Science, Religion and Philosophy

There are two types of phenomenon. Ones that can be verified (eg. fire is hot) and the others that cannot be verified (eg. if you do good, good will happen to you). Anything that can be verified comes under the domain of science. About that which cannot be verified, if it is left open and all options are discussed, it is philosophy. About that which cannot be verified, if one set of axioms are assumed in such a way that it leads to morality and purpose in human beings, it is religion. As all religions are merely belief systems, one religion cannot be “truer” than others. However, the universality, rationality and benignity of various religions can be compared.

Science tries to explain the reality around us and has been seeking to find the basic building block of the universe. Different religions in the world give their own models of the world, which are often conflicting with each other. Philosophy also tries to present an abstraction of the world. All these different approaches are not contradictory but they are complementary. They are all valid from different points of view. Here we try to analyze these approaches from the point of view of Indian philosophy.

The World According to Science

According to today’s science, the world is made of matter and energy, which are two forms of the same fundamental entity. Everything in the universe is nothing but chunks of matter interacting with each other by energy. The mind is a product of the chemical reactions and electrical current in the brain. The sense of individuality is also a product of the brain. Fundamentally, nothing exists in this universe other than matter and energy.

Matter and energy follow physical laws. Physical laws are deterministic. They may follow some probability and fuzziness because of the interchangeability between matter and energy. But putting them together, there is no extraneous factor affecting their dynamics. The physical universe is totally self-contained and its dynamics is deterministic.

Now, if we accept this standpoint of science, there are some inconveniences. As every particle of matter, including the molecules in the brain follow physical laws, the dynamics of the entire universe, including the thoughts of every one, is deterministic and so, pre-determined. There is no place for any self-willed individual. There is no place for individuality and so there is no place for individual responsibility. There is no freedom of thought and action. The entire universe is one dynamics flowing as per the physical laws. If we accept Big Bang, then the entire dynamics, including the thought and action of every human being, was determined at that point of singularity. No one has any choice or control over anything.

Of course, truth does not seek the convenience of anyone. There are other problems too. There are records of genuine cases of extra sensory perception (ESP). There are records of people being able to move articles, bend spoons, etc without any physical contact. There are records of clairvoyance, mind reading, etc. There are just a lot of things that are recorded in a genuine and unquestionable manner, which just do not fit into the model of today’s science. Science has been just ignoring these as if they don’t exit. Science can never be complete without taking all these into account and coming up with a model that can explain these.

The Model of Religion

All religions of the world without exception consider mind as an independent entity than the physical world of matter and energy. This, in fact, is the dividing line between science and religion. Religion proposes a model where individual minds interact with a physical world. All religions accept that there are infinite number of individuals who interact with one physical world.

As the individual is an independent entity, the law of cause and effect applies to the thoughts and actions of the individual. During the lifetime, each individual operates through a part of the physical world. The nature of the individual, how the individual existed before the lifetime, what happens to the individual after the lifetime, etc are answered differently by different religions. But all religions concur on the independence and freedom, however limited, of the individual. The individual is responsible for his thoughts and actions during the lifetime. The choice that the individual takes voluntarily during the lifetime decides his condition after the lifetime. The individual is not in full control of the situations that he faces in life, but he is fully responsible for his reaction to the situations.

Giving the mind an independent status opens the gate to studying the possibility of the mind affecting matter in different ways. If I want to lift my hand, I can. This is a simple and well-understood case of mind affecting matter. Similarly, the occult observations are just phenomenon yet to be fully understood.

This model opens up a lot of questions too. Different religions give different models. Some religions talk of a heaven and hell. Some religions talk of rebirth. Some religions talk of a Judgment Day. Which is correct and which is incorrect?

Now, given that there is individuality and the individual is responsible for his thoughts and actions, what is right and what is wrong? What is the aim of life? Towards what goal should an individual strive to move?

Though all religions agree on the preliminaries like “Don’t tell lies”, “Love your neighbor”, “Help others”, “Don’t steal”, “Be kind”, etc., religions differ in the ultimate goal of life. Some religions promise a heaven and say that is the goal. Some religions set the goal as freedom from rebirth.

