The Respiritualization Of Science
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story [of the big bang] ends like a bad dream. For the past three hundred years, scientists have scaled the mountain of ignorance and as they pull themselves over the final rock, they are greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” admits Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow in his book God and the Astronomers.
This statement reveals a dramatic, indeed historical, development in modern science, wherein the scientific temper is calling for inclusion of a spiritual paradigm in science. In this essay, we will analyze this amazing trend and then see the avenues that it opens for India to emerge as the spiritual leader of a post-secular world order.
History in the Making – And Remaking
Since the time Newton attempted to explain planetary orbits through the laws of gravity and motion, the scientific belief that the totality of existence can be explained through science has been gaining momentum. Correspondingly, the perception of the hand of God on the canvas of the universe has been dwindling more and more.
Prior to Newton, God was understood to be the creator and controller of the universe. Newtonian Physics relegated Him to the role of a creator, a mere clockmaker who had no power over nature, which was supposed to be governed by impersonal laws. Darwin’s The Origin of Species proposed in 1859 provided the intellectual justification for removing God even from the role of the creator. The intellectual climate of that time embraced Darwinian evolution not so much because of its scientific basis, but because of its ideological implications. This covert agenda to “exile” God from the academic world was made overt by Fredrich Neitsche through his jolting “God is dead” proclamation. Subsequently, Sigmund Freud proposed that religion is a “neurosis” that humanity had been suffering from and that science would help cure it. And Karl Marx rejected religion “as the opium of the masses”. Together, these four people – dubbed as “the bearded God-killers” – seemed to have effectively exiled God from the academic world.
Today almost all the academic textbooks and journals as well as commercial science fiction novels and movies portray the mechanistic notions of life as a proven fact, as an unquestionable scientific reality. Time and time again we get to hear recycled versions of the same old tale of human and universal origins: the universe originated with a big bang, unicellular life evolved fortuitously on the earth in a primordial soup, life forms evolved to increasing levels of complexity, and gradually all the flora and fauna on our planet – including we humans –came about. And concomitantly the religious worldviews of universal origins involving God are almost instantly rejected as pre-scientific superstitions.
This materialistic worldview has gained widespread acceptance not so much due to its scientific validation as due to its vigorous propagation. Moreover, the impressive technological accomplishments of science – catering to the mass demands for instant relief and pleasure – have created among people a naïve, unquestioning faith that whatever science says must be true. The extent of unquestioning faith people have in science was pointed out by Einstein himself when he said, “”Tell a man that there are 300 billion stars in the universe, and he’ll believe you…. Tell him that a bench has wet paint upon it and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.” (also credited to Raimond Verwei).
However, over the decades, as the harmful effects of technology are being increasingly recognized, so also are the fallacies of the scientific worldview that underlies these technologies.
Most people today have been led to believe that science can explain – or will soon explain – all natural phenomena – including the origin of life and the universe. Not many of them get to know that this notion is a modern superstition, a blind belief that is only a few centuries old. Or that it is being increasingly challenged by scientific findings. All over the world, pioneering research in many different fields promises to herald a spiritual revolution within science.
The Spiritual Tidings In Science
Lets briefly see the basis of this call for the re-spiritualization of science:
- At the macroscopic level. the “fine-tuning” of the universe – the micro-precise adjustment of almost 80 constants crucial for the formation of the universe – has led to the rise of the Intelligent Design Movement, which asserts that the tuning requires a tuner, a super-intelligent being, God, to oversee the creation and maintenance of the universe. “I saw in it (the atom) the key to the deepest secret of nature, and it revealed to me the greatness of the creation and the Creator,” This remark of Noble Laureate physicist Max Born has turned out to be more prophetic then what most of his contemporaries could have imagined.
- In the field of biology, the discovery of systems of irreducible complexity like say the bacterial flagella has posed a serious – possibly irrefutable – challenge to the Darwinian presumption that all life forms evolved gradually through natural processes from simple elements in the primordial soup. That’s why Noble Laureate biologist Francis Crick had to admit that the origin of life seems “a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.”
