Scientific Values and Buddhist Values

Kenneth Leong
4 min readMay 2

In my discussion with various people in Facebook groups, it has come to my attention that the general public lacks an understanding of scientific values. Worse, I have seen many unjustified prejudices against science, which are largely due to fallacious reasoning. There are many who think that science is essentially a neutral tool that does not have values of its own. In the following, I will state several commonly accepted scientific values. I will also compare them to Buddhist intellectual values. The following is a list of what I consider as the top scientific values:

  1. Objectivity–Is a claim or opinion based on empirical facts, or is it based on an ideology or idea that is not supported by evidence?
  2. Honesty–If one does not know something, does one admit one’s ignorance? If one’s knowledge is uncertain or incomplete, does one try to create an impression of certainty or completeness? If one’s data or methodology have limitations or flaws, does one communicate them to the public? Does one disclose potential conflicts of interest?
  3. Openness–There are several potential meanings of openness. (a) Is one open to new ideas and alternative theories? (b) Is one transparent and not trying to hide certain facts from the public? (c ) Does one admit that one could be wrong, or does one consider oneself infallible and not open to valid criticism?
  4. Fairness–How does one treat others who have an alternative hypothesis, theory, approach, etc.? Does one give one’s competitors a voice, or does one try to suppress, silence, or censor any potential competition?

All four values attest to a scientist’s personal integrity. Regrettably, these scientific values or virtues are almost the direct opposite of traditional religious values.

Now, let us compare this set of scientific values to Buddhist values. We can gauge what the Buddhist intellectual values are by reading various suttas in the Pali Canon. In particular, the Kalama Sutta and the Canki Sutta are excellent references. Take the Canki Sutta as an example. In that sutta, Buddha met a young Brahmin, Kapadika, who held the Vedic teachings in high regard. When Buddha was challenged by this young man, he asked him this crucial question: “Tell me, is there among the Brahmins even one who says, ‘This I know…

Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human