It’s not vs. It’s +
Too often people present science and religion as mutually exclusive choices. And in fact, for people who present themselves on either side of that choice, too often, this framing is just a way to pique interest and gain an audience. In fact, as both are streams of knowledge and pursuits of truth they must be complementary and not adversarial. Indeed, the closer one’s religion is to the Truth, the less there is a fight with science. And, the more honest the science (specifically in regards to the questions unanswered) the less the fight with religion.
“If we keep a bit of humility and accept mankind has not yet mastered the Truth through science or as presented by religion, we may actually be able to use both disciplines to move closer to the Truth at a greater pace.”
I am neither a scientist nor a theological or philosophical expert. I am a Swaminarayan Hindu and in my amateur readings of scripture and amateur interest in science, I have come across things that make me think that Hindu views of cosmology, written at a time without all the modern instruments of experimentation and observation, show that the rishi-scientists and mystics of ancient India were using spirituality to describe reality and discover the Truth in a way that is coherent with, if not instructive to modern science. I think they increase my faith in the mystics and scriptures as I believe it is truly a product of great intellect to describe things so accurately without having modern tools and science to support them. They also increase my faith in the idea that to attain the Truth we can use Science + Religion as opposed to framing the two as adversaries by putting Science vs. Religion.
Earlier, I admitted being an amateur and not an expert. This is because I know ‘half knowledge is dangerous’ and I hope that if I am presenting examples that I have misunderstood, someone will come along to put me in my place. Like anyone who writes blogs, at least part of the point is to start a conversation.
With that preamble here are points for us to think about:
1. The number of species on this planet.
In the Puranas, our rishis shared a system to classify all life. Just as we use six kingdoms today, the ancient rishis divided life into four kingdoms: swedaja (born from impure water – microscopic life and insects), udbhija (born of seeds – plants), andaja (born from eggs – reptiles and birds), and jarayuja (born from wombs – mammals). Thousands of years ago, a time without microscopes to see small life forms or satellites to track large ones, the rishis of Sanatan Dharma counted 8.4 million different types of life forms. Their accuracy is amazing! Especially when you consider the fact that after thousands of years of scientific research and species differentiation and extinction, in 2011, a group of scientists published a paper in the journal PLOS Biography that there were 8.7 million life forms on planet Earth.
2. String Theory and The Three Gunas of Maya
So I said in the beginning that I’m no expert so, let’s first understand some science from an expert.
In this video, Physicist Brian Greene explains superstring theory in a TED Talk in 2005. The whole talk is interesting but for our purposes pay attention to 9:35 – 11:33.
I know there is a lot of depth to this theory and in fact, there are string theories and not just a single string theory. But for now, what I am taking away is this idea from Dr. Greene, that the fundamental, formative matter of the universe is a string whose permutations are perceived as particles who come together to form greater, more complex things. These strings live in a multi-dimensional space but share a single time dimension.
Now let’s consider the events of creation as told by Bhagwan Swaminarayan in Gadhada Section I – 12 and other Vachanamruts: Maya is the substance of creation and it is jad – meaning lifeless, without a consciousness. In Ultimate Dissolution (pralay) Maya becomes dense and small like an atom or a subatomic particle and stays within Metaspace (chidakash – which is the greater space than the normal space we talk about since that space is created later in ‘Creation’). Maya’s three Gunas (don’t how to translate this to English; the only known translation ‘Qualities’ doesn’t seem to make sense here) are in equilibrium here.
In creation, God (the greatest living, conscious thing – dare I say the greatest Energy) works through Aksharbrahman and the Aksharpurush (one of the liberated souls living with God in this Metaspace in a place called Akshardham – the eternal abode) and disturbs the equilibrium of Maya and creates the differing permutations of its three gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas. Everything after this point, elements like the mahattattvas, etc. are all made from the kshobha (agitation – or shall we say vibration) of Maya and the permutations of its gunas.
To me, this sounds an awful lot like the idea of saying that in the Big Bang, a densely packed thing is disturbed with energy leading to vibration of strings whose permutations are the particles we perceive that come together to form greater forms of matter and all the forces and constants needed to explain the existing multiverses.
Interestingly, in this video, Dr. Greene talks about the fact that the equations of string theory require 10 dimensions of space but only one dimension of time. In Hindu cosmology, there is akash (space) and chidakash (a sentient, energy space or metaspace) – meaning that there are many spaces, but there is only one kal (or time). And, that time allows for (is one of the indirect causes of) the kshobha of Maya (almost word for word from the above-stated Vachanamrut Gadh I – 12).
So, the Big Bang, String Theory and a lot of theoretical physics do explain Creation quite well. However, that doesn’t mean that spirituality and religion have no place in the conversation. In fact, for Hindus, science may just be proving what our scriptures have said for quite some time. If we can accept that, understanding the science may help us understand the scriptures, and understanding the scriptures may also demystify some of the science behind these propositions of theoretical physics.
(As an aside, I think Germans kill at theoretical physics in history because Germany is a hub for studying Sanskrit. You look at the works of Kant and can’t help but see a German version of the workings of Shankaracharya and you look at String Theory and can’t help remember the physicist rishis of ancient India.)
Anyway, that’s a lot for one day and one read. There’s a bit more to come – including the duality of light – in the next set of examples to show it should be Science + Religion and not Science vs. Religion – at least for Hindus.