1. SCIENCE & RELIGION: GENERAL REFLECTIONS

Science and religion are among the loftiest dimensions of the human spirit. Science tries to explain the wondrous range of natural phenomena.  It seeks to understand how the sun and the stars flash warmth and light; how flowers blossom with beauty and fragrance; how fruits and roots feed and nourish, how rivers flow, magnets attract, and coal burns. It unveils the processes which erect a framework for life and strife to prevail on the planet. But, unwittingly, Science also creates instruments for doom and destruction.       

      Religion is the experience and exploration of the spiritual dimensions of the human experience. It transforms our awe of this magnificent universe into humility and reverence for what made all this possible. It inspires in us sanctity for life and thankfulness for the world at large. Through its mythologies and revealed insights, religion takes us into realms of thought and feelings that go beyond reason and analysis. Through its ancient traditions and solemn rituals, it adds meaning and purpose to life and relationships. Religion is a cultural force that binds groups together in common mores and beliefs. Most importantly, it encourages and enables us to bring out our finest potentials for love and kindness, for caring and compassion. But religions have also served, in their  unenlightened expressions, as powerful fuels for ruthless persecutions  and irrational misconceptions.

      The same mind that reasons and calculates can also contrive cruel schemes and device awesome weapons.  The same heart that loves and rejoices, can also generate hate and anger. So it is with science and religion, each capable of both good and bad.

      In their more wholesome aspects, science and religion ought to be integral parts of all enlightened communities. But often they become competing sectors for  applause and allegiance. They come into conflict when their goals and roles are confused and when one  tries to decry or usurp what is properly the other's domain.

      There is more to the human experience than analysis and understanding. Beyond the urgency to satisfy basic biological needs,  the human heart longs  for something beyond the temporally finite existence to which we are condemned. Images and convictions about  life and reality that transcend the purely physico-chemical can be the fount of much peace,  solace and joy, and who can tell, of deeper insights also. There is more than  poetry and rich lore in religious rites and rituals: they  uplift the spirit and soothe the soul. Not recognizing the importance of these potentials of the human experience and interpreting them as mere cultural conditioning or logical perversions are among the errors and provocative attitudes of science  vis-à-vis religion.

      On the other hand, if we set out to understand the world intellectually, i.e. on the basis of logic, reason and reference systems, in terms of quantity and consistency, then no effort thus far has been more effective and fruitful than the modern scientific. The grave error of religionists has been their inability to abandon the attempts of our ancestors to explain the phenomenal world, its origins and functioning, such as have been formulated in the sacred texts and worldviews of human cultures. When religious enthusiasts, individual or institutional, show reckless disregard for the findings of observational astronomy that reveal our physical home as but a speck in the cosmos, of no apparent significance to whoever or whatever gave rise to the physical universe, when churches and interpreters of scriptures ignore the evidence of fossils and the implausibility of angels carrying the heavenly spheres in orbit with acute interest in and impact on human behavior, when apologists of ancient writings claim to see modern scientific discoveries in the sacred chanting of mystic yore, then religion not only takes up arms against science, but exposes itself to ridicule in the estimation of those who have probed.

      If science recognizes religion as a valid transrational dimension of the human condition which, when channeled appropriately, can  contribute gloriously to our sanity and spiritual enrichment; and  if religion relinquishes its ancient role of explaining by speculation how the functions or came to be, and leaves  that responsibility to the more systematic modes of the scientific enterprise, then perhaps there would be less conflict, more harmony  and much mutual respect between these two supreme expressions of the human spirit.


2. ON THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

Since the most ancient times, in various cultures, theologians have considered the problem of evil. The question arises from the image of God as a friendly figure, out to do only good and show mercy.

This could well be a simplistic view, and it ignores its very expectation: How can mercy be shown or good be done if there is no suffering or non-good to begin with?
If one admits that God is sadistic (sometimes), then one must admit that God is also kind and loving (at other times), because we find both joy and sorrow in the world.

What this means is that if we choose to believe in an anthropomorphic and anthropo-natured God, then we must be prepared to grant Him/Her on a grand scale the capactity for immense good and immense evil also (because that is how Humans - created in God's image) are.

But if we prefer the silent, indifferent, cold logico-mathematical God, then we might as well stick to the equations and logic circuits without all the magic and poetry of the God of the traditional religions. Or again, we may (as many do) reject the very notion of God as irrelevant, irrational, and full of contradictions.

Whatever one may choose, only the most presumptuous will imagine oneself to have the final answer on this question.


 

3. ON RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS AND SCIENCE

In this forum on Science and Religion, we have had postings on Christianity and Science, Judaism and Science, as well as on Islam and Science. We can keep adding to the list: Buddhism and Science, Hinduism and Science, Voodoo and Science, etc. In each instance, the erudite exponent will demonstrate (at least to his/her) own satisfaction that there now is  and there never was a contradiction between one’s own religious tradition and science, that the tradition (if anything) encouraged scientific exploration, and that science was implicit in the teachings of its masters. With due respects to the scholars, I must say that these are examples of what I have called “endopotent knowledge”: interpretations of facts and apprehensions of truth that make one feel good, but with which one can do very little.

It seems to me that the goals of the Science-Religion Dialogue should be, not so much to keep saying again and again there is no contradiction between one’s own religion and science, but the following:

(a) To underscore the emotional, spiritual, ethical, and inspirational enrichment that various religions have provided.

(b) To recognize the positive contributions that “modern science” has made to human civilization: such as: providing a deeper understanding of the limitless range of the phenomenal world,  enhancing the human capacity to probe deep down into the microcosm and to measure the universe, unraveling the mysteries of matter, life, and mind, discovering and eliminating the causes of diseases, exposing the untenability of superstitions and pseudosciences, etc. 

(c) To spread an awareness of the serious negative social, environmental, and other impacts of “modern science,” and see how these may be diminished or eliminated by adopting world views that spring from the wisdom of the ages as enshrined in various religious traditions: for the greatness of religions lies not in their explanation of how the world began, or Homo sapiens emerged, but in enabling us to interact compassionately, meaningfully and reverentially with the World of Creation.

(d) To explore in what ways certain no longer acceptable aspects of the traditional religious framework may be changed, modified or rejected: such as authoritarianism, scriptural infallibility, socially evil and outdated injunctions/sacred-laws, irrational fears,   so as to bring religions in harmony with rationally acceptable criteria  for explaining physical phenomena and with the spirit of social/humanistic enlightenment. This includes respecting other religions  (in so far as they are non-hurting) as much as enjoying deep devotion to one’s own.

 

 

 


 

4. WHICH IS MORE DANGEROUS:

SCIENCE OR RELIGION?

 

As a young man, I decided to dedicate my life to science, the endless quest  to unravel the workings of the world. I was thrilled in my efforts to grasp the infinite universe with my finite mind.  I grew up in a religious home. I was enriched by the chants and ceremonies of my tradition which made me aware of myself as a conscious being. It fulfilled my yearning to connect with the Cosmos.

Then I witnessed a most horrible violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims when the Indian subcontinent was to be carved into two separate nations. During that gruesome episode based on religious difference, much blood was spilled with savage fury. My father was rudely pushed aside when he tried to rescue a  Muslim who was  clubbed to death  by an angry mob. “If  religion can engender such mad monstrosity, woe unto it!” I exclaimed in anger.

My father advised me not to judge  religions by what  some of their practitioners did. He  told me  that religions soothe the heart and uplift the soul, have given rise to great literature, marvelous music, and magnificent places of worship. I have seen Hindus meditate, Muslims observe  Ramadan, Christians attend church, and Jews hold the Sabbath, deriving inner peace. I have seen them celebrate festivals in collective joy. Left to itself, no religion is injurious in what it does.

But faced with a rival,  often at the instigation of charismatic bigots, all the caring and submission to God can be transformed into hate and hurt. History  is replete with ugly memories of mindless massacres, ruthless rampages, heartless burning at the stake, and horrendous holy wars: all  in the name of religion, perpetrated by people who believe they alone hold the Key to the Kingdom. Religions have surely been dangerous.

Even on today’s political map there is awful animosity between Arabs and Jews, Hindus and Muslims, Shiites and Sunnis, Protestants and Catholics. But I cannot forget that religions rest on a  Covenant  with God, on  Buddha’s compassion, and on Vedic visions. Religion inspired massive scholarship in the Arab world, it instigated the love of St. Francis and the caring of Mother Teresa. How can I say in fairness that religions are dangerous? When religion is ardent quest to communicate with the transcendent and  deep commitment to serve fellow creatures,  it elevates  the spirit.

The fanaticism and intolerance engendered by religions, despicable as they are, may be subdued some day. Sure, there still are  large pockets of religious perversity, but there are also places where the destructive passions of true-believers are restrained by enlightened laws. I  have  hope in my heart that some day in the future sectarian cleansing and killing for creed will become mere embarrassments of history for all peoples.  The religions of the world can coexist in harmony.

My enthusiasm for science rests on the recognition that with its empirical methodology, ingenious instruments, and mathematical analysis,  science has made astounding advances in unveiling  myriad secrets of the phenomenal world. Many of these have also enriched the human condition. But when Rachel Carson revealed to me that not all the potentials of science are benign, I became more aware of the countless side-effects of technology: from environmental pollution and population explosion to rain forest erosion and global warming, germ warfare,  chemical weapons, and nuclear holocausts. Science has become terribly dangerous through its material impacts, threatening our very survival.

I am  frightened by the dangers lurking in the tentacles of technology which are wrought with doomsday devastation. They seem like the mean-spirited might of an evil genie, unleashed and uncontrollable. If I must debate, I would contend  that the decimating possibilities from scientific knowledge render science more dangerous than all the havoc of religions, now and of the past.

Yet, I cannot ignore that science  has fathomed the core of matter and the depths of space,  eradicated dark-age  fears and plagues of the ages. It may well be our only safeguard from potential catastrophe. How can I say in fairness that science is dangerous? Surely not, even if it is but a mind-based effort to unscramble perceived reality, a means to enhance the quality of life,  eradicate pain and disease, and resolve the problems it has created.

Science and religion are the loftiest expressions of the human spirit. Yet they both have ominous manifestations. When they are rid of their ill-begotten offspring of polluting technology and mindless bigotry, neither of them will be dangerous.

 


 

5. ON TOTALIZING

We interact with the world in different modes. One of these is through concepts and ideas. At a sophisticated level of this mode, we try to understand and explain the world of experience in terms of certain broad generalizations. This approach is commendable as a goal, often insightful in its formulation and fruitful in its results. But it can also lead to a mindset which has been called totalizing. By this term one means two things.

(a) A system of ideas come to be treated by its adherents as the truth to a sufficient degree that those who disagree are vilified, dismissed, or actively oppressed.

(b) The system of ideas is treated as an orthodoxy such that even adherents who suggest important changes are kicked out of the group. 

I am not sure who coined the term totalizing, but it is a fairly universal phenomenon, and has been present all through human history. Unless one recognizes that Truth is a function of one's own perspective, which in turn is molded by countless inputs into one's intellectual/emotional framework, it is difficult to avoid falling victim to totalizing, especially in epistemological, religious, social, and political contexts. There are, in fact, different types of totalizing which I am listing below:

(a) Methodological: According to this, a particular methodology for the acquisition of knowledge is the only valid one. In our own times, scientific methodology tends to be totalizing. But mystics and religionists have also totalized their modes in other conexts. Even within the scientific community, there are differences as to which discipline is more fundamental.

(b) Criteria for Truth: Here too, the scientific world view may be totalizing. Some rival claimants which spell out the criteria for truth are: logical consistency, empirical verifiability, utility, emotional satisfaction, scriptural compatibility, etc.

(c) Transcendental: This is characteristic of most religions which claim that their particular visions of the divine (or God) are the only correct ones.

(d) Socio-economic: This is what political parties and platforms are all about, the conviction that one's prescriptions for solving societal problems are the only right ones.

There may be several causes for totalizing, but I do not believe that economic or political self-interests are the primary ones, at least at the conscious level. The totalizing attitude is a deeply felt conviction, a state of mind that results from a genuine belief that one has the keys to the kingdom while others do not. It is more common among people who think and reflect on issues than crass politicians and business-people, or even the common folk. It is a reflection of a profound belief in one's own (or one's group's) intellectual and moral superiority vis-à-vis others, with no intent to exploit the others.

There are two elements in ancient Indian thought which may serve as insightful antidotes to totalizing. One is in a verse in the Rig Veda which says:

Ekam sad viprâ bahudhâ vadantî

Truth is one, and the learned call it in different ways.

The other is in a Jaina philosophical doctrine known as  anekânta-vâda or many-perspectives-thesis. According to this, truth and reality are too complex to be apprehended in their totality from a single perspective. It is important to recognize that only facets of the truth can be recognized each time and from different perspectives, reminding us of the

      Six men of Hindosthan who were all inclined

      To know about an elephant though all of them were blind,

      That each at least by observation

      Might satisfy his mind.

 

As the story says, each blind man got a perspective of the elephant from his own partial groping, so that though all of them were a little right, all of them were in fact wrong.

 


 

6. THE FLIP SIDE OF TOTALIZING: AGA

Many level-headed thinkers in this day and age would agree that a certain degree of intellectual arrogance, if not bigotry and fanaticism, is associated with totalizing attitudes. However, it is important not to let oneself slip into the flip side of totalizing which I call the Anything Goes Attitude (AGA), which is sometimes an element in post-modernist thinking.

AGA may be defined as a philosophy which grants every world-view and practice, every system and superstition, equal weight. It arises from a number of factors some of which are the following:

(a) A conviction that it is intrinsically impossible to affirm (on purely logical grounds) that one mode of looking at things is necessarily better than another.

(b) An  enthusiasm for respecting every expression of the human spirit.

(c) The growing power and dominance of science renders ineffective and helpless religious and other modes of describing/ recognizing reality.

(d) A feeling of guilt that Western culture and civilization has behaved shabbily towards many other cultures and civilizations during the past few centuries.

If totalizing is narrow, harmful, and logically as well as morally untenable in many contexts, the AGA can be callous, hurtful, and downright silly in some others.

Aside from the fact that the AGA can shake faith in one's own cultural/religious traditions, it can also dissolve distinctions between science and superstition, between astronomy and astrology, between magic-mongering and medicine, between UFOlogy and SETI, between Branch Davidians and Christianity, between female infanticide and enlightened religious values, etc. By paying homage to (by today's standards) untenable belief systems and practices, thoughtful writers (mostly postmodernists) lull many thinkers in the scientifically unawakened societies with their AGA into believing that medieval world views are as valid as the modern scientific when it comes to understanding the phenomenal world. When this is applied in the context of diseases, male births, and fear of eclipses, the results can be both ridiculous and devastating.

It is therefore as important to know when to reject totalizing as to know when not to adopt the AGA.

 


 

7. RULES OF EVIDENCE IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION

It is essential to agree upon the rules of evidence by which in the enterprise of science and that of religion one appraises the truth content of a proposition, i.e. one takes a statement or an idea to be true or false. It is equally important to realize that the two systems -science and religion - have generally different sets of rules when they operate in their well-defined spheres of concerns. These may be listed as follows:

Seven rules of evidence for scientific truths:

(a) Logical consistency: Science is a rational enterprise. It is based on reason, logic, proof, and the like. Anything that violates these will not be admitted as a scientific truth.

(b) Concordance with observed facts: At the same time, science is not a purely logical system of thought, like pure mathematics or metaphysics or speculative philosophy. Science is very much concerned with the world of experience. Propositions to be of interest or validity to science must conform to every detail of empirically derived data.

(c) Scientific results are not one-shot experiences. They need to be confirmed and re-confirmed over and over again. This means that facts proclaimed to be scientific must be repeatable. It is important to understand that repeatability may be actual or in principle. There are many domains of science where the results are not repeatable in actuality. Such as the fields of planetary formation, archaeology, and, of course cosmogony. In these contexts, what one means by repeatability is that very similar/parallel phenomena may in fact be repeated/reproduced experimentally.

(d) Consistency with related phenomena/truths: No scientific result stands by itself. Every proposition in science is/should be related in some way or another with some other phenomena.

(e) Possibility of confirmation/rejection by independent searchers: Scientific results must stand the critical scrutiny of others who are working in the field. Only when the body of experts in a field accept a proposition, not by voting but by confirming it in various ways, extending it, elaborating upon it, and relating it to other well established results, does it become a part of the general body of science.

(f) Actual or potential consensus (unanimity) among experts. As noted above, every proposition in science is subjected to careful and critical examination by other scientists. Unless this is a possibility, a proposition presented to the scientific community will be ignored or rejected right away.

(g) Agreement that even the most reliable evidence is only provisional: Most importantly, no scientific result/law/theory is taken to be the last word. That is to say,  the scientific community always leaves open the possibility that further evidence arising at a future time could question, change, or throw out what has thus far been considered to be true. This is an important difference in perspective between science and religion.

These rules of evidence hold only for the practicing scientists and for the scientific establishment at large. Many people who accept the results proclaimed by scientists do so without weighing all the evidence in terms of the rules listed above.

Seven rules of evidence for religious truths:

(a) Stated by (arising from) a higher authority: Every religion is based upon the teachings/revelation of some person(s) who is (are) regarded as spiritually enlightened individuals who have received some higher truths from a supernatural source.

(b) Convincing at the innermost depths of one's heart: Religious truths are felt to be as such in the deepest core of one's being, beyond the cerebral mode of analysis and reasoning.

(c) Profound personal experience: Religion is a very personal experience, though it is invariably practiced in a cultural context. Like art and music religious truths are to be felt and experienced rather than critically dissected and logically proved.

(d) Potential for ecstatic states: Most religious frameworks have the possibility of leading the practitioner to a heightened state of consciousness arising from communion with the cosmos at large. This may range from a simple state of inner peace (as during a prayer) to the ecstasy of mystical experience.

(e) Attested by historically revered personages: All religions rest on the attestation of later spiritual masters who have confirmed the proclamations of the initial authorities.

(f) Meaningful even in the face of apparent/blatant contradiction with some facts: Religious truths are meaningful, i.e. they provide purpose and meaning to the life of the individual, and to human existence more generally.

(g) Capable of transforming a person's life: Religious affiliation and practice has a significant impact on the psychological/ emotional/spiritual life of the practitioner, in principle,  if not always, for the better.

These rules of evidence for religion hold only for traditional religions. Non-traditional religions (such as natural religion, humanism, Unitarianism, etc.) formulate rules which reject/alter some of the rules enunciated above. This leads to new religions, but their goal, impact, and practice are very different from those of traditional religions. While they will do away with some of the negative side-effects of traditional religions, they also have the potential for eradicating some of their positive side-effects also.

 

 


 

8. LAPLACIAN DETERMINISM AND FATALISM

In the beginning of the 19th century Pierre determinism is applied to the course of human events, the notion of fate emerges. As Zeno of ancient Greece out it, "Fate is the endless chain of causation, whereby things are. For, if the entire course of the physical world has been determined by its initial conditions, that is to say by the conditions that prevailed at the instant of the birth of the universe, then, in the worlds of Omar Khayyam,

                  The first dawn of Creation wrote

                  What the last day of Reckoning shall read.

The idea of an irresistible and all-powerful force beyond human control which determines whatever happens in the lives of individuals has been expresses by poets and philosophers in many different ways. This view of occurrences in human lives is known as fatalism. Less poetically, "Whatever will be, will be."

People evoke this notion when something unpleasant happens in their lives. They do not always recognize that what they are meaning by this is: "Whatever had to happen, happened." It is, however, important to make a distinction between looking at the past and into the future in fatalistic terms. In the first instance, the fatalistic view is mere tautology. It does not really say anything significant about the world. Nor does it circumscribe in any way our capacity for action. It has been said that not even the Gods can undo what has been done.

On the other hand, fatalistic view about the future is quite different. For here, we are expressing the view that the future is (already) cast in concrete. There is nothing we can do about it. Even if we think we are doing something to alter the future, in fact this too has been pre-ordained, and we are merely acting within the fatalistic groove.

Unlike the tautology of the principle of fatalism in the past, futuristic fatalism has some moral consequences. As Seneca reminded us long ago, fate in this sense exonerates everyone of any wrong-doing. After all, the criminal could say, it was not in my hands. It had been so etched in the unalterable cement of fate. This is one reason why some ethicists and philosophers are reluctant to accept fatalism. This, of course, need not be a consideration because a judge in a court could still convict the criminal and say that too had been pre-ordained.

Religion may or may not argue against fatalism, depending on which religion is talking. Islam, for example, would accept fatalism because it believes that an omnipotent and omniscient Allah not only know the present and the past, but also the future: indeed that He was the one who authored it all.  For Christianity, however, free-will is important. God gave us the capacity to choose between good and bad, and fatalism deprives us of this choice. The difficulty here is that in the Christian framework, the choice is really not free, because there is consequences, pleasant or pleasant, in it.  If we are told that by deciding to act sinfully we will go to a very hot and painful place, are we really given freedom to exercise our will?


 

9. ON THE EVE OF THE CLOSE OF THE 1900S

The 20th century is drawing to a close with greater fanfare than most others probably did, if only because, thanks to European expansionism of the past few centuries, the Christian Era has become the common era. Therefore,  whether Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, Buddhist or Taoist, everybody is joining in the merry-making and mystery-mongering. Then, of course, there is the uncertainty of computer misbehavior, symbolized by Y2K.

Time Magazine has chosen Albert Einstein as Person of the Century when 99 percent of humanity can barely utter three meaningful sentences about his scientific contribution.  Perhaps unwittingly, the magazine   brought to focus four factors characterizing the century that is slipping by: (a) That it has been dominated by Science; (b) that Science has been dominated by Physics (until recently: everybody knows that the next century is going to be the century of biology); (c) that Einstein’s name stands out in the public mind as the epitome of science; (d) and that, nevertheless, the general public does not have the faintest idea of what science is all about.

More seriously, even very well informed and intelligent commentators have widely differing, and often diametrically opposite views on where science is leading us to. The recent exchanges here on population explosion, (potential) nuclear war, and experiments on manufacturing new “life forms” illustrate this point dramatically.

Is it any surprise that the general public is fearful and suspicious of what science will ultimately wreak on the human species, and would much rather take to belief-systems systems that tend to bring more peace of mind and comfort, more hope and joy? Ultimately, are these not more important than creature comforts and knowledge about how the world or life began?

No, I am not arguing that we need to give up science and turn elsewhere.  But I am suggesting that as yet science has not only not provided a framework of psychological and spiritual comfort to the human condition, but  through some of  its applications, it has tended to upset this in recent decades.

