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Scientific Spirituality

Science is Great

Science is great! Science helps us understand the world, cure diseases, build great things like computers, mobile devices, skyscrapers, and jet airplanes. It is useful, fascinating and magical. Indeed, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, as the physicist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke famously said.

Moreover, additional benefits of science include wonderful inventions like coal-fired power plants, automobiles, and industrial farming, all allowing humans to do great things like destroy the rainforest, raise the temperature of the entire planet, and cause mass extinctions, clearly undesirable side effects of science. However, science will surely be able to solve the problem it has created. Take the Toyota Prius, for example, a wonder of technology, a hybrid car that is extremely fuel efficient. While it still uses fuel like any other car, it is much better than the gas-guzzlers of yesteryear. So good that its “fuel efficiency” is close to that of a horse. With a few more years of scientific advances, we will surely be able to make cars that run on nearly nothing, re-grow the rainforest and clone extinct species back into existence. So, science is great. Right?

The Horsemen Approach

Have you heard of the Four Horsemen? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Conquest, War, Famine and Death, are described in the last chapter of the Bible as harbingers of final judgement of God over all people. However, I’m not speaking of these horsemen. Rather, I’m referring to the self-styled Four Horsemen known as the torch-bearers of the “New Atheists” movement: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. These four scientists claim to represent critical thinking, knowledge and reason. Disagree with their thinking and you must be an irrational, delusional religious fanatic. After all, they represent science. 

The most famous of the Four Horseman is Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University. A prolific author, Dawkins is best known for his book “The God Delusion”. He also occasionally gives public lectures. I remember hearing of one of his lectures a few years ago. 

The Horseman Speaks

I was sitting in my office in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, an office with narrow slits of windows letting in a little daylight, a building that is perpetually either too hot or too cold, having been designed with a monstrously over-powered air-conditioning system for the vacuum tube computers of years gone by. This building, the hallowed halls of learning, the zenith of Western Civilization, is not named after Alan Turing, the famous scientist from Manchester who came up with a universal theory of computation. Instead, it is named after Tom Kilburn, the engineer who built the first stored program computer, highlighting the difference between science and engineering. Scientists come up with ideas, but it is the engineers that make them actually work and create technology. Engineering is applied science. 

While sitting at my desk, Mikel, a friend and fellow PhD student, came in wearing a large backpack. I waited until he sat down and caught his breath, then asked him where he just came from. He explained he was at Oxford University for a public lecture by Richard Dawkins. I then asked what he thought of the lecture, expecting a rant about how Dawkins was brilliantly condemning religion, especially the Catholic Church. Mikel was a staunch atheists with a special axe to grind against the Catholic Church, an organization quite prominent in his home country of Spain. I enjoyed these rants, as they were quite entertaining and often led to interesting friendly arguments between the two of us.

Much to my surprise, however, Mikel said he was disappointed by Dawkins’ talk. Mikel explained that he was expecting Dawkins to make some good arguments for atheism, but instead the Professor was using emotional language and preaching like a Bible-basher. According to Mikel, Dawkins sounded as much as a religious fanatic, as the religious leaders he was speaking against with such “religious” fever. 

I remember this incident because it taught me of the insidiousness the Western materialistic scientific worldview. Matter is imbued with extraordinary secret powers. The material universe can come from nothing by magic, life can arise from matter by accident, and consciousness can arise from the brain by biochemical reaction. These claims are true, because, well, they just are.

Science is True

Let us examine a few of the ideas of materialistic science. I was quite astounded when I first learnt of each of these, reacting with a “wow, I would never have thought!”

It is common knowledge that the Earth orbits around the Sun. The Earth as the center of the Universe is an archaic idea, an outdated concept, one that no one believes in anymore. Western scientists as far back as Copernicus have discovered that actually the Sun is in the center and the Earth orbits around that

But not so fast. If we dig a bit deeper we learn that accepted wisdom is false. The Earth actually orbits around the gravitational center of the solar system. Large planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, pull on the Earth with their enormous gravitational force. This causes the central point of orbit to vary greatly. Indeed, it is almost never being centered directly on the Sun. We can go further still. Let us take into account that our entire solar system is orbiting around the galactic core, and our galaxy, in turn, is probably moving and orbiting in some undiscovered pattern around other galaxies. So, why do we believe one childish simplification of the structure of the universe (Sun is the center) in favor of another (Earth is the center)?

To quote Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi:

"Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view."

There is more scientific “truth” that falls into this hazy realm, a realm of generally accepted scientific wisdom, a place of theories that no one has ever verified by observation and theories which are impossible to verify by observation.

One such hypothesis is the big bang theory. It proclaims to explain the origin of matter, time and space, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone will be able to stage an experiment to verify what actually happened at the beginning of the universe.

Then there is macro-evolution. A species is defined as a group of life-forms that can interbreed producing fertile offspring. Evolution claims that species evolve into other species, yet scientists have never observed any animal evolving into a new creature that no longer can interbreed with members of its previous species).

The last question we will tackle is the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness. How best to get to the bottom of these mysteries and know for sure? Could such a thing even be possible? Believe it or not, I see very good reasons to be optimistic about solving these conundrums.

Science is becoming more Scientific

Why do I see reasons to be optimistic? Two reasons, each converging on the other, as if seeking to merge in a wonderful fusion of spiritual and material knowledge.

