimed at bringing benefit to humanity, but nowadays
there are two kinds of technology. One is the technology which is used to
create benefit, while the other is used to seek personal gain. What we need is
the technology that is used to create benefit, but the problems of the present
time exist largely because modern technology is of the kind that seeks personal
If we constrain ourselves to
creating benefit, the repercussions arising from technological development will
be few and far between, but whenever technology is used to seek personal gain,
problems arise. Thus we must clearly distinguish between these two kinds of
The place of ethics
Be it the wrong utilization of scientific knowledge, the
utilization of technology for personal gain, or even utilization of technology
to destroy the earth, all these problems have arisen entirely as a result of
human activity, they are a matter of utilization. Because they are rooted in
human activity, their solutions are an ethical or moral concern.
These problems can only be simply and
directly solved through moral awareness. Only then will technology and science
be used for constructive purposes. With moral awareness, even though there may
be some harmful consequences arising from lack of circumspection or ignorance,
the prevention and rectification of problems will be on the best possible
Mankind has looked to science and
technology to bring benefit to human society, but there is no guarantee that
science and technology will bring only the benefit that humanity hopes for.
These things can be used to create harm or benefit. How they are used is
entirely at the disposal of the user.
If we ignore morality or ethics,
instead of creating benefit, the most likely result is that science and
technology will bring problems, stressing as they do:
1. the unrestrained production and
consumption of goods with which to gratify the senses, feeding craving and greed
(raga and lobha);
2. escalation of the power to
destroy (dosa); and
3. increased availability of
objects which lure people into delusion and carelessness (moha).
In so doing, technology tarnishes
the quality of life and pollutes the environment. Only true moral awareness can
alleviate these destructive influences.
Without morality, technological
progress, even the beneficial kind, tends to increase the propensity for
destruction. The more science and technology advance, and the more keenly
destruction seems to threaten mankind, the more is morality necessitated, and
the more will the stability and well-being of humanity be dependent on ethical
In any case, this subject of ethics,
although a simple and straightforward one, is largely ignored in modern times.
Most people want to live without problems, but they don't want to solve them.
As long as ethics are ignored like this, problems will persist.
Science and technology cannot be separated
It is not only science that has fostered technology's
growth -- technology has also been a decisive factor in the development of
science. It is the scientific method that has enabled scientific learning to
progress to where it is now, and an essential part of the scientific method is
observation and experiment. The earliest forms of observation and experiment
were carried out through the five senses -- eye, ear, nose, tongue and body,
particularly the eyes for looking, the ears for listening and the hands for
touching. However, our sense organs have their limitations. With the naked eye
we can see a limited number of stars and a limited portion of the universe.
With technological development, the telescope was invented, enabling science to
make a Great Leap Forward. Microscopic organisms, invisible to the naked eye,
were made visible through the invention of the microscope, allowing science to
once again make great advances. Pure science, then, has relied heavily on
technology for its progress.
The tools used for scientific research
are products of technology, that is why science and technology have been
inseparably connected in their development. In the present day, scientists are
looking to the computer to further their quest for truth. Capable of collecting
and collating vast amounts of information, much more than the ordinary human
mind, the computer will be indispensable in the testing of hypotheses and the
formulation of theories.
The benefits of science appear to
the mass of people through technology. Humanity must, however, learn to choose
between technology for creating benefit and technology for seeking personal
Reaching the limits and finding no answer
Science has advanced so far-reaching that it seems to be
approaching the limits of the physical universe and, as it approaches the
limits of that world, it is turning to the mysteries of the mind. What is mind?
How does it work? What is consciousness? Does it arise from a physical source,
or is it entirely separate from the physical world? These days computers have
Artificial Intelligence. Will the development of Artificial Intelligence lead
to computers with minds? This is a question some scientists are speculating
Modern methods of observation and
verification seem to have transcended the limitations of the five senses. We
have developed instruments to expand their limited capabilities. Whenever the
senses are incapable of perceiving any further, we resort to these
technological instruments. Now, even with these instruments, we seem to have
reached our limit, and scientific investigations are reduced to mathematical
As observation, experimentation
and analysis enter the sphere of the psyche, science retains its basic attitude
and experimental method, and so there is a lot of guesswork and preconception
in its operation. It remains to be seen whether science can in fact enter into
the domain of the mind, and by what means.