I, for one, am inclined to engage in a little prayer for the safety and sanity of the human race in the face of the horrendous possibilities we are confronting. Whether or not  my prayers will be answered, as a result I am not only able to sleep a little better, but I am saved from a plunge into deep depression.

May the new Millennium bring us more Light through Science and more Peace of Mind through Religion.


 

10. ERUPTION AND EMERGENCE

CREATION AND CO-CREATION

 

      When there is a sudden spewing of matter or passion, of disease or destruction, there is an eruption. Volcanoes erupt, as do anger and fury and an epidemic of plague. When something appears, and retains its entity in form and substance there is emergence. A flower emerges and so does a sonnet or a work of art. But when what emerges is governed by law and principle, and it evolves too, we have creation: the launching of something that never existed before and that does not remain the same.

From this perspective, and in this terminology, the Big Bang was not a mere eruption, nor the universe a mere emergence: the cosmos was created.

What is created has an existence of its own. More importantly, others things appear from it: it too creates. The theologian Phil Hefner spoke of human beings as co-creators, for we create: ideas and things, values and works of art, and much more.

I would like to extend this insight may: We may look upon ourselves as conscious co-creators. For it would seem that there are unconscious and semiconscious co-creators too. The matter and energy that were created from the Big Bang were unconscious co-creators, for they led to atoms and molecules, to elements and compounds, to planets and stars: each a created entity in its own right.

And when the self-replicating macro-molecules of life arose, another level of co-creation arose: for evolution is a creative process too. This biological evolution is different from the unconscious formation of atoms and stars, and it may be described as semi-conscious co-creation, for there is a fine difference between crystal growth and cell-division.

Finally, with the on-set of mind, creation leaps, as it were, to a higher level: the level of self-awareness. The creation from now on is conscious, and what is created is not just machines and bridge, but ideas and ideals, values and morals: This constitutes what may well be called conscious co-creation.

Such a perspective can be part of natural theology


 

11. FREEWILL AND OMNISCIENCE

Freewill implies that the next move by a conscious entity is as yet undetermined, and could be one of many possibilities, depending on the FREE exercise of judgment by that entity. If this “capacity for free exercise of judgment prior to an action” (which is what free-will is) has been given to the human being by God, then God cannot and should not know what the actions of humans would be prior to their performance, especially if God is to judge and reward/punish human beings on the basis of their actions based on their own free will. If God is thus aware, how can God be considered omniscient?

This paradox arises from not recognizing the hypercomplex level of reality. At the hypercomplex level, events occur, not simply by the operation of the usual physical forces, but also from thought processes. Thus, whereas the motion of a projectile is governed solely by physical forces, the initial magnitude and direction of motion of a football is determined by a decision on the part of the ball player. Events of this kind occur only in the hypercomplex level in which thought/decisions come into play. As a result, events at this level are utterly unpredictable.

The omniscience of God refers to knowledge and phenomena at the usual physical (classical and quantum) levels, but not at the hypercomplex level: Not because God is ignorant, but because God chose to create a hypercomplex level with such a property, perhaps because it is very interesting and has great potential for creativity.


 

12. ON VARIETIES OF DETERMINSIM

      In debates on whether there is determinism or not (which have gone on during ages past, and are likely to continue for ages to come), one needs to distinguish between varieties and levels of determinism. This classification will be based on the following meaning of the term:

      Determinism refers to a particular feature of the world by which every event that occurs is the inevitable outcome of precisely operating physical laws on simple and/or complex systems.

      (a) Macrocospic (classical physical) determinism: Here, as far as we know, perfect determinism reigns. Analogy: a marble is let to slide through a slanted narrow tube whose windings would correspond to the laws to which it is subject. Where the marble will emerge (the other end of the tube) can be precisely predicted.

      (b) Microscopic (quantum physical) determinism: Here, as far as we know, only imperfect determinism reigns. That is to say, there are calculable margins within which microsystems evolve. Analogy: The marble is let go on a fairly broad (child's) slide, so that though we may know roughly where it will land, the exact point of landing will not always be the same. [This is only an analogy. Of course, in the case of the marble,  we can calculate precisely here it will land if we knew certain parameters.]

      (c)  Macrocospic human actions: Here is where controversies arise. According to one school of thought, (a) should apply to (c) also. It is the complexity of the situation that creates the impression that the outcome is not precisely determined, even as it seems impossible to predict which coins would land as heads and which as tails when a billion coins are thrown randomly. At this point, it may be useful to distinguish between:

      (i) Experiential determinism: This refers to how the system experiences when a step is taken in the sequence of events. Any human being who feels that he/she has no choice whatever in his/her actions under all circumstances needs psychiatric help. Not even citizens under the most oppressive dictatorial regimes can make such a claim.

      (ii) Submerged determinism: This refers to the neuron-basis of our actions and attitudes. It is entirely possible that the laws of physics and chemistry alone determine very subtly the actions (decisions) of the doer.

      It seems to me that though from a scientific point of view this is a very interesting issue, from a philosophical/ethical perspective, only (i) above can be of interest. To say that neural firing is what made me decide to use abusive language against my neighbor is not (in essence and outcome) any different from saying that the devil made me do that.

      It is very important to realize that (i) has a lot to do with ethics, while we may never be able to connect (ii) with ethics.  That is why (i) would interest philosophers and ethicists, while (ii) would interest physicists and neuroscientists.


 

13. ON MYSTICISM

Mysticism refers to an ineffable experience that has been reported by many people over the ages from all human societies and traditions.  There is a paradox in this statement since what is ineffable (i.e. inexpressible in words) cannot be reported upon. The paradox may be clarified if we grant that such reports are invariably inadequate and imperfect, and do not convey the full measure of the experience.

A mystical experience is characterized by the following:

(a) A feeling of oneness with the world around, with the universe at large

(b) The related dissolution of boundaries between things.

(c) A consequent loss of one's individuality.

(d) The experience of immense joy (ecstasy).

Mysticism is at the root of practically all religions, including natural religion. That is to say, the founders of all religions have experienced mysticism of one kind or another. In fact, it is often the report of a mystical experience (in so far as it has a supernatural component) that has given credence and acceptability to  the founders of practically all traditional religions, including the Pythagorean brotherhood of ancient Greece. This is  one reason why it may be difficult for natural religion to become a religion with mass-following.

In particular instances, the mystical experience may be culture-specific. Thus Christian mystics have had visions of St. Mary or of the stigmata of Christ, Hindu mystics may experience Krishna, in the Islamic world mysticism sometimes referred to ma'rifa or knowledge of Allah. The culture in the case of natural religion is science: a rational understanding of the nature and the properties of  the world resulting in a sense of awe and reverence for the laws and processes governing the origin and functioning of the universe.

Like knowledge and understanding, mystical experience can occur at various levels or depths. Or at least, the term may be extended to include many similar, though not as intense and heightened levels as those of saints and prophets. Thus, the mere contemplation of the star-studded sky in a clear night or the ocular interaction with a giggling infant could be described as mystical. The practitioners of every religion have mystical experience, in however rudimentary a level, when they when they pray or participate in hearty religious music with deep faith.. So do people who engage in serious yogic meditation.

The last two examples bring out two different modes of mystical experience: exomysticism and endomysticism. In the former, the subject achieves the state by focusing on something external: stars, the world, the laws of physics, God, whatever. In the latter case, the focusing is entirely inward.

Though mysticism is traditionally associated with religions, it is important to recognize that, in itself,  it has nothing to do with any institutionalized religion, ethics, scriptures, or whatever. One can be an atheist, an agnostic, even an immoral person and still have an ecstatic mystical experience.

One may explain/interpret mystical experience in one of two quite different ways:

(a) It is a direct communion from/with the divine principle undergirding the world, arising from grace or a gift that divinity bestowed upon the mystic. This interpretation is sometimes taken as a proof of the existence of God (a divine/supernatural principle).

(b) It is a state of consciousness which results from the presence of certain chemicals in the brain. Such chemicals may be: either (i) directly injected into the brain (drugs); or, (ii) synthesized in the brain by subjecting the body to certain constraints (yogic exercises, asceticism, etc.

(c) It is a response of the brain to certain subtle stimuli from the external world. Just as the optical and auditory systems enable us to experience certain external stimuli (electromagnetic waves, pressure waves in air) as light and sound, there is another (for the most part dormant) capacity of the human brain which, when energized (capacitated), can respond to certain subtle features of the external world which are otherwise unperceived. In other words, the mystic is like a blind person who has suddenly acquired the faculty of sight. From this perspective, there are features of the physical world of which we cannot become aware through our  normal channels of perception, but which may be rendered perceptible if and when the brain is awakened (by chemical or whatever means) to these.

Neuroscience may some day be able to reveal how the mystical experience actually arises.


 

14. WHY ARE WE, HUMANS THE FOCUS OF GOD'S CREATION?

 

This question is sometimes asked. First, the question assumes that humans are the focus of god’s creation. This assumption is implicit in most of the scriptures of human family. This question comes from Enlightenment, because one aspect of enlightenment is recognizing that one’s own self is NOT the center of the universe.

“Why may not God be interested in the rest of the animal kingdoms as well!” some have asked.

I am inclined to think that, if there be a God, God would be interested in  the rest of the animal kingdom too. But we must not forget that we are the ones who say what God’s interests are, not the other animals, and much less God. As the French essayist Montaigne once wrote, if ducks made a God, the God would look like a duck, or something to that effect.

This may not be as cynical as it sounds. We should not forget that no matter how vast the universe is and how insignificant a speck our own earth may be, our earth is of  central concern to us. So too, no matter how many creatures there are, human beings are of central concern to us. No matter how many human beings there are, our own family and our individual self are of central concern to each of us. Therefore, no matter in how many things God may be interested, for us the concern with us must be of central importance. When we go to see the doctor, we like to think that his/her interest is focused on us rather than on the many other patients. It is somewhat like that.

 If you have many possession, you may value some more than the others. If you painted many pictures, you may regard one of them to be the best of all. Superficially at least (in terms of the capacities of love, poetry, logic, grand music, science, etc. as also contrary attributes) Homo sapiens seems to be the most interesting (?) of all. This could very well be a reason why (as most religions affirm) God may be more interested in us.


Indeed, Einstein felt that intrinsic indeterminism (in the quantum world) would be equivalent to a dice-throwing God. He was right. However, when he (Einstein) refused to believe in a God who played dice, he expressed his predilection,  but did not prove anything about God. My contention is that just for the heck of it (maybe), God could very well have created a world at least some parts of which are governed by utter unpredictability.

That’s what I have defined as the hypercomplex domain of  Reality. This notion not only disentangles the kind of paradox you have mentioned, but also conforms to many observed facts in human experience.


 

15. ON MATHEMATICAL PROOFS OF GOD

There used to be a story to the effect that once in Catherine of Russia’s court in the 18th century, during on argument with the French philosopher Diderot on the existence or otherwise of God, the mathematician Euler said something to the effect  that [a + bn]/c = d, therefore God exists, and that, unable to decipher the sophisticated symbolism of the eminent mathematician, the nonplused atheist Diderot left the court in embarrassment and humiliation. Historians of science have established that this was merely a story. In any event, that scene has been repeated in different variations by many people (scientists/mathematicians) since, but with more seriousness than Euler. Riemann tried to establish divine matters through  mathematics, as did Goedel. And Tippler, in his provocative book quoted by Prof Pickover, proved to the satisfaction of most who could not fathom his learned quotations from world-scriptures and technical physics that the soul’s immortality had finally been established beyond a reasonable doubt. What he illustrated in fact was the immortality of the debate and the obsession to PROVE GOD’s existence.

The statement: “Were theologians to succeed in their attempt to strictly separate science and religion, they would kill religion,” is equivalent to the declaration that if a person forgets his/her spouse’s birthday, that would end their marriage.  This may be true in some cases, but it cannot be formulated as a general proposition. The future of religions lies not in hanging on to the coat-tails of empirical science for proof, respect,  and recognition, but in  appreciating the value and significance of transrational experiences and insights in matters spiritual, and in conceding the fallibility and finitude of the human mind when confronting the Infinite.

Also,  to say that “Theology simply must become a branch of physics if it is to survive,” is as profoundly truthful as the statement that music must become a branch of Fourier analysis if it is to survive. Such statements arise from the blind veneration of reason in every dimension of  human experience.

Thus, the Proofs of God carefully elaborated by the likes of Spinoza Tippler, and Goedel  may be interesting for a handful of  thinkers acquainted with logic, mathematics, cosmology or quantum physics, but they really become laughing stock in the reckoning of those who have experienced God through love or Nature, scripture or compassion, and above all through the faith that resonates in the heart. I am all for reason and rationality, but when one waves at me axioms and theorems, Heisenberg and quantum electrodynamics to convince me that Moses received the commandments from the Almighty out there in the Middle East, that Brahma is the one who made the universe, that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, or that the Archangel Gabriel spoke in Arabic to the Prophet, I am amused, if not uncomfortable. 

The aesthetic beauty and spiritual grandeur of mathematics are like the soul-uplifting magnificence of Art, Music, and Poetry. To contrive proofs of God through them is like using the piano to prove a Euclidean  proposition.


 

16. ON HARMONY

Life is a perennial quest:  for food and shelter, for love and intimacy, for solace and security, for change and challenge, and above all, for peace and harmony.

      In the expanse of space are countless  specks of stars and galaxies, surging for  endless eons of time. In this vastness is our own earth, a complex of countless forms and things: meadows and mountains, deserts and dunes, islands and ice-caps, rivers and ravines, all  splattered  over its  ancient surface. Amidst all this are the throbs of life in its incredible variety: from  minute organisms to mammoth mammals, from green grass to tall trees, and more.

      We do not  know if sticks and stones feel, if fish and fowl think, or if birds and beasts contemplate. But we humans never cease to feel and think and reflect. These are gifts that seem unique to us, and it is through them that we come to enjoy the glories of the world, probe  its mysteries, and wonder at its marvels.

      Nature sustains the variety and  splendor of life forms through her unique and intricate system of actions and interactions. And we too, as humans, have a place in that grand scheme. Or intelligence and self-awareness allow us to transcend the limits set by nature, and in the process we sometimes wreck the equilibrium that holds things in balance.

      Harmony in the human context is not simply the absence of strife or the coexistence of indifferent entities.  It is rather the maintenance of things in their proper balance with consequent peace and joy. Harmony may be present most naturally when humans are in their pristine simplicity, but with cultural evolution  two kinds of factors arise that tend to disrupt it.

      First there is complexity and sophistication. These enrich the  mind and engender values. But they also instill arrogance and self-righteousness. The idea that one's own vision of the Truth is the only correct one has often marred  the  glories of religions. The conviction that one's own rules for determining  what is good and proper are the only right ones has diminished the grandeur of  moral systems. True believers have  looked down upon other faiths, sometimes  plundered and persecuted people of other  persuasions.

      The second  factor that tends to disrupt harmony in human interactions is civilization itself. For civilization gives rise to competition and rivalry: factors which contribute to economic growth and development, but  are also associated with selfishness and greed, and the reckless exploitation of nature.

      We need therefore  to work consciously  to bring harmony to community and society, to country and the world.  For this we must recognize and respect other world views and values than our own; and we must temper our natural desires to amass more for ourselves, we must cultivate tendencies to give and share, and an awareness of the impacts of our assault on nature.

      Let us therefore recognize that religious and ideological tolerance, selfless and compassionate attitudes, and reverence for the ecosystem are the keys to peace and harmony in the world.

 

 

17. THE BEAR-SCARE

 

Mr. Skeptic was a thinker clear

Who spoke of Man and Mind.

He was gentle, and had no fear,

He was so good and calm and kind.

He saw the world as a scientist would:

As rules and laws and reason.

All is Nature, bad and good,

Each has a cause and season.

Joy and sorrow, hate and love

Science can all explain,

Even the people's God above

Is from neurons in the brain.

One night when Mike was all alone

In a camping park somewhere,

Enjoying Nature and the Moon that shone,

He suddenly saw a bear.

He knew the bear was way too near,

He began to run and say:

"Sacred Nature I do not fear,

Yet now I wish to pray."

"Oh God," he said, "Please stop this bear,

Please exist, and do this trick!

I need something that for me will care,

When I'm stricken with such panic.

"I'll even let this bear become

A praying Christian beast."

The bear did near Michael come

And thanked God for the sumptuous feast.

"Oh no, oh no!" Skeptic cried,

It all did terrible seem.

From the bear to escape Michael tried,

And woke up from his dream.

Now Skeptic felt much relieved,

But he'd learned this from the bear:

Even die-hard atheists oft believed

When they get a scare.


 

18. ON MECHANISTIC & ORGANISMIC MODELS

      What is the difference between a mechanistic and an organismic world-model?

       In the world around us, we detect (at least at the superficial level) two types of entities: living and non-living. This said,

      First a couple of (my own) definitions:

      (a) A mechanistic worldview refers to a view which regards the world as a huge machine, operating in accordance with precise and well-defined laws, routinely and ceaselessly, utterly unaware of, and  quite indifferent to, why it is doing what it is doing, and irrespective of whether its functioning has any impact on anything whatever.

      (b) An organic worldview refers to a view which regards the functioning of the world as of an integrated organism in which the various parts are structured and activated in  a mutually balancing/optimizing mode to ensure the successful accomplishment of a clearly recognizable goal: usually the preservation/continuation of the organism's survival in the context of maximum positive and minimum negative self-experiences for as long a time interval as possible.

      Organisms do require component parts to constitute their structure, but there seems to be some (profound) differences of opinion as to whether an appropriate  combination of materials (molecules/chemicals) are sufficient to <create> an organism, at the very least, without another organism.

      Historically (and simplistically) speaking:

      (a) Much of ancient science regarded the world to be functioning like an organism.

      (b) Much of post-17th century science has tended to regard the world (including organisms) to be functioning like machines.

      Irony:

      (a) Materialists who regard the world as a machine, reject teleology. Yet, there is no machine that does not have a purpose.

      (b) Religiously inclined people who tend to regard the world as an organism, believe in a Cosmic purpose. Yet, as far as we know, living organisms arose from the combination of chemicals under appropriate conditions, and have only individual/collective goals, are self/group-centered, but do not seem to have any global purpose.

 


 

19. SOME REFLECTIONS ON SCIENCE AND RELIGION

Whether Homo sapiens was created as such, or this bio-entity evolved over the eons from complex self-replicating molecules, is perhaps not as significant as that during this phase of terrestrial history, it is a reflecting and inquiring, loving and experiencing entity, with no known peers in the cosmic stretches probed by our most penetrating and ingenious devices.

By design or by accident, we (this bio-entity) are cerebral-cardiac in constitution: endowed, as we are, with both head and heart.  We think and reason on a myriad things, we analyze, argue and contrive; but we also feel and experience, perhaps even much more. The longing for love, the joy of relationship, the pain of separation, the experience of joyous music, the yearning to make communion with the universe from which we seem to have sprung, and the insatiable longing for meaning and purpose to this terrestrial sojourn: these are as profoundly human as the urge to inquire and explore, and the restless quest to unravel and understand the mystery of matter and mind.

When our observations of the world are systematized and codified, and fortified by fertile theory, penetrating mathematics, and ingenious probing devices, we get science at its best. While science does not reveal absolute Truths, it does yield an extremely powerful understanding of the observable world. Science can be majestic and domineering, even haughty at times vis-a-vis other modes of inquiry, if only because none other has been as successful in the stated goal, viz. a thorough and consistent explanation for the countless details of the phenomenal world.

        When our spiritual experiences are enriched by the insights of seers and the wisdom of the ages, nourished by caring and compassion, touched by mercy and meaning, and elevated by glorious myths and music and prayerful humility, we get religious experience at its best. No impeccable proof, no mathematical analysis, no precise experiment, and no cold logic can lead to the peace and joy in the innermost core of one’s being as meditative immersion into the Mystery Beyond, in whatever name, form, or tradition it may be conceived.

In the current (and long-standing) debate between those who favor one world view over another, it is unfortunate that the following two points are not made more clearly: Science is not contempt for the magic and mystery that touches the hearts of billions of humans, nor disdain for the reverence that people feel towards the symbols and icons of their cultural heritage, and religion is not adherence to ancient world views and explanations of natural phenomena in the face of evidence to the contrary, but the striving to live up to the highest potentials of the human spirit while recognizing its finitude in the context of Cosmic Mystery.


 

20. MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Are there any limits to the legitimate use of scientific findings for religious ends and if so what are these limits?

It depends on what “religious ends” one has in mind. To illustrate this point:

One religious end is to provide the practitioner with a sense of inner peace and spiritual fulfillment. Science would be doing some hurt and harm if, by its logic and analysis, it interferes with this end.

Another end of religion (at least of some theologians of interpreters of scriptures) is that (their particular) religion provides the most satisfactory explanation for the emergence of the world and of human beings. Here, there is perhaps no limit to the use of science’s insights and findings to show that if rational interpretation and logical consistency is what we wish to have as a basis for our “explanations,” then we may have to give up the more ancient poetic-mythic views.

Are there any neutral criteria by which responsible people could decide on such limits?

(a) Science has set its own criteria which include respect for data of observation and logical consistency.

(b)   Religious devotees (at least the more ardent among them) have set their own criteria which include the sacredness and infallibility of their scriptures.

Neither of these can be called neutral, and both are responsible in their own ways. It is unlikely that these criteria will ever merge. But individuals may shift from one to the other. This is why I have always maintained that it is most unlikely that religion and science will ever concur on the explanatory dimension of the world.

If so, could these be used to "weed out" fundamentalist uses (abuses) of science - or would they end up weeding out respectable viewpoints as well?

“Weeding out” may be a strong phrase, even to be used against fundamentalists, because it reflects a lack of understanding and sympathy, let alone respect, for people who are fundamentally decent, but have an inflexible commitment to the sacredness of their scriptures even in the face of logical inconsistency in some of its passages. It is doubtful that they “would end up weeding out respectable viewpoints as well.”  Respectability is governed very much by what one deeply believes in.

In other words, are we obliged to accept that "anything goes" - or can we dismiss some uses of science by religion as abuse?

It depends on who is included in the “we.” Unfortunately, in this matter “we” will never include all the members of the human family. Individuals are certainly not obliged to accept the “anything goes” attitude for everything. But when it comes to entertaining or tolerating harmless belief-systems, the anything-goes-philosophy is far better than the I-alone-have-the-right-answer-attitude.