On the spiritual side: we are rediscovering ancient spiritual knowledge that gives a detailed scientific account of life, the universe and consciousness. More on this a bit later on.

On the material side: some scientists are beginning to remove the blinders of materialism, considering that perhaps there might be more to the universe than just matter. Chinks are beginning to appear in the armor of the Western materialist worldview. People are beginning to realize that money does not buy happiness, unlimited economic growth is unsustainable, and something as subtle as consciousness plays a significant role in the laws of physics. Scientists are realizing there is a great need for scientific research to answer fundamental questions such as: What is consciousness? How can we become more conscious? What is happiness? How can we become more happy?

In short, science is realizing that true science can and should be open to the study of everything and scientific spiritual knowledge is eagerly waiting to be rediscovered by open-minded scientists. Wonderful! 

Vedas: Knowledge of Everything

I first came across the Vedic wisdom ancient India in the year 2000 while studying at the University of Southampton. I stumbled upon a university club dedicated to studying and applying the knowledge contained in the Vedas. “Veda” literally means knowledge, and the many books that encompass the Vedic literature indeed contain a great deal of knowledge.

One of the many pearls of timeless Vedic wisdom is that real spiritual knowledge should be scientific. The Vedas teach how to use scientific methods to study and understand spirituality. This was an intriguing proposition. I had always admired the rigor of scientific knowledge, and here was a way to apply that methodology to the big questions of life (who am I, why are we here, etc.) 

The Vedic wisdom explains the mystery of conscious as follows.

“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.”

- Bhagavad-Gita 13.34

That is the basis of scientific spiritual teachings. The body only functions when there is consciousness, without consciousness there can be no life. At the same time, the conscious entity is a separate thing from the material body. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics lead to similar conclusions.

Happiness, proof in the pudding

Everyone wants to be happy. The United States of America was founded on the promises of the right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Yet it offers no clue on how someone might go about finding happiness. Indeed, that is one of the great mysterious of life. What will make me happy?

It turns out that happiness is one of the key factors in the scientific approach to spiritual knowledge. The Vedic knowledge explains a step-by-step process for finding happiness, happiness with a very distinct flavor, happiness unlike any previously experienced, happiness that is, quite literally, out of this world.

Here is a quote from a Vedic scripture on the topic of happiness.

“Some say that people will be happy by performing pious religious activities. Others say that happiness is attained through fame, sense gratification, truthfulness, self-control, peace, self-interest, political influence, opulence, renunciation, consumption, sacrifice, penance, charity, vows, regulated duties or strict disciplinary regulation. Each process has its proponents." 

- Srimad Bhagavatam 11.14.10

All the persons I have just mentioned obtain temporary fruits from their material work. Indeed, the meager and miserable situations they achieve bring future unhappiness and are based on ignorance. Even while enjoying the fruits of their work, such persons are filled with lamentation.  

O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me [Krishna], giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification.”

- Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.12

This quote acknowledges various approaches to attaining happiness, ultimately recommending the approach of fixing one’s consciousness upon Krishna, Krishna being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, universally revered throughout the Vedic literature. The happiness experienced during this practice of “Krishna Consciousness” is markedly different from the happiness experienced through so many other activities. Here we have a scientific hypothesis: happiness in Krishna Consciousness is distinct from the happiness experienced when pleasing the senses.

“Hold on!” you might say, “happiness is a subjective experience, not something that can be objectively measured. Science only deals with things that are objectively measurable.” True enough, but consciousness is an entirely subjective experience, and that is exactly what we are trying to study here. We have to cast off the shackles of materialistic science to make progress is this exciting new field of spiritual science. Just because something is not objectively measurable does not mean it does not exist, and certainly does not mean we should not endeavor to study it. Otherwise, if we neglected to study anything new and unknown, how could we make any progress?

Process

So how does one make process in this exciting realm where science and spirituality coalesce? The Vedic wisdom suggests an approach.

“Now hear, O son of Pr?th?, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.”

- Bhagavad-Gita 7.1

Here Krishna is speaking in the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. He is explaining a scientific yoga process for understanding His nature. This process is more than just physical exercise. Yoga is a complete system for self-realization where the physical yoga postures are only one small part of the routine, there to make the practitioner fit to dive deeper into the complete system, culminating in complete absorption in the spiritual energy, resulting in full consciousness of Krishna beyond any doubt. So, at the end of a systematic process we have scientific proof. 

The process Krishna mentions involves integrating Krishna consciousness into everyday activities, aligning them with Krishna’s desires. Krishna recommends, reading about him, chanting of special Vedic mantras, contemplating the spiritual science and ultimately dedicating all one’s actions for a spiritual purpose. At the end of the process, the result should speak for itself.

As the Nobel Prize winning quantum physicists Werner Heisenberg has famously said: 

“The first gulp from the glass of the natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

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Comments

  • fp seidenberg 28/02/2016 7:13am (17 months ago)

    Excellent article;

    I listened to some of the Hawkin lectures and it seems as if the "scientific method" has no clue about many things in the universe. He and others reject the notion of intelligent design and favor natural selection, via Darwin. So those modern "Four Horseman" might be called the "Four Donkeys", dumbfounded by their own false ego and and endless theories. Everything in the universe is under the influence of consciousness, God. fp seidenberg

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