Does the Theory of Evolution Throw out God?

Scientist: You mentioned that the Bhāgavata has stories because contemporary people did not understand the language of modern science. Could Vyāsadeva write a Bhāgavata for the scientifically literate, considering that times have changed greatly? It seems that the Bhāgavata is mysterious, as it is not really clear what Kaśyapa was doing. Would someone who got Vyāsadeva’s vision be able to actually see what happened in terms of the evolution of lifeforms? Or is that secondary to Kṛṣṇa-prema, and not generally of value to a devotee.

Babaji: Vyāsa’s purpose was not to explain evolution but to explain the person behind it, i.e. Kṛṣṇa. If you understand evolution perfectly but do not have Kṛṣṇa-prema, what have you gained? If you do not understand evolution, but have Kṛṣṇa-prema, what have you lost? In other words, what is the value of science without Kṛṣṇa-prema? The society will still continue to suffer with all the scientific knowledge. Which is the proper use of human intelligence—to have prema or to know how we evolved? What will make us truly happy? This is the question asked by Śrī Śaunaka in the first chapter of the Bhāgavata. Therefore, if Vyāsa was asked to write the Bhāgavata again, he would not spend time explaining evolution. He may tell stories in a different manner but the message would remain the same—Kṛṣṇa-prema.

Scientist: You suggested that the scientific evidence for evolution cannot be rejected, Kaśyapa may have performed “controlled” evolution to generate species. At the same time, you also agreed that one cannot conclusively infer from the scientific evidence that God or Kaśyapa actually performed the evolution. You mentioned how inference ultimately will always be inconclusive because it can be refuted. So this stance has the following features to it:

  1. The evidence cannot be rejected.
  2. Natural processes of random genetic variation acted upon by natural selection explain the evidence.
  3. One cannot conclusively infer from the scientific evidence that God or Kaśyapa exist, or that they guided evolution in some specific way. For this, śāstra alone is the pramāṇa.
  4. Science will never discover Kaśyapa or God in the evidence because science has some fundamental limits that it cannot cross.

Do you agree with all of this?

Babaji: Yes, except for point 2. There may be some other explanations although at present we only have this one.

Scientist: You mentioned that science cannot discover God because it excludes God from the explanation. A scientist would say instead that God has proven superfluous so far in explaining any natural phenomenon. For example, water boils at 100 oC. We have a good explanation for how water boils, i.e. what happens at 100 oC. The need for God is not felt for explaining this, and similarly for any natural phenomena. Likewise, the need for God has not been required for explaining evolutionary evidence.

Babaji: Do you mean to say that science can explain all natural phenomena? How about the wave-particle behavior of light? Can science explain consciousness or is it that consciousness is not a natural phenomenon? I have not come across any scientist who claims that they can explain everything. I read books and articles written by scientists who say that many things cannot be explained by science. In fact, science at present cannot really explain why we feel itching in our body.

You can say:

  1. Science will explain things in the future. I can accept that answer, but there is no certainty, and it may discover more things that cannot be explained.
  2. God is not needed to explain anything. I can agree but it has not been proven so.

Scientist: Which one of the following versions do you view as suitable?

A) Some religious believers think that God created natural laws (including the law of natural selection), and then he let whatever happened happen on earth (this is called deism). He does not have to interfere once things are set into motion. In other words, he is not tinkering with DNA, or individual genes, to create different species. Is this one possible way Kaśyapa did things? That he set the laws into motion and things inevitably unfolded in a particular way?

Babaji: Kaśyapa, as per śāstra, did create various species over a period of time. He did not create any laws. Laws existed.

B) There is an alternative theory called intelligent design theory. This theory suggests that the theory of evolution is fundamentally wrong. They accept the evidence of lower life forms gradually evolving into more complex life forms. But they reject evolutionary explanations—that random changes to DNA gives rise to variation in bodily forms, which are then selected by the environment for certain traits. Rather, the theory claims that the only valid and justified scientific inference from the scientific evidence is that there is an intelligent designer, who designed the DNA in a specific way with a specific purpose.

Intelligent design arguments infer the presence of God from the scientific evidence, while rejecting scientific explanations based on unguided, natural mechanisms.

Babaji: I accept that there are Prajāpatis like Kaśyapa (“one who sees”) and Dakṣa (“one who is expert”) who create various species. But I do not accept that everything just evolved from a single cell without any interference of an expert. Such a view implies that life and the universe as a whole have no purpose. That does not make sense because we as individual beings are purpose-driven. My faith is in śāstra. That is my position. I am not against science, but if it contradicts śāstra, then I cannot accept it.