For example, geologists have found traces of ancient floods in many locations. Is it legitimate to claim that these help to "prove" that the Bible is accurate, as an aid to showing that God dictated it?

What is wrong in some people supposing that “God willed it so?” as long as this is not proclaimed in the Journal of Geology?

It is a matter of fact that evolution on earth has tended towards producing, over long periods, increasing species diversity along with organisms of increasing complexity. Is it legitimate to derive the conclusion that this is the *purpose or goal* of evolution, and that therefore some kind of intelligent design is at work?

Who is hurt and in what way, if some believe and derive an inner satisfaction by maintaining that there is a purpose and a goal to evolution? It is not what one believes that is important in these matters as what a belief engenders.

It is a matter of fact that many constants appear to be close to the precise requirements for stable solar systems and life to emerge. Is it legitimate to derive the conclusion that this in some way or other "proves" or "strongly suggests" that the universe was designed for life?

Interpretations involving God belong to the class what I have called elsewhere endopotent truths.  These have great effects in our inner selves, but have little impact on the external world. Many religious doctrines are endopotent whereas most scientific results are exopotent: i.e. they may be used to manipulate and alter the external world. This does not mean that religious theses are always wrong and scientific ones are always right , but it does reveal an essential difference between the two.

 


 

21. ON THE ROLE OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT IN SCIENCE-RELIGION DIALOGUES

 

In most confrontations between science and religion, differing and/or opposing contentions on specific issues have related to the explanations of (i) natural phenomena; (ii)  the origin of the world; (iii) the origin of the human family/species and its related cultural attributes (language, art, belief-systems, etc.). The pictures painted by the physical sciences on these issues have been by and large different from those of practically all the sacred books of the world.

There is another (related) sphere of thought and reflection which too has had a powerful impact on the foundations of traditional religions: The results and world views ensuing from historical, anthropological, and archaeological research. Impetus for the application of the empirical & theory-building investigative methodology of post-Copernican science to these matters received a considerable boost  from the framework of 18th century Enlightenment. These inquiries called into question some of the long-cherished assertions in sacred books regarding the birth of this prophet or the miracle of that saint, the authorship of  the Book of Genesis or the veracity of a global deluge, and any number of other ancient reports/tales that had acquired historical validity by virtue of the weight of unquestioning centuries.

When one began to investigate the historical Jesus and Moses, and examine the dates and events in the books of the Testaments, Old and New, one unwittingly began to pull out the rug from  under the feet of implicit faith and consensual acceptance of the revealed word. When societies, value-systems and world-views are analyzed in historical  terms, many long-cherished convictions (such as the notion of a chosen race, the superiority of a particular caste,  the sacredness of a language, the corporeal transportation of a religious figure to high heavens, the subservience of women, etc.) begin to sound untenable.  Thus, the Enlightenment was as much a factor in challenging some of the bases of traditional religions as the discovery of the geocentric error.

We must recognize the role of the Enlightenment in the evolution of religion and theology because ancient world views, myths, miracle-mongering, and similar elements still persist in people and (religious) systems that have been untouched by the Enlightenment. As long as historical inquiry, based on dispassionate scientific methodology, is kept at a distance,  there is not likely to be any confrontation between science and religion: which incidentally explains why such conflicts have occurred only in some regions of the Christian West, and not (yet) elsewhere.

The recognition of this fact prompts some religious leaders in  practically every tradition to decry the corrupting influences of modernism and to proclaim the hallowedness of their own particular faith-system. This phenomenon may be observed in every theological context where the defenders of the system avoid or resist objective historical inquiry in what they regard as the supernatural sources of their religious system.

But much ethical chaos and  social turmoil have also resulted from the weakening of the spiritual, meaningful, and hope-giving dimensions of religion. Then too, we face a great many difficult-to-manage ill-effects of technology. All these are interpreted as inevitable consequences of corrupt scientific/technological civilization. The articulators of such cultural-xenophobia  are often unaware of, and seldom mention,  the intellectual emancipation that has ensued from the Enlightenment.

Within the Western cultural matrix too, as a reaction to the environmental horrors wrought by reckless technology, the intellectual arrogance implicit in the claims of some scientific investigators; and the political exploitation engendered by technological power and scientific know-how, some commentators have been questioning the validity and hegemony of science and Enlightenment in the global arena. While the negative and not-so-commendable consequences of science and technology should not be ignored, careful consideration of pre-modern-scientific and pre-Enlightenment world views and behaviors (such as still persist in certain pockets in the world) should cool any enthusiasm for calls to a return to the good-old-days. As Ogden Nash reminded us,

      The good old days, the good old days,

      we all so fondly speak of:

      Which, if they ever came back again,

      no one can stand a week of.

Perhaps the most significant and valuable impact of the Enlightenment in the context of religion is that it has fostered the evolution of religion and theology. Enlightened theologians have been carefully sifting the nuggets of wisdom and meaningful spiritual underpinnings implicit in all religions from the obscurantist clouds and explanatory naiveté that too are part of humanity's religious lore.  Those who succeed in incorporating the results of science and the visions of the Enlightenment make up the reformed or neo varieties of the religions, while those who are unwilling or unable to participate in this dynamic course of religious/cultural evolution constitute the staunch supporters of unbending fundamentalist orthodoxy in all religious traditions.

Whether religions are based on transcendental truths, on revealed visions, on human psychology, on genetic coding, or whatever, its seems to be a fact of observation that religious experience of one kind or another is helpful, if not necessary, for the sanity of individuals and of societies. Given this, we have at least two options: either we may be traditionally religious (i.e. perform the prescribed  rites and rituals, partake in the glorious music, accept the doctrinal dimensions with reverence, pray to the prescribed God, etc.) in certain contexts, and be secular and scientific in others. [This is the mode among many neo-Hindus.] Or, scientifically informed religious leaders/theologians may intelligently interpret, modify and reformulate the doctrinal bases of the religion to lead and guide their flock in enlightened ways. [This is more common in certain sectors of the Judeo-Christian tradition.]

In any context, we may hope and wish that humanity continue in its path of enlightenment without losing the precious and indispensable elements in its traditional religions.


 

21. WAYS OF  BEING RELIGIOUS

To accept the revelations of a prophet, to regard a historical personage as the embodiment or messenger of the Divine, to consider a body of writings as holy and beyond questioning, to engage in periodic worship of a sacred symbol of a tradition, to take part in the sacraments of time-honored rituals, to participate in the fasts and feasts of a community, to abide as best one can by the moral injunctions prescribed by a set of ethical commandments, to subscribe to a well-defined doctrinal framework as to the hereafter, and to be affiliated to a specific religious tradition of the human family: these are among the characteristics of being denominationally religious.

To recognize the unique potentials of consciousness, to accept that the human mind is limited in the face of an infinite grandeur, to view the achievements of  science with humility, to regard the human condition as an unfathomed mystery, to experience at the magnificent universe, to have respect for those who have a different faith, and reverence for what large groups hold as sacred (in so far as they are not hurtful), to be caring to fellow humans and compassionate to weaker creatures, to rejoice in the celebration of happy events, to consider all people as of a single human family, and all life as marvelous manifestations of extraordinary complexity, to be touched by the piety of prayers, to meditate on an Unknown Wholeness in an effort to connect with it, to conduct one's  life and profession with due regard to one's responsibility towards others and the environment, to consider non-hurting as the primary ethical principle: these are among the characteristics of being non-denominationally religious.


 

22. ON CONFLICTS BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION IN VARIOUS RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS

 

It has been suggested by some scholars of non-Western-Christian traditions that Christianity is the only religion which has had conflicts with science, whereas all other religions embrace science whole-heartedly and (in fact) find scientific results to be perfectly compatible with their own doctrines.

This is a facile, not to say self-serving, generalization which ignores completely the historical fact that prior to the rise of modern science there wasn't much of a conflict between science and Christianity either. The point is, for such conflicts to arise two factors are necessary:

The scientific worldview (results/framework) must have a sufficient impact on the masses to cause some concern among the religious establishment that their long-held doctrines will be called in question by informed thinkers. This did not happen in any of the other religious traditions (including non-Western-European Christianity) which is why conflicts arose here, and not elsewhere.

The religious leaders (spokesman) of a tradition need to know and understand some science, and this did not occur either in other religious contexts.

Since the permeation of Western (i.e. post-Copernican) science and its associated Enlightenment into the non-Christian world, Western-educated thinkers there have been re-formulating their ancient doctrines in appropriate ways to proclaim concordance between modern science and their ancient writings. Indeed, there are enlightened worldviews in ancient Hindu writings which display remarkable insights of tolerance, and proclaim faith-diversity and mutual respect which could be very relevant in today's world of confrontations.

At the same time, there are not too many (non-Western-educated) religious leaders in the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, or Judaic traditions who are familiar enough with the complexities and framework of modern science to be perturbed by it, and there are not too many adherents of those faiths who question the epistemological foundations of their scriptures as a result of scientific awakening for the religious establishment to launch an attack on science. On the other hand, a number of scientifically enlightened Hindu thinkers have defended their traditional writings in terms that are compatible with the results of modern science, some going so far as to say that the latter have their roots in the former. From this position it has been argued that there are essentially no conflicts between science and religion in the non-Christian world, and to statements to the effect that "X welcomes the insights that science brings more readily than Christian thinkers" where X stands for any non-Christian religion. 

If and when scientific knowledge, understanding, and education spreads among the masses of any religion, conflicts of the type that arose in Christendom are bound to arise in the Hindu, Islamic, and other worlds also.

 

 

23. A FACT OF  EXPERIENCE, NOT AN ARTICLE OF FAITH: SCIENCE AND RELIGION DO MIX

 

The lamentation of the no-nonsense hard-core school of scientists about the "demon haunted world" of scientific darkness into which, they fear, we are fast plunging, has been forcibly articulated once again by Professor Krauss (CHE, Nov. 26, 1999).  But    such moaning, however eloquently and reasonably expressed, is not likely to be very effective. “There is a war going on  for the hearts and minds of the U.S. public, and science is losing…”  Krauss declares. But he may not be on target when he thinks this is “because scientists are often too timid to attack nonsense…” No individual or institution ever won a battle  by offending people’s sensibilities. Insensitivity to a different perspective could be interpreted as arrogance, and it will lead us nowhere. When an eminent scientist writes off religion as “an insult to human dignity,” a goodly number of people are turned away from, rather that towards  science, for such caricature not only reflects but a partial understanding of what religion is all about, it is also an insult to the weight and wisdom of the ages.

Then again, we live in a world that has been polluted by ugly vomits of the industrial age which, in the eyes of many, is a direct consequence of the scientific world view. Science paints a purposeless portrayal of the universe, our thermodynamics and astrophysics are steeped in  pessimistic appraisals of what the future holds. However, for the flicker of fleeting consciousness that we are, the world  is replete with  mirth and majesty. We are moved by  awe and beauty, tickled by love and laughter which are far more immediate and meaningful than leptons, hadrons, and electroweak interactions. All the esoteric charm of the standard model is veiled behind mounds of mathematics, abstruse jargon, and  Lie groups. Who is going to buy this sort of science when rosier pictures offer more and are available for less, especially when the perks of science, like vaccines, TV,  and e-mail can all be had without taking an oath of allegiance to the hypothetico-deductive method and to empiricism?

The thesis that “science and religion don’t mix” assumes a narrow view of religion which not all may share.  Science and religion have  mixed in the overall being of many creative and sensitive scientists: from Galileo, Newton and  Euler to Faraday, Maxwell, Lemaitre and many more. If we look upon religion as a deeply-felt world-view into which we have been initiated and to which we are deeply committed, then even atheists have their own religion, personal or institutional; except that traditional religions also have grand music, impressive art, and joyous festivities to boot.

The yearning  for spiritual experience  is not an abnormal quirk of the mentally challenged, but a deep-felt component of the healthy human heart. From the religious perspective, this yearning is implanted by the heavens above, by a divinity that  creates and sustains. Naturalist-thinkers have tried to explain it in terms of neurochemistry, Darwinian adaptation techniques, or even a confused gene. Whatever the source, whether it expresses itself in a search for TOE, as poetic mysticism, or as faith in a Divine Principle, the thirst for an Abstract causative principle is part of thinking entities unless they are chip-based. For many normal people, if meaning and purpose do not exist,  then,   like Voltarian God, they must be invented. Like food and sex for our physical being, religion is a dire need for the vast majority of normal human beings for their spiritual dimension. Any system that pooh-poohs such yearnings,  attributes them to weakness of mind or dismisses them as a continuation of childhood fantasies is more foe than friend to the public – especially when the latter has not had the benefit of Hilbert spaces and quantum chromodynamics, and knows not the difference between  protons and croutons.

Just as ardent religionists need to go beyond their sacred books to explain origins and phenomena, the devotees of science may have to recognize that there are deep human longings for meaning and purpose which are simply not embedded in string theories and non-linear equations. Science as a belief system may not concern itself with these aspects of life, but it cannot deny their existence, nor belittle their significance.

All through the ages, and in every culture,  there have been versions of something or some person called God. Whether poetic or puerile, they have brought peace and comfort, solace and joy to countless people. To explore how such visions can be made more enlightened and relevant in the context of current scientific paradigms may not be as wasteful or hurtful an exercise as Krauss suggests. Whether or not attempts to combine science and religion is “an intellectually interesting exercise” is of course a matter of taste and inclination. Fortunately, no one is compelled to participate in such endeavors.

At the recent Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in South Africa, an exhibit called “Walk Through Time: Living on the Edge of Evolution” inspired more hearts and minds to the thrills and insights of the scientific vision of our planet’s history than any name-calling of the Book of Genesis could have accomplished. Indeed, the awakening of the minds of theological thinkers and the instilling of some humility in the hearts of some scientists have occurred precisely because  of science-religion dialogues.

The assertion  that “simple laws of nature explain every event that has happened since the big bang” is valid only if we ignore countless events of significance to human beings. No simple law has yet explained, nor is ever likely to explain, the utterly unpredictable course of history, personal or national. There is no law of nature which can tell us whom we will befriend tomorrow, nor which firemen will perish in the next blaze. This is not to belittle the achievements of the physical sciences which are considerable, but to recognize the existence of realms of reality transcending  the physico-chemical and the spatio-temporal which are of interest to many decent people.

Moreover, some profound questions have been raised by science itself on the intriguing coincidences in the values of the so-called fundamental constants which are ultimately responsible for the kind of world we experience. It is well understood that if these constants had a different set of values, the whole universe would be drastically different. If the G of Newtonian gravitation had been much less, for example, there would be no  planetary orbits, nor even  sun and star formation. Let light go at a much slower rate, and that would upset many things too. The observed values of  fundamental constants which are subtly conducive to biogenesis intrigue some serious physicists who have no particular interest in establishing God on a quod erat demonstrandum basis.  Stephen Hawking wrote that “… the initial state of the universe must have been very carefully chosen indeed if the hot big bang model was correct right back at the beginning of time. It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way, except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.” Freeman Dyson expressed the view that “…it almost seems as if the universe must in some sense have known that we were coming.” I rather doubt that either of these physicists was persuaded by Templeton’s generosity to make such statements.

When Robert Boyle died in 1691, he left a tidy sum to combat atheism. That did not cause any alarm in the hearts of  the scientists of the time, and science has flourished magnificently in spite of Boyle’s pro-God endowment. Likewise, there is no need to panic just because courses on science and religion are mushrooming in our universities. Such courses, if appropriately handled, could erase religious preconceptions about the world  with scientific perspectives, and also instill scientific training with human values and social commitment.

What motivated Sir John’s munificence, I do not know. But  it may not  be more self-serving than the funding that businesses lavish on scientists for marketable products, or governments for the invention of more lethal weapons. The Templeton Foundation does not seem to be favoring any particular denomination.  I am aware of at least one die-hard atheist who won the award to develop and teach a science-religion course. Templeton projects have enriched religious perspectives and facilitated inter-faith dialogues. Participation of scientists in religion-science exchanges tend to broaden the vision of religions when it comes to explaining the world. It could also enable (some) scientists to  better appreciate  what inspires people to be religious, and to recognize that there is more to religion than narrowness, bigotry, and holy wars. To say that such dialogues are bad because they are funded by killings on Wall Street is like saying that Mother Teresa’s efforts were evil because some petty dictators had  given her substantial checks.

Science excites the mind and adds to our creature comforts.  Religion stirs the soul and enriches the life-experience. Relegating religion merely  to matters of faith may be ignoring many deeper elements of the religious experience. Science cannot soothe the grieving heart, nor bring hope to the oppressed; it cannot add to the joys of relationship, nor give courage to the disheartened. Religions are the historical roots whence have emerged ethical frameworks that sustain civilized societies.  Spokespersons for science must allow that there are many matters of significance to individual lives and to society that go beyond logical proofs, repeatable experiments, and falsifiable propositions. Science and religion do not belong to different ends of a spectrum, but to the same central core that is the fount of human awareness and reflection. .

Science is an enormously powerful force which has had considerable impacts on every aspect of civilization: art, music, literature, politics, and yes, religion too. It is important and insightful to explore how these interactions come about and how they affect the course of history.

We must be ever vigilant and not let true-believers of any persuasion stifle freedom of thought and exploration, but  we need not be overly concerned when people exchange perspectives on different and complementing facets of the human experience. Even as religions which are untouched by the ever-deepening insights of science remain in the Dark Ages, science without an inkling of  religion of whatever kind becomes pointless even to the brightest among us. Religion without science reveals a mythological world. Science without religion reveals a meaningless world.

 

 


 

24. RELIGION AND THE TEACHING OF EVOLUTION

      It is now known all across the country and all over the world: The Board of Education in the State of  Kansas decided, on the basis of a vote of 6 to 4,  that the children in that state ought not to be taught the theory of evolution, nor  Genesis according to Big Bang. The board did not insist that students must be taught in their science courses that God made the world in six days, and Man in His image. Maybe this will come later.

      The reaction to the board’s directive ranged from laughter to outrage. Many beyond the shores of America were convinced upon reading the news that the U.S. was not, as they had imagined, such an advanced country after all. People with little understanding of American democracy could not believe  that a few out-moded, but elected  voices, could dictate to the science teachers throughout a state what is to be taught, and what banned, in science courses. A great many science teachers within the country were shocked too. And most responsible and knowledgeable scientists were simply outraged. Some felt this was a national disgrace.

      As one devoted to science, I sympathize with such reactions. However, I am not altogether convinced that the Kansas decision will wreak much harm on science education or on the advancement of science in the country. It is even possible that, even after graduating from this scientifically disadvantaged school system, some eminent biologists will emerge from Kansas in the decades to come. I am confident that students who have never had a lecture on the chapter on evolution in their biology course in school can still do well in medical school and become competent physicians. And those who know nothing of Big Bang can still become good engineers, chemists, and geneticists or what have you. The  application of positive scientific knowledge for practical purposes has little to do with scientific theses as to origins.

      What should be relevant from the point of view of science education is whether students who have heard or learnt about evolution or the Big Bang in school are able to explain why (on what scientific basis) they accept these theories. The more serious challenge  is to teach students and school board members (i.e. the general public) how science works, on what bases the scientific community accepts or rejects theories, and the significance of scientific uncertainties. If and when these are properly inculcated, students and citizens will automatically accept evolution sooner or later, and they will do so more meaningfully. It should be obvious to anyone acquainted with the elements of the scientific methodology that no other framework but that of evolution adequately explains much of what we know and understand about the variety of biological species we see around us today.

      At the same time, it is fair to say that however inspiringly and passionately proclaimed by the devotees of science, it is a slight exaggeration to suggest, as one eminent scientist did that “no one ignorant of evolution can understand science.” After all, scientific giants like Galileo and Newton, Euler and Faraday, never knew anything about Darwinian evolution. Even in our own times there are competent physicists and chemists who have some doubts about the Darwinian model.

      We need to distinguish between scientific theories that account for currently observed phenomena and those that pertain to origins. The history of science reveals how shifting our views have been as to the birth of the universe and of life itself. Scientific views on how life, our species, human languages, music and morality arose have often been very tentative.     

      On the other hand, given the massive observational evidence and logical arguments, the devoutly religious may have to learn that it is no blasphemy to recognize that the Divine Creator may well have chosen to introduce Life on our planet: little by little, in an emerging way, somewhat like composing a painting or a novel.

      As to scriptures, I am inclined to think that the authors of the Book of Genesis, keen and inquiring minds that they were, would insist on issuing a revised edition, at least of the first chapter, if they were to reappear in our own times. Perhaps they would want to write, “God said, ‘Let there be electromagnetic waves’, and there were electromagnetic waves,” however unpoetic this might sound. The same may be said of the ancient authors of similar documents in other cultures too. And if the holy books are to be taken as revelations, who is to say that current scientific inklings of cosmogenesis and biogenesis are not revelations made by the same God to men and women of our own times who live at a different level of human understanding. Could it even be that God Almighty is teasing these puny creations with different and changing impressions at different ages and stages of human history?

      The unrelenting upholders of back-dated views do not realize that they tend to alienate many genuine seekers of spiritual experience from membership in religious institutions, besides bringing a bad name to theology. Fortunately, at this stage, there seems to be only a minority of religious enthusiasts who vehemently resent the description of Homo sapiens as “the ex-ape rather than the apex of creation.” Well-meaning theologians  should learn to see the difference between pre-modern scientific explanations of the phenomenal world, and genuine experience of the spiritual dimension of human consciousness. When religion tries to usurp the role of science, it mistakes ancient mythologies for scientific truths; and the result can be awkward both to religion and to society.

      Likewise, in the age in which we live, scientists need to understand that, notwithstanding all the spectacular successes of science and technology,  there are deep human longings for things that transcend charts and facts, beyond cold-blooded logic and mathematical analysis. When scientists underestimate the relevance of the spiritual yearnings in human existence, when they mistake the transrational for the irrational and  pooh-pooh the weight of traditions and the wisdom of the ages, they create the impression that science is an arrogant and heartless enterprise, even dangerous to the human spirit.

 

 


 

25. SCIENCE AND RELIGION: THEORY AND PRACTICE

      In this forum on Science and Religion, we have had postings on Christianity and Science, Judaism and Science, as well as on Islam and Science. We can keep adding to the list: Buddhism and Science, Hinduism and Science, Voodoo and Science, etc. In each instance, the erudite exponent will demonstrate (at least to his/her) own satisfaction that there now is  and there never was a contradiction between one’s own religious tradition and science, that the tradition (if anything) encouraged scientific exploration, and that science was implicit in the teachings of its masters. With due respects to the scholars, I must say that these are examples of what I have called “endopotent knowledge”: interpretations of facts and apprehensions of truth that make one feel good, but with which one can do very little.

