Do devotees have to oppose science to be faithful to Prabhupada?
From Dr Sathe, Phd Physics
I am a scientist and I like Krishna consciousness, but I am disturbed that devotees constantly criticise science and scientists, labelling them as rascals, and say that only by so doing are we faithful to Srila Prabhupada. Can’t I have respect for science, my material profession, and bhakti, my spiritual calling?
Transcribed by: Shalini Ahluwalia
Question : Do devotees have to constantly oppose science and scientists inorder to be faithful followers of Srila Prabhupada. I am a scientist and I am attracted to Krishna consciousness but I find that almost all the classes and presentations of Krishna consciousness filled with criticism of science. And I find this unnecessary and unfair and some devotees tell me that it was Prabhupada’s mood to criticise science and that scientists are rascals. Is it that followers of Prabhupada have to criticise science inorder to be faithful to him?
Answer: Not at all.We have to study Srila Prabhupada’s stand carefully. What Prabhupada was critical of was not science but atheism masquerading as science. Atheists misappropriating science. Prabhupada in his purport of 1.5.22 in Srimad Bhagavatam says that the perfection of all branches of knowledge –
avicyuto ‘rthah kavibhir nirupito
uttamasloka gunanuvarnanam- Prabhupada says that the perfect scientist would be one who uses science to glorify God. So now Prabhupada often used strong words like rascals and fools, no compromise, fight and expose – and these have a tendency, these sound bytes have a tendency of some sensational value and just as in the media sometimes quotes which have a sensational value are publicised far more and the context of those quotes is often neglected. Thats why the quotes often get circulated without the context and often they end up meaning something which is significantly different from what was originally intended. So same way it can happen even in the devotee community. Most of the strong language that Prabhupada has used for criticising science and scientists has always been with his close disciples mostly on morning walks. Prabhupada rarely uses such strong language in his purports or even while addressing people in general. He may use it sometimes but not so specifically. Prabhupada specifically told Bhakti?? Maharaj when they had organised a scientific conference that you know you should be polite and respectful to them. Be courteous with them. And then further Prabhupada infact when Bhakti?? Maharaj came to meet him, he came as a humble disciple and Prabhupada said no they are scientists they should be respected and Prabhupada asked disciples to get chairs and asked them to sit on chairs. They had come in civil dress with coat and tie and Prabhupada just indicated how important he considered not just, he considered even devotee scientists who were preaching, he did not consider them to be objects of criticism at all.(?? Sentence meaning not clear ) So now I will read a quote from Prabhupada. This is again a context where he is speaking in Los Angeles to his disciples – So you all write very strongly, vibrantly, even if it is a little offensive still these rascals should be taught a good lesson. Yes, they are misleading. Godlessness. As soon as you say God created, immediately they become arrogant. That is our protest. If they accept God then we give them all credit, thats alright otherwise zero. We don’t deprecate their intention of advancement in knowledge but we simply protest against their defying the authority of God. That is our point. Now this quote- many people will grab onto the point – teach a good lesson, rascals, offensive, arrogant. These are there but Prabhupada is balancing it all with something else very significantly. If they accept God then we give them all credit. Does that mean that they have to become Hare Krishna devotees, chanting and dancing kirtan? Not necessarily. If they just accept that science does not lead to disbelief in God, science does not necessitate atheism, that science not only leaves room for theism but also science can be used to intellectually substantiate theism. Then we give them credit. Then further Prabhupada is saying – We don’t deprecate their intention of advancement in knowledge. So science is basically motivated by the desire to know. So Newton observed the fruit falling and then he wondered why the fruit is falling. So we observe nature around us and we try to understand how nature works, thats what the spirit of science is. Now ofcourse the Vedic scriptures appreciate more of spiritual enquiry than material enquiry which is what science does most of the time.