Values and motivation
Even though pure science tends to be distinguished from
applied science and technology, pure science nevertheless shares some of the
responsibility for the harm resulting from these things. In fact, in the last
hundred years or so, pure science has not really been so pure. There are values
implicit within pure science which the scientific fraternity is unaware of; and
because it isn't aware of these values, scientific research comes unwittingly
under their influence.
What is the source of science? All
sciences, be they natural or social sciences, are based on values. Take
economics for example. What is the origin or source of economics? It is want.
What is want, can it be observed with any of the five senses? It can't, because
it is a quality of mind, a value. The discipline known as science claims it is
free of values, but in fact it can never be truly value-free because it
involves mental qualities.
Where is the source of the
physical sciences? The source of science is the desire to know the truth of
nature, or reality. This answer is acceptable to most scientists, and in fact
it was given by a scientist. The desire to know nature's truths, together with
the belief that nature does have constant laws, which function according to
cause and effect, are the two foundations on which science bases its quest for
The source of science is within
this human mind, at desire for knowledge and faith. Without these two mental
qualities it would be impossible for science to grow and develop. The
motivation which drove the early developments of science, and which still
exists to some extent, was the desire to know the truths of nature. This was a
relatively pure kind of desire. In later times, during the Dark Ages, this
desire to know was actively suppressed by the Christian Church and the
Inquisition. Those who doubted the word of the Bible, or who made statements
which cast doubt on it, were brought before the court and put on trial. If
found guilty they were punished. Galileo was one of those brought on trial. He
had said that the earth revolved around the sun, and was almost put to death
for his beliefs. At the last moment he pleaded guilty and was absolved; he
didn't die, but many others were burnt alive at the stake.
At that time there was overt
suppression of the search for truth. But the stronger the suppression, the stronger
the reaction, so it came about that the suppression and constraint of the Dark
Ages had the effect of intensifying the desire to know the truths of nature.
This desire has fired the thinking of Western cultures.
This drive can still be considered
a relatively pure desire for knowledge. The science we have nowadays, however,
is no longer so pure. It has been influenced by two important attitudes or
1. That the prosperity of mankind
hinges on the subjugation of nature.
This attitude stems from the
Christian belief that God created mankind in his own image, to take control of
the world and have dominion over nature. God created nature, and all of the
things within it, for man's use. Mankind is the leader, the hub of the
universe, the master. Mankind learns the secrets of nature in order to
manipulate it according to his desires, and nature exists for man's use.
One Western text states that
this idea is responsible for Western scientific progress. The text states that
in ancient times, people in the East, particularly China
were scientifically more advanced than the West, but owing to the influence of
this drive to conquer nature, the West has gradually overtaken the East.
So the first major value system is
the belief in Man's right to conquer nature. Now we come to the second major
2. That well-being depends on an
abundance of material goods.
This line of thinking has exerted
a very powerful influence on Western industrial expansion. It has been argued
that industries in the West were created to address the problem of scarcity,
which is found throughout Western history. Life in Western countries was beset
by hostile elemental forces, such as freezing winters, which made farming
impossible. People in such places had to live exceedingly arduous lives. Not
only were they subject to freezing temperatures, but also food shortages. Life
was a struggle for survival, and this struggle led to the development of
The opposite of scarcity is
plenty. People in Western countries saw that happiness hinged on the
elimination of scarcity, and this was the impulse behind the Industrial
Revolution. The awareness of scarcity and the desire to provide plenty, is in
turn based on the assumption that material abundance is the prerequisite for
This kind of thinking has
developed into materialism, and from there, consumerism, a significant
contribution to which has been made by industrialists working under the
influence of the first line of thinking mentioned above. Coupled with the
assumption that happiness is dependent on an abundance of material goods, we
have the belief that nature must be conquered in order to cater to man's
desires. The two assumptions support each other well.
It seems as if the pure desire for
knowledge mentioned earlier has been corrupted, coming under the influence of
the desires to conquer nature and to produce an abundance of material goods, or
materialism. When these two values enter the picture, the pure desire for
knowledge becomes an instrument for satisfying the aims of these secondary
values, giving rise to an exploitative relationship with nature.