- The singular failure of scientists to explain consciousness – the most fundamental reality of existence – in mechanistic terms suggests that consciousness has a non-material or spiritual origin. Renowned Nobel Laureate physicist Neil Bohr states this, “We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness. Yet all of us know that there is such a thing as consciousness, simply because we have it ourselves. Hence consciousness must be part of nature, or more generally, of reality, which means that quite apart from the laws of physics and chemistry, as laid down in quantum theory, we must also consider laws of quite a different nature.”
- The implications of Godel’s theorem – the demonstration that in logic and in mathematics there must be true but unprovable statements, and that the consistency of a system such as arithmetic cannot be proved within that system – has shaken the foundations of godless rationalism, which thrived earlier on the presumption that we could one day understand the universe in toto. This is revealed by eminent physicist Stephen Hawking as follows, “Maybe it is not possible to formulate the theory of the universe in a finite number of statements…. we and our models, are both part of the universe we are describing. Thus a physical theory, is self referencing like in Gödel’s theorem. One might, therefore, expect it to be either inconsistent, or incomplete.…. All the theories we have at present are both inconsistent and incomplete.”
Thus despite the dazzling success of technology, science is deficient in providing a holistic framework for understanding and action. That’s why eminent thinkers throughout the world, including leading scientists such as Nobel Laureate Richard R. Ernst, peace workers such as Nobel Laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez and Betty Williams, and spiritualists such as Nobel Laureate the Dalai Lama, firmly believe that only a synthesis of science and spirituality can lead the world out of the present troubled times.
India is renowned globally as the land of profound and peerless spiritual wisdom. Here are a few quotes of eminent Western thinkers:
- “Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of sectarianism. It is of all ages, climbs, and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge.” -Thoreau (American Thinker)
- “The marvel of the Bhagavad-Gita is its truly beautiful revelation of life’s wisdom which enables philosophy to blossom into religion.” -Herman Hesse (1877-1962), German poet and novelist, awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946.
- “In the great book of India,the Bhagavad-gita, an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, sereneconsistent, the voice of an old intelligence, which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the questions that exercise us.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson Eminent American Thinker
Lesser known are the accomplishments and contributions of Vedic India to the field of science. Here are a few quotes from famous Western scientists acknowledging the scientific glory of Vedic India:
- “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.” – Albert Einstein
- “After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense” -Noble Laureate W. Heisenberg , pioneer of quantum physics
- “The Vedanta and the Sankhya hold the key to the laws of mind and thought process which are co-related to the Quantum Field, i.e. the operation and distribution of particles at atomic and molecular levels.” – Prof. Brian David Josephson (1940 – ) Welsh physicist, the youngest Nobel Laureate
- “It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by ten symbols, each receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value, a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity, the great ease which it has lent to all computations, puts our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions, and we shall appreciate the grandeur of this achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Appollnius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.” -Pierre Simon de Laplace, French mathematician, philosopher, and astronomer.
Whether Vedic science equals – and sometimes even surpasses – the sophistication of modern science is a debatable subject, but what is beyond debate and what makes Vedic science truly unique is its highly theistic approach. And this is why Vedic science becomes crucially important for modern humanity – because it has the potential to bridge the yawning chasm that separates science and spirituality today. Indeed, by uniting reason and faith in a higher-dimensional paradigm, it can heal the wound that has torn the human brain and the human heart far apart.
