Science and Cultural Dilemma
- Kishan Bhatia
This article discusses how three dominant global cultures – Vedic, Christianity and Islam – accept scientific truths. Christianity used to preach a dogma – Christian beliefs supersede scientific facts. They experienced reforms – starting with the renaissance era that changed Christianity for better. Not so with Islam. Vedic culture predates both Christianity and Islam and it has been free of a dogma – religious beliefs supersede scientific facts – from the start, about four to seven millenniums ago.Reforms among “the people of book” in the history of Christians and Muslims took opposite turns. Starting with 9th century in Islamic lands the Muslim rulers, clerics and elites dominated with a mindset frozen in the past primarily followed Sunna (traditions) documented in Koran, Hadith and Shariah. The Renaissance era (14th to 16th centuries) in Europe was marked by the revival of learning based on classical sources, the rise of courtly and papal patronage, the development of perspective in painting, and the advancements of science.In a struggle between the protestant movement and Catholics, the reformist Protestants managed to rid of dominance by fundamentalists Catholic Church. It followed a period of renaissance to bring about reforms in Christian social, cultural and political norms. With a separation of the Church and state, (not without some outrageous attempted suppressions of scientific discoveries like that of Galileo in a belief that Christian religion supersedes sciences) in many instances reformist Christians were able to incorporate reasons to evolve into a modern culture and society. Unlike political practices in the Muslim majority Islamic states, the Christian majority constitutional democratic states in the West and non-Christian majority India guarantees secular ideas of individual freedoms, equality of sexes, and political evolution in keeping with continuous changes in modern time.In a fifth century book, “City of God: Against the Pagans,” Augustine (ca 354 – 430AD) considered non-Christians to be pagans. Augustine was an early medieval Christian theologian and a judge in imperial Rome in Africa. He fought against both Donatist Christians and a variety of pagans. He advocated use of force to convert people and died when invading Vandals did to his church what he and his friends had earlier done to pagan temples. This marked the fulfillment of an earlier pagan prophecy that Christianity would disappear from Africa.Muslims are in denial that Islam is a derivative of Jewish-Christian theology and associated practices as they evolved over last fifteen hundred years. Many Islamic cultural and social practices on moral and ethics issues are connected to what Augustine advocated and institutionalized into Christian social and cultural practices. Augustine considered Arabs to be pagans and the prophet Mohammad (ca. 570 – 632AD) was unlikely not to have been influenced by atrocities committed by Augustine and his friends on tribal Arabs.
A question is why thinking in philosophy, mathematics, and science ceased in the Arab Muslim world starting about thirteenth century? Answers are history as to why rational explanations are not a part of Arab Islamic interpretations. A medieval scholar, Al-Ghazali (1058 – 1111AD) is one of the most celebrated Persian scholars in the history of Islamic thought and known as Algazel to the western medieval world. In his Tahaful al Falasifa (Destruction of the Philosophy) Al-Ghazali argued against the theology of reason and against earlier philosophers such as Al Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (see, Dr. S. A. Kamali, Pakistan Philosophical Congress, Lahore, 1958 and Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
The basic issue is whether propositions in the realm of beliefs are subject to rational examination? The “Mutazilites” Arabs sought to find rational explanations for articles of faith. They were influential for less than a century (748-827AD) and then they were suppressed until they disappeared from Muslim theological discourse. Arab Muslims have their share of obscurantism.
The winners in this contest, known as Asharites Arabs, opposed the application of reason to matters of religion. They preached conformity to the teachings of the earlier interpreters, and they cultivated prejudice against philosophy and non-religious branches of knowledge. In 1150 Caliph Mustanijid ordered the burning of the philosophical works of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and in 1194 Amir Abu Yusuf al-Mansur, then at Seville (Spain), ordered the burning of the works of another great Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averros). Thereafter, further thinking in philosophy, mathematics, and science ceased in the Arab Muslim world.
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal covers various topics related to Islam in general and political Islam in particular in his regular (every Friday) contribution of quantum notes to The News, a Jang publication. In two articles, Roots of Muslim dilemma (March 9 and 16) Dr. Iqbal asserts that Muslims of Islamic Um’mah in 21st century are facing a spiritual, intellectual, and moral decay. He argued that starting 18th century “Muslims came under attack from a civilization built upon ideas, beliefs, and aspirations in direct opposition to their own. Built upon a conception of life and cosmos from which the Divine had been abstracted, modern Western civilization placed human beings at the center of all things and constructed an edifice that makes human reason the measure of all things.”
Vedic civilization predates Western and Muslim civilizations. In recent times, Aryabhata (476 – 550AD) is considered a great mathematician-astronomer of Vedic decent among Indian mathematicians. The 3rd century Bakhshali Manuscript and the commentaries on works of Aryabhata by Bhaskara (Bhashy, ca. 600) and by Nilakantha Somayaji (Aryabhatiya Bhasya, 1465) are some well-known works.
Both Vedic and Western civilizations made significant cultural advances with progress in basic scientific discoveries. Vedic progress in sciences, specifically in mathematics and astronomy stalled starting about a millennium ago with colonization of India by the Turkic invaders from central and north Eurasia but continued in spiritual areas. During Sultanate (950 – ca 1200 AD), Mughal (ca 1500 – 1857 AD) and British (ca 200 years prior to 1947) periods colonizers with political suppressions of about 40 generations inhibited development of a critical mass of critical thinkers to cultivate a scientific mindset that was and is responsible for scientific progress during pre-950 Vedic period and post-1947 independent India, respectively.
