08 October, 2017

#SpecialFeature :: Why Science & Religion are Not Adversaries

*** Special Feature - October 2017 ***

About the Author
Dr. Vineet Aggarwal is described by many as a doctor by qualification, manager by profession and artist by temperament. Born in a family of doctors, he successfully completed an initial stint with the family occupation before deciding to venture into pharmaceutical management and currently pursues writing and photography as a passion.

He is the author of popular online blogs ‘Decode Hindu Mythology’ and ‘Fraternity Against Terrorism and Extremism’ and the author of books ‘Vishwamitra – The Man who dared to challenge the Gods’ and ‘The Legend of Parshu-Raam’

Why Science & Religion are not adversaries

When young Jagdish aka J. C. Bose, a brilliant Indian scientist of yester years extended his hand to pluck a flower, his mother stopped him with an admonition - plants were not to be disturbed at night for it was the time for them to sleep. As a kid, when I heard similar reprimands from my grandmother I used to laugh them away calling her superstitious. Born in pre-independence India, my grandmother was barely educated, what would she know about plants or the science associated with them?

It wasn’t until I took up Botany years later and learnt the concept of nyctinasty, that I realized how deeply based on science this suggestion actually was. The innocuous statement said to a young J. C. Bose, helped change our understanding of the plant kingdom for all time to come for it made him show the world that plants could feel pain as well as understand affection.

This realization made me wonder what could happen if we look at other such myths and so called superstitious religious beliefs in the light of science. We live in interesting times, someone said, and I couldn’t agree more. There is so much information available at the click of a button that it is almost criminal to not explore the world around us and get to know more about it.

Now I am no nerd (my educational qualification notwithstanding) and most of my college days were spent doing what most guys do – chasing girls, watching action movies, racing bikes and obsessing about India-Pakistan matches. But once in a while, I would wander off towards the middle path advocated by perhaps the most successful export of India - Buddhism - and ponder about things other than those covered above.

When I tell someone I am a doctor, most people automatically assume I would have nothing to do with religion. I have had that thrown at me so many times that it is not even funny anymore. The perception that people into science are not into religion and vice versa is quite prevalent and I know it is not without reason. Galileo, who quite to the chagrin of the notions of established religion, used the telescope to declare that the Sun did not after all revolve around the earth, had to kneel to the clergy and accept that his theory was false.

Charles Darwin, who first came out with the ‘Theory of Evolution’ faced considerable criticism from creationists who believed that God created this world in seven days. In spite of a huge body of evidence to support his claims, most religious clerics and even many men of science refused to accept the theory in his lifetime.

Even today, leaders of various religious communities keep giving diktats to their followers on what is kosher and what isn’t acceptable to God. The grass is not really greener on the other side and we find a lot of people educated in the modern system of schooling rubbishing religious beliefs as primitive mumbo jumbo. Of course a lot of religion is ritual but that doesn’t mean all of it is to be considered unscientific.

So are Science and Religion destined to remain at loggerheads with each other? Maybe not if we keep an open mind towards the possibility that their amalgamation provides. Today, I am a blogger and an author precisely because I decided to explore the connection between them and share it with those kindred souls who might have the same interests as me. My blog – Decode Hindu Mythology – has articles delving into various myths taken from comparative world mythologies. Each article utilizes at least one stream of science to analyze it in a better way for the modern audience. It could be archeology, genetics, astronomy, linguistics, oceanography or any other branch of science that is relevant for that particular topic and I am glad to observe a healthy response from readers all over the globe.

I still remember the trepidation I felt while publishing my first post – would someone else be interested in knowing about these topics? Were there other people in the world who were as bothered about reconciling science with religion as I was? Surprisingly, the response was phenomenal and the more I wrote, the more support I received from others sailing in the same boat.

To give an example of what I have been rambling about, sample this - the three big religions of the world – Christianity, Islam and Hinduism – talk about a ‘Great Deluge’ that drowned everything and life could continue only when God intervened and selected one virtuous man to begin life anew after the waters receded. According to the Abrahamic religions, the only survivor of this global flood was Noah who survived by creating an Ark as commanded by God’s angels while in Hindu beliefs, this task was undertaken by Vaivasvat Manu with help from Lord Vishnu’s Matsya Avatar.

When I researched on this topic I found that such flood-myths were not restricted to these three religions, and could be found in mythologies from Philippines to Babylon to Egypt to Nigeria and Mexico! I wondered if the presence of these myths in widely separated geographies indicated that a large part of the globe had really gone underwater at some time in history and while finding the answer to a question posed by religion, it was science that came to the rescue.

In the glacial period all water is withdrawn from the oceans and get stored as ice that covers the land in thick sheets of ice. When the meltdown begins, all this water is released back into the oceans, inundating what used to be habitable land and wiping out signs of all civilization. The stories of Noah and Vaivasvat Manu then may just be the stories of the survivors of that global flood that affected almost all coastal civilizations! Not too much difference between the beliefs of science and religion then?

This is not the only example; a similar congruity can be found in descriptions of the Sun-god (Apollo to the Romans, Ra for the Egyptians and Surya in Hinduism) traveling across the skies. Hindu sages describe that the Sun-god’s chariot has one central wheel with twelve spokes and is drawn by seven horses. Sounds like a fairytale till you pause to think about the extremely specific numbers. Could it be possible that the central wheel with twelve spokes was actually an allegory for the Solar year, divided into twelve months? Would it be too far-fetched if I equated the seven horses yoked to this fantastic chariot with the seven colors that comprised the sunlight?

There are many such interesting nuggets you find once you start exploring the scriptures. Hinduism talks about ten major incarnations of Lord Vishnu known as the Dash-avatar. For the uninitiated, let me tell you that these are the forms taken by Lord Vishnu, considered the preserver-god in Hinduism, in order to save the world from certain devastations. The list begins with an aquatic form (Matsya), moves to an amphibian (Kurma), followed by a terrestrial animal (Varah), transitioning into a half-animal/half-human (Narsimha), progressing to a pygmy (Vaman) to a jungle-dwelling human (Parshu-Rama) and then to city-dwellers (Rama, Krishna and Buddha). Is it just me or is anyone else also thinking of evolution?

My research for the blog as well as my three books has led me to the conclusion that it may never be possible to draw a neat segregating line between science and religion. If instead of seeing the two as competitors, we accept that they may actually be complimentary to each other, it opens up a wide vista of enlightenment that can help both disciplines learn from each other! After all, isn’t that the common goal of both religion and science - the enlightenment of human mind. Maybe it is time to actually follow the middle path advocated by Buddha, and let science and religion co-exist once again.

I conclude with an invocation from the Rig Veda that sums up the philosophy of my life –
नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः - Aa no bhadrah kratvo yantu vishvatah
Let noble thoughts come to us from all over the world

About the Book:

The kingdoms of Nabhi-varsh lie scattered in the wake of Parshu-Raam's assault on corrupt Kshatriyas. While evil has been wiped out from the land, the important task of nation-building remains. In the forest of Naimish-Aranya, the stunned king of Hastinapur watches a young boy play with lion cubs. Who is this fearless child? How does his destiny entwine with that of this ancient kingdom? Will he be able to bring order to the nation and defend it against the invaders lining up at its borders? Reimagined brilliantly, this novel tells the story of the son of Dushyant and Shakuntala, the grandson of Brahmarishi Vishwamitra, the man who changed the destiny of our country and gave it a brand new name-Bharat! Praise for the Legend of Parshu-Raam! 

1 Paperback Copy of Bharat by Vineet Aggarwal for Indian Residents

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