As far as the modern project of Buddhism is concerned it seems disposed to making the Buddha the patron saint of science. But then, what is science? As far as I can tell the modern definition of science for Buddhists looking up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary, is not the following definition of science.
“The state or fact of knowing; knowledge or cognizance of something specified or implied; also, with wider reference, knowledge (more or less extensive) as a personal attribute.”
But this one:
“In modern use, often treated as synonymous with ‘Natural and Physical Science’, and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use.”
Personally, I like the first definition of science, especially, “The state or fact of knowing” which sits nicely with the Buddhism of the discourses (Suttas, Sutras). This chimes with terms like jñâna, sambodhi, vidya, and so on. However, judging from the literature of pop Buddhism, it is definition number two that its literature rides on.
Incidentally, trying to turn the Buddha, essentially, into the patron saint of science goes back to the 1860s according to Donald Lopez (The Scientific Buddha, p. 10). It is a project not with shallow roots which if a team of great Buddhist scholars were to attempt to pull it out by the roots, would be unable to do so. This is not because of a lack of countervailing evidence in the Nikayas, for example. It is because the myth that the Buddha was the first scientist of his day has been cast into almost impenetrable concrete.
Perish the thought of the Buddha’s miraculous birth or that he found the world (loka) an almost unbearable place of suffering that is alien to man’s true spiritual nature, that is, his âtman which is spiritually seperable from the perishable psychophysical body. The list goes on of oddities that don’t chime with the belief of the Buddha being a Mr. Science sort of guy who tried to wise up the, supposedly, primitive Brahmins with their dumb belief in a soul.
All the claims that the Buddha is like a patron saint of science can be easily refuted. Where the problem lies is with many modern Buddhists who don’t, frankly, give a tinker's dam about the discourses of the Buddha. Tomorrow, they could burn them up and not really care.