In the Vedic paradigm, science had a spiritual purpose. This is vividly stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam (1.5.22) “Learned circles have positively concluded that the infallible purpose of the advancement of knowledge, namely austerities, study of the Vedas, sacrifice, chanting of hymns and charity, culminates in the transcendental descriptions of the Lord, who is defined in choice poetry.” In his purport to this, eminent Vedic scholar Srila Prabhupada, founder of ISKCON, states: “Science and philosophy also should be applied in the service of the Lord. There is no use presenting dry speculative theories for sense gratification. Philosophy and science should be engaged to establish the glory of the Lord. Advanced people are eager to understand the Absolute Truth through the medium of science, and therefore a great scientist should endeavor to prove the existence of the Lord on a scientific basis.”
Thus science – the human faculty to observe and infer a rational understanding from the observation – can be used to verify and confirm spiritual truths – such as the omnipotence and superintelligence of God. This spiritual outlook to science in particular and life in general can rectify much of the exploitative and destructive use to which science is currently being put. In fact, many of the early Western scientists had a similar spiritual purpose for their scientific investigations. Eminent mathematician Johannes Kepler remarked, “I have endeavored to gain for human reason, aided by geometrical calculation, an insight into His way of creation; may the Creator of the heavens themselves, the father of all reason, to whom our mortal senses owe their existence, may He who is Himself immortal… keep me in His grace and guard me from reporting anything about His work which cannot be justified before His magnificence or which may misguide our powers of reason, and may He cause us to aspire to the perfection of His works of creation by the dedication of our lives…”
A Higher-Dimensional Science
Vedic thought considers not only science as a spiritual quest, but even spirituality as a scientific pursuit. The Vedic texts explain that genuine spirituality is meant to awaken the soul to his original spiritual identity as a harmonious unit in the supreme spiritual whole. This is affected through a harmonious combination of philosophy and religion, which constitute the two rails on which spirituality runs. The philosophy aspect of spirituality involves the study and understanding of matter, spirit and the controller of both – the Supreme. And the religion aspect involves the following of certain rules and regulations, which bring about the actual realization and experience of the spiritual realm.
The striking similarity of this understanding of spirituality with the approach of modern science to study the cosmos is worth noting. Modern science involves the formulation of hypotheses to explain the observable phenomena within the universe (similar to the philosophy aspect of spirituality). And it also involves the following of certain rules, which regulate the laboratory environment in a way by which the validity of the hypotheses can be verified (similar to the religion aspect of spirituality). Spirituality thus constitutes a higher dimensional science, in that it deals with realms of reality higher than the mundane.
The spiritual scientist, by dint of systematic practice of both philosophy and religion, realizes the actual nature of the cosmos and learns to live in harmony with it. Having realized his own identity as an eternal spiritual being and his loving relationship with the Supreme Being, such a realized spiritual scientist sees all living beings as his own brothers. His vision of universal brotherhood precipitates him to spontaneous, selfless and spiritual service towards all living beings.
Spiritual Glory Beckons Modern Indians
We modern Indians have inherited an unparalleled legacy of spiritual and scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, most Indians being unaware of their glorious legacy are disillusioned with Indian religiosity and enamored by Western technology. Since independence, India has made steady strides in scientific progress in weaponry, space research, and of course software engineering.
As far as technological advancement is concerned, we can keep improving our gadgets for a long time to come. But we need to ask a vital question: is that what the world needs today? Despite the best comforts, millions of people today are suffering from depression, stress, hypertension, addiction and suicidal urges. The technologically super-advanced West is turning to the East for spiritual solace, as is evident from the increasing popularity of meditation, yoga and chanting. And this is where India can contribute like no other country in the world. Because of our spiritual culture and scientific education, we Indians can have scientific temper in our brains and spiritual wisdom in our hearts in a way that would be impossible for anyone else in any other part of the world. Thus we are best suited to bring about the much-needed synthesis of science and spirituality that thinkers all over the world are searching for. That’s why Srila Prabhupada would lament, “Modern Indians are sitting on jewels and begging for glass.” And he asserted unequivocally that spiritual harmony is indispensable for human happiness, “When the scientist, the philosopher and the medical man get the opportunity to study scientifically what is God…., then there will be paradise on the earth.”