On the Theory of Evolution—A Dialogue

(Transcript from a conversation)

Scientist: In the Sarva-saṁvādinī, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī quotes Vācaspati Miśra from the Bhāmati. Vācaspati Miśra is considering ordinary sense perception and contradictions between sense perception and scripture. He makes the argument that the śāstra is also heard with the senses. So we cannot reject the authority of the senses because then the śāstra itself cannot be heard, nor things like Kṛṣṇa’s names etc. So sense perception has its value. Now if there is a contradiction between sense perception and scripture, what do we do? He says that the philosopher is not concerned with such sense perception in that case. He doesn’t say that the philosopher is obligated to reject sense perception.

With this background, let us consider the Bhāgavata’s version and the evolutionary version. The Bhāgavata’s version (the sixth canto) is that Kaśyapa Muni fathered several different species through his wives. Kadru gave birth to snakes, reptiles etc. Vinatā, Garuda’s mother, gives birth to birds- and in the same way, there is a whole list with other wives—tigers, hooved animals like cows etc. Kaśyapa is a human being by all accounts—some people in India have Kaśyapa gotra, which means he was their ancestor.

What is evolution? First, I don’t think evolution is a conspiracy to reject religion, nor is science a matter of faith. I think that the term ‘rational faith’ is a straw man argument. Science did not come about based on a pre-existing belief system—rather it came about despite pre-existing beliefs (such as the Bible). Neither was it a reaction to a pre-existing belief system. It was based on observation. The observations are there—what do you do? You can’t run or hide from it. Newton observed, and then he came up with his laws. They were based on observations, and he came up with a mechanical explanation for his observations. I see evolution the same way.

There are layers in the earth’s crust. In certain places like the Burgess Shale, there is a lot of evidence of fossils in different layers. The rocks have been dated. Older life-forms are very primitive, then they become more and more sophisticated in more recent rocks.

We can’t explain this evidence (and the mountain of other types of evidence for evolution from molecular biology, biochemistry etc.) with Kaśyapa. Śāstra is silent on DNA, carbon dating, fossil evidence etc. The word evolution is not found in the Bhāgavatam. People have many opinions on it. I find that Darwin came up with a beautiful, logical way to explain it. As far as I can see, nobody has come up with anything close in terms of explaining the evidence. And the evidence is not a matter of faith; that we have to trust scientists. It is published in papers, which are available at the click of a button. Anybody who wants to see it can access it and examine it. There are tens of thousands of papers published, and to really refute evolution, one has to go through all these papers and then have an alternative way to explain all the evidence; that is simply not feasible

It is not in our experience that a human being like Kaśyapa can father snakes, birds, or tigers. This knowledge is beyond sense perception. I say that these two are separate bodies of knowledge, and communication between the two is problematic. It is problematic to reconcile scriptures with scientific information.

Babaji: The way I reconcile the Bhāgavata view with what you have said is as follows: The Bhāgavata has a different language than science. It has a different audience than science and it has a different purpose. The purpose of the Bhāgavata is not to explain creation without God. Nor is it interested in explaining evolution just for the sake of it. Its intention is to show that Kṛṣṇa is the source and regulator of everything. So from the scientific point of view, you can consider the wives such as Kadru and Vinatā as a medium for experimental evolution. The Purāṇas’ language is different from the scientific language. The people to whom the Purāṇas were spoken would not understand your scientific language. So one has to devise some means to explain. People can understand stories. They can understand husband and wife giving birth to children. So they can have stories that explain things to them in simpler terms.

httsource: enacademic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/876841

Surya with Aruṇa as charioteer

Now it is unbelievable how human beings can give birth to reptiles, cows, and birds. But just as Darwin says that these things developed or evolved, in the same way, maybe Kaśyapa is experimenting and evolving. He is performing a controlled evolution. Thus we hear stories that Vinatā gave birth to two eggs but the eggs were lying for a very, very long time and nothing came out of them. So she broke one egg and Aruṇa was born. He was not fully developed yet. His legs were not developed yet. Thus he could not walk or fly. He cursed Vinatā to become a slave of her sister Kadru. Aruṇa got to be the chariot driver of the sun god. Aruṇa means the twilight that comes before sunrise. Garuda was born after a very long period. So this may have been an evolutionary process in a controlled environment.

Actually, I studied mechanical and industrial engineering in my graduate and post-graduate studies, and I worked in the field of software. So my training and expertise is not in this field [evolution theory]. Somehow, I have never studied biology in my schooling days. I am not familiar with concepts of evolution. What I have read and understood is that there is evolution from lower to higher life. Maybe Kaśyapa consciously caused evolution. What kinds of wives these are, I cannot say. These wives are not just wives in the ordinary sense of the world. Kaśyapa is not an ordinary human being—he has some powers. Maybe he is an evolutionary scientist who is experimenting with the DNA. That is why he is called Prajāpati. He has some powers—this is how I would say it. There is truth in what the scientists are finding. It is not my field so I cannot say more on this.

