Sankhya and the Fullness of Reality: Science and Metaphysics

This simple example illustrates how, from a Hindu perspective, religion and science are related, but of course, most modern scientists, at present, would be hard pressed to include metaphysics within their scientific perspective and methodology. From a Hindu perspective, modern science is a legitimate, but incomplete, step toward knowing and understanding reality. From a modern scientific perspective, Hinduism goes too far in its assumption of what constitutes the foundations of reality and the means of knowing this reality. The relationship between Hinduism and science is, therefore, mixed. On the one hand, the basic approach of science can be accepted, but when it comes to the acceptance of metaphysical elements of reality, the Gita and the Vedas embrace these principles as essential to the pursuit of truth but current science cannot.

Consequently it is fair to say that the Hindu view of science is not that it is wrong, but that it only offers a limited view of reality. Until science is able to open itself to the exploration of metaphysical reality, it will remain incapable of understanding the full nature of reality. In general, the middle and liberal sides of Hinduism are favorable and open to science. The conservative sides of Hinduism, however, remain closed to science. Interestingly, I see the gradual acceptance of a metaphysical view of reality by modern science an increasing possibility as more work is done in "cutting edge" areas of research like quantum mechanics, particle and string theories, cosmology, and other areas that seem to point to answers that go beyond the common mechanistic view of the universe. It will be exciting to see where these new theories lead.

There is another relationship between science and religion that is current, but which, in my opinion, is a wrong attempt to link Hinduism and modern science. This is the attempt to read into the Rig Veda and other Hindu religious texts allegorical renderings that contain so-called secret or vague references to modern ideas such as particle theory or quantum mechanics. I have seen interpretations by modern Hindus that attempt to show how modern particle theory was known at the time of the Rig Veda, and how this knowledge was secretly inserted into the text of the Vedas. I have seen attempts by modern Hindus to rationalize and reinterpret Puranic cosmology, which holds a geocentric view of the universe and describes the sun as closer to the earth than the moon, to name just a few differences, in terms of modern astronomy. As we have mentioned, from a Hindu perspective, there is no problem in exploring the possible religious implications of quantum mechanics, string theory, or any other modern scientific theory that may open the way for modern science to explore a metaphysical view of the universe, but to read such theories back into the pages of the Vedas in order to justify faith or with so called Hindu nationalistic (Hindu-tva) motivations is not science at all. I caution my readers to be aware of such extreme reinterpretations of sacred writing.


Shukavak N. Dasa received his Ph.D. in South Asian Studies and his Masters degree in Sanskrit grammar from the University of Toronto. He regularly lectures on Hinduism and he has been instrumental in developing Hindu Temples in the United States and Canada. He is the author of Hindu Encounter with Modernity and the SRI Bhagavad Gita, a Gita translation for the modern age.

5/18/2010 4:00:00 AM
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