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  • Ignorance, Knowledge, and Omniscience: At and Beyond the Limits of Faith and Reason after Shinran:Reflections on The Boundaries of Knowledge in Buddhism, Christianity, and Science, with Special Attention to Dennis Hirota
  • Amos Yong

Although published in the series Religion, Theologie und Naturwissenschaft, Paul Numrich's edited volume is really about epistemology in religion and science, in particular about human knowing in Buddhist and Christian traditions shaped by the world of science on the one hand, and how such knowing might also inform scientific knowledge on the other hand.1 The panoply of positions is presented by both Buddhist and Christian thinkers.

From the Buddhist side, the following arguments are sketched:

  • • that religion and science are complementary modes of knowing and that "understanding the true nature of the physical world" opens up "the way to enlightenment" (Trinh Xuan Thuan).2

  • • that Buddhism is both continuous with (and hence deserving of serious consideration amidst) the epistemic discourses of modernity in many respects and yet also discontinuous with (and hence capable for critically interrogating) modernity's epistemology in other respects as well (David L. McMahan).3

  • • that a Shin Buddhist approach to human knowledge—which in this chapter is brought into dialogue with Martin Heidegger's (1889-1976) notion of truth—opens up to a Kuhnian philosophy of science that emphasizes how paradigmatic shifts occur when new perspectives replace older frameworks (Dennis Hirota).4

  • • that the questions raised by theoretical and quantum physics provide a scientific framework for discussing fundamental epistemological, ontological, and metaphysical questions that Buddhists and Christians might otherwise disagree about (Mark T. Unno).5

From the Christian side, the following theses are explored: [End Page 201]

  • • that boundary constraints confront not only working scientists but also Buddhists and Christians, and that these constraints can thus serve as a springboard for a science and religion "trilogue" (Paul O. Ingram).6

  • • that the mystery of creative becoming (God, in traditional Christian terms) is the dynamic backdrop to the ongoing human quest for knowledge (Gordon D. Kaufman).7

  • • that it is at the boundaries of knowledge that genuine creativity occurs (not only scientific creativity but also theological creativity emerges, i.e., the apophatic tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy or the theory of coincidentia oppositorum of Nicholas of Cusa [1401-1464]), and where, as a result of such creative approaches, distinct fields of inquiry open up and different domains of knowledge emerge (Antje Jackelén).8

  • • that theological discourse is paradoxical precisely because such discourse marks the fluid boundaries demarcating sense and nonsense (Tom Christenson).9

And, befitting a volume on the encounter between religion (i.e., Buddhism and Christianity) and science, there is a concluding chapter from a physicist on the limits of scientific knowledge that both is encouraged by the gains made by science (presuming a critical realist approach to science's modeling of reality) and yet also is honest about there being much more to learn on small and big questions (John R. Albright).10

The foregoing summaries do not do justice to the complexity and sophistication of the chapters in the book. However, they provide a broader context for my interactions with Dennis Hirota's chapter on Shinran's (1173-1263) epistemology and its implications for both religious and scientific knowledge. As an evangelical Christian, I am particularly intrigued by the challenges confronting a Shin Buddhist approach to the sciences, even as I am hopeful that such a consideration will precipitate creative insights both for the Buddhist-Christian encounter and for the religion-science dialogue. I am all the more motivated since I have long been convinced that the religion-science dialogue has been dominated by generically religious approaches and that it is time for more particularistic or even confessional positions to be registered in the discussion.11 I am optimistic that the specificity of the Shin tradition will provide both complementary and contrasting perspectives to the contemporary Buddhist encounter with science that has so far been dominated by the broadly Tibetan approaches of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (1935-) and those in his circle of dialogue partners,12 and that this will in turn open up new trajectories—even initiate new paradigms, as Hirota suggests—for the Buddhist...


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