      Indeed the fact remains that  some of the official spokespersons  who wield authority and proclaim correct knowledge, and who are in most instances rote repeaters and faithful followers of ancient texts,  with little acquaintance with the rudiments of astronomy and biology, continue to preach and practice in  their medieval mind-set from which only modern science has emancipated humanity (or at least a small section of it).

      To give but one example, according to a recent report  from the Associated Press (August 6, 1999), a senior cleric of the Islamic tradition “issued a ‘religious edict’ ... prohibiting his followers from looking at the sun during Wednesday’s total solar eclipse,” because “watching the event is contrary to Islamic law.”

      Apologetic scholars are likely to explain this by saying that implicit in their Holy book was a knowledge of what causes eclipses, of the effect of radiations on the retina, etc. The cleric is absolutely right in his contention that the Sharia prohibits (and wisely so) the direct watching of a solar eclipse. But we need to distinguish between reactions provoked from an instinctive fear of unusual events rather than from an understanding of the phenomenon. Indeed, one is also expected to pray and beseech the mercy of God when eclipse occur.

      The theology-based pronouncement of the Lebanese mullah on a natural phenomenon has its parallels of practically every religion.

      It seems to me that the goals of the Science-Religion Dialogue should be:

      (a) To underscore the emotional, spiritual, ethical, and inspirational enrichment that various religions provide.

      (b) To recognize the positive contributions that “modern science” has made to human civilization: such as: providing a deeper understanding of the limitless range of the phenomenal world,  enhancing the human capacity to probe deep down into the microcosm and to measure the universe, unraveling the mysteries of matter, life, and mind, discovering and eliminating the causes of diseases, exposing the untenability of superstitions and pseudo-sciences, etc. 

      (c) To spread an awareness of the serious negative social, environmental, and other impacts of “modern science,” and see how these may be diminished or eliminated by adopting world views that spring from the wisdom of the ages as enshrined in various religious traditions: for the greatness of religions lies not in their explanation of how the world began, or Homo sapiens emerged, but in enabling us to interact compassionately, meaningfully and reverentially with the World of Creation.

      (d) To explore in what ways certain no longer acceptable aspects of the traditional religious framework may be changed, modified or rejected: such as authoritarianism, scriptural infallibility, socially evil and outdated injunctions/sacred-laws, irrational fears,   so as to bring religions in harmony with rationally acceptable criteria  for explaining physical phenomena and with the spirit of social/humanistic enlightenment. This includes respecting other religions  (in so far as they are non-hurting) as much as enjoying deep devotion to one’s own.

 


 

26. ON VISIONS OF GOD

        How would one define God? This is the question I always raise whenever there is a debate/discussion/confrontation in which "God" is brought in. When two people agree on their definitions of God, they will not have any further disagreement on the question of God’s existence. If they disagree on their definitions, they will never have any further agreement on the question of God’s existence. My own definitions of God are the following::

In anthropo-historical terms, God is one of the most universal concepts in human culture which (probably) arose from the struggle of the human spirit (a) to account for the grandeur of the universe, the limitless range of perceived reality, and the finitude the individual experiences in the face of it all; (b) to at least conceive an entity that would encapsulate to the highest degree whatever is good and noble and commanding in the human experience (power, presence, knowledge, justice, mercy, compassion, etc.); and (c) to experience a personal connection with the Cosmic Whole.

To me as a person, God is an intangible, unfathomable, cosmic consciousness of which I feel I get a glimpse when I am engaged in deep meditation or prayer to a traditional symbol. Whether this results from modifications in my brain chemistry, from cultural indoctrination, or from resonance with some as yet scientifically uncategorized/unrecognized subtle aspect of the world, I cannot tell (nor am I interested in its origins during my experiences), but I have felt much enriched by it, and that is all that I can say about it. God is the abstract, incomprehensible, principle whose existence I can never prove through my logical/rational/analytical/experimental capabilities to an unbeliever’s satisfaction, but of whose existence I am at least as certain as of my own conscious self.

God is also  an entity I need to envisage so that there will be someone/something to whom/which I can express my gratitude for this span of experience (however brief) that is my life.

Finally:

God is there in the atom’s core
And in galactic stretches too.
More ancient than the Cosmic Bang,
Yet, ever fresh and new.

Some prove a God, others disprove,
With logic as their start.
But no one can or ever will move
God from the faithful’s heart.

Let mockers mock and donkeys bray;
Let scholars take any side.
The God to whom people pray,
Isn’t proved, but felt inside.

 


 

27. ON DARWINISM, ID THEORY, POLITICS & SOCIETY

      The recent injection of what could be legitimately a scientific debate [Whether Darwinism with whatever modification adequately explains all observed and observable aspects of bio-phenomena] into the political arena [pleading with the Congress on what is good or bad for the country] can cause (and is causing) concern among those who are devoted to science, not as a useful enterprise for improving our creature comforts, keeping Communism off from our shores, fostering monogamy, etc.] but as a disinterested quest for unraveling the marvels and magnificence of the world of perceived reality.

      Such a quest, independent of and indifferent to, what is declared in the Holy Books of human heritage, has yielded, during the past four centuries, more reliable knowledge and brought to light more wonders of the world than had been accumulated during the previous thousand and more millennia of human awareness.

      But sadly, and unexpectedly, aside from calling in question some of the assertions in long venerated texts as to how the world began and why it functions the way it does, this (instrument-based, mathematically sharpened, empirically driven rational) science has also, directly or indirectly,  shaken certain ethical foundations of society and doctrinal foundations of religions.

      The reaction to this beyond-the-ivory-tower side-effect has been of the following kinds:

      1. Benign indifference, with perhaps occasional sympathy, on the part of most serious scientists, if only because their work has nothing to do with mischief or morals, hope or charity.

      2. Alarm and antipathy towards science in those who find science too complex and threatening in its philosophical framework.

      3. Reformulation of scientific worldviews to lessen, if not eradicate, the negative impacts of science on traditional religion, by some devotees of science in all traditional religious systems.

      While those who react as under (1) above have been faithful to science as an enterprise, they have been uncaring or callous, not to say irresponsible, in their reactions to the societal problems that have arisen from the scientific revolution.  On the other hand, those who react as under (3) seem to be genuinely more concerned about society and human destiny (than the validity of a scientific theory), but they have occasionally been less than faithful to the goals of science and paid less than appropriate attention in their interpretation of data. 

         As long as responsible leaders in science have no interest in the social, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of the human condition, and can only proclaim (sometimes with a touch of intellectual arrogance) that those who long for God and religion are in need of counseling, or honestly declare that science ultimately unravels the sheer meaninglessness of it all, Science is not likely to be heard in the halls of Congress unless there are weapons-threats from a potential adversary.

      Under these conditions, rather than be alarmed and upset by two-hour biology courses to Congressmen given by concerned theologically inspired scientists who have hopes of regulating what  is and what is not to be taught in science courses in our schools, scientists need to engage in public discussions on how the findings of science are not only spiritually uplifting, but may also be made in consonance with the most basic principles of (individual and societal) ethical behavior. A science that is only interested in its methodology and logical consistency, and ignores its human impacts is likely to be eventually shunned or suppressed even in democratic societies.

 

 


 

28. ON REDUCTIONISM

There is a very respectable school of thought within the scientific establishment which believes that some day we can explain chemistry, biology, and even psychology through the principles of fundamental physics. This was certainly the view held by the founders of Quantum Mechanics in the 1920s. If we replace the term “Fundamental Physics” by “Science”, this would reflect the point of view of the vast majority of results-producing scientists even today. 

What we need to understand in Science-Religion dialogues (it seems to me) are the following points:

(a) There is a good deal more to the human experience than explaining the world. These include intangibles like love, compassion, kindness, justice, aesthetics, consideration of the relevance of the human spirit in a cold and apparently value-less cosmos, etc. Even if science crudely explains how these come about, it can never make us understand their value, purpose, and significance.

(b) An important dimension of most traditional religions (including enlightened humanism) serve this purpose.

(c) It cannot be denied (as Dawkins & Co keep harping tirelessly)  that traditional religions have perpetrated incalculable atrocities and mutual hurt in the past. However, nor can one deny that practically all civilizing moral values and many lofty expressions of art and music have also come from traditional religions.

(d) Then why were (are) so many crimes perpetrated in the name of religion? These were (are) done largely because of the conviction that the explanations of one’s own religious system constitutes the absolute truth and those of other religions were heretical, hence deserving of annihilation. true believers (i.e. those who believe their religious/moral/cosmological world view is the only correct one) are far more dangerous (should they have power over others) than theists, atheissts, fundamentalists, or evolutionists.

(e) This is one important reason why it is important to delete the explanatory dimension of religions, aside from their logical inconsistencies and fruitlessness.

(f) To discard all religions on the basis of their destructive offshoots would be as intelligent as discarding all science because its offshoots have included nuclear bombs, pollution and global warming.

(g) When science dictates actions while ignoring moral dimensions it has the potential for committing similar atrocities as religions when they dictate actions based on their explanatory framework.


 

29. INSTITUTIONAL AND PERSONAL RELIGION

Religious experience is of two kinds: Institutional and Personal. The former are based on scriptural revelations and their interpretations by recognized authorities. Institutional religions have several advantages. Among these are the following:

(a) They bring communities together. Every religious celebration and observance of a sacrament is a collective activity in which people rejoice and share together.

(b) They offer (ready) answers to complex questions. Questions pertaining to the final and the ultimate, to origins and the mysterious, are not easy to answer. Yet, they confront every thinking mind. Institutional religions provide answers which, when inculcated since an early age, provide the satisfaction that comes from such answers, without the effort and thr frustration involved in a personal search.

(c)  They offer a world view to the practitioners. It is impossible to function in the world without a world view. All our actions and attitudes, values and opinions are based on a world view, whether we formulate it explicitly or not. Every religion provides a world view, a basis for being an active and thinking participant in society and for experiencing life.

(d)  They rest on the wisdom of the ages: Religions have sprung from the wisdom and experience of ancient thinkers and spiritual masters. They have acquired the weight of centuries and the sanctity that comes with tradition.

(e)  They make like and death meaningful through sacraments. Bereft of a religious world view, human existence can become pointless: a compulsory journey through so many years, with pleasures and pains, and ultimate annihilation. The situation becomes very painful when one loses a loved one. Religions provide a framework in which life becomes meaningful and death bearable.

Personal religions have the following advantages:

(a)  They allow one freedom of  thought in the formulation of ideas re: Those who forge their own religion (world-view independent of any traditional framework) have the freedom to think on their own, and are not obliged to accept the dictates and declarations of some higher authority.

(b)  They enable people to formulate and practice their own ethical systems. Personal religion enables one to adopt ethical principles on the basis of reasoned analysis and free choice rather than because it is so stated in some sacred book.

(c)  They do not call upon people to question authorities and feel uncomfortable as a consequence. Those who have their own personal religion are not obliged to confront and corner revered religious leaders, and feel uncomfortable or face unpleasant consequences by their persistent questioning.

Fortunate are the citizens of nations where one may choose ones own type of religion.

Any religion (institutional or personal) has two dimensions: positive and negative. The positive dimension of a religion does good things to people, such: (a)  as provide a framework for consolation in case of bereavement (Inst. Rel.); (b) show an act of kindness or compassion to a fellow human being (Pers. Rel.).

The negative dimension does bad things, especially to people who don’t belong to it, such as: (a) persecute those who do not belong to that religion (Inst. Rel). (b)  make comments to the effect that those who adhere to institutional religions are fools.


 30. ON MECHANISM, GOAL, AND PURPOSE

      In the context of exploring the existence or otherwise of a purpose to (or in) the universe, it may be useful to define certain terms. I shall therefore attempt to clarify some of the controversies in the framework of the definitions below:

      Mechanism: will refer to the modus operandi of a complex system which functions in accordance with a set of rules,  principles, and laws. The functioning of a mechanistic system is  visualizable directly, through analogies, or in a mathematical sequence of reasoning.

      Goal: will mean a point or a state towards which the activities of a system seem to tend.

      Purpose: is the reason why a system functions in order to reach a goal. It is important to recognize that while  a careful  external observer may be able to infer the goal of a  system on the basis of its behavior, he/she cannot always fathom the purpose. It is only the system itself which may be aware of the purpose. This is most obvious in the case of human activity. We can determine what some people are after, but may not know why (for what purpose) they are after it.

      It is essential to recognize this difference between goal and purpose. The goal of a student may be to graduate with a good degree. The purpose of this goal may be to obtain a good job, to impress his parents, to satisfy a longing, or whatever. Only the student knows it well. If getting a good job is the goal, then the purpose of that goal may be to lead a good life, to repay a loan, to raise a family, and so on.

      From this perspective, we note that there may be a goal without a purpose, but there cannot be a purpose without a goal. Thus, for example, the goal of a body thrown in a field of force may be to occupy the state of  minimum potential energy, but there may be no reason for it to do that. On the other hand, if the goal of a plant is to go towards sunlight, the purpose may be to continue to live.

      Purposeful activity is more sophisticated than goal-directed activity, because it implies an awareness of the striving towards a goal.

      The factors enabling a system to achieve its goal(s) are (is) of two kinds: (a) E or extrinsic, i.e. in the world beyond its own control; (b) I or intrinsic, i.e. within itself: internal elements that may modify the course of action. The essential difference between  animate and  inanimate may lie in this: that in the inanimate world, the E-factors alone count; whereas in the animate world, I-factors also come into play. The more sophisticated a bio-entity is, the greater is the dominance of the I-factors.

      The goal of every life form seems to be its own continuation for the maximum length of time possible. The purpose for this goal may be related to the conscious or unconscious satisfaction the entity experiences in living.

      The goal of inanimate systems seems to be the non-violation of any of the basic principles and laws undergirding the physical universe.

      What about the universe as a whole? The scientific study of the phenomenal world seems to suggest that the cosmos is mechanistic in so far as it functions on the basis of rules and principles and laws. Its goal seems to be the stability of the universe for an extended period of time. On the basis of human understanding of the functioning of the universe, no purpose seems evident for this goal.

      This is not surprising because, as I noted earlier, an external observer cannot  fathom the purpose for the goal which a system is striving to each. Only the performing system can be aware of this. This is the reason why human minds (by their analysis) have not been able to discern any purpose for the universe. It is doubtful that they ever can. It does not follow from this that there is no purpose.

      It is possible to hypothesize some purpose to the universe, such as, for example, the emergence and continuation of the human species. There is no a priori reason why this may not be true, though, on the basis of our limited understanding of the phenomenal world,  there does not seem to be any overwhelming evidence for this.

      Herein lies an important difference between religion and science. (Most) religions affirm that there is a purpose to the universe, and to human life. Science says  on the basis of its own accumulated data that there does not seem to be any such purpose. I suggest that the purpose of the universe, enunciated by religions may, but need not, be correct, whereas science may never be able to unravel any such purpose.

      It is important to recognize that the cautious contention of science does not contradict the firm conviction of religion.

It is entirely possible that the purpose of the universe is to make it all entertaining and enjoyable for a brief interval of time (in cosmic history) for a select group of highly evolved brain-bearing entities called humans. Some have argued that this is a wasteful effort, considering the eons it took these creatures to evolve, and the short period during which the  overall effects will be enjoyed and appreciated. But then, consider a movie that is made: expending lots of money and over a period of a year or more. All for what? Just for a couple of hours of enjoyment for some people (those who see that movie). Why cannot a similar thing be true with the universe also?

 


 

31. ON FAITH

Most religious people believe that faith is necessary to advance spiritually. yet many non-believers in God see faith as an excuse by religion to believe in things they cannot prove.

Faith is the implicit trust one has in something, often without asking for proof. I do not think it is possible to go through life without faith of one kind or another. We certainly accept on faith who our father is. In the religious context, faith is the trust one has in the teachings and doctrines of one’s religion. I don’t know how far and what kind of faith is necessary for advancing spiritually, but it is certainly essential to be a sincere member/practitioner of any organized religion. I do not feel it is "an excuse to believe in what one cannot prove." Rather faith is the willing acceptance of what one may or may not be able to prove.

What does one gain by having faith? Those who do have faith (which, in some religious traditions is taken as a gift from God), seem to gain immensely from it. Certainly, there are people with faith who feel very enriched in their spiritual experience and religious commitment, whether they be church-going Vhristians, Mecca-going Muslims, or meditating Hindus.

If scientists had faith in theories that lacked experimental confirmation, then Science may never have advanced further than the Middle Ages. 

We need to distinguish between science as an enterprise and religion as an experience: a distinction many people fail to make and thus get into arguments and impasses.

Some have wondered: How can faith be good in Religion, yet be totally destructive in Science?

I believe this arises because Science and Religion are of very different categories as human-based systems. Singing hymns in a church can be great, but singing in physics colloquium may become laughable. Also, faith is always "totally destructive" in science. There have been instances where a practicing scientist, with proof-less faith in his theory, has pursued it and eventually triumphed.

Another question that is raised in this context is: Is their a difference between believing a religious truth versus believing a scientific truth? I believe there certainly is. Religious truths, like love for one’s beloved or for one’s children, are very personal affairs, need no proof or justification beyond heart-felt feelings and warm embraces; scientific truths are public matters, utterly worthless if not substantiated by facts, or useless in explaining observed phenomena which all can witness.

We should distinguish between these two for two reasons: First, religious faith for spiritual experience and scientific verification for logical consistency are two entirely different capacities of the human brain. Both enrich human experience. One is not superior nor inferior to the other.

 


 

32. RELGIONS: SOME GOOD AND BAD IMPACTS

No matter what our personal faiths and convictions are, we cannot ignore the following historically incontrovertible facts:

Every religious system in the world has enriched countless human beings, uplifted their perspectives, consoled them in times of stress, brought them joy, created great art and music and poetry, and added meaning and relevance to the mystery of human experience.

      Practitioners of (practically) every religious system have, in the name of their particular religion, and sincerely believing  to be acting in its behalf and for its well-being, have engaged in harsh and hurtful acts, bloody battles, and even massacres.

      The explanations of many natural phenomena, as presented in many time-honored scriptures, are in blatant contradiction to what modern scientific methodology seems to have unraveled by collective, self-correcting, and careful studies of the world.

      The rise and development of modern science during the past four and odd centuries have expanded human horizons and understanding in immeasurable ways, lessened and eliminated many needless fears and absurdities that were (and still are)  more rampant in scientifically unawakened societies. Science has also contributed immensely to humanity’s material comforts and well-being, and ushered in values and perspective that are more universal and just.

      The rise  of science and consequent technology has also resulted in  spiritual anguish and emptiness, and complex social, moral, and psychological ills: problems which did not exist or which could (can) be solved in (perhaps only in) a religious framework.

      Recognizing thus that both religion and science have much to offer to the human condition, while both have also had harmful and undesirable effects in past centuries, we now have an opportunity to recognize and incorporate the best in both these rich potentials of the human spirit for the benefit and enrichment of humanity. That is what. I would hope, the science-religion dialogues will offer the decades to come.

      For this, however, three conditions are necessary:

(a) We must distinguish between two aspects of religion: First, there is the restricted/historical/denominational aspect,  which is a very important, powerful, and valuable cultural force, many of whose manifestations  may be maintained for the continuity and psycho-social well being and comfort of a people or a group. Then, there is the deeper and intensely personal spiritual dimensional of religions which transcend denominational boundaries, even if they have local models and modes of expression. This “communion” with the beyond which all religions offer in their different ways may be explored from scientific perspectives, but its intrinsic value and significance extends beyond rational and collective-empirical constraints. Science-religion dialogues are likely to become richer and more universal when they explore the religious experience in a non-denominational framework. I am inclined to think that this is where the great successes of our dialogues  will turn out to be in the long run.

(b) We must distinguish between the rational: that which is subject to scientific analysis; the irrational: that which goes blatantly against logic and reason;  and the transrational: that which goes beyond reason and analysis, but which adds immense meaning and relevance to an individual. Thus far, the scientific establishment has not been able to make a distinction between the irrational and the transrational. Science needs to recognize the validity of the transrational as an important non-nonsense dimension of the human brain (or spirit). It is here that the science-religion dialogue holds great promise

(c) Protagonists of religion as well as of science must be clear in their minds  and humble in their stances in recognizing and acknowledging the role, limits, relevance, strengths, and weaknesses of science and religion when they enter into a dialogue.

 


 

33. ON POESIS AND PRAXIS

There are two different roles of belief-systems, whether scientific or religious.

The poesis contribution is of an essentially personal nature. It enlightens the mind, it excites the heart, it elevates the spirit. Both science and religion (in the best sense of the terms) have the capacity to do this. Whether it be in the contemplation of  a unified field theory, in the recognition of the complex pathways by which the multitude of life forms emerged and function, whether it be in a mystic merger with the vast stellar expanse above, or in an ineffable gratitude for the experience of life, both science and religion have the potential for offering us the enrichment of poesis.

The praxis component of science is reflected in the countless ways in which scientific knowledge and understanding have brought benefits and harm to the physical dimensions of the human condition. But the scientist who works for the cure of  diseases or clarifies the nature of a phenomenon to dispel a superstitious fear does more for humanity than a preacher who terrifies his flock with threats of hell-fire for engaging in immoral acts. The praxis component of religion is reflected in the joyous celebration of feasts and festivals, as also in sending death-squads to take care of unbelievers.

But the zealous missionary who builds schools and hospitals in distant lands commands more (of my) respect than the rationalist who proves that the gospel is but ancient fiction, or that Christ was but a local upstart.  Mother Teresa who worked among the  most wretched of the world reflects (in my view)  more of what is best in the human potential than the investigative journalist who proclaimed she had taken monies for her project from the coffers of petty dictators, or the insightful biologist who interprets her dedication as resulting from a selfish gene.

For ultimately, as a wise one said, what is important is not what we believe in, but what we do with our beliefs.



 


 

34. ON A CLASSIFICATION OF BELIEFS

Many of our attitudes and actions are governed by our beliefs and the belief system under which function. I therefore propose to classify beliefs as follows in three general ways:

A. With respect to rationality.

(a) Rational: That is, justifiable on the basis of observed facts, logic, and reasoned analysis.

(b) Irrational: Blatantly contradictory to what is justifiable on the basis of observation and reason.

(c)  Transrational: What may or may not be obvious to reason and critical analysis, but what may be meaningful, hope-giving, and psychologically helpful.