Scientist: About your position, if śāstra contradicts science, you will reject science—is there a way to determine with certainty that śāstra is contradicting science? One cannot say for sure what śāstra means. For example, that Kaśyapa may be performing a controlled evolution over time does not follow from śāstra. You did not appear to be sure that it happened that way. In your previous response, you said that it may have happened that way. It may not have.

Babaji: Science and spirituality have different approaches to reality, and their goals are ultimately different, although there is some commonality—to improve the standard of life, understand reality, etc. So when I say, “śāstra contradicts science,” I really mean things related to consciousness, God, afterlife etc.

It is not so much of a question how it happened—and really speaking we are not hung up on that— as it is a question of accepting that there is plan behind it and it did not happen on its own.

Scientist: Similarly, you said that we don’t really know the time yuga cycles. You accepted that bacteria alone may have been present on the earth for the first two billion years. Kaśyapa is not mentioned as creating bacteria in the śāstra, and the yuga cycles of a specific duration are mentioned in the śāstra. Yet, we are forced to accept one and question the other all because of the evidence.

Babaji: Again you are missing the point. Even if bacteria are not mentioned in the śāstra, or if it is not mentioned that Kaśyapa created them—it does not matter. God created the world. So what is the difficulty for Him to create bacteria? The approach of śāstra is different and thus it does not have to speak about bacteria. It does not serve its purpose. Śāstra is not interested in teaching us evolution but in teaching that God is the source of everything—ahaṁ sarvasya prabhava. Śāstra wants us to become God-conscious and not bacteria-conscious.

Scientist: How do we know that evolution did not occur in the way the scientists propose, as the śāstra is silent on how it happened? How can we be sure that Kaśyapa did not act through what appears to us as purely natural mechanisms of random variation and natural selection? Śāstra, after all, is silent on how Kaśyapa did it. Is there a śāstric basis for rejecting evolution through what appears to us as purely natural causes?

Babaji: To us, it does not matter how it happened but why it happened. I think that is the major difference between spirituality and science. Science stresses on the how and spirituality on the “why.” If science would accept the intervention of God, then let it be random variation and natural selection. It does not matter to us. But because science does not accept God, it does not matter to us what they say. So either way, their explanation has no consequence to spirituality.

Scientist: Maybe Kṛṣṇa achieves His purposes by random processes or at least by processes that appear random to us.

Babaji: Is science willing to accept that? That will be welcome.

Scientist: Science does not only discover evidence. It also has good explanations for the evidence. These explanations are based on physical laws that have also been discovered due to the evidence. The explanations make predictions, and when the predictions are tested to be true, then the explanations gain credence. In fact, this is how most of the evidence of the sciences has been discovered – the explanations predicted something, and more evidence was uncovered. Now these explanations do not include God, because God has not proven necessary for the explanation.

Babaji: I am not rejecting science or its approach. I just consider it as limited when it comes to knowing the absolute reality. I remember an example of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He said that if you are adding numbers and you make a mistake in adding the first two numbers, then the whole sum is wrong, even if you added the rest of the numbers precisely. Science has thrown out God. That is the fundamental error. After that, whatever explanation it gives, the ultimate conclusion is still wrong. The intermediate explanations may be very precise but the end result is wrong.

The scientists can be happy with their natural explanations without God and we are happy with our God—natural explanations or no explanations. But it is to be seen who is more happy and content. For me, that is the litmus test. I do not know of any example of a spiritualist worth the name, renouncing and denouncing spirituality and becoming a science bhakta, but surely there are many great scientists who have knocked on the doors of spirituality and have benefitted from it. Ultimately it is a matter of one’s own experience.

Science talks of evidence based on sense perception but there may be things that are beyond sense perception. Why can science not agree to that? So many tests have been done on the efficacy of Yoga or Ayurvedic herbs. This knowledge did not come about by the scientific methodology. So why not accept that there can be another way of knowing? Is this not evidence that Indian sages got knowledge by a different process? In Ayurveda, the modern Indian government has listed about 80,000 compositions. Do you think the Indian sages got this knowledge by experimenting on mice and rabbits? Certainly not.

Scientist: As you are a mechanical engineer, you might recall the beam theory.

This theory does not throw out God; rather it doesn’t need God to explain bending. Nor can Prabhupāda (who frequently used to say science has thrown out God) show how God is involved in beam bending. So how can one reject beam bending or dismiss it as irrelevant? It is required for building the TOVP (Temple of the Vedic Planetarium), for example.