Another problem that rises is this. The mind goes through experiences of waking and dream. The mind goes through the same amount of joy and sorrow by dream incidents while dreaming, as the waking incidents while waking. So, as far as the mind is concerned, during a dream, the dream world is as real as this world. The dream world cannot be discounted. The mind is an independent entity and the cause and effect system should span across waking and dream states. This makes the physical world incomplete without taking into account the dream world. But the dream world is an individual perception. It is not available to other individuals. This forces the physical world also to be an individual world.

Personal World Model

All that we see, touch, hear, dream, imagine, etc is only through the mind. The mind is the only window for us to the world. If instead of being a window, the mind is considered to be a screen on which everything is projected, there will be no difference in our experience of the world. And this reconciles the waking and dream experiences. All states of the mind come into one cause and effect system. The waking state is as good as the dream state. We don’t go from waking to dream and back to waking, but we go from one dream to another. Just as we don’t take birth, grow and die in every dream, in waking too, birth and death have no meaning. Based on our desires and actions, situations are created and withdrawn every moment. Time is only in the memory. Space is only in the mind. Just as the dream trees and building are made of thoughts, this world too is made of thoughts only.

The law of cause and effect holds good as strongly as ever. The only difference is that we are not put into different situations in life. Different situations are projected into us, like reading a book page after page. The desires and reactions to the situations decide the subsequent situations.

The world we see is based on our belief. If we believe in a heaven and desire it, a heaven is projected in our mind. If we believe in a hell and fear it, a hell is projected in our mind. All the concepts of world, birth, rebirth, heaven, hell, etc are all as true as the individual beliefs. Nothing is false. All religions are true. Just take up one and work with it.

What is the goal? That is left to the individual. Everyone wants joy and wants to avoid sorrow. It is your world. If you do good, you get good. If you do bad, you get bad. You are free to create your world. But, you need to face the world you have created. So, create the world that you would like to face. That justifies all morality. If you want a world where people don’t tell lies, you should not tell lies.

Now, this model raises some questions. How long should this drama go on? I am tired of this. Can I bring an end to this? Mind is nothing but thoughts. If thoughts keep coming and going all the time, against what backdrop do they come and go? There should be a non-changing substratum that I can call as me. I cannot be the mind. Who am I? We all experience a brief cessation of thoughts everyday during deep sleep. If there are no thoughts during that time, what remains?

Model Without a World

The drama is fueled by desire to experience. Fear is just a negative desire, and so it is just another desire. The desire to experience is out of expectation of joy out of the experience. But thoughts always create mixed experiences.

I experience deep sleep. Invariably, I never suffer sleep. A dreamless deep sleep is always welcome. Thoughts create joy and sorrow, and all kinds of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. But the state of thoughtlessness creates unalloyed joy.

So, the way to real joy is thoughtlessness. Temporary cessation of thoughts can happen by sleep or other means. But permanent cessation of thoughts can happen only by giving up all desire to experience.

When there are no thoughts, there is no world. World is just made of thoughts only. Different worlds come and go with different thoughts. Continuity in the world is only an illusion. The only continuous entity is myself, the conscious existence. It is in my light that the mind projects the worlds. I exist independent of the mind and the world that it projects. I am the entity that exists unchanged through the different states of the mind. I am the only independent existence.

Conclusion

Thus Indian philosophy gives a unified model of the universe, which is true at different levels. Nothing is rejected. Science and various religions are all acceptable from different points of view. But none of them give the full picture. But the Advaita Vedaanta philosophy that talks of the unity of all existence as the one conscious being, which is the person himself, gives the most comprehensive picture. But to appreciate it, one has to go through the different intermediate philosophies.

The model of science is called “charuvaakaa” philosophy. The religious model is called “srishti drishti vaada” philosophy. The personal world model is called “drishti srishti vaada” philosophy. The model without a world is called “ajaata vaada” philosophy. Indian philosophy accepts all of them as useful working models and stepping-stones, but the reality is the final “ajaata vaada”, which is also called “Advaita Vedaanta” philosophy.

6 Responses to Science, Religion and Philosophy

  1. Meme Propagator says:

    I have a couple of comments.

