Daoism, Science, and Religion in China

Daoism, Science, and Religion in China

21st Century Strategies for New Daoism A Comprehensive Renewal of China’s Daoist Culture (in Chinese here) is an important and exciting article on the Chinese science and religion tradition by Professor Hu Fuchen of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Comments on Chinese Science and Religion Tradition

by Albert K. Cheung

It is time to broaden the concept of Western “Science” and “Religion”.

Einstein wrote in a 1953 letter: “Development of Western Science is based on two great achievements — the invention of the formal logical system (in Euclidean geometry) by the Greek philosophers, and the discovery of the possibility to find out causal relationships by systematic experiment (during the Renaissance). In my opinion, one has not to be astonished that the Chinese sages have not made these steps. The astonishing thing is that these discoveries were made at all.” As quoted in Cleopatra’s Nose, Essays on the Unexpected, by Daniel J Boorstin (1995).

Apparently, Einstein knew the Chinese had a different Science tradition. However, most Western scientists today hold the view that Western Science is the only “True” Science. If other discoveries that cannot be proven by accepted Western scientific methods, then they are not “Science”. Such as in medicine, the opinions are sharply divided: Western Medicine of synthetic drugs and surgery versus Chinese Medicine of herbal and holistic. In fact, there are merits and shortcomings in both.

In a fast changing world of Internet and Global Village, we need a more comprehensive understanding of Science, Religion, and the relationship between the two. The paper on “Introduction to 21st Century New Daoism” is an excellent guide to the Chinese cultural tradition for the rest of the world. The following are some of the main points in the paper:

  1. The world is getting smaller. East and West must integrate harmoniously as ONE WORLD.
  2. After the Renaissance, Western Scientific worldview has been on the ascendency. Modern science and philosophy shook the western world’s belief in God, so much that Nietzsche (1844-1900) cried out “God is dead”.
  3. After the Scientific Revolution, the Western world has split into “The Two Cultures” – science and humanities (or religion) — C.P. Snow 1959.
  4. Huge ecological changes in our Mother Earth will bring the world to work together.
  5. The harmoniously integration of the East and the West cannot follow “survival of the fittest”, the Darwinian rule of the jungle. Human beings are not animals living in the jungle!
  6. “The unlimited transcendent ontology nature of the Dao can be regarded as the ultimate religious belief and the Dao can be seen as the converging point for rational science and philosophy and non-rational religion.”
  7. “Daoist culture will enable the spirit of science and the spirit of humanity to merge into one, breaking the boundaries between science, philosophy, religion, arts and literature, and ethics, leveling up the rifts between the natural sciences and the humanities, turning all branches of human knowledge into one ‘integrated wisdom’…. “


There have been modern day Neo-Daoists like Joseph Needham (1900-1995) who was a noted Cambridge sinologist on Science and Civilization in China; Hideki Yukawa (1907-1981) who was a Nobel laureate in Physics in 1949; Fritjof Capra (1938-) who wrote “The Tao of Physics” in 1975; and Ervin Laszlo who wrote The Systems View of the World, The Whispering Pond (1996), The Connectivity Hypothesis(2003), Science and the Akashic Field (2004). [Note: Laszlo may not know himself as a Neo-Daoist! See reference.]

From a social point of view, the fundamental Neo-Daoist ideal is the construction of an optimal self-organizing and self-regulating system of life.

In 1928, R. Wilhelm (1873-1930) presented his translation of a popular book on alchemy entitled The Secret of the Golden Flower to the famous Swiss psychologist C.G.Jung (1875-1961) who “wrote a long introductory commentary for the book. Jung wrote that he believed there to be an internal link between Chinese traditional inner alchemy and modern western analytical psychology and medical science as concerned with the human body and mind. From within analytical psychology, he found a brand-new and unexpected means from which to approach the oriental wisdom. In the 5th edition of the German version of The Secret of the Golden Flower, there is a poem by Goethe. In part it reads West and East will no longer be separated [11]. “

With regards to culture, Daoism considers religion, philosophy, science, arts and literature (including esthetics), and ethics as its five indispensable basic elements, elements which are not mutually replaceable… Daoism can inspire a creative spirit in the sciences as well as in arts and literature; open new horizons in philosophy for dialectical thinking and in the study of man and the universe; and can, with the religious aspect of Daoism and its great compassion and goodness, its great honesty and faith, provide the ultimate human concern. It can provide a meeting point for social order and values and it can become the fount of human knowledge, and its values can become an important guide for the development of science and technology in the 21st century.

At the turn of the 21st century, the issues of “culture” and “tradition” have once again roused concern among intellectuals around the world…Traditional culture is itself also a natural organic ecosystem, obeying the Daoist law of freedom of beliefs, freedom of communication and natural evolution and if a people go against the natural course of things and resort to artificial re-transplanting, replacement, destruction or other political means, it will only result in the distortion of human nature, moral corruption, and social riots and upheaval.