B. With respect to effects.

Eu-beliefs: Beliefs whose overall impact is positive, i.e. for the good of onself and/or of others. (From the Greek prefic eu, good).

Dys-beliefs: Beliefs which are harmful and hurtful to oneself and/or to others. (From the Greek prefix dys: bad).

C. On the basis of ownership.

Sva-beliefs: Beliefs that one dearly holds. (From the Sanskrit prefix sva: one's own).

Para-beliefs: Beliefs of others that one encounters. (From the Sanskrit prefix para: another's).

This last categorization is very important because, we not only conduct ourselves on the basis of sva-beliefs, but are often affected by para-beliefs whether or not they affect  us in any way. Religious wars, mutual contempt and intellectual name-calling in science-religion debates, often arise from one's reactions to the belief-systems of others, generally with the conviction that some of those para-beliefs are dys-beliefs, in the above sense.


 

35. ON ANALYZING BELIEVERS AND NON-BELIEVERS

One of the favorite pastimes (not to say projects) of religious skeptics is to analyze why so many poor and pathetic millions believe in a God and in the religion of their family or ancestors. They have come up with various theories to explain this (what strikes them as) unfortunate phenomenon. Some have attributed it to fear of the hereafter, others as a continuation of the childhood need for a father figure. Some think this sad condition is due to some genetic aberration, others that it is a vestige of the herd-mentality which was already present in the pre-homo-Sapiens stage. Some have scientific and historical proofs that all these simple-minded believers are dead wrong.

Conversely, ardent religionists have analyzed the unbelievers. They have equally convincing (to them) arguments for the sad plight of those who are blind to the magic of divinity, stone-deaf to the call of the Almighty. Their explanations are often quite simple: The deluded heretics have succumbed to the temptation of the devil or fallen under the spell of some evil spirit; that the poor creatures haven't yet received the grace of God, or that the inability to sing God's glories is a consequence of evil deeds in a past birth.

Both groups choose to ignore whatever may be inconvenient for their thesis to the effect that unlike their own, there is something intrinsically wrong with the opposite camp. They discount the fact that many positive things have arisen in human history by belief as well as by doubt, that there have been great scientists and thinkers who have been men and women of deep faith, and many horrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of blind belief.

I am not sure if it occurs to either group that essentially they both share certain common features: Both are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that their own understanding of whatever may or may not lie beyond the world of perceived reality is the right one, that there is an implicit arrogance in their attempts to analyze and explain the innermost beliefs of the opposite group, that if one is obsessed with explaining everything, the other mistakes experiences of  hopes, ecstasies, and transcendental visions with physical reality. If true believers regard unbelievers evil, the pure rationalists look upon faith-followers as fools.

As along as skeptical unbelievers (who tend to think they are the only scientifically enlightened members of the human family) regard traditional believers as misguided, irrational, and worse, I'm afraid there really can't be any healthy dialogue between science and religion. More often than not, deeply religious thinkers recognize the value and merits of science. What is ironic is that those who preach and embrace multiculturalism (which at its best calls for sincere sensitivity for the cultures and  practices of groups other than one's own) also tend to be contemptuous of and intellectually intolerant towards  the religiously inclined, especially of their own heritage and tradition.


 

36. THE ROOTS OF GLOBODIUM

Most people like and dislike other people on the basis of their particular tastes and preferences. This is natural and normal. When these feelings get very intense, they become love and hatred.

But sometimes, such love or hatred becomes for a whole group. Thus, when one likes everything that is French, one is called a Francophile. When one likes everything Chinese, one is known as a Sinophile, and so on. Now I wish to coin a term to signify hatred of a whole group. Borrowing from two Latin words, I call this globodium. [Latin, globus: crowd, cluster; odium: hatred.] More exactly, globodium will refer to the blind,  heartfelt, intense hatred of a group of people who have a common race, religion, language, nationality, or whatever. Every expression of globodim has one or more target groups: i.e. group(s) towards which the hatred is directed.

I am not a sociologist,  psychologist, theologian or ethicist, but I regard globodium as a disease of the mind, rather than as an evil characteristic of an individual. It needs to be treated rather than resented or frowned upon. The treatment, partial or total, could involve severe punishment. But I am also inclined to think that love and compassion towards the patients by members of the target group could be helpful, even though this may not always cure the patient right away.

As with other diseases, physical or mental, it would be useful to identify some of the root causes of globodium. I venture to list the following ten among the many causes (explicit or implicit, real or imaginary) of the ailment I have called globodium:

(a)    A severe sense of personal and group insecurity.

(b)   An acute fear that one’s own group will soon lose its identity, as a result of the activities, practices, or existence  of the target group(s).

(c)    A fanatical conviction that one’s own group has the absolute truth and that the target group(s) is (are) completely in the wrong about some matter.

(d)   The belief that the problems which one’s own group and/or the world are/is facing can be solved by the elimination of the target group.

(e)    The memory of past (historical) injustices that one’s ancestors have suffered at the hands of the ancestors of the target group.

(f)     The belief that one’s own economic security or that of one’s group is being jeopardized by the target group.

(g)    A mindless dislike of the appearance and/or skin color of the target group.

(h)    The idea that the target group is worshipping a false God.

(i)      The fear that members of the target group will “pollute” the womenfolk of one’s own group.

(j)     An intense and deep-seated envy for the successes and accomplishments of the target group.

These factors are likely to lead to (not, will necessarily lead to) globodium.


 

37. ON CONSCIOUSNESS

Consciousness is that indescribable experience by which we define ourselves as a separateness: an individuality that impenetrably surrounds the person from every other person and from every other thing  in the universe. It is an indelible tag which slowly emerges with the growing child, and becomes the self-identifying something that  each of us carries until the last heartbeat of the human experience. Though it is the intense and most intrinsic totality of our being, its manifestation is not continuous: for, when we sleep, it seems to recede into some occult region, re-emerging gently or suddenly, as we wake up again. There are instances when consciousness becomes altogether dormant for quite a while: as, when one is under an anesthesia or in a coma.

The human brain is the most complex entity (known thus far) to have evolved in the physical universe. More remarkable still is this aspect of that brain, of its complex neural network, for there is every reason to believe that consciousness is intimately tied to the brain. For one thing, if we tamper with neural chemistry, we affect consciousness in profound ways, or even knock it off.

Traditionally, in poetic and in literal ways, religions have related consciousness to a subtle entity called the soul, postulating that its is the soul that defined the person, the body being merely its temporary sojourn during a terrestrial stay. Human conception embodies the soul, capturing it, as it were, in some mysterious way when sperm and ovum mingle and merge. Likewise, death is no more than the release of the soul to an unknown beyond, perhaps to face the consequences of thoughts and actions which the body which, under its directives, engaged in.

Neuroscience look upon consciousness as no different from, say, the hardness of rock which is a property arising from the dense packing of molecules rather than something which has a separate existence. In this picture the escape of consciousness after death is like the freeing of hardness when the rock is split to smithereens: there's no such thing as hardness persisting after the break-up.

From the scientific perspective, there are at least two facets of consciousness which are interlinked. First, there is the perceiving level at which external stimuli are transformed into sensations and ideas, enabling us to see colors, hear sounds, and generate ideas. Then there is the identity-level mentioned earlier. Neuroscientists are hard at work in unraveling the mode or mechanism by which this fascinating transformation of physical stimuli into experienced sensations occurs, and they are quite sure they will discover in the not too distant future which molecular property or microtubule sparks the emergence of this unique property of the human brain which etches the experience of a Self which seems to be as ungraspable and illusory as a holographic image.

In the view of some, there are other, not normally-perceived, levels of consciousness too. In certain traditions, one can raise one's usual consciousness to these higher levels by dint of spiritual practice. Science has shown that similar experiences of higher states of consciousness may be achieved by the use of hallucinogens, i.e. by altering brain chemistry appropriately. On the one hand, this demotes spiritual states attained through yogic means as resulting from alterations in brain-chemistry  rather than from the apprehension of higher levels of reality. On the other hand, it also leads to the view that the so-called reality of normal experience is also no more than another type of hallucination which is a consequence of the more uniformly distributed chemicals of normal brains. This idea has a drastic impact on our usual view of reality as something that is out there the way it all seems to be.

In this matter, the poetry of religion is no less charming than the subtle findings of science. Thus, in the Hindu view for example, just as the grand expanse of water in the seas is scattered here and there in ponds and puddles, there is a cosmic consciousness which finds expression in countless life-forms. We are, one and all, miniature lights from the cosmic effulgence, destined for the terrestrial experience for a brief span on the eternal time line, only to re-merge with that from which we sprang. This view paints the human experience on a cosmic canvass. It recognizes the transience and  finitude of us all as individual entities, yet incorporates  us into the infinity  that encompasses us. It does not rule out the possibility of other manifestations of Brahman, sublime or subtle, carbon or silicon-based, elsewhere amidst the stellar billions.

To apprehend the nature of consciousness is, in some traditions, equivalent to merger with the Cosmos itself. This Self-realization, with its concomitant spiritual ecstasy, is very different from the latest report on the matter in Nature by some neuroscientist.


 

38. RELIGION, SCIENCE AND ART

There was a time when religion and science lived in harmony. Whatever the religions told about how the world began or functioned or would end, that the common people believed to be the truth. And then came a time when by other means and on other bases, science began to tell different stories on these matters, and these were not quite the same as what the time-honored books had said. So one had to develop new ways of looking at ancient writings, come to compromises, and emphasize other domains where religion  still had major roles to play. And yet, it is fair to say that by and large scientists, even when their investigations took them to thoughts and results that were at variance with Holy Books, had neither the intention nor the desire to insult religion or be callous towards religious sentiments.

There was a time when religion and art too lived in harmony. Indeed, it was through art that the some of deepest religious experiences were expressed. The most sublime religious feelings have been evoked through grand poetry and beautiful hymns, we may see them in sacred sculpture and magnificent architecture, as well as in powerful paintings and colorful decorations. Like religion, art, when it touched the human spirit, has often evoked a lofty oneness with Truth and Totality.

By and large, artists have had respect and reverence for whatever was regarded as holy. But this has ceased to be so in our own times. As seldom before, some artists revel in  portraying the sacred in profane ways. A couple of years ago, a painter in India sketched a Hindu goddess in stark nudity which upset the sentiments of the pious. Some thought that  the pious were narrow-minded, others that the artist was affronting. We may  recall the artist in Chicago who thought it fit to immerse a cross in a glass of urine not so long ago, claiming to convey some profound insight in the process. Again, some were outraged, others pleaded for  freedom of expression. Movie makers have thought it fit to portray Christ in carnal terms.

Now, we read about a Britisher (by heritage or passport, I do not know)  who has created a painting of Virgin Mary with, according to one report, “pornographic cutouts and a clump of elephant dung.” Of course, any expression of disgust at this pathetic caricature of creativity would be described as reactionary tendency. Even a mild objection  would be interpreted as a call for curbing free thought and expression, and be branded  fascist and Hitleresque. Even granting that elephant dung is sacred to some tribes in Africa (which the creator of this scatological silliness claims to reflect), would it not be more appropriate for an African (a member of the African tribe in question) to come up with something so beautiful and enriching to his/her co-tribalists? One may legitimately ask, what business does a man from Britain have to display this not very inspiring vision of African spirituality (if such it be) in Brooklyn? What exactly is he trying to accomplish by revealing to the local museum-goers these esoteric truths? Is not a work like this more likely to confirm the already existing harsh prejudices relating to African cultural sophistication, or lack thereof? One begins to wonder if this is glorious art or some shock-seeking stunt. Of course, this artist dare not direct his offending creativity towards the symbols of certain other religions, for he knows that if he did that, his life on earth would be numbered in small digits.

There is no question but that  everyone, and artists most of all,  should be allowed to express one’s deepest feelings about life or truth or whatever, for this is a dogma in the religion of Enlightenment. Unfortunately, this noble principle, like others in human civilization, is sometimes exploited by  perverse genius. If the man happens to be someone with a name in the artistic world, then, in the view of the unthinking enlightened ones, no matter what he panders has to be accepted, applauded, and tolerated;  the objectors deserve to be dismissed as narrow bigots; and it should not matter  if he or she offends the religious sentiments of millions who do and wish no harm to others.

Science had no choice but to diverge from religion on some matters pertaining to the phenomenal world. It is not clear that artists are obliged  to create works that desecrate the symbols of the Holy to convey their deepest feelings. However, civilized society has no choice but to let pettiness and perversion show their ugly heads now and again, for it cannot afford to re-instate the Inquisition.

After all, we live in a time when the human mind has penetrated the crass core of matter and the dark depths of space, when gene-mysteries are being decoded, and the nature of the neuron is being unraveled. It would seem that in this marvelous age there is ample scope for the gifted artist to convey the many conquests of the human spirit in  profound and moving ways. We may therefore be sure that there will continue to be grander artistic expressions from more sophisticated souls.


 

39. THE WORLDVIEW OF PHYSICS

Of the many sciences that investigate the forces and principles giving rise to the phenomenal world, physics thus far has been the most successful and the most fruitful in its results. Thanks to the efforts of physicists during the past four centuries, a very elaborate and sophisticated world view has been erected by physicists to describe and account for the physical world such as it is.

Briefly stated what the worldview of physics is this: 

1. The phenomenal world is ultimately made up of matter and radiant energy, governed by inexorable laws holding exception-less sway throughout the length and breadth of our cosmos.

2. Matter is massive and energy insubstantial, but both have a measurable properties. Because of its massiveness, matter is reducible to minute particles, whereas energy appears but as oscillations of different frequencies, recognized by their varying effects on matter and life. 

3. This matter energy-dichotomy is only on our scale of experience and at the astronomical, deep down into the heart and core of the physical world, we discover a whole new level of reality which we call the microcosm. Here material particles change to undulations and wavy energy behaves as tiny bullets moving with momentum. The world at its roots reveals itself as a plethora of insubstantial entities we call elementary particles, which have been named and categorized in picturesque ways, as  electrons and protons, muons and pions, sigma plus and omega minus and so on.  Ultimately, all these seem to arise from simpler classes of particles known as quarks and leptons. All the wondrous complexity of the physical world results from  four simple kinds of fundamental interactions among two types of particles.

4. Provoked as much by observations at the grandest scale of galactic behavior, as from our understanding of the basic forces and entities, we have reason to believe that the world probably began as one primordial explosion, modestly described as a Big Bang, perhaps some fifteen billion years ago. All the constituent causes of the universe - the force fields and particles in space and time - emerged during an inconceivably short time span after that  initial occurrence.

5. The rest is cosmic history. This history includes the formation of stars and galaxies and heavy elements, planets orbits, and yes, our earth also.

6. And here, in due course and in accordance with the laws of physics and chemistry and under circumstances of enormous randomness and unpredictability, complex molecules arose which fashioned life on earth, leading eventually to man and mind and metaphysics too.

Whether thinkers and commentators beyond the practicing physics establishment accept or reject this world view, this much cannot be denied: an impressive variety of items of perceived reality have been recognized and explained in terms of this world picture far more cogently, effectively, and reasonably than any other mode that has been tried thus far in all of human history. No system of thought prior to the rise of modern physics was even remotely as successful as current physics in accounting for such commonly observed phenomena as rainbows and comets, icebergs and seasonal changes, and a million other occurring, let alone reckon on the basis of data the time or the mode of origin of the world at large.

No less significant is the fact that through the modes and mathematics of physics, an incredible range of knowledge and information about the not directly perceived aspects of the world has been brought within the scope of human understanding. This includes distant objects like Neptune and double starts of the 8th magnitude, and inconceivably minute entities like microbes and molecules, all invisible to the naked eye; as also many not directly perceptible entities like gamma radiation and argon gas. Then again, a great many gadgets, instruments, appliances and tools whose proper functioning we take for granted as we live and interact in our technological civilization, depend for their development and existence on the laws and principles governing the physical universe such as have been discovered or formulated by physicists.

Given all this, one might find it surprising that not everyone has embraced the methodology of modern science as the right route to Truth. In earlier centuries, regretting that older poetic visions of the world were fast fading away under the powerful impact of successful science, some thinkers erected a more romantic view of reality, decrying the potency of cold rationality which seemed to rob us of our aesthetic experiences by "unweaving the rainbow." But science and physics triumphantly marched on, exploring and explaining with ever widening conquests. 

Rather than recognize the uniqueness of science as an explanatory enterprise, some  have argued that  knowledge about the physical world gained through science is only one of several other assertions about physical reality which are made on quite different criteria for truth-content. Most practicing scientists, however, find it difficult, in the context of explanations of natural phenomena,  to adopt what may be called a United Nations attitude by which every approach and point of view must be given equal weight and respect.

 


 

40. ON THE ORIGIN OF MORALITY

Until the rise of fields like anthropology, biological evolution, and sociobiology (and now evolutionary psychology), the subject matter of ethics was largely the domain of

(a) religion which prescribed (as per revered texts) what ought to be and what ought not to be done, with a listing of  corresponding consequences; and of

(b) philosophers who speculated upon how moral principles arose in the human psyche.

Now, armed with the findings of modern science which has studied human behavior in a variety of cultures, animal behavior in a variety of species, and has also amassed considerable understanding on the ultimate units of life (genes), scientifically informed thinkers have begun to analyze the sources and significance of ethical principles, snatching away yet another item from the hands of religionists and theologians. No fair!

A good many do's and don't's of traditional morality may be explained in terms of what is conducive to the survival, well-being and healthy propagation of the species (communities). Some of these have even been traced to characteristics/propensities of some genes.

But the ancient debate as to whether morality is a mere manifestation of certain properties of matter and energy in complex combinations (which is what, from the point of view of physico-chemical biology, the human being is) or whether there is more to kindness and compassion, to reverence for nature and love for a fellow creature than neurons firing away through calcium channels seems to be just as alive as ever.

All this is very interesting if only because to me this intellectual pugilism is far more exciting than boxing or bull-fighting (which I abhor), but my studies of history (of science/ideas) makes me more amused than confident that this matter (like whether or not an Almighty God ignited the Big Bang) may some day be settled to everybody's satisfaction. Though I am as much a devotee of science as any ardent believer is of his/her faith, I rather think (like an ancient Hindu sage once said) that certain matters simply cannot be solved by reason and argumentation.

Also, when morality becomes a matter for explanation it tends to lose its potency as an imperative for action, and this can be even more dangerous than the conviction that the world was created in six days or whatever to put Man smack at the center of it all.

 

 

 


 

41. SOMETIMES I PRAY

The 20th century is drawing to a close with greater fanfare than most others probably did, if only because, thanks to European expansionism of the past few centuries, the Christian Era has become the common era. Therefore,  whether Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, Buddhist or Taoist, everybody is joining in the merry-making and mystery-mongering. Then, of course, there is the uncertainty of computer misbehavior, symbolized by Y2K.

Time Magazine has chosen Albert Einstein as Person of the Century when 99 percent of humanity can barely utter three meaningful sentences about his scientific contribution.  Perhaps unwittingly, the magazine   brought to focus four factors characterizing the century that is slipping by: (a) That it has been dominated by Science; (b) that Science has been dominated by Physics (until recently: everybody knows that the next century is going to be the century of biology); (c) that Einstein’s name stands out in the public mind as the epitome of science; (d) and that, nevertheless, the general public does not have the faintest idea of what science is all about.

More seriously, even very well informed and intelligent commentators have widely differing, and often diametrically opposite views on where science is leading us to. The recent exchanges here on population explosion, (potential) nuclear war, and experiments on manufacturing new “life forms” illustrate this point dramatically.

Is it any surprise that the general public is fearful and suspicious of what science will ultimately wreak on the human species, and would much rather take to belief-systems systems that tend to bring more peace of mind and comfort, more hope and joy? Ultimately, are these not more important than creature comforts and knowledge about how the world or life began?

No, I am not arguing that we need to give up science and turn elsewhere.  But I am suggesting that as yet science has not only not provided a framework of psychological and spiritual comfort to the human condition, but  through some of  its applications, it has tended to upset this in recent decades.

I, for one, am inclined to engage in a little prayer for the safety and sanity of the human race in the face of the horrendous possibilities we are confronting. Whether or not  my prayers will be answered, as a result I am not only able to sleep a little better, but I am saved from a plunge into deep depression.


 

42. TEN (POTENTIALLY) DESTRUCTIVE WORLD VIEWS

In answer to a question as to what would constitute the ten potentially destructive worldviews, I would make up this list:

1. The conviction that one (or one's faith community) has the right answers to all ultimate questions.

2. Underestimating the ecological impact of technological civilization.

3. Indifference to the plight of the economically less fortunate members of the human family within a nation and in the international community.

4. The idea that more money and more material possessions will buy more happiness.

5. The idea that science can solve all mysteries, and technology can solve all human problems.

6. The notion that moral principles can be logically proven/disproved.

7.  The idea that belief in a particular kind of God is necessary for ethical behavior and ultimate salvation; or that belief in a particular kind of God is an indication of low IQ.

8. The idea that one's self-interest must be the primary consideration in the decisions one makes.

9. The identification of physical gratification with inner peace and happiness.

10. The idea that physical, emotional, and psychological well-being can be ensured by purely chemical means (drugs).

43. SCIENCE & RELIGION: GENERAL THOUGHTS

Dimensions of human life

      We human beings have many dimensions. First and foremost, there is the physical dimension. Our very being as individuals is a tangible material manifestation, made up of a variety of substances, of atoms and molecules ultimately. We are not aware of any human being that has no body, and even when one speaks of the soul of an individual, it is always associated with a body, living now or having lived in the past. Efforts  to pin-point the seat of life in particular areas of the body have not been very successful. We do know that the functioning of the various vital organs, like the heart and the liver, the kidney, the lungs, and pancreas, is essential for life. We also know that these can also  be repaired or replaced when needed, without losing the identity of the individual. This, however, is not the case with the brain. The brain also seems to be the source and seat of human memory and consciousness which characterize the individual.  Then there is the mental dimension, consisting of thoughts and concepts and ideas. We have our emotional dimension too, involving feelings and psychological states, such as anger, love, frustration, kindness, elation, excitement, despondency, etc.

      Next, there is the logical dimension of our being. The normal human brain is capable of reasoning and arguing and arriving at conclusions. It recognizes events in terms of cause and effect and in ordered sequences in time. It seems to recognize  order and pattern in the functioning of the physical world. It can construct abstract concepts in terms of which it can  analyze the phenomenal world. It creates symbols and language through which the past and the future can be envisioned. It counts and calculates. And yet, the brain is not always constrained by logic. The logical dimension of our being is essential for many of our everyday activities. It is also at the root of the scientific enterprise.