That evolution can happen, I have no problem with. What I don’t accept in evolutionary theory is that life just began on its own and that everything happened in a particular way, and that it cannot be interfered with by any human being to produce something else.

Scientist: Part of the evidence in evolutionary biology is that human beings were not present on the earth. There were only bacteria for the first two billion years.

Babaji: That is possible. I have no problem with that. When Brahmā created Manu and asked him to go to earth, Manu said, “Where am I going to go? The earth is under water.” Brahmā meditated and Varāha Deva appeared to uplift the earth from water. Now this is a story. These stories cannot be taken literally. Maybe there was just water everywhere on earth. Or may be there was no earth to begin with. Varāha or a boar is fond of digging into the earth with his snout. Maybe he manifested earth from the smell tanmātrā, which comes from the water tattva. This is the Sāṅkhya principle. Science also says the same thing—there was water everywhere. In Sāṅkhya also—first there were gases, then water, then earth. Science will agree with that. So these stories (from the Bhāgavata) have some scientific, historical facts in them. They can’t be just taken literally. I am saying that there is always some interference from a higher personality, which science does not accept. The Bhāgavata Sāṅkhya speaks of evolution from prakṛti but with the involvement of Puruṣa.

Scientist: The yugas and the yuga cycles go back billions of years. Humans are said to be present in these cycles. I guess we don’t know what it all means.

Babaji: No, we do not know. But we do know that things change. They have found elephant fossils on the North Pole. So how did this happen? The earth was just one, and the continents separated. The story of the deluge is there in all religions. Many intensive changes have happened in the atmosphere over a period of time—whether this happened over billions of years or whether the yuga cycles really correspond to billions of years as defined in the Purāṇas—this is all difficult to prove. Many things get lost over a period of time. But things do go in cycles. We see this in our experience—day and night, seasons—here must be cycles at a higher level also. Bigger cycles. Timescales may be difficult to calculate. The whole time principle is probably different than what we know at present. I see no problem that in the beginning, there were no human beings and then they appeared later on. Kaśyapa had thirteen wives, so maybe there were thirteen levels of evolution, then came human beings. But the original person behind it is a human being who is controlling it.

So I don’t reject evolution absolutely. But just I don’t accept the part that there is no person behind it all. For me, there is always a personality involved. I don’t see that this universe is just haphazardly evolving. There is somebody behind it. That’s my understanding but it is not possible for me to prove in a scientific language that there is a God or devas working behind it.

So you can give your expert views on this. I would like to hear them.

Scientist: I am glad that you are not dismissing the evidence.

Babaji: You cannot dismiss it. Of course, there can be misinterpretation of evidence. That part is possible. But evidence is evidence. And please consider that you also find evidence according to your accepted belief. This is how our mind works. We see truth selectively. So besides the fact that a scientist would interpret the evidence differently than a theist would, he would also discover evidence differently. Ultimately nothing is objective although we tend to believe that science is purely objective. Pure objectivity is a myth.

Scientist: Some religious people see evolution as a conspiracy. Others say that the scientists didn’t know how to look for evidence that supports the Bhāgavatam’s version.

Babaji: No, I don’t believe all that. There are so many conspiracy theories.

Scientist: Once we agree that there is evidence and that the evidence is there for examination, after that, I am not really concerned. I think your stance is reasonable, and I don’t see what else one could do here really.

Babaji: Scientists have excluded God from the picture, so naturally they are going to interpret the evidence according to their hypothesis—that there is no personality involved. As a theist, I will take the same evidence and I will interpret it differently, although this is not my field. It is possible that the same evidence can be seen in two different ways, and that one way may be more inclusive than the other.

Scientist: I have a philosophical issue with that. To prove the existence of Kṛṣṇa or any type of power from scientific evidence is not possible. Nobody has seen the devatās, such as Varuṇa, Surya etc.

Babaji: No, I am not interested in that. I am saying that if I have to interpret the available evidence as a theist, then I will interpret it in a way that is different from the scientist’s interpretation. It is not that I have to prove that Kṛṣṇa is involved—that’s not what I am saying. I am saying that there is a personal factor involved; evolution is not just an impersonal phenomenon happening automatically.

Scientist: One cannot find God in the evidence. This cannot be done.

Babaji: That this cannot be done has already been said in the Vedānta-sūtra. It is a futile exercise. Whatever you try to do, there will always be a counter-argument. In fact, this is exactly what Nyāya tries to do. Nyāya gives eight proofs of God’s existence. But why does Vedānta not pay attention to it? Because they can all be refuted. Although it is a good exercise to know these arguments, and they are good for a beginner, they are not conclusive. One might talk to people and convince them since not everyone can go up to that level of argument. So such arguments have some value. But ultimately, God cannot be proven by mere logic. Śāstra is the only pramāṇa. And we have to understand that śāstra is not just words, but it is actually someone’s experience. It is also sense perception. Ultimately, the pramāṇa is perception only. But it is a perception of a different type. And that takes a lot of effort to come to and to have that type of experience. This is explained by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī in Sarva-saṁvādinī, which you referred to earlier.