Daoist culture concerns itself with theories of the nature of man and the universe, historical changes and future trends, and the source of life. It incorporates the wisdom of nature, society and human life, and will provide a torch of hope to man in the 21st century… Neo-Daoist culture is not only Chinese but belongs to the entire East and the whole world.

Reference forum on Science & Spirituality: http://ervinlaszlo.com/forum/

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6 thoughts on “Daoism, Science, and Religion in China

  1. Implicate and explicate order according to David Bohm (1917-1992)

    New Paradigm Science


    Design? Yes. Evolution? Yes. Contradiction? No. Then Why the Controversy?


    Implicate and explicate order according to David Bohm (1917-1992)

    According to David Bohm’s physics theory, implicate and explicate orders have a holographic aspect:

    In the enfolded [or implicate] order, space and time are no longer the dominant factors determining the relationships of dependence or independence of different elements. Rather, an entirely different sort of basic connection of elements is possible, from which our ordinary notions of space and time, along with those of separately existent material particles, are abstracted as forms derived from the deeper order. These ordinary notions in fact appear in what is called the “explicate” or “unfolded” order, which is a special and distinguished form contained within the general totality of all the implicate orders (Bohm, 1980, p. xv).

    The hologram as analogy for the implicate order

    Bohm employed the hologram as a means of characterising implicate order, noting that each region of a photographic plate in which a hologram is observable contains within it the whole three-dimensional image, which can be viewed from a range of perspectives. That is, each region contains a whole and undivided image. In Bohm’s words:

    There is the germ of a new notion of order here. This order is not to be understood solely in terms of a regular arrangement of objects (eg., in rows) or as a regular arrangement of events (e.g. in a series). Rather, a total order is contained, in some implicit sense, in each region of space and time. Now, the word ‘implicit’ is based on the verb ‘to implicate’. This means ‘to fold inward’ … so we may be led to explore the notion that in some sense each region contains a total structure ‘enfolded’ within it”.[1]

    Bohm noted that although the hologram conveys undivided wholeness, it is nevertheless static.

    In this view of order, laws represent invariant relationships between explicate entities and structures, and thus Bohm maintained that in physics, the explicate order generally reveals itself within well-constructed experimental contexts as, for example, in the sensibly observable results of instruments. With respect to implicate order, however, Bohm asked us to consider the possibility instead “that physical law should refer primarily to an order of undivided wholeness of the content of description similar to that indicated by the hologram rather than to an order of analysis of such content into separate parts

  2. Hi Albert:

    This western approach makes sense – it is simply stating the somewhat obvious fact that the explicit aspects of the laws of physics – the behavior of electrons, surfaces, etc. – mirrors an implicit set of assumptions to the effect that the laws at any given point in space have – if you want to use the language – “folded” into them the laws of the universe. But this is nothing revelatory in Western science.

    My question, then, is how the Daoist approach is different.


    1. Steve:

      “But this is nothing revelatory in Western science.” — I suggest there is a difference in interpretation of “revelation” and ” Western science”.

      Same as the debate between creationists and evolutionists, “Could it be that our universe has been purposefully designed so it could give rise to the evolution of life? “–Laszlo.

      ….Science suggests that the spiritual experience opens the brain with which our consciousness is associated to an extended range of information….Energy exists in the form of wave-patterns and wave-propagations in the quantum vacuum that fills space; in its various forms, energy is the “hardware” of the universe. The “software” is information. The universe is …. a dynamic and coherent whole. The energy that constitutes its hardware is always and everywhere “in-formed.” ….This is the “in-formation” that structures the physical world, the information we grasp as the laws of nature. … But the universe is not random and unstructured; it’s precisely “in-formed.”

      …the spiritual experience, In the Western religious perspective this is communion with the spirit that infuses the cosmos, identified as God…. In religious traditions this core consciousness is referred to as the soul which is part of a collective soul or collective consciousness, which in turn is part of a more universal domain of consciousness referred to in religions as God.”…. “when you strip away the culture, history, and dogma of every religion, the teachers of those religions were teaching very similar principles and practices that led to a sense of oneness, that ended a sense of separation from the Whole.”

      This perspective of Religion and Science is closer to the Daoist tradition.

  3. ….Science suggests that the spiritual experience opens the brain with which our consciousness is associated to an extended range of information….Energy exists in the form of wave-patterns and wave-propagations in the quantum vacuum that fills space; in its various forms, energy is the “hardware” of the universe. The “software” is information. The universe is …. a dynamic and coherent whole. The energy that constitutes its hardware is always and everywhere “in-formed.” ….This is the “in-formation” that structures the physical world, the information we grasp as the laws of nature. … But the universe is not random and unstructured; it’s precisely “in-formed.”

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