Western scientific developments resulted in post-renaissance era, starting in 17th century. The recently developed theories – special theory of relativity (1905), the general theory of relativity (1915) and a unified quantum field theory – coupled with human reasoning powers have potential to rekindle links between mind (soul, spirituality), astronomy and quantum physics of sub-atomic particles. In physics, unified field theory (see 1967 work of Pakistani scientist Dr. Abdus Salam who shared a Nobel Prize with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg; Sheldon Glashow and Howard Georgi proposed the first grand unified theory in 1974) is an attempt to unify all the fundamental forces and the interactions between elementary particles into a single theoretical framework by reconciling the general theory of relativity with electromagnetism in a single field theory.
Modern scientific discoveries are responsible for emergence of a new philosophical outlook on God, humanity and nature. Unlike Islamic dogma based culture with a mindset frozen in past, the humanism changed the Western and Indian (with deep roots in Vedic culture) societies by developing human resources through education in math, sciences, philosophy and logic. This new outlook places human reason at the centre of all things and redefines boundaries of human conduct for modern societies.
Human reasoning has allowed Vedic and Western civilizations to make rapid advances through scientific and technological developments to modernize social, cultural, economic and political norms. In case of Western societies, it led to modernization of some basic Christian theological ideas – such as sun, not the earth is the center of universe. The solar based Vedic calendar predates all other solar based calendars. Technological advances in military sciences enabled Western societies to manage political domination of the globe including that of the Islamic Um’mah.
In scientific areas, developments of quantum physics and the unified quantum field theory have contributed to a deeper understanding of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which now occupies center stage of progress in the basic applied scientific technologies.
The phenomenon called gravitational waves was predicted by Einstein once he figured out that gravity was a warping of space and time by matter. Einstein predicted any mass changing speed or direction as it moved through space would produce gravitational waves like ripples on the water.
The 1993 Nobel Prize was awarded to two scientists – Prof. Joseph Taylor and his student, Russel Hulse – for proving in mid 1970s Einstein’s gravitational wave theory. They discovered in space a pair of neutron stars that were spiraling towards each other very fast – stars rotated around each other once every eight hours – which allowed the two scientists to determine that the stars were losing energy in a way that Einstein had predicted would happen if they were producing gravitational waves.
Einstein had previously predicted the famous E = mc2 equation that empirically related tangible matter to intangible energy. Vedic people consider the tangible body and intangible mind (soul, consciousness) as a whole simultaneously representing material and spiritual life. Mind is energy that intuitively produces ripples of reasoning to bring about changes leading to modernization of sciences, both hard sciences like physics and soft sciences like political science. Did Einstein light the trail head of spirituality through science?
LASER became a reality because scientist were able to develop technologies for Light Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation to generate coherent (holding together as one) light by electronic energy transfer of an ordinary beam of light, which is incoherent by nature. Like ordinary beam of light human mind is also incoherent meaning mind in ordinary state is not holding together as one or is not focused. Long before technology for electronic energy transfer of light to generate Lasers was developed; Vedic scholars had developed the meditation technology to enable humans to turn incoherent mind to a focused mind. Among many examples of extraordinary achievements through meditation most famous is that of Gautam Buddha who emancipated through his power of meditation. Dr. Mani Bhaumik is the inventor of LESIK technology used for corrective eye surgery and he describes in his book, Code name God (Penguin Books, 2005) how through meditation he was able to focus on development of LESIK technology, an application of Lasers.
Recent developments in the unified quantum field theory are likely to show a way to scientifically affirm a belief, “God is One,” which otherwise are three small words. Unlike politically motivated elites, theologians and orthodox fundamentalists, scientists seek empirical validation of a belief in one source of creation. With developments in the unified quantum field theory science is moving closer to the heart of the matter – do we still need God? No matter any specific religious faith or preferences the irrefutable truth at the heart of each religious tradition is “God is One.” Given one God the differences emphasized by proponents of different faith among people of the book or not are no more than a scientifically untenable dogma.
So much ritual, so many gods and demi-gods represented by the people of book or not, and yet Vedic belief system, especially Advaita manifests a single godhead, Brahman, and the Brahman itself – like fabric of universe – is undivided, unchanging, and all pervading. It is from Vedas that world first learned the notion that God is One. All separateness, including the separateness of our own selves, simply disguises the underlying unity of things.
Vedic credo – Aham Brahmasmi meaning I am Brahman – provides the sense of cosmic kinship. The belief that each one of us completes creation and that, correspondingly, God is incomplete without us is at the root of Indian life and may help explain Indian greeting of namaste, namaskar or namho aste signifying that I see God in you.
The feeling with namaste, namaskar or namho aste is no different than a statement attributed to Jesus Christ, “I and the Father are one.” Science gives us means to see in dimensions beyond the familiar; among them the realm of invisible reality. Einstein with his famous equation E = mc2 mathematically linked matter (a concrete entity) and energy (an abstract substance). If the body and mind comprises as a whole that is simultaneously material and spiritual then are we soul with bodies or bodies with soul? The difference is critical for if spirituality is primary and body secondary then in such a universe religious differences are untenable.
Politically motivated elite, theologians and orthodox fundamentalist with a mindset frozen in past and ignorant of scientific or mathematical logic propagate unscientific religious concepts – dogmas – to detriment of human progress, global peace and cultivation of spiritual love. According to Einstein religion without science is blind and science without religion is lame. As complex organisms grow from a single cell, so can complex philosophies grow from a single idea?
Prof C. K. Raju in a book, The Eleven Pictures of Time, (Sage Publications, New Delhi, London, 2003) brings together the physics, philosophy and politics of time beliefs to shed light on human progress starting with Vedic period. Prof. Raju’s powerful ideas can enlighten those engaged in understanding the roots of cultural, social, political and religious dilemmas of three dominant global cultures.
The qualities of heart are peace, freedom, love and spirituality. In that spirit I bow to you all, namho aste!
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