Since I bought it, my go-to book for reading prior to my morning meditation/quiet time has been David Barash's "Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science."
For me, it's a home run in the spirituality without supernaturalism ballpark. In the same genre of Stephen Bachelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs," yet more satisfying in certain ways, being based on solid science. Albeit with a healthy dose of modern secular Buddhism viewpoints.
The core of Barash's book, which I've almost finished, is that three principles underly Buddhism in all of its varied forms. However, lots is added on to these principles that can't be defended scientifically.
But this much can. Definitions are from the book's glossary.
(1) Anatman -- not-self; denial that things, animals, or people have an independent, substantial nature. In particular, neither humans nor anything else have an eternal non-material soul. Neuroscience supports this.
(2) Anitya -- impermanence; a state of constantly becoming. Change happens. Everywhere. All the time. No exceptions. Except maybe the laws of nature that proclaim "change happens." Evolution is one example.
(3) Pratitya-Samutpada -- connectedness; the dependent co-arising of all phenomena; dependent origination; interdependence of all things. Fundamental premise of ecology, biology, systems thinking.
Here's a passage from the book that says a lot in a few sentences:
Evolutionary biologists typically attribute convergence among living things not to mere coincidences but to an underlying similarity in ecological niches.
If two species -- say, whales and sharks -- appear very similar despite being unrelated, the likelihood is that both are adapted to a similar marine environment, which of course they are.
In the same way, we also have both placental mice and marsupial mice, and the wings of birds and those of bats.
The shape and structure of wings speaks eloquently about the physical properties of air and about how the experience of air is shared by flying birds and flying mammals, just as fins are eloquent about water.
Likewise, the extraordinary parallels between Buddhism and biology, independently captured by seemingly disparate perspectives, may also be due to the nature of their shared reality.
Well, I'd change that "may" in the last sentence to "almost certainly." At least, this is the conclusion I've drawn after reading most of Barash's book.
Once Buddhism is stripped of its supernaturalism, such as a belief in transmigration or reincarnation (which is at odds with its not-self principle), it does indeed seem that Buddhist philosophy is a fairly accurate reflection of reality as modern science has come to know it.
Imperfectly and incompletely to be sure. But a heck of a lot more accurately than religions have been able to comprehend the cosmos.
So why might someone want to overlay a reality-based philosophy like modern secular Buddhism over what science has learned about reality? Good question. I suspect Barash will answer it in the book's final chapters.
My personal take on this is that we humans are complex creatures. We aren't just rational thinking machines, and we aren't just intuitive emotional beings. There is a multitude within us.
Those 100 billion neurons in the brain with trillions of connections produce some pretty weird shit, to put it crudely but accurately.
I love to read hard-core popular science books. But they leave me with a wanting for something more. That more is emotional, meaningful, quasi-poetic, uplifting. The sort of thing that, when I have it, makes me feel that life is good and I'm an integral part of a wonderful reality.
Barash does an excellent job of describing how the three principles above -- not-self, impermanence, connectedness -- do indeed lead to a understanding of how to live life happily, meaningfully, productively.
But that's the subject of another blog post, after I finish the book.