The assumption is that by
conquering nature, mankind will be able to create unlimited material goods with
which to cater to his desires, resulting in perfect happiness. The search for
methods to implement this assumption naturally follows, leading to the marked
material progress we have seen in recent times, especially since the Industrial
Revolution. It has been said that the science which has developed in the
Industrial Age is a servant of industry. It may be claimed that science has
paved the way for industry, but industry says, "Science? That is my
Together with the development of
industry we have observed the gradual appearance, in ever-increasing severity,
of the harmful effects contingent on it. Now, with the danger that threatens us
from the destruction of the environment, it is all too clear. The cause for
this destruction is the powerful influence of these two assumptions: the desire
to conquer nature and the drive for material wealth. Together they place
mankind firmly on the path to manipulating, and as a result destroying, nature
on an ever-increasing scale. These two influences are also the cause for
mankind's internal struggles, the contention to amass material comforts. It
might even be said that modern man has had to experience the harmful
consequences of the past century of industrial development principally because
of the influence of these two assumptions.
Behind the prosperity ...
These two assumptions are not the whole picture. There are
also two major trends which have served to support
1. Specialization: The Industrial
Age is the age of specialization. Learning has been subdivided into specialized
fields, each of which may be very proficient in its respective right, but on an
overall level they lack integration.
The purpose of the specialization of
learning is to obtain knowledge on a more detailed level, which can then be
brought together into one integrated whole, but the specialists have become
blinded by their knowledge, producing an unbalanced kind of specialization. In
the field of science there are those who feel that science alone will solve
mankind's problems and answer all his questions, which gives them little
inclination to integrate their learning with other fields of knowledge.
This kind of outlook has caused
the belief that religion and ethics are also specialized fields of learning.
Modern education reduces ethics to just another academic subject. When people
think of ethics, they think, "Oh, religion," and file it away in its
little compartment. They aren't interested in ethics, but when it comes to
solving the world's problems, they say, "Oh, my discipline can do
that!" They don't think of trying to integrate their learning with other
disciplines. If they really were capable of solving all problems as they say,
then they would have to be able to solve the ethical ones, too. But then they
say that ethics is a concern of religion, or some other specialized field. This
brings us to the second trend:
2. The belief that ethical problems can
be solved without the need for ethics. Supporters of this idea believe that
when material development has reached its peak, all ethical problems will
disappear of their own accord.
According to this view, it is not necessary to
train people or to develop the mind. This is a line of reasoning which has
recently appeared in the field of economics. Economists say that when the
economy is healthy and material goods are in plentiful supply, there will no
longer be any contention, and society will be harmonious. This is to say in
effect that ethical or moral problems can be solved through material means.
This is not entirely wrong.
Economic situations do have a bearing on ethical problems, but it is a mistake
to oversimplify the situation by believing that ethical problems would somehow
disappear of their own accord if the economy were healthy. It might be said,
however, that this line of reasoning is true in one sense, because without
morality it would be impossible for the economy to be healthy. It could also be
said that if ethical practice was good (for example, people were encouraged to
be diligent, generous, prudent, and to use their possessions in a way that is
beneficial to society), then economic problems would disappear.
The statement, "When the
economy is good, ethical problems will not arise," is true in the sense
that before the economy can be healthy, ethical problems must be addressed.
Similarly, the statement, "When ethical problems are all solved, the
economy will be healthy," is true in the sense that before ethical
problems can be solved, economic problems must also be addressed.
The phrase "ethical problems"
takes in a wide range of situations, including mental health and the pursuit of
happiness. Thus, the attempt to solve ethical problems through materialistic
means must also entail dealing with moods and feelings, examples of which can
be seen in the synthesization of tranquillizers to relieve stress and
depression. But it would be a mistake to try to solve ethical problems through
such means. This kind of relief is only temporary, it soothes the problem but
does not solve it.
Many branches of academic learning
strive to be recognized as proper sciences, but the specialist perspective
causes funnel-vision and discord, and in itself becomes an impediment to true
science. Specialization is inimical to true science. Even physics cannot be
called true science, because it lacks integration; its facts are piecemeal, its
truth is partial. When truth is partial, it is not the real truth. Without the
whole picture, our deductions will not be in accordance with the total reality.
The stream of cause and effect is not seen in its entirety, so the truth
remains out of reach.
These two trends, specialization and the
belief that ethical problems can be solved through material means, pervade the
Age of Industrialization. Coupled with the two assumptions previously
mentioned, they intensify problems accordingly.
Many of the points I have
mentioned so far come within the domain of religion, and in order to see this
more clearly, I would like to enter the subject of religion itself. I have been
speaking about science, its origins and development, now let us take a look at
the origins and development of religion and try to integrate the two.
1. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Ed., (1988), s.v.
"Science, the History of," by L. Pearce Williams (vol. 27, p.37).
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