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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Science and Religion

From Dandavats

(Dr. J. Chakrabarty, Florida State University)

At the outset, I would like to apologize to the discerning reader for using an absurd title, which implies that science and religion are mutually exclusive areas, while in actual fact they are two different aspects of one and the same reality. In modern times, there is a common tendency to regard physical science as constituting the entire field of scientific knowledge, and to dismiss anything that falls outside its limited domain as unscientific.

This deplorable tendency of identifying a part for the whole betrays a frame of mind that is contrary to what is considered as scientific The main purpose of writing this article is to point out the need to include spiritual science as an integral part of a much broader field of scientific knowledge, and to indicate an appropriate means of achieving possible reconciliation between the two conflicting schools of thought.

According to the spiritually rich Vedic tradition, which is also the oldest religious and cultural tradition of mankind, every aspect of the secular or spiritual knowledge is one
of numerous manifestations of an eternal and omnipotent reality which the ancient seers designated as Brahman, our aim of life being to realize our oneness with this reality. It is therefore essential for us to make use of our secular knowledge in a manner that will help us to move toward this goal without hindrances.

The spectacular advancement of physical science, which has helped us to understand the mode of working of Nature, offers us a unique opportunity to achieve this, provided we choose to utilize the results of physical science for the benefit of mankind. This is precisely where the spiritual science comes in to our rescue. The object of a genuine religion is therefore to complement the knowledge of physical science by providing it with a spiritual counterpart, to enable us to make the right decision and act accordingly.

Consequently, a true religion must be equipped with all the essential features of being thoroughly scientific on spiritual matters, and should not be based on a mere faith that cannot be justified by critical reasoning. Similarly, a worthy follower of physical science should have a frame of mind that is ready to accept the idea of spiritual science, which has been vindicated by the teachings of a number of spiritually enlightened beings who came to this world to show us the way to achieve spiritual perfection.

A religion that is opposed to the concept of critical thinking fails to serve any useful purpose, just as an indiscriminate use of the results of physical science with no regard for the moral consequences is always counterproductive;

The ancient religion of the Vedas is exceedingly rich in its philosophical content, and is at the same time completely scientific in its outlook. It is capable of providing a sound basis for a reconciliation between science and religion as perceived by the modern mind. Religion, according to the vedic principles, is essentially a device for making us decent human beings, not an organized institution founded on a set of dogmas that are not open to intellectual scrutiny.

Although the ultimate truth, according to the Vedas, cannot be arrived at with the help of reasoning alone, a spiritual truth is considered as one that does not contradict reasoning. There is a strong emphasis, therefore, on the need to purify our intellect with the help of a suitable spiritual discipline, so that we are able to make proper use of the faculty of reasoning. Incidentally, the Vedic religion describes the highest state of spiritual perfection as vijnana, which means supreme scientific achievement..

The remarkable achievements in the field of physical science have created a sense
of weakness among people for this important branch of human knowledge. Incidentally, they have also paved the way for a group of pseudo-scientists who are eager to exploit the common sentiment in trying to promote ideas, born of their fertile imagination, as pieces of scientific truth. They seem to succeed in getting what they want not only by using the weight of their authority to the fullest extent, but also by adopting deceptive methods of presenting their views in the garb of science.

This deplorable practice has created a mass of superstition, in the name of science, which is more dangerous than some of the known forms of religious superstition, since many of these spurious conclusions are becoming an integral part of the modern education system. The fact that these results fail to satisfy proper intellectual and scientific scrutiny seems to have escaped notice of the modern intelligentsia. One such absurd theory that has received a great deal of publicity in recent times will be briefly discussed in what follow.

The so-called big bang theory of creation imagines a vanishingly small particle with an infinitely large mass as the starting point of creation of the universe, the origin and location of this fantastic particle being considered as immaterial. All of a sudden, an equally fantastic explosion took place to disintegrate this particle, generating innumerable material entities with finite masses and densities, and marking the beginning of time and space.

This theory evidently gives rise to several pertinent questions which its proponents are unable to answer. Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, the existence of the extraordinary initial particle, the occurrence of a spontaneous event such as the big bang, which requires an infinitely large supply of external energy, is totally unacceptable to the genuinely scientific mind. In the first place, it is impossible to have an effect without an appropriate cause, thereby violating the well established casual law for the occurrence of natural phenomena.

Secondly, an event can be identified only within a pre-existent frame of time and space, and to suggest that it is the other way round is simply absurd. Thirdly, the occurrence of a random explosion can only result in a chaotic state with resonating disorder, and it is hard to imagine how an orderly steady state could emerge without the damping effect of an external agency. These remarks, which are by no means exhaustive, should be sufficient to indicate the pseudo-scientific nature of the theory.

The big bang theory is generally associated with another theory that is based on an extraordinary concept of the universe, which is imagined to have a finite radius, and to contain all the heavenly bodies within its boundary. The universe is also supposed to be radially expanding outward, presumably into another universe of no consequence. Thus, the universe is given a different connotation from its accepted linguistic meaning.

The available astronomical data on the motion of distant galaxies, based on the relativistic Doppler principle, seem to suggest that these galaxies are moving away from us with a speed which is comparable with the speed of light. Assuming these observations to have a scientific validity, they seem to suggest a curious fact which needs to be addressed. If the universe had been expanding continuously with such a high speed for a considerable length of time, it could not have remained finite enough for astronomical observations to be possible on certain distant galaxies, thereby rendering the initial assumption invalid.

This objection must be resolved in a satisfactory manner before the validity of the theory of expanding universe could be truly established.

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