Anti-science rhetoric is turning normal people away from Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and Hinduism overall. I have had discussions with Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas about whether gravity is real (!), the moon is farther away than the sun (!), we never went to the moon, evolution is false etc. etc. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī was a towering genius and respected as such in his time. Modern Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas fail him by creating a narrative that is plainly fanatical and defies any logic. It is a dis-service to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.

The National Academy of Sciences (USA) has a statement where it says that science has no stance on God because God is beyond the scope of science. The śāstra also says that God cannot be discovered by anything but bhakti, and bhakti is not science. Therefore śāstra and science both say that science cannot discover God. What is the reason to say that science has thrown out God? It never had him from the beginning!

Babaji: I do not know how many modern people who believe in science know about the stance of the National Academy of Sciences. This is the first time that I am hearing it.

As far as science spreading atheism, I believe in it based on my own experience, although things may have changed or are changing. That is how it was when I was a student, but I am doubtful that the students are really taught that science is not against God, and that God cannot be known through science. This is new to me. I will be happy if students are given this piece of knowledge.

We also need to study how science developed. As far as I know, science developed in opposition to the church.

Scientist: Part of the reason young people are rejecting dharma may be the false narrative that science somehow disproves God. It cannot. These are separate fields as you also agree and the Academy agrees. You are not against science or evolution, as far as I see from your answers. Vedānta has very clear reasons for not expecting science to discover God. The soul cannot be discovered by the senses. So when the śāstras are so clear on this point, why should one not stick to that śāstric position when dealing with science? What is the need for a certificate from science for the presence of God? Why should one expect science to include God? That would go against the śāstras. Nor does śāstra ask us to reject sensory information.

Would you agree with the following statements:

1. Paramātmā is acting in this world but not in a way that is discoverable to science or more broadly, to material senses.

2. It is possible that Paramātmā acts through what appear to us to be unguided natural mechanisms like evolution and still achieve His purposes.

Babaji: That is ok. For point 2, it only appears unguided but it is under His supervision.

Scientist: If I may summarize this discussion:

  1. Śāstra is silent on the “how,” but can explain the “why.” God is involved, but His involvement is undetectable in the scientific evidence.
  2. Science explains the “how”—viz. random variation and natural selection for evolution of life forms, or general relativity to explain the law of gravitation.
  3. Faith in śāstra ought to be independent of whether śāstra offers any explanation for the natural world, and
  4. The test of śāstra is direct experience of the supreme and the happiness that one feels from it.

 

 

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Comments ( 9 )
  1. Bhushan

    Dear Babaji,

    Thanks for the post! This is an excellent and enlightening discussion.

    I have a comment and two questions.
    Comment: People take the major decisions in their lives, such as selecting a romantic partner, out of emotions and not through science. I have never heard of a person casting partner search as a discrete optimization problem over all possible (girls/boys) for maximizing future expected rewards taking into account genetics, economic modelling, divorce/separation risk analysis, modelling risk to joint assets, etc. And then publishing this for peer review and taking into account anonymous reviewer suggestions! I think therefore criticism directed at spiritual people for accepting God because it is unscientific is hypocritical, nobody can live their lives purely through the scientific method. Spiritual people may not choose to consult the scientific method/science for deciding their sadhya and sadhana.

    I have two questions and would love to hear your thoughts on them.
    In the last post in this series you mentioned that Krishna cannot be know through material empiricism nor logic, but only by bhakti which descends (self-revealed). Does it mean that trying to use science for establishing spirituality does not really have much value, because a person accepts Krishna because (s)he by nature is already little favorable towards Krishna or spirituality? Similarly if a person who has no interest in spirituality will never accept Krishna even if presented with ample evidence (Duryodhana for example). In that sense, science cannot really spread atheism (maybe it can obfuscate and cause confusion), because people who like Krishna will worship Him anyways regardless of what science says?
    Is looking to science for bolstering faith in Krishna symptomatic of a lack of faith in Krishna? Thomas Aquinas the famous 13th Century Catholic theologist studied natural sciences for discovering the hidden hand of God in creation. Do you think this practice of scientifically studying the world to discover Krishna’s hand is a useful bhakti-sadhana practice?

    Thanks again for the article.