      But the brain is also perfectly capable of straying away from the path of reasoning, and go off on a tangent. Indeed, this is a very important feature of the brain. Such straying can occur in two different ways. In one mode, there is a blatantly illogical  chain of thoughts, leading to absurdities and logically untenable contentions. In the other, there are translogical expressions leading to  imagination or fantasizing. It is this capacity of the human brain that gives rise to poetry or art of every kind. To break off the shackles of rigid logical rules seems to be one of the secrets of human artistic creativity. It must be realized that art and poetry are not illogical, but translogical: that is to say they lead to a domain that tanscends pure logic, one in which human life is enormously.

      Then again,  during a good fraction of our lives, our brains function in an utterly non-logical mode. For, during sleep, we entertain (the brain generates) a whole world that is not subject to any of the normal rules of logic to which we are constrained during our waking hours. And we accept it all without questioning.

      Then there is the emotional dimension to life. We also have a spiritual dimension: one which transports us to experiences beyond these: of communion with the world at large, of aesthetic delight and mystical joy.

      Human life thrusts all these dimensions on us. Indeed, a wholesome and sane life calls for involvement in all of these. It would be naïve and unwise to imagine any one of these as being more important than another. It is as important to be able to add and multiply numbers as to appreciate art and music. It is as necessary to experience the feeling of love towards other human beings as to be know what are comets and meteors, and how diseases come about.


 

44. ORIGIN OF THE WORLD

How did the world come to be? Here is a question on which science and religion have been in conflict for a long, long time. All the countless answers to this question may be put under two broad categories:

(a) The world was created by an omnipotent and intelligent principle. One of the most succinct and influential express of this view is articulated in the opening lines of the Book of Genesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition. What is interesting, and unreasonable and unacceptable from there scientific perspective, in this position is that the purpose of Creation was to put Man at the summit of it all, for it was for Man that the world was created.

(b) The world just arose, there was no primary cause. This is the view of science, or at least the view held by many scientists. What is  unacceptable, from the religious perspective, in this answer is that it denies the existence of a God. What is also strange in this answer is that, though science insists on finding a cause for every phenomenon, for this most it fundamental and inclusive of all phenomena, science refuses to admit of a cause.

Though one of the goals of science is to search for causes of phenomena, this process is a never-ending recession, for every explanation may be conceptually pushed a step further. This is why all questions of ultimate origins will have to concede at some point that this is how things are, don’t ask me why. Thus, if planetary motions are explained by Kepler's laws, one may want an explanation for Kepler's laws. If these are explained by the law of gravitation, one may ask why there is an inverse square law of gravitation rather than an inverse cube law. If this is explained by the three dimensionality of space, one may want an explanation for space being three dimensional rather than four or five, and so on.

Thus, following the scientific mode, one will have to admit that at some point we will have to accept the world (i.e. the existence of certain laws) such as it is, and simply cannot go on indefinitely, although it is not impossible to imagine that one can, in each phase of explanation, go one step beyond.

The nice thing about the religious explanation is that it is poetic, and also beautiful and soothing to many. Its disadvantage lies in its not inspiring further exploration and thus closes the possibility of acquiring more knowledge and insight about the world.

Given that both the scientific and the religious theses as to the origin of the world have their respective merits and difficulties, one may work out the following compromise:

The ultimate origin of the universe will for ever be unknown to the human mind. Given this, one may choose at any stage to

 

 


45. CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD

A plane once landed on a muddy ground,
After a while, it flew back in the air.
Where it rolled on the ground, tracks could be found,
That was all that seemed to be there.

Some said the tracks came from the mud and the air,
It surely  could have been so.
Others claimed something else was there.
Who was right, nobody can know.

 

From the gnothi sauton (know thyself) of Thales to the naan yaar (who am I) of Ramanamaharishi, the question of the mystery of the self and of consciousness has baffled the best minds and spirits over the ages. Sages and mystics have recognized that this mystery (as long as we are confined to the physical body) cannot be fully resolved by reasoning and analysis, but only by contemplation and meditation. This, because the mode of analysis and reason cuts everything down, whereas I-ness is an experience of totality.

This is question: Is this experience (of self) inextricably tied to and is but a consequence of physico-chemical reality (complex molecules  evolving in space-time in accordance with well defined laws), or is it the interaction of a reality in a higher dimensional realm with the physico-chemical. We have no incontrovertible answer to this question. But the following analogy (stated in the verse above) might help us see latter as at least plausible:

Consider an aircraft periodically touching ground. The ground may be looked upon as the physical world (of space-time and matter-energy). The tracks it creates correspond to consciousness. After some rolling on the ground the aircraft takes off. The tracks cease to continue, the road remains. Our efforts to fathom the nature of consciousness are like the tracks trying to grasp the nature and reality of the aircraft: interesting and commendable, but not very easy, if not perhaps impossible.


 

46. ON CONVICTIONS, PERSUASION,  AND EVANGELISM

Convictions

Each of us has a worldview which determines our attitudes and actions in important contexts in life. Our worldview has many components, which take shape and evolve as we live and grow. Every worldview is cast in a framework to which many other human beings belong. Indeed, within each framework there are many shades and variations of worldviews. At some point in our lives they take on a more or less stable (solidified)  form, sometimes becoming rigid. 

When we feel very certain about some aspects of a worldview, we call it a conviction. Now convictions may be of different kinds:

(a) Convictions which are well supported by reasoning, arguments, rationality, empirical evidence, etc.,  form the basis of much of the scientific worldview.  Convictions of this kind are most valuable in the context of explaining the phenomenal world. The strength in the mode of arriving at convictions of type (a) lies in its consistency, reasonableness, meticulous respect for facts, critical analysis of data, etc. Its weakness lies in its having to sometimes reject some of the most meaningful, consoling, emotionally soothing, and spiritually satisfying elements of human experience, or at least provide these only if one is able and willing to devote much time and effort.

(b) Convictions based on personal impressions, experiences, and reflections constitute opinions. These tend to be judgmental and evaluatory. They arise mostly in the context of social and political situations, artistic appreciation, recognition of individuals, etc.

(c)  Convictions which cannot always be justified in terms of  reason and rationality, but which have nevertheless a very strong hold on our thinking and feeling constitutes faith. Faith arises in the context of unscrambling the ultimate mysteries like God, cosmogenesis, post-mortem states, etc. The strength in the mode of arriving at convictions of type (c) lies in the ease with which it can be acquired by cultural inculcation, and the inner peace, comfort, and assurance it provides. Its danger lies in its potential for irrational and unreasoned behavior which can sometimes become hurtful to others.

Those whose worldview has been formed largely/primarily by convictions of type (a) tend to either reject convictions of type (c) and bring them under the (a) category: i.e. improve upon/correct them so that they may be formulated in terms of reason, analysis, etc. Those whose worldview is impacted much by convictions of type (c) tend to argue that (a) has its limits and constraints.

 

Sharing, persuasion, and evangelism

An intrinsic aspect of human behavior is sharing. Most normal human beings like to share what they enjoy and find fulfillment in, with those they love and care for. [At this point I am merely trying to describe, not explain why we do this.] Many of us have done this with regard to some food or drink, a book we have read, a movie we have seen, a good news we have heard, etc.

We tend to do this with our convictions also. Indeed, convictions have such an impact on our personality that we tend to dislike, look down upon, and feel sorry for people who hold different convictions from ours. We tend to avoid personal interaction with people who are formed by different convictions. 

When we simply share our own convictions with those who entertain different convictions, it is only a case of mutual enrichment.

However, consciously or otherwise, often we wish or hope  to alter the convictions of others. We try to do this by adopting the mode (a), we call it persuasion. Persuasion is a perfectly legitimate and commendable activity in a civilized world. In persuasion we also listen to what others say, because one also believes that others too may have some intelligent things to say. And we try to respond to their questions with respect and consideration. When persuasion is successful, we achieve friendly conversion.

When we try to persuade others without paying any serious attention to what they have to say, and with the certainty right at the start that they are wrong and we are right, and that those others are in dire need of our help in seeing the Truth, it becomes evangelism. When this succeeds we achieve not-so-friendly conversion.

The stronger the conviction, the greater is the zeal to share it one way or another. Like cross-fertilization, conviction-sharing can be a valuable enterprise in society. In a Darwinian sort of way, it could eliminate many untenable convictions. Generally speaking (but not always), the scientifically inclined tend to persuade, and the religiously inclined tend to evangelize.

 

Effective and ineffective persuasion

The normal educational process involves not only the transmission of knowledge and skills, but also a good deal of conviction-formation through the (a) mode. As long as the recipient of the knowledge/information is willing and capable of working under the framework of (a), such conviction-transfer is achievable. It is not impossible to inculcate the scientific picture with regard to the phenomenal world, and form certain types of  opinions by persuasion. In these matters it is incumbent upon those who are better informed, better educated, and more enlightened to engage in persuasion.

However, in matters where (c) plays a dominant role, in questions relating to the ultimate mysteries, in matters in which science has (yet) no definite answers while other systems of thought or modes of reflection have some satisfying ones, persuasion may not always be effective. Indeed, after a certain age (i.e. after one's convictions have become solidified), most people will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to change their deepest convictions about God, their religion, morality, holiness  of a book, and other matters regarding origins, ultimate destiny, soul (or no-soul), etc. In such situations, efforts at persuasion are generally ineffective in terms of reaching the desired goal (which is generally conversion or one kind or another).

 

Concluding thought

      On the basis of this analysis, I came to the conclusion many years ago that while I will take every opportunity to persuade friends, discussion groups participants, students, and others who are willing to pay attention,  on matters pertaining to the phenomenal world, in so far as I understand them, when it comes to ultimate issues (God, one's religious convictions, roots of morality, holiness  of this or that book, situation prior to the Big Bang, eschatology, soul or no-soul, etc.) I will share my own convictions only up to a point, beyond which I simply say I respect your views whether you respect mine or not, and change the topic of discussion.

 


 

47. HOW CAN ONE DISTINGUISH THE NATURAL FROM THE SUPERNATURAL?

Supernatural is that which is beyond nature, i.e. beyond any aspect of sensorially perceived reality.

      It may be asked, "If so, how can we talk of the supernatural?"

One may offer at least two answers to this question:

(a) The human mind is capable of generating many abstract entities some of which do not belong to the concrete world of concrete physical reality of Nature. These include concepts, ideas, value-systems. The notion of the supernatural is one such.

(b) One may believe/postulate/recognize that there are modes of perception beyond the ordinary sensory channels. Through such extra-sensory perception (and only through it) one can affirm the existence of supernature. ESP includes such things as clairvoyance, clairaudience, yogic experience, mystical vision,  etc.

Therefore the only objective way to distinguish between the natural and the supernatural is by considering whether an entity is recognized via one of the ordinary channels of perception or through ESP.

Does the supernatural exist? (a) Those who reject the existence/possibility of ESP (on whatever grounds) will and can never accept anything supernatural. (b) Those who believe in the existence/possibility of ESP will and can have no difficulty in accepting the supernatural.


48. LAY SCIENCE BOOKS VS LAY SCIENCE

Ever since the rise of modern science in the 17th century, many scientists have tried to bring to the attention and enrichment of the general public the discoveries and world views of science: through public lectures and popular writings. By and large these have given flavor for, if not a deep understanding of, technical science.

At the same time, philosophers and theologians have always tried to interpret and extrapolate the latest theories and findings of science. Up until the 20th century most of these interpreters and extrapolators relied on original (technical) sources and generally grasped the technical aspects of what they were commenting upon.

In the course of our own century, however, the technical (and mathematical) aspects of science, especially of physics, became so abstruse and complex that only the initiates could fully understand the essence and implications of it all. The "popular" writings of intelligent and philosophically-minded physicists lost quite a bit in the translation (to the popular style). As result, expositions, and those other able writers who got their own information second hand, had created an altogether new genre of scientific knowledge which consists largely of poetic and picturesque world views, dubiously related to hard-core science, but rich, soothing, and far more suitable for public consumption This has become fertile ground for unbridled imagination, mystical interpretations, and theological extrapolations: all of which are loosely bound in interesting ways with the formulas, utterances, and puzzles of modern physics. Whether it is relativity..., every revelation of 20th century physics (whether tentative or final) has given rise to profuse and productive extrapolations: often to establish the limits of the scientific enterprise, to prove again and again the existence of God, preferably of a particular theology, and to show that the sacred books (of ones own cultural affiliation) had said more or less the same thing in symbolic ways.

I doubt that any money-consuming "study" will reveal anything important, useful, or significant than what I have listed above.

What the scientific community/organizations need to do is not so much to teach to the public the latest scientific discoveries (like the mass of the neutrino or the existence of a planet in a distant stellar system, but exert a good deal more effort to educate the children in schools on the framework, values, and methodology of science, as well as the elementary principles of astronomy, biology, and physics.

 


 

49. SOME REFLECTIONS ON NATURAL RELIGION

Consider the following findings of science:

The reason for the physical universe (why, rather than how) is a mystery, and it is not even a concern of science.

The physical universe is governed by precise and well-defined laws many of which the human mind has unraveled.

The formation of the planet earth and the emergence of all life forms on our planet are consequences of some of these laws.

The physical conditions (temperature range, density of atmospheric pressure, amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, + a thousand other actors) for the persistence of life (including and especially human) are very narrowly defined: i.e. if these are changed significantly, life could be annihilated.

Eventually all life and the physical universe will be dissolve.

This  circumstance certainly inspires awe and even reverence for the physical laws and for Nature.

Is it fair to say that the above are among the fundamental tenets of Natural Religion?

If so, then would it be wrong or objectionable if  the totality of all these factors is conceptualized with an acronym for Generation, Organization, and Dissolution?

 Moreover, if we wish life to persist on the planet in a wholesome and healthy manner, then we need to conduct ourselves in appropriate ways which would keep us in peace with ourselves and in harmony with the world around (which includes other people and creatures, as well as rivers and mountains, etc.)

If so, would this be the foundation for the ethical framework of Natural Religion?

In which case, does this moral framework say anything new beyond what some traditional religions have said?

And if it only calls for an elimination of the evil (hurting) elements in the moral code of earlier religions, how does it differ from enlightened humanism?

 

 


 

50. ON REVELATION AND NATURAL RELIGION

Revelation is an important notion that needs to be clarified in any systematic discussion of science and religion, because at the root of any divergence between the scientific and religious worldview lies the question of whether and to what extent one accepts revelation.

Theologians and other thinkers have looked upon revelation in different ways. But the consensus is that revelation is some knowledge about God and/or transcendental truths that has been revealed to some people directly from God or His agent through supernatural means. Furthermore, in historical terms, such revealed truths have been communicated to the rest of the community (eventually to large sections of humankind) by the "revelee. " Indeed it was thus that the foundations for the great religious traditions of the human family were laid.

The essential elements in revelation are,

(a) Knowledge: This means that truths are revealed to human beings who alone, of all creatures, can (or seem to possess) discursive thought.

(b) God and/or transcendental truths: Revelation in refers to truths which are beyond normal sensory perceptions. It is about the nature God, the origin and purpose of the Universe,  heaven, hell, post-mortem states, and the like.

(c) Supernatural means: Revelation implies communication via supernatural means, i.e. (non-human) voices, visions, angelic beings, (audible) cosmic vibrations, etc.

(d) Knowledge revealed through revelation may not be satisfactory to every demand of Reason: logical tenability, inner consistency, empirical verifiability, etc.

(e) In the traditions, revealed knowledge may be analyzed and interpreted, but their truth-content is not to be not challenged, nor the reliability of their reports questioned.

(f) Finally, revelation occurs to only a few "chosen" individuals, and conveyed only in a few "chosen" languages. Moses, Vedic Rishis, the Buddha, and the Prophet Mohammed are among those individuals; and Hebrew, Sanskrit, Pali, and Arabic are among those languages. It may be noted in passing that Hinduism is the only major religion which has no historical founder, but a great many who received revealed knowledge not in a package deal from a personal God or his messenger without asking for it, but to a whole group of them over many generations by dint of arduous effort (ascetic meditation).

Now, if we move (come down) from the theological/transcendental plane to the palpable sensorially perceived level, here too there is much knowledge that needs to be gathered. Such knowledge is gained (in the scientific world) by experimentation, analysis, mathematics, argumentation, etc. Knowledge thus acquired by the <collective> efforts of a great many people, is open to criticism, improvement, and change. Thus, definitionally speaking, scientific knowledge is acquired knowledge, acquired through human efforts, whereas religious knowledge is revealed knowledge.

However, in some instances, scientific knowledge may also be regarded as revelation, at least in a metaphorical sense. This is especially true of the genesis of some fundamental theories and mathematical theorems. True, the "revelees" have been mulling over the issues for a long time, but the answer often comes all of a sudden: the eureka experience is revelation of the non-religious kind.

In this sense, natural religion may be regarded as a religion because it too is based on knowledge revealed to a whole group of people (who undertook the quest), and who are propagating that knowledge to the rest of humankind. We can see some parallels with Hinduism here.

However, the revelations of natural religion are in opposition to some aspects of  traditional religions. For example, they deny (or at least they regard it as extremely improbable) that there exists of an anthropomorphic God who pays special attention to a particular species in a particular planet of a particular solar system in a particular galaxy of the universe.

Such is the case too with  the creation/composition of great poetry, glorious music, and magnificent art which reveal fundamental truths of relevance and meaning to human beings. The germination of these in gifted human minds may well be described as revealed illumination.


 

52. ABOVE, BEYOND, AND BENEATH NATURE

The successes of the sciences of the past four centuries have been largely due to a recognition that the physical world can be best explained and fruitfully interpreted only by admitting as real that which can be (directly or indirectly) perceived, measured, and collectively verified or refuted. These, in the framework of science, constitute Nature or the phenomenal world. One of the basic assumptions of science as an enterprise (i.e. which most scientists make, qua scientists) is that the physical universe includes only natural entities.

Entities which transcend physically observable (in actuality or in principle) entities are generally referred to as supernatural. There was widespread belief in the existence of such entities in pre-modern science, and sometimes they formed part of ancient science. This belief still persists among vast numbers of normal and decent people, though generally only in contexts outside of science. The most sublime example of such an entity is the God(s) of traditional religions.

But, aside from the natural and the supernatural, there are two other entities that need to be mentioned in this context, because their existence is recognized by science. These are:

      (a) Transnatural entities: Practically all physical entities in Nature are matter-energy manifestations in space and time. But there also arise in the physical world, primarily (if not perhaps uniquely), and most probably from electro-biochemical processes in human brains, entities we call thoughts (and associated concepts) which are not spatio-temporally localizable physico-chemical entities.

      (b) Subnatural entities: Current physics accepts the existence of what are called "virtual particles" which are responsible for all the known fundamental interactions in terms of which it explains the physical world. These entities come and go, violating for very short intervals of time the law of matter-energy conservation. These are essentially different from the natural entities which we can observe, measure, and detect with instruments. Some of these (like quarks and gluons) cannot be observed in principle. They may well be described as subnatural.

      While supernatural entities are not required for any (current) scientific explanation, one cannot deny the existence of transnatural entities, and science (physics) needs subnatural ones for an adequate understanding and explanation of the physical world.


 

53. TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE

      To maintain a healthy level of the physical dimension, we need food for nutrition and shelter from the elements. To acquire these we need to exert. The exertion calls for muscular effort, and this is not always enjoyable. The muscular effort can be reduced by taming and manipulating the matter and energy around us. This taming and manipulation of matter and energy to reduce the physical exertions required for survival, and to enhance the material quality of life is what constitutes technology.

      Technology is a manifestation of human ingenuity, and it first arose by trial and error. In our own times, two things characterize technology: its ubiquity and its complexity. That is to say, technology has become so all pervasive that it is now impossible for modern Homo sapiens to survive without technology. Its enormous complexity is intimately related to our understanding of the nature of matter and the processes  in nature. In other words, modern technology is inseparably wedded to a scientific grasp of the world. It is possible to live in a technological society without any understanding of science. But it is impossible for a technological society to function successfully without some scientifically trained people. 

      This situation calls for at least some understanding of what constitutes science and what constitutes religion. In spite of all the education we receive in our schools and colleges, many believe, for example, that science tells us everything about our physical world, and somehow gives us the right answers as to how natural phenomena arise, and more importantly, that science enables us to use dependable knowledge to make useful gadgets and improve our health. Similarly, in spite of all the churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, in the view of many, religion teaches us how to be good and moral and helpful to others, and informs us about life after death, our eventual fate, and such matters.

            Thus, the general impression of the average person is that science makes us comfortable and religion makes us good. We takes courses on science to learn about the world around us, and we go to church or synagogue, temple or mosque, or maybe even take a course on religion, to learn about religion.

 


 

54. ON RELIGIONS AND CONVERSIONS

We live in a world of science and technology. Science serves not only to illuminate the minds on the marvelous workings of the phenomena world, but equally to free the mind of  fears and superstitions arising from ignorance and misapprehensions of the world. Technology, while adding immensely to our creature comforts, has had some ugly and awful environmental consequences.

But there is more to life than rational understanding and physical conveniences. Life also includes aesthetic experiences of art and music and poetry, the joys of relationships, an ethical framework, and the ecstasy to be derived from a link with the Cosmic Whole. These transrational dimensions to our conscious being find expression in the various religious traditions of the human family.

Every religion, no matter what its historical roots, has forged a world view of the Beyond in the context of the Ultimate Mystery. Over the ages the different  visions have elaborated meaningful rites and rituals and sacraments which answer to the spiritual needs of its practitioners.

The doctrinal basis of every religion is that its own particular vision of the transcendental is the appropriate one. But, in some instances, it goes on to proclaim that those of other traditions are mistaken, primitive, or worse, and that it is incumbent upon them to bring light to the misguided. This is the instigation of evangelism which, I concede, is paved with  good intentions. Unfortunately, from the point of view of the outsiders, such a view is the theological equivalent of racism.

As a result, when the Holy Father goes to India and proclaims on the day of Divali (the festive equivalent of Christmas) that missionaries, while respecting the local faith, should not stop in their efforts to bring true religious light to more than half a billion Hindus, or when another group resolves to convert all those unfortunate  Hindus into Baptists rather than Catholics, the worst passions of Hindu fundamentalism are unleashed. The burning of the Pope’s effigy by so-called Hindu patriots is shameful and regrettable, but understandable.

As to demanding an apology from the Pope for past misdeeds of the Christian Church in India (which some of the super-patriots did),  Hindu leaders should also acknowledge gratefully all the good done by the scores of schools and colleges and  hospitals and asylums for victims of tuberculosis and leprosy which were established by Christian missionaries.

