Your science is not important


In a talk titled ‘Your Religion is not Important’, the Dalai Lama once said:

I am not interested, my friend, about your religion or if you are religious or not. What really is important to me is your behavior in front of your peers, family, work, community, and in front of the world.

That quote reminded me of one of the most difficult questions in the Bible–whether people achieve salvation by living a good life or by faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible isn’t entirely clear on this point, and much ink has been spilled on the faith vs. works debate. All of my Christian friends have wrestled with it at some point. I remember a Bible study I attended where many people, shockingly to me, agreed with a variation of what the Dalai Lama said.

Most agreed you don’t need faith to be compassionate or care about the poor. There are, after all, many non-Christians who do just that. Religious leaders and politicians may affirm otherwise in public. But among individual Christians, I haven’t seen anyone assert that only Christians live good lives. And yet, despite acknowledging this point, all serious Christians I know still insist that faith is important. Good works are not enough. We still need faith.

I’m struck at how similarly scientists respond to creationists. As with faith and works, leaders offer a sharply different message from individual scientists. I don’t know any scientists who think creationists cannot solve differential equations or become a doctor. If they did, it would be straightforward to prove them wrong. All you need is a few seconds and an Internet connection. But also like the faith and works debate, scientists still think that it’s important to believe in evolution. The truth matters and you must believe it even if you can live a perfectly good life without it.

As America secularizes and the power of institutional Christianity wanes, the Dalai Lama view of religion will probably become more prevalent. That’s an outcome we should celebrate. We should judge others by their works alone. In fact, we should take this approach one step further. We should consider peoples’ intellectual lives as we increasingly do their spiritual. In both cases we should judge by works and nothing else. Just as you can live a good life without Christ, you can live a rational life without evolution.

I am not interested, my friend, about your science or if you are scientific or not. I do not care whether you believe in creationism or astrology. What really is important to me is your behavior in front of your classmates, colleagues and community. What really is important is if you can program a computer, diagnose a disease, or design a building. Your science is not important.


  1. Interesting comparison… I am not sure if I agree with it. True, i do not care one bit about the thoughts about evolution that an aerospace engineer har; I only care that she got her physics and maths right. That being said, it is somewhat dissonant to “believe” in physics because of all the evidence and because it works and not to accept evolution despite an equal body of wcieence and its explanatory power in biology… My two cents… (:-)

    1. Thanks for the comment. I hear what you’re saying. I’m starting to wonder if that’s not a sign of dissonance or inconsistency, but people making reasoned judgments about when to trust experts. A commenter below had some sharp words along these lines that I’m going to highlight.

      Thanks again!

  2. Interesting. Most of the faith vs. works analogy and debate you use is tied up in faulty translations. A lot of the words translated as “believe” in the English New Testament are more accurately translated as “to lean your whole weight upon,” for example. This is an active thing. It’s a false dichotomy (false dualism) of faith and work. They aren’t separate. So a lot of the debate (in the analogy) depends on how you define faith and how you define Christ. There are many definitions and some don’t have any conflict. This is why the Dalai Lama’s statements (as well as statements by a host of others from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Quakers, etc.) ring true.

    1. Thanks! I read through a lot of the links. I saw how many people resolved that debate. Translation and historical analysis were definitely the tools used. My point simply was that there was a debate.

  3. Very interesting analogy.

    My two cents: The most common reconciliation of the faith and works debate is to say that faith should, and if genuine will, show itself in works. Yet works alone are not enough. Why not?

    Because faith is a way of submitting your mind and your will to God.

    In the Christian context this is appropriate makes sense: We believe God deserves our total submission, since he is our origin and the source of all that is good in our lives. We submit to him in thanksgiving, and also as an acknowledgement that without him, we’d literally be nothing.

    But why do scientists demand faith? It would seem that this also is a way of demanding “submission of mind and will”. But it’s much harder to understand why it’s appropriate.

    1. Thanks for your explanation. I had heard variations of that before. As for your last question…here is where I think the similarities between science and religion get stronger. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that (many, but not all) scientists do think it’s important to believe the good word of evolution!

      Thanks again.

  4. The science is what allows us to effectively treat diseases. Therefore, since you do not care about science, you do not care about effectively treating diseases.

    Perhaps you’d care to amend the last statement of your blog post here.

    1. Robert:

      That’s slightly fallacious, like saying, the airplane engine is what allows you to fly to New York. Therefore, since you aren’t interested in airplane engines, you’re not interested in flying to New York.

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