Are The Two Pre-Requisites Of Our Existence: Science And Religion Irreconcilable?

Science does not understand the psychological process of mind. So there is a qualitative gap between science and religion. This severely limits our mental capacity and our normal mind cannot smoothly grade into the domain of psychology.

Oct. 8, 2021, 11:15 p.m.

Science and religion are the two most important necessities of human existence. While science is related to our outer existence, religion is concerned with our inner existence. This makes us ponder: whether science and religion are really irreconcilable, and if not, how the two can be made to work in unison so that a holistic or harmonious balance between them or between Nature and man can be established and sustained? Science has made our life comfortable and enjoyable. Science and technology have brought the whole world together economically, politically and even physically, but with the advent of the industrial age, science became more the science for manipulation and created a rift between science and religion. However, this rift is due to the psychological misunderstanding we create between them. One of the reasons for this misunderstanding is our inability to ascribe what is due to each of them. The rift between them can be filled through the psychological transformation of our mind which accrues when we transcend the limitations of emotions, feelings, reactions, etc., and use their positive aspects to enhance the quality of our inner life by creating a center of unity, of strength and freedom within us. The resulting transformation redefines the mind-body relationship and establishes the superiority of the mind over the body. The inner journey starts with this transformation but first with the science of the physical field. As remarked by Sri Aurobindo: matter is surely our physical basis, the one thing that is and persists, while life, mind, soul and all else appear in it as a secondary phenomenon, seem somehow to arise out of it and subsist by feeding on it”.

Science does not understand the psychological process of the mind. So there is a qualitative gap between science and religion. This severely limits our mental capacity and our normal mind cannot smoothly grade into the domain of psychology. While the scope of science is limited to explaining the outer phenomena that can be explained by objective knowledge, the scope of religion is much wider. It is all about finding the truth not only about what lies in the phenomena but also what lies behind, beyond the phenomenal world. Knowledge is the most important foundation on which both science and religion are based. While science is based on objective knowledge, religion encompasses both of them. As highlighted by Einstein science deals with what is and not with what should be. Here religion connotes universal religion which forms the essence of all religions but may differ in its mode of expression because of the differences in culture, tradition, etc. But there always is a unifying force behind these outer modes of religious expressions. It is through this unifying force that we know the universality of all religions. “The saying that saints do not contradict one another is true of all philosophies and religions” - (Radhakrishnan), because whatever their forms of expression they all lead to one Truth.

The universality of religions is automatically acknowledged when we acknowledge that the essence of any religion is more important than its form of expression. The difference between the forms and the essence of religion can be explained by an analogy of the difference between the fire and its essence. While the form of a flame changes from moment, its essence i.e. the burning quality is universal in all the flames. Truth is one but can be expressed in many ways which may change with time and situation. Therefore, the forms of expression have to be renovated with time so that they can accommodate changes brought about by new situations emerging from the changed context while retaining the essence of religion. More often the problem is: “upholding the governing principle and saving it from its outer incrustations or dogmas”, -Radhakrishnan. Religion too can adopt the approach suggested by science one of the most important features of which is critical analysis. Such an analysis can reveal the perils inherent in accepting the traditions and dogmas uncritically. However, being critical is an attribute more commonly accepted in science than in religion, particularly when a religious idea is considered justified only scripturally. Religion too has to be assessed critically lest it leads to conflict between science and religion. Our life experiences include a wide range of psychic experiences which the human mind can exhibit under certain conditions. The most difficult hurdle in our spiritual journey lies in transcending the limitations of our mental attributes.

It is true that objective knowledge provides us with powerful means for achieving certain objectives required for a more comfortable life. In fact, the scientific age has been the most creative epoch of humanity in terms of our intellectual rectitude, the depth of curiosity and the sphere of inquiry and research. Science has been instrumental in eliminating a number of superstitions against some social injustices. It may seem that scientific results are independent of religious or moral values. The initial victory of science was due to the fact that science seemed to provide verifiable results. The implications of scientific discoveries that were used to enhance the quality of life on ethical and moral values could not be assessed or refuted immediately. For example, overemphasis by science on purely rational and intellectual aspects seriously eroded ethical values, but nothing was done in time to combat the negative impacts, because the immediate attitude is often governed by what is currently accepted, and not by what should be. In the cases mentioned above, science was considered value-fee. Today, the general attitude has rightly shifted towards the values of life. We are becoming aware of what too much outward expansion may lead us to. The achievements of scientific discoveries have quite often been mistaken for civilization and human progress. We now realize that science is not completely free from human obligations as the scientific results alone cannot justify their compatibility or incompatibility with the objectives of scientific endeavors. The basic question is how science should deal with what should be? Can science sideline the questions related to altruism or to individual competition versus collaborative behavior etc.? Here we face the limits of scientific methods that are based purely on rational conceptions of human existence. It is now rapidly dawning on scientists that they are no longer the only verifiers of scientific data and results of rational analysis. Their scope of study also includes the study of life as they are deeply embedded in human society, but the study of life is no longer value-free or value-neutral. Science and humanity are thus closely interrelated, but it is commonly accepted that only humanity that strives after ethical and moral-spiritual ideals can use the great triumphs of scientific knowledge for the true end of civilization. Science is better used when it is used as the science of values.