We live in an age wrought with conflicts and confrontations. We have enough problems staring us in the face: problems ranging from political turmoil, economic competitions, resource limitations, racial injustices, gender oppression, and such. There is no urgency to add to this long list with proclamations of religious superiority and demands for apologies.  

It is the responsibility of enlightened religious leaders to preach understanding and tolerance among faiths, rather than assert one’s monopoly as to the nature of the Divine or create unpleasantness by taunting the leaders of other religions. We need to form Interfaith Forums to inform and be informed about whatever is best in the various religious traditions of the human family.

As a Hindu I am very aware of the many flaws in the practice of my religion, as I am sure is the case with every other religious tradition as well. We are, let us not forget, imperfect beings, one and all. But I will repeat a verse to which I was initiated  many long years ago, and which I am freely rendering from Sanskrit into English as follows:

As waters falling from the clouds,

All return to the self-same sea;

So do prayers to different gods

Go back to the same Divinity.

 

I cannot think of a more appropriate verse to inspire harmony in this world of religious diversity, for it reminds us that every religion is but a partial glimpse of the infinite splendor. The value of a religious vision lies in the inner light that the pious  experience, not in the number of converts that it has won among others.

Whether Christians or Jews, Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists, let us invite ardent practitioners of other faiths to tell us about their joyful traditions  and religious ecstasies in a spirit of sharing, rather than with the presumptuousness of one who declares that his is the only right path to lead us to the beyond. 

 

 


 

55. LAWS OF PHYSICS AS DESIGNER

Changes occur in two ways: slow (evolution) and fast (revolution).

There was pure energy, and only pure energy, unchanging and undifferentiated, hence no space or time was there.

Then there was a revolution during which part of the energy became matter: thus did space and time emerge.

This is the big bang whereof current cosmologists speak.

Space, Time, Matter, Energy: all this implied laws: The Laws mean intelligent behavior. This is the Designer of the World. Yes, indeed, the world was a Designer.

The rest is (cosmic) history.

After many long eons, when complex matter was concentrated on a planetary  stage, the Designer (laws of physics) could concoct life. And because the Designer was intelligent, the life forms were not only self-sustaining, but they changed form and function, branched off, and even became beautiful. We refer to such gradual changes of life forms Evolution.

So there could have been no Evolution without the Designer. And Evolution is the best proof of a grand Design.

 

 

 


 

56. DETERMINISM & FREEWILL

When a person decides have a cup of coffee rather than tea, does he/she do it out of one's own free choice, or because one is more or less forced to do it by some factor over which one has no control? The question is simple and ancient, but the answers are quite complicated and by no mans unanimous.

At the superficial level, we are inclined to think it was a personal choice to prefer one beverage over another, that there is freewill. However, one may argue that there were other factors which influenced the decision, such as the taste buds with which one was born, the cultural upbringing, a genetically influenced inclination towards one rather than the other, etc., of which the individual may be totally unaware. In such a case, one would say determinism rather than freewill is what governed the choice.

On the other hand, it could be that one drink was preferred over the other because  of an article one had read as to which is less harmful or more healthy, the ill-effects that one drink has which the other has not, etc. If this were so, freewill seems to be in operation.

But then, it may be asked, does it really matter? It may well be that though we seem to be making our own so-called decisions, there are underlying forces which direct us one way or anther. How is this going to influence our behavior one way or another? Perhaps not, in the case of choosing red wine over white or a soft drink over whiskey. But suppose the choice was between robbing a bank and not robbing, between killing someone and not killing. Then the question is not simply theoretical and academic, because on its answer would depend whether or what punishment we would mete out to the perpetrator of a hurtful act. For, there is a great difference between committing a willful criminal act, and behaving uncontrollably. There is a difference between stabbing a man to death and causing a person's death in an utterly unforeseen car accident. The first is freewill, the second is deterministic, as it were.

And this is where a conflict could arise between science and religion. In the world view of classical physics, every event is determined by one or more causes which are well-defined, inviolable, and strictly deterministic. So, however complex and intractable our actions may be, they are, on final conceptual analysis, determined by the physical laws to which the atoms and molecules constituting our bodies and brain are constrained.

From the religious perspective, however, we (human beings) are endowed with the capacity and the intelligence to know the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, and are expected to use that capacity and intelligence for what is right and good. If we fail to do so, we will be obliged to face the dire consequences resulting from the wrong or bad choice.

It is true that quantum physics has brought to light an intrinsic indeterminism in the microcosmic world of atoms and molecules, and this gives drastically changes the rigid determinism of classical physics. This fact has been used by some theologians/ethicists to reinstate freewill in human behavior. What is ignored here is that in the framework of scientific description and explanation, there is no (moral) right or wrong, good or bad. We must recognize that certain issues are beyond the domain of scientific analysis.



 

57. THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY

We live in a world where science and technology hold the sway. True, and thank heavens, there still are pristine recesses untouched by the magic and madness of machines, and unawakened by the reason and rationality of scientific explanations. There are pockets on our planet where life marches on in stark simplicity, where thunder and lightning are still deemed expressions of the fury of some demon or deity.

But look around any spot on earth that has found its way into the mainstream of human culture and civilization, and you cannot escape the presence of  wheels and wires, gadgets and generators, vaccines and pills. Like it or not, the material impacts of science are all over the world.

      The following is a list of the nature of scientific inquiry and of its results

      (a) The framework of inquiry in the scientific mode is es­sentially intel­lectual. Science is connected intimately to the rational dimen­sion of the human brain. That is why logical consistency and reference systems play fundamental roles in science. But there are aspects of human life that are not amenable to strict logic, such as beauty and a sense of jus­tice. These are beyond the grasp of scientific analysis.

      (b) All science is based on our sensory per­ceptions. Recognizing the limitations of these perceptions in sensitivity and range, science devises  instruments to enhance and extend them. Science relies heavily on instru­ment-based experiments. Scientific experiments involve systematic and purposeful inter­actions with specific aspects of the external world, consciously making every effort to minimize and eliminate when possible any interference of the human observer with what is being ob­served. This is how science has revealed  microbes and galaxies, the satellites of Jupiter and the motion of molecules, ultrasound and microwaves: aspects of the physical world which are utterly unre­cognizable by our normal sensory faculties. And yet, science is only concerned with (directly or indirectly) sensorily perceived reality. It does not and cannot say anything about what is not perceptually recognizable.  If there are modes of perception beyond the cerebral and the  sensory, such as the intuitional or the revelatory, they would, by definition,  elude scientific analysis.       

      (b) At  its more advanced levels,  aside from complex in­struments like radio telescopes and high-energy accelerators, the electron microscope and computers,  science uti­lizes very abstract concepts, and highly sophisticated math­ematics. Indeed, at certain levels of science, concepts and consistency alone, in so far as they seem to map the external world, make sense. Visualizable descriptions of Reality be­come an impossibility [17]. 

      (c) The myriad aspects of physical Reality be­yond the cogni­tion of  every-day experience which have been exposed  by science have come about by elaborate and repeated procedures conducted by thousands of individuals at various times and places. Science does not and cannot give intensely personal and non-transferable visions of the world. Indeed, the scientific establishment rejects such impressions, not because they may be false, but because standard scientific methodology does not know of any way of coping with (evaluating) them.

      (d) Science is a collective enterprise. Its findings arise from the gropings and efforts of countless individuals who rely on the results of fellow scientists, often communicat­ing with one another. No scientific result of significance has arisen from the efforts of an individual with no contact or interaction with the works of others.

      (e) Science is  self-corrective as an enterprise. In other words,  the find­ings of scientists are subjected to severe critiques from  fellow-scientists, and in the process scientific understanding is fine-tuned, modified, improved upon, and sometimes dis­carded to give place to newer and better results.

      (f) The goal of science is to explain and understand the phe­nomenal world, not simply to become aware of it. If a proposi­tion does not lead to the explanation of a specific ob­served aspect of the phenomenal world, it is of little interest to the scientific world view.

      (g) Scientific results are fruitful  from a practical point of view. What this means is that the findings of science may be put to use to ameliorate the human condition on the mate­rial plane, though this may not be a guarantee of their intrinsic correctness. However,  the results and visions of science are generally incapable of adding to  our moral or spiri­tual di­mensions.       

 


 

58. MATERIALISM AND MECHANISM

Materialism is a philosophical position which holds that ultimately everything in the universe arises from and can be reduced to matter. Materialism is a very old view, dating back to antiquity. It was perhaps a natural extension of the common observation of the ubiquity of matter around us, and its transformations. The thesis of materialism needs to be modified in the light of modern science to state that ultimately everything arises from matter and energy or matter-energy.

In the (old) world picture of materialism, which would be accepted even today in some modified form, there is only matter and motion in a universe that is purely and simply physical. Associated with the materialistic is the mechanistic view according to which matter and motion, as they always have, in accordance with well defined laws which are immutable and exceptionless. In other words, the universe functions as a giant machine, a grand clock, as it were, whose every cog and wheel plays its role as per the rules imposed on it by Nature, resulting in the harmonious palpitation of the system as a whole. There is no goal, no purpose to the universe, The mechanistic world view was very much part of classical physics.

A knowledge of the physical laws and their operation in a particular context or phenomenon will endow us with the capacity to predict with precision  the evolution of the phenomenon under study. What this implies is that the universe, in principle, is completely deterministic, and what makes it impossible for us humans to forecast every minute detail of the phenomenal world is the immensity and enormous complexity of the materialistic entities (particles) involved in the process, and nothing else. 

It cannot be denied that the materialist/mechanistic view has been remarkably successful in elucidating a thousand aspects of the physical universe. Though it has been much modified in its earlier crude format, and is even discarded in certain contexts of science, it continues to exert an influence in a variety of situations in the scientific understanding of the phenomenal world.

There would be nothing controversial about materialism if it was not extended to the biological world, contending that not just the inanimate world of brute matter, but the world of plants and animals, and of thinking human beings too, is made up ultimately of matter-energy and matter-energy alone. Such a view not only made mind nothing more than a property of the brain, but threw out of consideration such things as soul and spirit. It also rejected ethereal and supernatural beings like angels and goblins, which was very disturbing to many traditional religious worldviews.

Indeed, in the materialist view, it is not only the physical aspect of a living organism (including human beings) that behaves like a machine. Not just bile and blood-stream gastric juice, but all the subtle and beautiful entities we associate with life, such as thought and ideal, love, laughter, and kindness, are manifestations of the complex behavior of complex molecules. The molecules themselves arise from still more fundamental physical entities (atoms, nuclei, and so forth) and a handful of basic forces that come into play between those entities. In other words, ultimately everything may be reduced to atoms and molecules, to forces and interactions.

In this view, there is no God or ethics as objective principles: these are just among the myriad thought-forms that are consequences of brain activity which, in turn, is the result of atomic-molecular processes. That is to say, these may be accepted as notions emerging from the extraordinary complexity of the human brain, and do not have the same firmness of reality of matter and motion. It is therefore not surprising that very few religions or religiously inclined people look upon materialism with any favor.

The philosophy of materialism itself evolved into a kind of religion in the nineteenth century. Known as dialectical materialism, it looks upon not just the material and the biological world, but human societies as well in terms of matter subjected to opposing forces, to confrontational struggles prompted by the self-interests of classes, and  tried to explain art and  history, ethics and philosophy, economics and politics, everything in terms of a crass and godless world picture. This was the religion of  a world movement known Communism which swayed the many nations and the minds of million for many decades of human history.

One serious conceptual problem with the mechanistic world view is that we know of no machine that has not been constructed by an intelligent mind, nor of one that has no purpose. If this be so with ordinary machines, how can the grand machine we call the Cosmos be without a designer or a goal?


 

59. RELIGIOUS NATURALISM

Religious Naturalism (like Unitarianism a couple of centuries ago) is bound to attract many thoughtful and scientifically informed minds (I use the term MINDs intentionally) because the intellectual dimension (understanding of scientific knowledge and methodology) is a requirement for affiliating oneself meaningfully with Religious Naturalism.

While this may make scientifically literate individuals feel more comfortable with certain aspects of the traditional religions which they would rather not give up in its entirety, and although some of its adherents feel that  a Natural Religionist can still identify himself/herself as a Muslim or a Mormon, as a Hopi or a Hindu, as a Jew or a Gentile, I fear that only the very sophisticated and enlightened ones will be able to that. For millions of people, no matter how much mystical/religious feeling Evolution, Big-Bang, and Quantum Field Theory may give, unless Religious Naturalism confirms the revelation of the Vedas in Sanskrit to meditating rishis, God delivering the Decalogue in Hebrew to Moses,  the immaculate conception of Christ, the  pronouncements in Arabic of the archangel to Prophet Mohammed, and the like, and more seriously, if it were to call into question the possibility of these events, they would rather have Natural Religion away from our temples and synagogues, churches and  mosques.

This does not mean that Natural Religion as a movement must be abandoned. Rather, what this means is that one needs to make a more concerted effort to spread the intrinsic value and message of science to all strata of society and among all the peoples of the world.

Such a suggestion would be condemned as an expression of scientific imperialism by many who genuinely (and appropriately) respect diversity and pluralism. Given this, I would suggest that Natural Religionists, like other proselytizing missionaries, should propagate the results and world views of science more aggressively (enthusiastically), in order to get more converts, since this is a perfectly valid and respectable activity in a pluralistic world. I suspect Ursula has already begun to do this with much success.

 

 

 

 


 

60. IMPLICATIONS OF GOD AND NO-GOD

At the end of a talk I gave on the worldview of science, someone posed the following question: Suppose that it is discovered that the origin of life is shown to be the work of a Creator-God. How would this affect your philosophy, theology, and moral behavior?

I am not sure it wouldn't make any difference. If indeed it is established that life was created by an Omnipotent God Who formulated many elements of (traditional) morality, the breaking of any of which would entail very unpleasant consequences, some of which may be of an extreme nature, prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

(b) Let me emphasize that the shifts would be in my thinking rather than in my attitudes or behavior because (at this point) I am inclined to think (somewhat immodestly, for sure) that these are governed by principles which any decent God would whole-heartedly approve and applaud.

(c)  In fact, I strongly believe that if our ethical behavior is governed by post-mortem potentials, it is not unlike refraining from shop-lifting because of the embarrassment that would ensue if caught, or not murdering those we dislike intensely because of the possibility of life imprisonment or the death-penalty. This level of conduct is okay for children who have to eat the spinach if they wish to watch their half-hour of TV, and  who better not throw the toy at a freshly painted wall for they would be sent to their room for fifteen minutes if they did that, but it seems to me that mature adults should behave themselves voluntarily.

(d) I would very much like the Real God to please reveal Himself/Herself/Itself (as they used to say in a popular TV show) unequivocally for the enlightenment and benefit of the still misguided many who continue, in the name of God, to perpetrate atrocious things: like oppressing women, engaging in racist hatred, destroying one another's places of worship, persecuting people for their religious affiliation, and dividing up nations on the basis of scriptural beliefs.


 

61. INTELLIGENT DESIGN AS ENDOPOTENT  TRANSRATIONAL TRUTH

 

Exopotent truths furnish us with the capacity to alter, manipulate, formulate in consistent terms, and predict occurrences in the world around. These are recognitions which can be demonstrated on purely rational and empirical grounds. They do not necessarily possess objective validity: many successful (ancient) medical systems and technologies were based on quite mistaken views about the physical world and the human body. Much of scientific knowledge are exopotent truths.

      Endopotent truths contribute, positively or negatively, to our inner experience as human beings.  These are profound perceptions, induced by cultural upbringing and/or personal sensitivity to the world around. They are deeply meaningful and spiritually uplifting to individuals. These are the transrational truths which, though they may not be amenable to logic and analysis, do not violently contradict reason either. They cannot always be formulated in incontrovertibly logicl modes, and are generally  ineffective in altering any aspect of the perceived world.

Because of the enormous power and prestige that science has acquired during the past few centuries, many scientific thinkers are inclined to believe that the only truths there are, must be of the exopotent kind, and that other propositions pertaining to reality (inner experiential convictions) are mere fantasies. Subscribing to this view,  many keen minds are tempted to give exopotent validity to endopotent truths, little realizing that this is in fact a fruitless endeavor.  

The existence or otherwise of an Intelligent Designer for the Universe is an endopotent truth, as are the divinity of Christ, the infallibility of the Vedas, or the uniqueness of Mohammed as a prophet. We cannot do anything to the world around by asserting it. We cannot alter, manipulate, formulate in consistent terms, and predict any event in the physical world by accepting or rejecting the existence of an Intelligent Cosmic Designer. But this does not diminish the validity of the conviction in the hearts of those proclaim it.  So long as endopotent truths only enhance the inner experience of its adherents, and do not injure those who subscribe to other endopotent truths, they may be respected, if not adopted, even by others.

 


 

62. SCIENCE AND RELIGION: A PERSONAL NOTE

When I see a fragrant flower and admire its beauty, when I pick up a shell from the sea shore and marvel at its pleasing symmetry, or when I read about the tardy tortoises on Galapagos, and am intrigued about how all these came to be, I tell my biologist friend about my wonderment, and she explains to me in fascinating detail how we can  make sense out of the apparent biodiversity that is splashed all over the planet. When I see the diamond sparkle and the multicolored rainbow arch the sky, when I see the silent stars up on high and observe dry sheets of plastic stick to my clothes, I recall the patterns and principles of physics from which emerge all the magnificence in the range and variety of perceived reality. I am grateful to science for these insights and enlightenment.

But in all of this I also experience a mystery that is beyond my intellectual grasp. It is like the pleasures of poetry, the joy of music, and the ecstasy of meditative merger with the world at large.  When I am in the fullness of such experience, I keep my intellectual faculties in abeyance, even if it means throwing the Behe with the Burwasser. For when it comes to contemplating the ultimate mystery, I am constrained to acknowledge the frailty of my finitude.

I respect the honest efforts of those who strive to unravel the beginning and end of the universe in terms of Higgs-bosons and thermodynamic Heat-death, for their efforts have thrown much light on the dark caverns of our ignorance about the physical world. I am thankful for the attempts of those who strive to reduce love and joy to calcium channels and action-potentials, for their probing will some day lead to the eradication of some dreadful diseases. One day we might well be able to offer electro-chemical explanations, even a quark-lepton model, for the composition of sublime symphonies and paltry punning. However, as a product of whatever spurs it all, I still relish the poetry of prayer and psalms, and the prostrating posture of piety now and again. I have been enriched by the treasures of traditions and the wisdom in the scriptures, and the religion I feel in the core of my being is gratitude and humility in the face of the Cosmic mystery.

Whether the fleeting flicker of my consciousness is like a mere sand grain that will perish some day, or whether it is like murky water in a mug that will soon merge back into the deep blue sea, I do not know. When I contemplate my mortality, I feel I am heading towards an abyss which could be a black-hole of dismal darkness where everything will cease to be, or a cosmic effulgence whence I will know what it all really is, and about which we have been arguing and debating endlessly over the ages. I will have to wait and see or not see.

 


63. RELIGIONS AND AI

 

Someone once asked: What do religions say about AI?

All traditional religions rest on certain doctrines propounded in works which are regarded as holy. In most instances, they are said to be revelations from some transcendent divinity, not historically composed treatises. None of these works even mention AI for the simple reason that the very notion never existed in the times when the traditional religions were formulated (revealed).

So, in principle, no religion can be either for or against AI or any other notion/principle that emerged in later times.

However, if the practical aspects of religions are maintained by the adherents, its doctrinal aspects have to undergo periodic revisions and re-interpretations through the work of theologians, religious leaders, and institutions. These are the ones who proclaim if genetic research is right or wrong, if AI is good or bad. They bring interesting ethical perspectives to the questions, but it would be presumptuous for any of them to declare that their own religion (its Holy Book) is for or against matters which never even existed when the religion originated.

 


 

64. ON MATERIALISM OR MOMERGISM

Materialism is an ancient philosophical position. In its less sophisticated version, it holds everything in the universe is mere matter. The view probably arose from the omnipresence of tangible substances in the world of experience. Its ethical counterpart places value only on things material and enjoyable, discarding or giving only secondary place to the finer and immaterial aspects of living. This leads to the philosophical view that the course of human history is determined by the conscious or unconscious attachment of individuals and societies to economic self-interest and well-being.

In the 19th century, materialist thinkers had to expand their view to include energy also. For light and radiation are not made  of the kind of tangible matter we see around and touch and feel. Thus, a more sophisticated version of materialism states that ultimately there is onlt  matter and energy in the universe.

Twentieth century physics unified matter and energy, and formulated the view that the phenomenal world is the result of the of interactions between a number of fundamental particles. Moreover, these interactions themselves are brought about by other so-called field particles.

A particle refers to one of many fundamental entities which are at the substratum of the physical universe. Now, every fundamental particle is characterized by two physical quantities: momentum and energy. [It has other basic properties too, such as electric charge and spin.]Since all fundamental particles have both matter (corporal) and wave (undular) aspects, they used to be called corporundals. It is equally appropriate, and more in consonance with the terminology of particle physics, to refer to these as momergons  (entities with momentum and energy). Thus the world view which holds that everything in the universe consists only of these basic entities may be called momergism: a more descriptive term for the philosophy commonly known as materialism.

What about soul and spirit, God and life-hereafter, and the like? The momergist denies the existence of such things, regarding them as mere concoctions of the human mind. And how do we explain non-tangible entities like  thoughts and ideas, values and meaning which are clearly there in the world, and which can clearly not be reduced to momergons? Momergists contend that these are all mere consequences of the enormous complexity of the human brain. They are emergent properties: that is to say, properties that arise from the particular configurations of and interactions between momergons which are bound together in  complex ways to form the human brain. Indeed, two new terms have been introduced in this context: complexity and emergent property. In other words, immaterial entities in the world can be ultimately traced back to momergons without which these simply cannot exist.

This is a reasonably good hypothesis, but its validity will not be established until one  explains by what tractable mechanism complexity leads to emergence. Neuroscientists are in hot pursuit of such explanations. But it must be realized that as of now complexity and emergence no more than technical sounding words.


 

65. ON MIRACLES

Miracles may be defined as astounding occurrences which seem to contradict everything we know about the workings of the physical world, whether through common sense or through science. Miracles defy all attempts at explanation in terms of the known and accepted laws of nature. Though Christian thinkers and theologians have discussed the possibility and interpretation of miracles more than any other group, there is not a single traditional religion that does not have, in its body of knowledge, sacred history, and belief-system, some miracle or another.