    Firstly, although the universe may follow some scientific laws, these laws need not be deterministic. In fact, quantum mechanics operates in probabilities, hence the “laws” of quantum mechanics merely dictate what is likely to happen and what is not. In that sense, the claim that science imposes determinism and excludes free will is wrong. A large number of people may even argue that we don’t have free will at all, but that is a different argument. My point here is as of now, (a) we _do not know_ from a scientific point of view whether the universe is deterministic or not, and (b) based on current scientific knowledge it looks like it might not be.

    Secondly, about the claims of ESP etc. which are supposedly unexplained by science, there have been several attempts to prove these claims to a scientific audience all of which ended in abject failure. For a very readable account of several such investigations in an Indian context, I suggest you peruse “Science, Nonscience and the Paranormal”, edited by our own Dr. H. Narasimhaiah. There are of course, several books of a similar bent, but I recommend this one because it is edited by a person who is quite familiar with Indian teaching and philosophy. It is not the case that science has been ignoring these claims, but rather the people who make such claims are not willing to be scrutinized by a scientific audience and instead resort to peddling their so called “supernatural” (the world itself is an oxymoron!) powers to a gullible public.

    Finally, I’d like to make a philosophical point this connection. You refer to science as if it were a set of laws or equations that attempt to model nature. Science is _not_ a set of equations or a set of theorems, but rather a _method_ for attempt to understand the world. Scientific study (in fact all inquiries of a rational kind) use the _scientific method_ in their attempts to understand a natural/artificial phenomenon. The scientific method relies on _repeatability_ and _objectivity_, both of which are sorely lacking in pseudo-scientific or religious studies. In any case, the point here is that current scientific knowledge may well be wrong (in fact it almost surely is at many levels), but what will remain is the scientific method – which is the basis for our current understanding of the world.

    The point I’m trying to make is that to substantiate your claim that science is somehow “incomplete” you’d have to show that the scientific method is invalid. Just claiming that current scientific knowledge is incomplete is pointless, we all know that and that is no bad thing.

    • gokulmuthu says:

      Thanks for your comments.

      The non-deterministic nature of things does not point to freewill of individuals according to science.

      About ESP, accounts of people able to read the minds of others like a book cannot be ignored. I have encountered them personally. So there is no question of doubt there.

      I agree with you that science can mean “the subject matter of science” or “the method of science”. The method of science is a wonderful tool which is universal. If you dig deep, it is merely the non-violable nature of cause and effect. Religion and philosophy also as described in the article are based on it. What is mentioned in the article is the stand of science that mind is a product of matter. That is the point of difference between science and religion.

      I will try to get a copy of the book and read it. Thanks for the pointer.

  2. Utpal Chakrabarty says:

    Hi Gomu,

    Why do you say “According to today’s science, the world is made of matter and energy”? Don’t they talk about Space and time also?

    Regards

    Utpal Chakrabarty

    • gokulmuthu says:

      Utpalji,

      When I say “matter and energy”, “space and time” are implied because matter and energy exist and operate in space and time only.

      With regards,
      Gomu.

  3. Utpal Chakrabarty says:

    Yes, I guessed you did.

    However, don’t you think that the analysis is incomplete unless space and time are included due to the paradigm shift subsequent to emanation of ideas during the golden years of Physics – not only matter is another form of energy and wave is another form of particle but space and time are related and uncertainty principle which makes it apparent that the physicist is not sure if “God plays dice or not”, i.e., today’s science no longer believes that the physical laws are “that” deterministic.

    Regards

    Utpal

  4. zulfiqar ali says:

    When one tries to find the relationship between space and time the only thing that comes to my mind is that space is only as vast as time is since we only describe our space a matterless continuum. Within this exists all the possibilites that includes mass and energy which happen to be complmentary. But most of the things in universe are complementary and do follow a fallback pattern to reproduce one or the other. Space and time are not similar to every other thing and if time is reversed and let flow again possibilities will be similar and outcomes may be different but time and space will be the same. It is strange but we don’t control the universe so we don’t really know if we can ever fold the time but the sense we live in implies that if we ever did we will create another time to describe that event.

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