The pursuit for scientific knowledge can be considered natural, but the application of scientific results cannot be considered value-free as they have created new and serious ethical and spiritual challenges, particularly when we lay greater emphasis on material gains at the cost of human values. But one stark evidence that is slowly dawning upon us is that science when properly utilized, may even strengthen man’s idealism. Improved human conditions have made us more charitable, kindlier and more tolerant indicating that the idealized past may not be overtaken simply by scientific materialism which is associated with the lower mind and material existence. But as asserted by Bishop Berkeley all we know of the world is our reaction to it, our impressions of it. But we know that there is something more in man than is apparent from these impressions. That something is the higher mind which is capable of leading us to the higher Self. But the more important point is that something is more than these impressions, and harbors finer spiritual presence in our hearts. It is this spiritual presence (in the form of Self, Love, etc.) and the spiritual impulses (in the form of feelings, ideals, altruism, etc.) that arise in the hearts of some of us that can bring about our spiritual transformation. Each one of us has the ability to feel that spiritual presence, and some of us are also able to acknowledge these spiritual impulses, but these being of intuitive nature have to be cultivated, but once cultivated sufficiently we know that these spiritual impulses are the best guides for our spiritual transformation for man is essentially a spiritual being which represents the first and fundamental reality, the creative force, the Universal Mind, the Self or the Overself. Similar statements have been made by some leading world-famous scientists. Sir James Jeans writes: All those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have not any substance without the mind. Similarly, another eminent physicist and a noble prize winner Sir Arthur Eddington says The universe is an idea in the mind of God. One must, however, understand that the mind here connotes a creative force that transcends the limits of rational thinking or the Will part of the Knowledge-Will. It is from this point of view that Swami Yogananda Paramahansa asserts that you are what you think or who you really are. These philosophical views are akin to the adwait philosophy of Samkara who says that the ultimate beginning is not in matter. Quantum physics too has raised serious questions about the true nature of the world. The quantum physicists seem to have come to the conclusion that consciousness can be considered as the final proof of our knowledge, of our existence or of reality. 461

A number of value-related aspects of our life such as ethics, aesthetics, morality etc., and a number of deeper metaphysical questions are still beyond the scope of scientific inquiries, but this is so when we base these inquiries on the logico-deductive approach. The values associated with the concepts such as ethics, aesthetics, morality etc., are themselves undergoing metamorphosis. Morality, for example, does not connote the same thing as it used to have a few centuries ago. Our responsibility towards the environment has taken an altogether new dimension and new direction even within a much shorter time span. Value systems themselves are changing fast. For example, science is no longer independent of the environment as our sustainability is critically dependent on how we interact with the environment. But being aware of the fact that our sustainability depends on the environmental conditions presents to us only the half-truth. The real truth is that we ourselves constitute an integral part of the environment. We are the subject as well as the object of this all-encompassing environment. Therefore, we have the potential of freeing ourselves from our outer conditions or even creating a conducive environment. This does not mean that we can do this at the cost of damaging the environment as Nature has its own laws which are not to be neglected.

Since the scientists are themselves involved in the evolution of value systems, we can absolve neither the individual scientist nor the scientific organizations from their responsibilities towards Nature as well as towards humanity. There is more to our existence, to our place in Nature and reality in general than science can provide us. It is said that the moments of creativity lead us closure to God and the ensuing feelings, emotions and experiences are all gratifying, holistic and revealing as they not only emanate from the source of mind but also establish the link between the mind and the source of the mind. Einstein speaks about the state of mind of a scientist who has established this link. “His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection”. However, this link is often established not through the coarse intellect of the mind but through the intuition of the heart. It is during the moments of creativity that genuine scientists have been made aware of their social, moral and perhaps religious obligations fulfilling which they found great satisfaction. They talk about this type of awareness as elevating, uplifting and full of positive energy. Some of the well-known scientists, Einstein, for example, have termed this satisfaction as the cosmic religious feeling which is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research and which, therefore, is not limited to the immediate realities of life. The religious feelings, which Einstein talks about, have possessed the religious geniuses of all ages forcing them to go beyond the limits of science and, thereby, to go beyond the limits of reason.

It is often the eminent physicists who seem to have been able to bridge the gap between science/physical science and religion/religious experience. Einstein cites a contemporary who said: in this materialistic age of ours the scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people. Sri Aurobindo too leads us to a similar conclusion. “All that the physical science has to do is to relate Matter to Energy in order to explain the eternal factors of existence”. If we explain this relationship through our rational mind supported by sense organs, it appears that Matter is primary and Energy is secondary i.e. Energy is only a phenomenon of Matter. On the other hand, if we use the mind of the mind, the reality is just the opposite. “All things are the action of Energy and Matter is secondary” -Sri Aurobindo. There is one Energy, but many forces. The Vedic view also holds that Brahman is the sacred energy that holds all the disparate elements of the world together and constitutes the source of the inner as well as the outer world. Heidegger also talks about fundamental energy that supports and animates everything that exists. Referring to this fundamental energy as the law of mind and thought process Professor Brian D. Josephson (winner of the Nobel Prize in physics) writes: “The Vedanta and Sankhya hold the key to the laws of mind and thought process, which are correlated to the quantum field i.e., the operation and distribution of particles at atomic and molecular levels.”

There is a qualitative gap between the reality we understood through science and the reality we know through religious experiences. Intuition constitutes the most important link between the two. It is an inbuilt faculty, and all of us can intuit it. Scientists have already acknowledged the role of intuition as a means of probing into the hidden secrets of reality. They have used intuition to go beyond the rational mind or beyond the phenomenal world, but we also have to learn to live into it. It is then possible to transcend science and begin our journey into the world of subjective knowledge. But the journey ahead is through religion alone which can lead to spiritual transformation which is seeing the truth face to face, but this seeing cannot be reasoned out by science.

AB Singh Photo.jpg

Prof. Dr. Akal Bahadur Singh

Prof. Dr. Singh was one of the founding Pragya in the old pre-1990 RONAST. Recently he has been spending much of his time thinking about the relationship between science and spirituality.

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