So the purpose of śāstra is actually that we study it with faith, we follow it, and then we realize it exactly the way it is written. This is why the Bhāgavata says: kasmai yena vibhāsito ’yam atulo jñāna-pradīpaḥ purā: “This knowledge was given to Brahmā, then Brahmā speaks to Nārada.” So when Brahma speaks, he is not just speaking that śāstra, but he is speaking what he has realized and internalized. He has direct experience of it. Then he speaks. This is the whole idea of the paramparā. Paramparā is not just transferring the word, but the experience. Thus, śāstra is ultimately pratyakṣa pramāṇa. For a beginner, it is śabda pramāṇa. But for a perfected being, it is a matter of perception. Yet, it is not possible to prove it to a non-believer because it is based on subjective experience. It is not objective knowledge like the sciences.

Scientist: So the Bhāgavatam’s version is not going to make any sense to a scientist who has no experience.

Babaji: Yes, it will not make sense and I am not going to waste my time with him. Let him do what he wants to do. He is not ready for it. There is no need to argue with such a scientist. There is also no need to call him a rascal or demon. His goal and my goal are different. He studies nature to control it and to exploit it for his pleasure (of course not every scientist works that way). I study it to worship it and to use it in service of Krishna. Our goals are different and hence our approaches are different. Thus our theories are different, albeit, there may be some commonalities since we are studying the same reality.

Guest: Can’t we prove scientific theories from the Bhāgavata’s information?

Babaji: It is not possible. These are two different fields.

Guest: But doesn’t the Bhāgavata give us the number of species on earth? And how old human life is?

Babaji: The Bhāgavata has such figures, but how do we know that they are really true? These are just figures. How do you prove or disprove them? We have no means to do that. We do not have scientific laboratories nor have we done research on fossils. Proving doesn’t mean just reading śāstra. But we have to accept that the Bhāgavata has a big figure for the age of the world. No other religion says that, and even science wasn’t thinking that in the beginning. Some credit has to be given. Whether airplanes existed at that time and whether interplanetary travel was there or not, at least in śāstra these things were envisioned long before science made them happen.

 

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Comments ( 7 )
  1. Bhushan

    Babaji,

    Thanks for the wonderful article. As an AI researcher, I deeply appreciate your respect for empirical evidence. I have a small comment on evolution and a question on technology and Purva-Mimamsa.

    Comment: Evolution by natural selection has become canon in the field, but the new science of epigenetics (mechanisms which regulate genes) (https://www.whatisepigenetics.com/) is rapidly changing views about evolution. It seems some sort of evolution may happen without natural selection and one day scientists could even engineer this for preventing Cancer (perhaps like Kashyapa engineered life).

    Question: Technology (medical tech, infrastructure, electronics etc) has significantly improved the quality of life. Purva-Mimamsa, if I understand correctly, aims to improve the quality of life. So I wonder why topics like computer science were not discussed in part of Vedas dealing with apara-vidya (material knowledge) or purva-mimasma? Such technology would have been very useful for communicating knowledge, traveling the world and living a comfortable life.

    Thanks,

    Bhushan

    • Babaji Post author

      The purpose of Purva-mimamsa is not to improve the quality of life here. That may be a side effect but that certainly is not its aim. The Vedic schools of thought were not interested in any technology or science that would lead to atheism, pure materialism or exploit nature.

    • Hari

      It is a misconception that epigenetics changes the ‘canon’ of natural selection. epigenetic mechanisms are enabled by proteins that are encoded in the genome. Thus epigenetic mechanisms themselves are a result of evolution which involved natural selection. Permanently engineering epigenetic mechanisms would require altering the genome which makes it no less challenging than anything else.

      Epigenetic effects do not last beyond a few generations. Evolution requires several generations to occur. At this point, evolutionary theory is in no need of any major revision. The many predictions of Darwin’ s theory of random variation have proven to be mainly correct.

  2. Parikshit

    Thanks Babaji. _/\_

    I have a question:

    Can Mathematics be considered an objective reality? Or is it that Mathematics isn’t actually a reality because numbers don’t exist physically?

    Thank you very much.

    • Babaji Post author

      Numbers do not exist by themselves. It is the objects or substances that exist.
      According to Nyaya, a number is the quality of a substance. Only number one is real. All others are imagined.

  3. Piyush desai

    practically in all the field, before a research or to solve a problem, few parameters are selected, others are isolated or ignored and may be based on the subjectivity of the researcher. no problem can be solved unless some boundaries are drawn. those conditions are stated sometimes at the beginning of the research. if the data do not agree to the preconceived idea then they are either rejected or manipulated.
    in the Darwin case, how many did he sample out of all the species exist in the world and how many did he include in his conclusions? are this information available now? we are told to take them for granted and taught in schools n colleges as an absolute paradigm. in general, all research is based on perceptions and inferences, they are bound to be faulty whereas findings arrived beyond these P n I, during samadhi is absolute truth.

    • Radha Raman das Post author

      There is no more scientific consensus now in 2018 on this theory. Many scientists disagree and many discoveries were covered because they were challenging the current theory and hence the social position some so-called scientist.

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