Science, Creation and Hinduism
By Kashyap Vasavada
Recently there has been a resurgence of discussions
on teaching creationism in science classes as a result of the Indiana
senate bill. I would like to emphasize strongly that science teachers
should not be required to teach these ideas in science classes. Such
ideas have not met rigorous standards of scientific research. Let scientists
decide what should be taught in science classes. Just saying that God
created everything hardly explains anything. Everyone is welcome to
challenge a scientific model, but then one has to provide an alternate
model which explains the same or more data in a better way. People happily
use results of scientific progress, such as technological products,
drugs and medical procedures. Then they should also accept conclusions
that follow from the scientific method. In science, you cannot pick
and choose only the conclusions that are consistent with your beliefs.
In addition, school children are not mature enough to understand the
difference between rigorously established scientific models and individual
beliefs. I am writing this as a scientist and a longtime member of the
Hindu temple of central Indiana who believes that religion has a very
important place in life, but it is not in the science classroom.
Now I would like to explain briefly concepts of Hinduism,
since it is one of the religions mentioned in the bill. Many American
readers may not know about Hinduism. Let me start by saying there is
no essential conflict between Hindu philosophy and modern science. Hindus
believe that there is a fundamental entity called Brahman (God) that
created (actually manifested) the universe and pervades everything,
living and nonliving. Interestingly this is similar to what modern physics
says –i.e., everything is made out of the same constituent particles.
You may worship Brahman in any form you choose. This is the reason why
Hinduism allows worship of any god who symbolically represents Brahman.
The law of Karma, which says there is a consequence to everything one
does, is similar to the law of action and reaction of physics. As for
creation, Hindu scriptures always maintained that there are cycles of
creation and destruction lasting billions (not thousands) of years.
According to modern physics, the age of the universe since the big bang
is close to 14 billion years. Also, some of the philosophical descriptions
of reality of nature in Hindu scriptures are remarkably similar to the
description of reality in quantum physics.
Hindu belief is that the soul has to pass through
8.4 million species of living forms before getting to a human birth.
Surprisingly, this number is close to the number of species known to
biologists! Also, according to the mythological stories, avatars (incarnations)
of God came to earth in the form of fish, land animals and eventually
human beings. Of course, science would not go that far, but the progressive
evolution through various species is the basis of theory of evolution.
Thus Hindus have no problem with the theory of evolution. Darwin’s
theory was remarkably prophetic, since, at that time, he did not know
about DNA evidence of evolution, evolution of drug resistant bacteria
or fossil evidence of transition of species etc. which came up much
later (see, PBS program on “what Darwin never knew”).
Like other religions, Hinduism also has the usual
commandments, such as speak truth, lead a responsible moral life, do
not steal, do not commit unnecessary violence, etc.
Finally, we should recognize the differences in methods
and domains of science and religion. Science always deals with sensory
perceptions whereas, very often, religion deals with extra-sensory perceptions.
Thus religion goes beyond verified science. From a scientific point
of view, as yet, there is no understanding of consciousness, concept
of soul or for that matter, what happens after we die. I believe, most
scientists would not have any problem if there is a class on world religions
in schools, and such things are discussed there. After all, religion
does play an important role in our society. In my opinion, there is
no conflict between belief in God (as long as it is consistent with
laws of nature) and science.
Kashyap Vasavada is an emeritus professor of physics
at Indiana-Purdue University, Indianapolis IN. He is a member of the
Hindu temple of Central Indiana and past president of Geeta Mandal (a
group associated with the temple).
This article was published in Indianapolis Star on
April 14, 2012 with a few changes.
See Kashyap's next article: Modern Physics and Hindu Philosophy
Kashyap V. Vasavada
B.S. (Physics) M.S. Univ. of Baroda (India)
M.S. (Physics) Delhi Univ. (India)
Ph.D. (Physics) Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD.
Research Associate NASA
Asst. Prof. of Physics, Univ. of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)
Associate and Full Professor of Physics, Indiana-Purdue Univ. Indianapolis, IN.
Visiting Professor, Cornell Univ. Ithaca, NY.
Currently, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana-Purdue Univ. Indianapolis IN
I have published a number of articles in internationally known Physics journals.