    • Hari

      Actually Bhushanji, studies have shown that humans tend to select partners with the same traits they themselves have in terms of education, height, IQ and so on. Observation (pratyaksa) and inference (anumana) is used in most of our important decisions (assuming we are in control of our minds while making them of course). Scientific papers involving peer review etc are population based and seek to make general statements- but individuals do of course apply it in their lives whether they know it or not. Those with a more logical mind and a superior interpretation of evidence make better decisions for their future.

      As far as sadhya and sadhana are considered, a scientific mind will choose bhakti because bhakti is a path of experience in the here and now; it is not a path of presently unverifiable promises of payouts in the afterlife. We know this very clearly from the Bhagavatam.

  2. Stoka Krsna Das

    Thanks Babaji, for putting the discussion you had with a scientist on the website. It’s quite enlightening.
    I have two small points.
    Firstly can matters of the Heart be put through evidence, analysis, logic and other such scientific juggernaut. I suppose that’s why things spiritual are called trans-rational and trans-logical.
    Secondly the scientist in discussion keeps putting the point of random variation and natural selection, but then is random happening of its own and is nature working of its own? What logical explanations science has for this. I am not putting this point being fanatical but out of curiosity if science really has any logical explanations of why nature is working the way it is working, or why supposedly random events and occurring happen?

    • Hari

      Randomness is an observable fact of nature as in quantum mechanics. Why randomness exists is or why nature works the way it does is a question for philosophy or theology- it is not a question for science.

  3. Bhushan

    Dear Hariji,

    Thanks a lot for the reply. I agree with almost everything you said except for “Scientific papers involving peer review etc are population based and seek to make general statements but individuals do of course apply it in their lives whether they know it or not. ”

    Humans are flawed creatures, they are irrational as shown by behavioral economics. I am not convinced that they optimize everything sub-consciously or consciously. Game Theory assumes that human agents are perfectly rational and selfish thus it doesn’t work in practice and therefore Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for challenging human rationality.

    My point is that individuals need not automatically sub-consciosully apply peer-reviewed research. Studies have shown that sugar and fat they are not good for health, but everyone loves ice-creams (sugar+fat) and they don’t care about any research paper while enjoying the ice-cream. Nor do they care about how the ice-cream was made, ingredients in the ice-cream etc. And even if they have the knowledge of ingredients and processes it does not make the ice-cream less tasty.

    Unlike the normal ice-cream which isn’t good for health, Krishna bhakti is actually good for everyone and indulgence in it is encouraged. A scientific mind may or may not practice bhakti, but a person who just likes Krishna will certainly practice bhakti regardless of scientific opinion.

    • Hari

      I think I didnt express myself clearly. I am not saying that humans apply peer reviewed research in their lives. I am saying that they apply pratyaksa and anumana in everyday life, and pratyaksa and anumana are trivially used in science. Anumana can be applied incorrectly, and so human beings can act irrationally. It doesnt mean that they cease to apply these methods, but they just apply them incorrectly and therefore arrive at wrong conclusions.

      Ice-cream eating can be broken down: we see the ice-cream, we recall a past experience of pleasure, then we combine the two : where there is ice-cream there is pleasure, and then we make the decision to eat ice-cream. Here, the knowledge that ice-cream is not good for health in the long term is ignored- an example of incomplete or inadequate reasoning- not that reasoning is absent. If the ice-cream is found tasty (pratyaksa), it may be stored in the memory for future recall. And so the process continues.

      Bhakti is not a hypothesis-testing science, it is a path of sraddha. But it is unique because it gives experience.

      By the way, I am only commenting on your comment, not responding to your questions.

  4. Stoka Krsna Das

    Thanks Hari ji for the response.

    Does theology or philosophy confirm the fact that matters of the heart can only be understood by another compatible heart only, and science doesn’t get onto this because it’s outside of their domain?

    • Hari

      Stoka Krsna ji, My understanding of Sri Babaji Maharaja’s teachings is that how the sraddha of Bhakti develops in a devotee is not understandable by the material mind. Naturally it is not understandable by science. This sraddha can only come from a genuine guru by a translogical process.

  5. Tualsi

    All purpose of human life is to evolve, just like the spiritual world. If you deny this fact, you are in big trouble. You act against your very nature of been marginal energy. In this world, we have a bodily environment which allows us to holistically imprint our beliefs into a 3-dimensional experience. A great deal is done through our conceptions of beliefs, based on culture and social environment, from within our sub-consciousness. Trough a focused control way of thinking, mind control, you change your conception of life. Naturally, reality will adjust. You can achieve anything by just adjusting beliefs, even understanding Krsna.

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