When Ramanuja has refuted the design argument, why does Prabhupada use it so extensively?

by Chaitanya CharanMay 23, 2014

Question: When Ramanuja has debunked the design argument, why does Prabhupada use that argument so extensively?

Answer: Ramanuja has not debunked the design argument. He has simply pointed out the inadequacy of the design argument in understanding the nature of the Absolute Truth properly. I have explained that in the previous answer. Now, when Prabhupada uses the design argument, he uses it … he is talking to a atheistic or non theistic audience one who does not believe in God… to give them some preliminary faith in the conception of God. So the various arguments are like weapons. And, say, when two enemies are fighting at close quarters then a bow and arrow will not be useful then a sword or a mace may be required. But when two enemies are fighting at a distance then a mace will be useless for attacking the enemy. So, just as in a war two generals may be fighting the same war for the same cause but they may use different weapons depending on the specific situation of the war. Similarly, depending on the socio-cultural context different acaryas will use different arguments.

So, Ramanujacarya, when he is writing the Vedanta Sutra what is his purpose? His audience is an audience for whom the existence of God is not in question. The existence of God is implicitly accepted. What is in question is whether we can know about God by various means or we need to turn to scripture alone to know about God. And for that purpose to emphasize that by scripture alone we can know about God, for people who already have some faith in God, he says that put aside other ways for knowing God and focus on scripture alone.

But Prabhupada is talking in a different socio-cultural context at a time when people have no faith in God. So if we use logic which people have faith in to a large extent and through logic we show them how what they are talking about, what they are believing in… that there is no God … that logically… the problems with it can be pointed out. And science, to some extent, has revealed the complexity of the design that is there in this world and by that revelation also science has shown how, science has pointed again in the direction that the complexity of the design requires an intelligent designer and that way also we can point towards the existence of God. Now, Prabhupada also, has not just stopped with giving the design argument thereafter he has given so many books and so many commentaries which give us a positive knowledge about God also. So for people who have no faith in the existence of God the design argument is a reasonable transitional argument to get people to appreciate the possibility of the existence of God first and then the reality of the existence of God.

Eventually, the spiritual beauty and the spiritual glory of God can be understood only through scripture. But that comes much later. First to help people develop faith in God that design argument can be used. And actually Ramanujacarya also later on in a later section of the Vedanta Sutra makes one tactical use of the design argument where he is pointing out to how we can understand the wisdom, the intelligence of the Supreme Lord. When we see something which is well-designed we understand that the designer must be intelligent. So then when we see the beautiful creation how beautiful the creator must be. So that is of course a very brief argument that he uses to point out as a logical inference towards the wisdom of the Supreme Lord. So in that sense he is not entirely refuting design argument and Prabhupada is not going in anyway against Ramanujacarya. Ramanujacarya used that argument in a particular context in a particular way and Prabhupada is using that argument in a different context in a different way.

And Baladeva Vidyabhushan in his Gita commentary is also talking about how from the beauty of the world we can understand the beauty of the creator. Not beauty in sense of the beauty of the spiritual form of the Lord, beauty in the sense that we can understand how He is glorious, beautiful in a conceptual sense more, how the creator must be. So there is a precedent in the tradition of the design argument being used and the design argument is used by Srila Prabhupada not as a substitute for scripture for knowing about God. It is used as a prelude to scripture to help people get preliminary faith by which they can eventually come to scripture. Thank you! Hare Krishna!


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Chaitanya Charan

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