Synthesising Science and Religion

By editor - 9.11  2016

Radha Mohan das delivered a thought-provoking presentation and answered questions at a public seminar on the subject of science and religion. Other panellists included Revd Prof Nick Goulding PhD, Prof Polina Bayvel FREng FRS and Barney Leith OBE and the event was organised by the Revd Canon Dr Tim Bull from the famous St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire, UK.

“Like most youth of my generation and many previous on the whole I was brought up to believe in God” explained Radha Mohan das in his presentation. “But also like many others, by the time I reached about 14 years old I had delved into science text books and the secular narrative influenced my world view: The Theory of Evolution, the vast age of the earth and the Big Bang.

“But after a few years of being a staunch teenage atheist, I realised there was something important missing. A cold, dark, largely empty universe with no apparent meaning did not at all satisfy me internally.

I needed something outside of the box.

At one point I got into Eric Von Daniken. Famously, he wrote controversial books such as Chariots of the Gods- was God an astronaut?

His main narrative, basing it on archaeology, was that ancient cultures, including their religions, have been influenced by extra-terrestrial visitors. Effectively, he suggested interplanetary travellers had turned ape-men into the modern human form we recognise today. I found that idea fascinating because it accounted for evolution’s ‘missing links’.

But then I reasoned that the belief that there is humanoid life across the universe is incompatible with the Theory of Evolution. Where did the aliens come from then? So God was back in the picture, but never-the-less hiding somewhere in the background.

Around that time I was also a fan of Carl Sagan, the American presenter and astronomer back in the 70s and 80s. He once said “Science is compatible with spirituality. It is a profound source of spirituality when we recognise our place in the immensity of space and time. There is a sense of elation and humility combined, that is surely spiritual…”

Inspired, my search continued.

My following phase included various forms of Eastern spirituality. The books that described the Ultimate Truth as an energy rather than a person was also quite attractive to me at the time, because that approach appeared more compatible with science.

But then I came across books by A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a senior Vaishnava-Hindu holy man and scholar. He spoke of a personal, loving God. I liked his translation and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. His books The Science of Self Realization and Life Comes from Life were great. I had found my theological home.

Still, during my transition, I had the pressing need to be convinced that there was a sound basis for it in the modern scientific world.

So how could the “religion verses science problem” be bridged? So I delved into the works of Dr Richard Thomson, a Phd at Harvard and a disciple of Bhaktivedanta Swami. Thomson’s first book was “Mechanistic and Non-mechanistic Science” which concluded that according to the law of probability, life coming about purely by chance could not have happened. (For example, one only need to look into complex DNA coding to be quite convinced of that).

Thomson also published books about Forbidden Archaeology: Exposing the suppression of findings that don’t fit into mainstream theories. His other works tried to prove that some of the ancient Sanskrit text of India- – far from being mythological, actually contains advanced scientific knowledge. For example: descriptions of huge time spans- – periods of millions and billions of years as mentioned in the Puranas is compatible with modern estimates of the length of earth’s history. The Bhagavat Purana includes measurements of concentric rings in space which match the modern figures for the planetary orbits of this solar system.

There are also ancient verses describing a stage by stage description of the development of the foetus in the womb. The list goes on.

My point here is that religious scriptures, although serve a different function, do not necessarily have to be in conflict with modern science. The two disciplines just sometimes take difference approaches.

For example, astro-physics and biology are 2 separate subjects but you can’t say one is correct and the other is irrelevant. To receive a broader sense of reality , one should be reasonably open to different ways of looking at things.

In its method, I suggest modern conventional science starts from the bottom and explore its way up. The ascending process of finding answers. Religion, on the other hand, tends to work the other way round: – from the top down. It is inclined to accept information from ‘above, from a higher authority’. This is a descending process. It places humankind in a humbler position.

Lets face it: we are tiny tiny organisms on a speck of dust we call the Earth which floats in the unimaginatively vast realms of space. Can we really work it all out on our own? In cosmic terms, are we not like ants?…And, can an insignificant insect ever be able to comprehend human politics?

So how can humankind be absolutely sure there is no cosmic hierarchy, beyond what our tiny brains are able to perceive, or our eyes, telescopes and microscopes can see?

But to be fair science doesn’t claim it has Absolute Knowledge. Rather it is a process…BUT that process focuses largely on observable matter, detectable by our imperfect senses, or instruments we invent.

I argue that spirituality is a type of science which has methods and results which go beyond matter and our traditional five sense experience.

The basis of most religious faith is the acknowledgement of the Inner Self, consciousness, the soul, the atma…call it what you wish. This is something different from the body: It is not made of matter.

We know consciousness exists. Yet conventional science cannot sufficiently explain it.

Now, the Bhagavad gita describes the soul as eternal, primeval , cannot be dissected, not slain when the body is slain and invisible to our mundane eyes.

Why do scientists not take more time to study the difference between a dead body and a live one? Chemically there seems to be very little difference between a body that is dying, and, moments later, the same body that is dead. Most religions say that the difference is non-physical- – The soul has left.

Where are the university science courses on such a subject?

Perhaps, though, science has no obligation to focus on spiritual things. It is what it is. Fine. It leads to inventions which helps us live in this world. But can it really deal with ALL of human society’s challenges?

So let’s offer homage to both science and spirituality. Both are needed for an holistic view of life. Neither of them explain EVERYTHING. For example, there is so much supernatural phenomenon that cannot be explained by conventional science.

But for many that point alone is not enough to invite God back onto the stage.

But can God, the Original Quantum Observer be metaphorically described as the Supreme Scientist, and this world part of a computer program within His cosmic computer? This offers our existence more meaning.

I maintain there is a pressing need to turn more attention to the spiritual development of society. With the right dosage, it promotes restraint and inner development rather than external development. After all, there is enough for everyone’s need on this planet, but NOT enough for everyone’s greed. Our superficial, consumer-based society is not at all sustainable in the long term. That is scientific fact.

But simplicity , piety, forgiveness, renunciation, meditation, the arts, a counter-balance to materialism… And not forgetting love for one another, love for all things.These historically have religious roots.

Science and religion are opposed like the thumb and forefinger are opposed. Yet they are joined at the hand. If you use the two together: Then and only then can you truly grasp things- – both physical and non-physical. This is how we can find a balance, between practicality and inner happiness in our lives.