Science and Religion in India

Are science and religion in India really at war — a battle between provable facts and unprovable myth? Reason against wishful thinking? And how does India approach this apparent conflict?

Argument over the Big Bang ... The sun at the center of the universe ... A round world ... Evolution ...

These concepts have been used as flails to rail against the reality of a God cause at the center of life and the universe.

There is a pretense that science and religion are at war. But this modern invention is just that: a man-made “reality” ... or rather a myth of man’s making.

Science and Hinduism

Although the Subcontinent has felt the heat of conflict between many of its religions, even to the point of massive bloodshed in instances like Partition, there has not been the same level of enmity between science and religion in India so often found in Western cultures — particularly in places like America.

Science even incorporates the names of Hindu gods or places into the names of projects, as with the Agni (god of fire) missile and the Chandrayan Lunar Mission (Chandralok being the mythical land of the moon).

In India, many Hindus point to the pliability to be found within the breadth of Hinduism. They meld evolution into ancient legends and point to the on-target order of incarnations within the ten avatars of Vishnu, beginning with Matsya the fish and ending with Kalki, the machine man, who is yet to come.

Hindu astronomical texts appear as early as 1200 BC. Astronomy and astrology were intertwined. Indian philosophers and scientists, both Hindu and Buddhist, were aware of atoms and advanced theories regarding their nature.

While certain points they advanced have since been disproven (such as the timeless, durationless nature they proposed for atoms — an error Western science was also party to), it is certain that India did not languish in a state of scienceless unreason before it was colonized. In any case, it seems fair to say that not only has religion not picked a fight with science in India, but also that science has not demonized religion.

Science and Christianity

“Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible nature, namely His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20)

Indian Christians also have a strong presence in the sciences. Notable Indian scientists like Dr. Tessy Thomas, scientist and project director for the Agni-IV and V missile projects, is a Nasrani Christian, as is physician and glycobiologist Ajit Varki.

For centuries, faith in God was the greatest motivation for exploring science. It was seen as a way to know God better, through understanding of His creation.

From the earliest times, Christians like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas employed reason as a way of knowing God. Christianity, at its core, has not been about escape from truth and reason ... but about embracing it to seek out what is real.

Many of our most ground-breaking scientists have been Christians: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Lemaitre, Descartes, Ohm, Faraday, Pasteur, Mendel ... the list goes on.

Some were monks dedicated to science as a part of their worship for God. Others, like Newton and Boyle, wrote both scientific and theological works. These people were not merely nominal Christians, but people for whom faith was deeply important.

The Big Bang Theory

George Lemaitre was the Christian Belgian scientist who first proposed a Big Bang as the starting point for our universe. And although at least some modern Christians reject the Big Bang, the theory, in and of itself, is not anti-God.

Rather, the most ironic thing is that the very fact that causes radical Darwinists to reject or downplay the Big Bang is the very point that would redeem it in the eyes of people of faith: That is, the universe and time itself all began in a single instance — in an explosion of light. It is a creation instance that sent matter hurtling apart, as planets are still moving apart in our expanding universe. In fact, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, by logical extension, predicts such a single moment of beginning.

This moment created all the laws of physics but, by definition, is a cause outside those laws. None of the “rules” we know can help us explain anything that occurred prior to that moment of blinding light and creation. Indeed, words like prior or before have no meaning when discussing anything leading up to that moment, because time did not exist.

Why Some Scientists Don’t Like the Big Bang

To put it simply, scientists bring their worldview with them into the lab. Because an instance like the Big Bang leaves open the possibility of an intelligent creator — God perhaps — it is more convenient to leave this theory alone, or at least to strip it of its implications.

Scientists like Gold, Bondi, and Hoyle went to great lengths to escape the Big Bang’s single-moment beginning to time and matter. They promoted a Steady State Universe as an alternate theory. This had, at its core, an eternal universe that always had existed — a place with endless time for evolution to do its work, without need for a creator of any kind. The steady state universe, however, was later discredited.

This reveals clearly the need to truly follow the evidence where it leads — not to presuppose what must be true and rework or ignore evidence that fails to fit neatly within that framework of suppositions.

Indeed, it is both naive and arrogant to suppose the "reality" perceived by our senses is the only reality there could possibly be. It's akin to supposing that because a tape recorder can only register sound, then taste, touch, sight, and smell must not exist.

Could there be other ways to perceive realities than our five senses? It seems reasonable to leave open that possibility. Science and religion in India need not give way to any unnecessary conflict if each side is truly seeking truth and not self justification.

Why Some People of Faith Should Like the Big Bang

1) The Big Bang is scientifically credible. It is consistent with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It also makes for extremely accurate scientific predictions regarding elemental quantities in the universe. First and foremost, a person of faith must seek truth and be willing to evaluate the merits (or lack of them) of wisdom that comes even from unlikely sources.

2) The Big Bang is not, in and of itself, in conflict with Judeo-Christian accounts of creation (or that of many other religions, for that matter). The Biblical creation account in Genesis spoke of:

    a) Time and matter coming into being in an instant — as having a beginning. This is a claim unique to Genesis. (Hinduism and Buddhism speak of multiple cycles of time stretching into an immeasurable past, while ancient Greek and Roman intellectuals and Jains would have been big fans of the steady state universe.)

    b) The creation of light on the first day as preceding the creation of the sun on the fourth day. For generations, this very matter in the Bible had been used by nonbelievers as something to criticize in the Biblical account ... and was very difficult for believers to understand or explain. Yet as our scientific knowledge advances, it’s revealed as both true and entirely reasonable. Yet it was written in God’s word before people had any way of knowing or proving this aspect of our universe.

3) One implication of the Big Bang is that easily leaves room for a Creator. In order for our process of universe and time to have been set in motion, there has to have been a cause ... and that cause, of necessity, is one impossible (by definition) for science itself to explain. That Being — that Cause — would be someone or something outside the realm of our science. Even a nominally agnostic scientist of great genius, like Stephen Hawking agrees with this conclusion in his book A Briefer History of Time. (Note: He may not personally embrace a God cause but is intellectually honest in stating that science itself cannot explain the cause.)

Famous Indian Scientists

Acharya Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose: A versatile scientist who carried out pioneering research in several fields and laid the foundation for modern experimental science and radio science in India
Meghnad Saha: Saha equation, astrophysics, stellar spectroscopy, thermal ionization, as well as the social implications of science
Vikram Sarabhai:
Visionary physicist and father of the Indian space program
Homi Jehangir Bhabha: Chief architect of the Indian atomic energy program
Satyendra Nath Bose: Bose-Einstein statistics (in cooperation with Albert Einstein)
Sir C V Raman: Nobel Prize in Physics 1930. Acoustics and vibration, Raman effect, structure and properties of diamond and iridescent substances

Salim Ali:
Ornithology--known as "the bird man of India"
A P J Abdul Kalam: Crucial role in developing India's nuclear weapons program
Har Gobind Khorana:
Nobel Prize in 1968. Biochemistry.
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar: Nobel Prize 1983. Astrophysics, evolutionary stages of massive stars.
Birbal Sahni:
Paleobotanist, study of fossils on Indian subcontinent

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