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  • A Three-Way Method for the Buddhism-Christianity-Science Trialogue
  • John B. King Jr.

In this article, I will develop and present a method for modeling the three-way interaction between Buddhism, Christianity, and science.1 To construct this method, I will use comparative theology to model the Buddhist-Christian interaction and Robert John Russell’s Creative Mutual Interaction (CMI) to model the Buddhist and Christian interactions with science. Finally, to ground this method, I will use the Peircian triadic circuit (abduction, deduction, and induction) to model the three interacting traditions, thereby making them structurally commensurable. Because the Peircian circuit will therefore function as a philosophical least common denominator, it will provide the common basis needed to relate the three traditions within a single framework.

To present this method concisely, I will take a top-down approach consisting of six basic steps. First, I will present an overview of the three-way method together with a schematic diagram of it. Second, I will discuss my use of the Peircian triadic circuit as the transdisciplinary basis of the method. Third, I will defend the use of comparative theology to model the Buddhist-Christian interaction over against the competing methods of comparative religion and theology of religions. Fourth, I will then employ Russell’s CMI to model the two religion-and-science dialogues. Fifth, I will show how this three-way method establishes a formal basis for the systematic comparison of Buddhist and Christian interactions with science. Finally, having accounted for the method as a whole, I will illustrate the method by using it to compare Christian and Buddhist approaches to scientific epistemology.

In offering such a method, I seek to improve upon previous attempts to formulate a framework for this three-way interaction. To date, three such attempts have been made. In Buddhist-Christian Dialogue in an Age of Science, Paul O. Ingram bases the interaction of the three traditions upon Ian Barbour’s critical realism.2 However, although Ingram provides much methodological guidance for the Buddhist and Christian dialogues with science, he fails to consider the details of the Buddhist-Christian interaction. A second work is The Boundaries of Knowledge in Buddhism, [End Page 185] Christianity, and Science, edited by Paul D. Numrich.3 This book includes authors from all three fields but provides no methodological framework for their interaction or for the adjudication of their competing claims. Thus, in his review of this book, John B. Cobb Jr. was encouraged that this work was the first instance of a “three-cornered discussion” in this field, but he lamented that it did not go further.4 Finally, in The Cosmic Breath: Spirit and Nature in the Christianity-Buddhism-Science Trialogue, Amos Yong uses comparative theology to model the Buddhist-Christian interaction but then bases the two religion-and-science dialogues upon the discussion of boundary issues in knowledge.5 Yong’s approach therefore lacks formal symmetry because the Buddhist-Christian interaction is modeled through a formal method whereas the two religion-and-science dialogues are based upon material considerations alone. In contrast to all three of these approaches, I will present a three-way method that is structurally integrated and formally symmetric.

overview of the three-way method

A schematic diagram for the three-way method is shown in figure 1 below. As can be seen from this figure, the proposed method involves an interaction between three distinct traditions within a three-stage hermeneutical process. Moving from the inside out, the Peircian triangles represent the hermeneutical circularity internal to the three traditions. At the intermediate level, there is hermeneutical/dialogical interaction between each pair of traditions. Finally, the outer circle represents the trialogical interaction between Buddhism, Christianity, and science. Because the method is integrated and formally symmetric, any residual asymmetries result from the material content of the particular traditions rather than the formal constraints of the method itself. Thus, the interaction of either religion with science is asymmetric as indicated by the dashed lines. As explained below, this asymmetry results from material differences between religion and science.

a peircian model of tradition: the peircian triad as a transdisciplinary basis

As seen in figure 1, the Peircian triadic circuit is used...


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pp. 185-202
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