There is room
for both science and religion in seeking to understand the universe,
thing is clear. The universe would have no meaning if there was
no one here to appreciate its beauty and harmony, said U.Va.
astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan.
the author of popular books on science for general readers, Trinh,
raised as a Buddhist in Vietnam, is used to taking a broader,
more philosophical view of nature. He sees beauty in the cosmos,
in particles such as the quantum, in flowers such as the lotus.
Trinh was drawn to physics
and astronomy because
those disciplines often sought answers to the same questions asked
his academic career, he has continued to pursue the spiritual
angle of inquiry as well as the scientific in considering fundamental
questions, such as How did the universe begin? Where does
it end? Why is there life? Consciousness? People to ask these
years ago when he met Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk who was
trained as a molecular biologist, the two began a dialogue that
they have turned into a new book, The Quantum and the Lotus: A
Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet.
astronomers accept that the universe was created as the result
of a big bang, the explosion of energy that set in motion the
creation of particles, atoms, molecules, elements, stars and galaxies
and planets. Amazingly, on one of these planets, Earth, life has
emerged, and, most amazingly, intelligent, thinking human life.
But religion, the idea of creation by design, is often discounted
or simply ignored by the scientific community. Trinh believes
this is a narrow view, or simply a limited one.
think a spiritual view is necessary for a more complete understanding
of reality, he said. Science is a tool, but it has
no moral value. The fact that we exist, and are here to question
the universe, suggests that there is far more than meets the eye.
universe seems to have been fine-tuned to allow conscious life
to develop. Philosophers ask if the universe exists by chance,
or is it necessity. Many religions teach that the universe exists
because of a creator. Through the ages and cultures, people have
been asking questions, trying to understand the universe. This
is my interest as well.
points out that there is no telescope or computer program
that can show us God. We can only see 15 billion light years distant.
We know that visible matter constitutes only about 2 percent of
the universes total material content. There is so much more
to learn and discover.
and Ricard approach questions of the universe, and of meaning,
from the perspectives of a scientist with a Buddhist background,
and a Buddhist with a scientific background. In parts of the book
Trinh questions Ricards beliefs based on what science knows
about the laws of nature. Ricards responses, and his own
questions for Trinh, are based on a metaphysical and transcendental
view of things, but with a great respect for the science that
seeks hard facts.
was a mutually enriching conversation, Trinh said. I
developed a greater appreciation for Buddhism. Likewise, I believe
Matthieus perspective was enriched as he looked more closely
at our physical understanding of the universe. We found that Buddhism
and science often confirm and complement one another.
who prefers to write in French, and then they are translated to
English, and Ricard first met in the summer of 1997 during a conference
on science and religion in Andorra. During long walks in the Pyrenees
Mountains they developed a friendship as they discussed essential
questions. They continued their dialogue by e-mail when they returned
to home. Along the way, they realized they had a book.
grew up with the philosophic view that man does not exist in isolation,
which is the Buddhist view, that all things are part of everything,
Trinh said. I have viewed science too in this way, that
measuring the universe is only one understanding, but a more holistic
view would include spirituality. I dont think religion is