Athato brahm jigyasa. But the spirit of inquisitiveness is appreciated in the Vedic context and Prabhupada is saying that we don’t deprecate their intention of advancement in knowledge. So science wanting to advance and understand things is not something which Prabhupada is deprecating. So its not that our criticism is of science or scientific advancement. Our criticism, by our criticism I mean Prabhupada’s criticism, is for anything that takes people away from God. So you have to understand that there are two conflicting contenders over there. There is atheism and there is theism. Now there is disbelief in God and there is belief in God. Now atheism has unscrupulously misappropriated science on its side and atheists say that if you want to be scientific then you have to be atheistic. Now this is not true. Science is a method of enquiry just like if I am wearing spectacles, now with the spectacles I try to see what is there. Just because I am wearing spectacles does that mean that I have to be atheistic or does that mean that necessarily everybody who wears spectacles is atheistic? Science is similarly a tool for looking at the world, a tool for acquiring knowledge. And its not that anybody who uses that tool has to be atheistic nor is that others who see that person using that tool of science has to consider them atheistic. So actually as devotees we should not perpetuate the mistaken notion that the conflict is between science and religion. That science is wrong and religion is right. The conflict is not between science and religion. It is between atheism and theism. And atheism when it misappropriates science for its own purposes and then atheists claim that if you have to be scientific you have to be atheistic. And this is a very detrimental, this is wrong first of all in terms of facts and it is very harmful in terms of its effects because in today’s times nobody wants to be seen as anti-scientific or unscientific. So if people are made to believe that they have to choose to be scientific or to be unscientific most people will not want to choose to be unscientific. And when we portray it as a conflict between science and religion then what happens is that unwittingly we push people away because people don’t want to be unscientific. And its not that to be spiritual, to be devoted to Krishna, to be a faithful follower of Prabhupada one has to be unscientific. So the point is we have to ourselves understand and present properly what are the contours of the conflict. We are not against science what Prabhupada is talking over here is science is a method for getting knowledge. We don’t deprecate the intention of advancement. Its a tool, we are not against the tool. Its like we are not against the spectacles, but if scientists use that tool to defy and deny God that is what we are against. Now if we look at the scientific community how many of the scientists are explicit atheists or anti-theists who are actively campaigning against God. They are a miniscule number, a minority even within the scientific community. Actually even most mainstream scientists consider hardline atheists like Richard Dawkins and others to be extremists. So although they may be vocal and be influential in their own circles but they are not considered very serious scientists. Their biased position is known by most mainstream scientists. So we don’t have to equate the whole of science with its extremist fringe which is antitheistic. So we have to carefully understand Prabhupada would often say – science of Krishna consciousness. Spirituality itself is a science and it can be used, just like in science there are experiments, similarly there is the inner experiment, the experience which comes in spirituality which enables us to realise higher truths. So in its own right Krishna consciousness is a science and beyond that the fundamental tenets of Krishna consciousness are not inherently against scientific spirit of enquiry. What Prabhupada opposed was the denial, the denigration of, the defiance of God. Where it is done how is that to be responded? Prabhupada wanted us to choose science to respond to it. So we don’t have to necessarily go about saying that scientists are rascals inorder to be faithful to Prabhupada. We have to recognise that Prabhupada himself did not say that all the time. It was not that he said that in front of scientists. What we have to make sure is that we separate – atheists are rascals. And we need to separate scientists and atheists. And we use science itself to prove how atheism is wrong. By forcing people to choose between science and religion which is what will happen if we portray ourselves as critical of scientists then we will make it unnecessarily difficult for people to choose Krishna. And that is not what we should be doing if we want to reach out to intelligent people. Not only is it a matter of strategy that we shouldn’t criticise science its also a matter of principle. Anything that can be used in Krishna’s service should be used and to criticise that is wrong. So science is a tool for acquiring knowledge and atheists would like to equate science with atheism. And when we do that we unwittingly play into the hands of the atheists and we hand over all the prestige and glamour that is associated with science to atheists thereby we queer the pitch for ourselves and make life easier for them. And we in one sense force intelligent people to choose atheism inorder to just be scientific, to be intellectually respectable. That is something which is not at all necessary for us to do. It is infact very undesirable to make the path to Krishna more difficult than what is necessary. So we need to be sensitive and present Krishna consciousness as a science, present how science and spirituality are not incompatible and if there is any conflict the conflict is not between science and religion and we are not asking people to give up science and choose religion. We are asking people to think deeply and realise that atheism does not have a monopoly on science. And that people can be scientific and science can help them to come towards God. Infact there are scientists, for example Pascal said that a little of science can take a person away from God, immersion in science will bring a person back to God. Calvin said if you think deeply enough you will be forced by science to believe in God. So there are abundant testimonies of eminent scientists and there is abundant scientific evidence that points towards God. So rather than portraying ourselves as opposed to science we should more accurately portray ourselves as opposed to atheism and show how science itself does not support atheism. Science offers significant rebuttals to atheism and science offers substantial support for theism.
Thank you, Hare Krishna
“So you all write very strongly, vibrantly. Even it is little offensive still, these rascals should be taught good lesson. Yes. They’re misleading. Godlessness. As soon as you say “God created,” immediately they become arrogant. That is our protest. If they accept God, then we give them all credit. That’s all right. Otherwise zero. We don’t deprecate their intention of advancement in knowledge. But we simply protest against their defying the authority of God. That is our point.” —
(Morning Walk — April 19, 1973, Los Angeles)