St. Augustine regarded miracles as contrary to and above Nature. Others have described them as resulting from a suspension of a law of nature. Clearly this can be accomplished only by the God. That is why miracles are always associated with divine intervention. Indeed, some have even claimed that miracles occur in order to make humans recognize (believe in) the existence of God.

Unexpected escape from a grave danger, sudden cure of what seemed like a terminal disease, rehabilitation of an impaired faculty, and the like are also regarded as miracles. In all such instances too, some association with a religious framework is involved.

With the rise of modern science and the mounting evidence to the effect that the laws of nature are immutable and without exception, belief in miracles became more and more difficult. Some 18th century scientific thinkers, who were also deeply religious, postulated that  aside from the normally recognized physical laws,  there were a few which remain occult most of the time, but find expression only now and again here and there: in other words, that miracles were manifestations of more powerful laws which come into play occasionally.

I like to give the following example to illustrate this idea: Consider, for example an iron nail. When kept on the ceiling of a room it would fall down, because of the law of gravity. However, if a magnet were affixed to the ceiling, the nail would stick to it, apparently defying the law of gravity. Or again, we know that normally there are certain disease-bearing viruses in the body. But sometimes, and quite suddenly, they manifest themselves.

These are interesting arguments for the possibility of miracles within a scientific framework. But the more important aspect of a miracle, from a religious perspective, is divine or supernatural intervention. If miracles are given naturalistic explanations, they cease to have any relevance in a religious context.

Miracles may also be regarded in terms of their effect rather than their cause. As its etymology (Latin, miraculum: that which is wonderful) suggests, miracles fill the human heart with a sense of extraordinary wonder. Irrespective of whether the wonder arises from one's ignorance of the physical laws which cause the phenomenon to occur, a miracle may be defined as a phenomenon which has a profound impact on an observer who is attuned to a religious framework. The unraveling of the phenomenon in causative and physico-chemical terms   often erase that experience.

We may never be able to answer the question of whether miracle occur or not, to everyone's satisfaction. But, aside from benefits to some individuals from unexpectedly favorable turn of events, the more serious religious/theological question would be: What is the purpose of miracles? If God trying to impress us, or shock the unbeliever into believing?

V. V. Raman

 December 20, 2000


 

66. ON EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL ISSUES

 Inquiring minds are interested in knowing, analyzing, and explaining the myriad aspects of the experienced world. Indeed, this is what science is all about.

Of these experiences:

      (a) Some relate to the external world. Such, for instance, are the nature of matter, microscopic organisms, cloud formation, light velocity, etc. We may call these External Issues (Exis). The resolution of an Exis generally has very little, or no impact, on our feelings and emotions.

      (b) Some are related to our internal world of feelings and emotions, culture and convictions. Such are, for instance, our notions of right and wrong, our beliefs about God and after-life, etc. These may be called Internal Issues (Inis). The way we look upon or perceive an Inis does have some impact, small or considerable, on our feelings and emotions. When it comes to Inis, perspectives resulting from personal experiences, cultural upbringing, religious formation, etc. determine acceptance or rejection of an idea much more than facts, data, logical consistency, etc.

      (c) Some Exis may have an Inis counterpart. For example, geocenric vs heliocentric models in the 16th/17th centuries, fossil interpretation in the 18th century, evolution in the 20th/21st century.

      The goal of science is to bring within its framework and methodology every item of  Exis and  of Inis.

      In the context of Exis, there are disagreements, debates, controversies etc. among scientists while a problem is being investigated (during the research/analysis stage). But once the problem is solved, generally there is consensus until a new observed phenomenon shows up which challenges a currently accepted scientific explanation.

      In the context of Inis, the scientific framework and methodology is not accepted by, or acceptable to, everybody. Thus, when it comes questions about God, morality, religion, and ethics, no matter how effective and persuasive a scientific explanation or argument may be, its acceptance, rejection, and criticism will be governed (consciously or unconsciously)  by factors beyond the set rules of scientific methodology.

      From all this it does not follow (and I am certainly not recommending) that scientists and scientifically inclined thinkers should refrain from or abandon their pursuit of Inis from scientific perspectives. What I am suggesting is that by recognizing the nature of the two types of issues (Exis and Inis) we can perhaps better appreciate why there is so much controversy and misunderstanding in matters relating to evolution, theology, religion, ethics, etc.


 

 

67. OMNIPOTENT GOD AND FREEWILL

If God knows exactly how a human being will act under a given set of circumstances, He/She has not exactly endowed the creature with freewill, and thus cannot (will not) punish/reward the creature for the action taken. Therefore, if God granted free will to the creature, He/She cannot know beforehand the choice that will be made. In other words, there is freewill, but the divine chose to give up part of its omniscience in order to create the interesting phenomenon of freewill in humans.

Our acts (decisions) depend on a great many factors, and we simply cannot be aware of all of these. So though we may have the impression that we have freewill, in fact we do not. We are somewhat like a die thrown into the air. The die, unaware of the countless forces acting on it, may imagine it "chooses" to land with (say) four on top, and has thus exercised its freewill, but a master physicist-mathematician, knowing all the forces acting on the die could have predicted what the outcome would be.

In other words, there is no such thing as freewill, only an appearance to goad us to formulate ethical principles.

The notion of an omniscient God has to be given up in view of this logical contradiction.


 

68. ON CHANGING WORLDVIEWS

I was once asked some questions regarding my worldview. There they are with my answers:

How have your worldviews changed over time?

Yes and no.

Have you found more and more support for your original worldview with only minor adjustments made?

      Indeed, over the years I have found more and more support for some of the items in the worldview I roughly formulated in my teens (College years), and major adjustments in some others. That worldview, in simple (simplistic) terms include(d)s the following:

      (a) The only way we can get any *understanding* (rational, reason-based, coherent, consistent interpretation) of the phenomenal world is by strict adherence to scientific methodology.

      (b) Those who do not follow this are really silly people who need to be educated.

      (c) But there are many other aspects to living, beyond explaining and understanding the world: such as, enjoying music and good food, experiencing the fantasies of literature and movies, playing with words, etc. Indeed, for the individual, these are even more important than rational explanation of phenomena.

      (d) Those who believe in god and the religions are at the same level as children believing in Santa Claus.

      (e) There is really nothing beyond matter and energy in space and time. Consciousness is merely a complex manifestation of this these.

      (f) The only way to eradicate superstition and hate is by teaching children from  a very early age  basic physics, biology, and astronomy,  as well as the simple ethical values of not hurting others, respecting and caring for others.

Have you decided some other worldview was really better than your original one?

      (a) Not so far, with regard to (a) and (c).

      (b) But I have drastically revised my views as far as (b) and (d) are concerned. From the age of forty or so, I began to realize how haughty and narrow  I was in regarding the views of others as silly. Having met many deeply religious people who were no less smart or intelligent that I may imagine myself to be, I gradually came to realize that belief in God and the hereafter are not trivial or childish beliefs, but profound convictions in the core of some people's being. As long as such beliefs do not harm or injure others, and bring hope and instigate good actions, it is foolish to pooh-pooh or demolish them. I have also grown far less dogmatic regarding (e). While not subscribing to any of the many different views on post-corporeal (post-mortem)  phases of existence, I leave the question open.


 

69. ON MYSTERY

Mystery is not confusion in the face of complexity, nor puzzlement at a problem, and magic-mongering least of all. Nor does it call for an abandonment of effort in the quest for answers. Mystery is rather the profound experience of the sensitive mind to the awe provoked by the magnitude and majesty of the perceived universe. It is a feeling of reverence and humility in the face of the unfathomed depths of the human experience, a wonderment at the ultimate source of our joys and sorrows and the human experience, a reflection on the marvel of the ephemeral flicker of consciousness, an irrepressible why and wherefore of it all. Machines manufacture and computers calculate, but the human mind alone can experience mystery. Bereft of it, we are no more than biochemical blobs.


70. SCIENCE AND RELIGION

AN UNSOPHISTICATED VIEW

Introduction

      When I was at school many years ago, I never took any science courses. My parents were good Catholics who went to church every Sunday, but I didn't care for that either. I was very much interested in baseball and movies. I quit school after finishing eleventh grade. I started from the bottom and became assistant manager in this big grocery store in our town. I was happy with my professional employment, and I retired a couple of years ago.       

      I read newspapers regularly, but mainly the sports section. I enjoy cartoons. One day a couple of years ago, my son's wife - she's a college kid - took me to a lecture on science and religion just for the heck of it.  I didn't get a clue about what the dude was talking: evolution, anthrophic principal, determination, and stuff I had never even heard of. He even talked about somebody writing a free will or something. I just didn't get one grain of info from that speech. I felt real small about it.

      So I decided to take courses on science in the evening, given in our school system. I also wanted to learn about religions, 'cause I thought religion was simply Christmas and Easter, but this speech, I tell you, it really got me thinking. Now, after two years, I want to write on science and religion. I know I'm not one of them guys in a college with high-foluting degree and all , but hé, I too have a right to speak about science and religion. Everyone got to have what they call liberality of expression, right?.

 

Part A: Science

      First I took this course in chemistry. I learned  that some things, like copper  and carbon, are elements and others, like water and sugar, are compounds. I don't know why, but I'll take their word for it. I'll admit I used to think that compounds are where some big buildings are enclosed in, with walls and all.  But who am I to say? Times have changed. One day they talked about gases: oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and stuff. I didn't know I've been breathing this my whole life. I used to think it was just plain air. Now I know where all the pollution comes from. The teacher said that even gases obey laws. I wanted to know in which country they make laws for gases? The guy just ignored my question. Then we learned that there are  teeny weenie things called atoms. I thought atoms are stuff for making big bombs which we must not use unless it's extremely necessary because they can cause winter hollowcost or something. At one time only we guys  and the Russians had atoms, but now every Tom and Henry has them. What's this world coming to? But that's politics. In another chemistry class, they said that carbon atoms look like small pyramids. Gosh, what will they think of next! Then he talked about alcohol and stuff. Benzene molecule has a ring. It must be a pretty small one, I guess. They called these things organic. I used to think organic means manure and manure-grown vegetables.

      After finishing chemistry, I went for this biology course. I learnt many things about life, I mean about our insides. They call this anatomical structure. They like big words, those scientists. And when they use a small word, it means something one hundred percent different. Examples: I used to think the cell is just a phone you use for walking and driving, or maybe a dark dismal room in a prison. But now I know we have lots of  cells in our body, and I mean lots and lots. Even the brain has cells, they say. Can you believe that? Man, science is really wonderful! I get real excitement when I study science. When the teacher mentioned genes, immediately the color of blue came before my eyes. But these genes you don't wear. They're right there in your body cells, very small, but very important. They say we have black or brown eyes or we become bald very early, only because of our genes. I didn't know that. Then the biology guy said we may even be good or bad because of our genes.  Now, with due respect, I don’t buy that, 'cause this is going too far. Finally, I understood what this DNA is all about. Ever since the OJ case, I've been very curious about this. Now I know: this is some twisted stuff in the cell. Like our social security number, each of us has a different DNA. 

      In class, one day, I had a hot exchange with my teacher on evolution, and I mean hot. The teacher, he made a statement that millions of years ago our great, great grand-parents were monkeys. Some kids just sat there like they were dumb and swallowed this nonsense. I raised my hand and said, "No way, Mister, nobody is going to tell me I came from a monkey."

      The teacher tried to prove his position by saying this great scientist said this, that great scientist said that, talked about birds call finches, turtles in Galapogolos Island, long giraffe necks, and all that. Who cares!  All that cock-and-bull story didn't impress me. I held on to my firm position, 'cause we must draw the line somewhere. One thing I know: in science you have freedom to think. You don't just accept something 'cause some big shot said so.

      Yeah, I heard about what happened to a guy called Galileo way back when. He said the earth was round, and nobody believed him. The Church fathers asked him to recount his theory and they put him in house arrest and asked him to read the Bible. Now, that I think is no fair, 'cause everybody must have freedom to think the way we want. This is the American way, right?  If one guy thinks the world is round and another it is tubular or whatever, why fight about it? We all breathe the same air, don't we? Some think it's just air, others say it's all gas, so what? Why put somebody in jail for holding diversity of opinion?  That's my philosophy.

      So I want you to know that I am not religious or obstinacious or something. But I just can't accept a monkey in my family tree, that's all to it. They belong to some other tree. Next thing you know they'll say we came from donkeys. No, sir, no, if this is your science, I told my teacher, you may keep it, but don’t count me as a member. This has nothing to do with science which I have great respect for. But I also have self-respect.

      Next I went to a physics survey course. The first thing the teacher asks me,  how much math I know. I told him I could count to more than a thousand and add  numbers, but that wasn't enough for him. I said I could go up to ten thousand, but that didn't impress him either.  He looked very depressed, but I had a right to be there because I pay my taxes, and this course is in a public school. I don't understand why he had to be so fussy about the math stuff, because I got a lot from this guy anyways. He taught me about force and energy and fiction, why a pendulum vacillates, about the fact that when something is in heat, it becomes bigger, and all that. He also said there was something called momentum.  I thought this was a political conception  which they use in election campaigns. I have heard political candidates say they must keep up the momentum.

      One day our professor talked about elementary particles. This was real fun, especially all the fancy-dancy names he gave: like electron, proton, meson, bozon, so on. These are very, very, very small gizmos, even smaller than the smallest dust particle. Then he said that electrons are kind of uncertain about where they'll go next, because some guy called Heisenberg made this his principal. Wow! I always wondered how they make those TVs, cordless phones, supersonous jets and all that. Now I know it's all based on physics laws. Am I glad I studied so much physics!

      Another teacher told us about the sun and planets and stars. I had no idea they were so far away.  I used to think they were just maybe hundred thousand miles away. No sir, it's more like a hundred million. Not only that, there are billions of stars. Most of them are invisible anyways, so what's the use, I thought. But it's good to know. That's what science is. Know everything about everything. For example, many of them stars are extremely hot. So what, you may say. But in science you want to know. I learned that nucular reactions occur deep in their corpse. Maybe one day we can do this in human lavatory, the teacher said.  There are  infinite number of galaxies, each with billions of stars.

      He explained that space and time are curved. Now you figure that out, 'cause I had some problems here. I just let it go.

      These guys have figured out that all this: atoms, carbon pyramids, nucular reactions, light rays, etc.  was made for us to happen!  Don't ask me how they know this, but something called anthrophic principal says this. It's kind of difficult to explain, our teacher said, 'cause something called constants are finely tuned, like in a radio. This happened when the universe began with what he called a Big Bang. That really melted my brain.  This is where religion comes.

 

Part B: Religion

      Like I said, my parents were good Catholics. Unfortunately, when I looked into the Bible, it didn't grab me. First I couldn't figure out what those chapter headings mean: Genesis, Galatians, Colossians, Leviticus, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Ruth: somehow they didn't appeal to me. The very first book begins this way: God said, 'Let there be light.' Now honestly, who could have heard God when nobody was there? I was very scientific even as a young man. Now I don't want to say nothing  bad about any holy book, but these  numbered lines, and long family trees and fantastic stories, I don't see any serious connection between all this and God Almighty who I know is there in Heaven, invisible to human eyes. You can't see Heaven even with the most powerful telescope.  You see what I mean? Also, in Church, they kept jumping from section to section every week, I got confused very early in life. Then there was this Father Joe, everyone kept saying he spoke very well. Maybe, but his weekly speech didn't mean a whole lot to me. I have nothing against Christ or anybody, mind you, but I just couldn't keep going to church.

      Anyway, when I was twenty two, I meet this fine woman and we fall in love like two normal people. Turns out she belongs to what they call Judaic tradition. And she doesn't take her tradition no more seriously than I do mine. But my parents are very upset, and her parents are very upset, and they all say we'll be very unhappy if we marry, what will happen to our kids, and so forth. So we say, "Sorry, folks, but we've decided to get married anyways." This was  forty years ago. We have no major complaints so far, except now and then she gets to be bossy, and she likes to argue about movies. But that's life. We ain't unhappy compared to many of our friends.

      Now, I wanted to know about religion, you see.  So I go to my Church to become a member again, but when I talk to the padre, he says my marriage wasn't done properly 'cause I married a Jew-lady. And he asked if she was willing to be baptized. I said I should discuss the matter with her. But when I asked my wife, she became furious like nobody's business, as if I was asking her to jump into a very cold lake or something. Some people get very mad if you ask them to switch religion.  This is the truth.

      So I look into the yellow pages to see if there's some Judeo-Christian church which can accommodate both of us. Man, I discovered there are so many Christian dominations you won't believe! Assemblies of God, Bible Healing Temple, Methodist Church, Anglican, Greek orthodox, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, North Baptist, Zion Hill Baptist, Mormon Churches, and on and on the list goes. But I didn't see no Judeo-Christian Church. Looks like no one ever thought of having a joint venture like this, like Saul and Peter or something.  I can understand different model cars, but I couldn't figure out  why we need so many brand names for churches. Don’t we all accept Jesus Christ as our Savior? Well, not all, perhaps. My wife, for one, will vehementally disagree.

      So I decided I'd pay a friendly visit to a synagogue with my wife. She said firmly she wouldn't go. She's a little stubborn now and then, you know. But otherwise she's a good lady.

      "But why not?" I asked, trying to persuade her.

      "Because," she explains, "when I was a young woman, I found out it says in the Torah that a wife 'must grind flour, bake bread, wash clothes, cook food, suckle her child, prepare his bed, and work in wool' for her husband, I knew right away that such rules could not have come from God."

      "Oh, come on," I said, "all religions probably have similar rules for women. Maybe, it was okay in the good old times, why make a big deal about that now? You don't have to do any of that for me, except maybe iron my shirts."

      "And I don't believe God would come down from wherever to speak in Hebrew to Mr. Moses and disappear for such a long while."

      "But I don't mind becoming a Jew, why should you?" I asked.

      "I don't think they'll let you, even if you wanted," she told me. You see, the Jewish people think they are a chosen people, to begin with. I don't like that idea a wee bit. I think that's racism pure and simple. We are all chosen people."

      I thought she had a point. But I very much wanted to become part of some religion. So I wanted to try out Islam. I get a copy of the Holy Koran. It was very interesting, here and there. But they have too many angels and jinns  for my taste. I liked their heaven with  nice gardens and fruits and flowers and silk and beautiful young women too, but they have a real fiery Hell that I just couldn't take. Now I am not a bad guy, I can tell you, so I don't expect to go there. But just in case I don't measure up to Allah's standards…. I found out too that if you are a Muslim you say nothing bad, even as a joke, about the Prophet and Allah. If you do, they'll get you one way or another unless you go into hiding, protected by Scotland Yard and FBI put together. Now this I can't accept. But let me also make it perfectly clear to all Muslim peoples: I have only most highest respect for Holy Koran and for Prophet Mohammed. I also think all the Ayatollas are good too. I don't want nobody to get mad with me, okay? We live in a very touchy world where everybody must be respected, whatever they say, no questions ask. I fully accept this multipluralism or diversification or whatever.

      So next I go to the Hindus. I visit a Hindu temple. It was very beautiful outside and inside.  I saw many big dolls, like in a museum or something, but someone explained these are all gods. They were nicely dressed up I must say. Some of them Hindu gods had four arms, and this I thought could be a problem when you wear a sweater or something, for example. Another god, he had a full elephant face, really, with a long trunk and a big round tummy. A third one was a plain old monkey. He was wearing a crown, and a dress too. This  brought to my mind my biology class. Maybe, I thought, Hindu scientists believe not only man, but gods also come from monkeys. Is that what they're trying to say? Then I saw man with a bushy hair- and this is the truth: he wasn't wearing a shirt. He was the priest. At one point,  everybody stood up and started singing together. The priest lighted up a lamp and moved it in circles near the face of these god-figures. I couldn't figure that out what he was trying to accomplish. But I'm sure it had some purpose.

      One Hindu man told me I should do this thing called yoga for peace of mind and good health. He took me to class with about ten or so people. He introduced me to a guru who  made me repeat something which he whispered into my ear, and I had to  promise him I won't tell anyone what it is. I can't even remember it now. He called it my mantra. We were all asked to squat on the floor, with our legs crossed. Man, I tell you, that wasn't easy. We closed our eyes and we had to say together  "om," like in "home" without the h, but a very long o, three times. We had to take  very deep breaths. The guru explained that the secret of good health is in taking deep breaths. I wanted to know if this is true when there is too much smog or air pollution. But I didn't ask. Then we had to do all kinds of twisting and turning. It was too much for me. I am kind of flabby, and that makes it little more difficult to yoga.

      Now I go to this Buddhist center, 'cause they say this is another great religion, with lamas and all. There was this nice short fellow there, with a round face and a bald head, wearing spectacles and a brick colored toga. He started by saying that all life is a pain. I disagreed right there, 'cause I think life is mostly fun. True, now and then things get bad, but you can't have everything good all the time. That's no fair either. But one thing he said I agreed with one hundred per cent. Do everything in moderation. I've no problems with that, especially when I think of my beer-drinking  buddies. But do I have to become a Buddhist for that?

      Next,  I heard about something else called Jaina. Maybe that would take me to something, I thought. But I soon found out that these guys are what they call purely vegetarianism: That means only greens, maybe potatoes, but no meat at all. No chicken, no fish, no eggs. Now for someone who likes double cheese burgers, this is no religion, I told myself.

      I tried out a couple more religions. One is called Sikhism. If you become a Sikh, you stop using the razor, and you give up hair-cutting. This may be convenient when you travel for many days, but somehow I didn't like the idea of a beard and turban all the time. And then they wear an iron bangle and carry a little knife. Now what kind of religion is this, imposing dress codes and hair-styles? No, this was not my cup of tea either. Someone who knew my struggles suggested that I should try out Bahaism because it includes all the religions I have tried plus some. I couldn't cope with even one of them how could I handle all?     

      I concluded I am not cut out for any religion and veesay versa, as some people say. I don't wish to harm nobody. I'm willing to give help out anyone if it doesn't cost way too much money or pain, and I'm ready to share my meal with stranger of any race, religion or sexual ornamentation. I don't need any of this other stuff in religions. I can't cope with any.

      Now two questions remain. First: How did it all begin? Science says Big Bang, and religions say God. Why not simply say, God said, "Let there be a Big Bang, and the wide world was born." And God also said, "Let there be a Little Bang, and the DNA was born."

Second question: What will happen to me when I die? I'll just wait and see, and I'm in no hurry to find that out. That's my statement on religion and science, and now I must get back to my sports program on TV.