Modern religious preachers who criticize science like to say that scientists ought to be humble about what they can and cannot know. Frequently, examples are given of how scientists have hit a ‘brick wall’ with quantum mechanics, which they don’t really understand, and cannot really explain. So science must accept that there are other ways of knowing reality.
And yet, without science, these preachers would have no idea how the world works. They wouldn’t know about the electron despite having their ‘superior ways of knowing’. At least science was responsible for discovering the brick wall of quantum mechanics. Religious preachers would not even know such a brick wall exists.
Hypocrisy of modern preachers
The irony is that these same religious folks promptly forget all their misgivings about science and run to accept scientific evidence if it supports their religious beliefs. They will proudly tout the truth of their beliefs because science supports it. Such people actively scour scientific work for any evidence that supports their revelations. The fact is that they yearn for scientific corroboration of their religious beliefs, and the nice warm feeling that comes from it. However, this simply shows their lack of faith in their own scriptures.
Religious science bashers like to find any perceived weakness in the scientific enterprise to denigrate it. If scientists complain about not understanding quantum mechanics in their papers and books, that is promptly used to belittle them. The fact, though, is that while we do not understand why quantum mechanics is the way it is, we have a very good understanding of how it works, and also a good understanding of how it gives rise to atomic and molecular phenomena. What do religious folks have to add to the discussion? Do their scriptures explain why an electron behaves like a wave and a particle? Their pontificating about science’s ‘weaknesses’ is manifestly hypocritical.
Preachers lack humility to understand their own ignorance
After years of observing modern religious bashers of science, I have concluded that they lack the humility to understand their own ignorance. The common feature of almost all these preachers is that they have never done any science themselves and they are not even qualified to do so. Yet, those who are able to attract the largest religious audiences and the most applause are those that can speak at least semi-intelligently about science even as they criticize it.
One common strategy is to point out how the great men of science – like Isaac Newton- were religious. Newton studied cosmology because he was trying to discover how God made the planets go in orbits. The problem of course was that he found no need for God’s hand in explaining the motion- his laws were sufficient. The fact that many scientists of the past were religious is no credit to religion. Science did not arise because of religious beliefs that scientists held, but because of their robust desire for an explanation, intellectual abilities and their capacity to free themselves from pre-existing ideas. The books of science, irrespective of the scientist-writer’s faith, do not invoke God. This is not because modern scientists necessarily reject God (the majority do), but because God is a superfluous hypothesis for explaining material phenomena, as Pierre Laplace famously put it.
Evolution is one of the major sticking points for many modern religious sects. Religious proselytizers will stick at nothing, including twisting facts, to criticize evolution. For example, they peddle the idea that evolutionary theory is evil. As an example, they cite how Hitler killed the Jews because he believed in evolutionary theory. This is an example of a logical fallacy called ‘argument from adverse consequences’. If Hitler indeed did use evolutionary theory to justify killing, that does not invalidate the theory. It only shows that Hitler used the theory to justify his actions. Hitler also borrowed the Hindu swastika. Should we then consider Hinduism evil?
Bhakti scriptures do not describe physical reality
One way science bashers in the field of bhakti might become humble, is to recognize that their ‘other ways of knowing’ are not useful for understanding anything about quantum mechanics, and in fact, about most of physical reality. Often, people criticize science for its inability to answer some fundamental questions:
- Where do physical laws come from?
- How can ‘something’ come from ‘nothing’ during the big bang?
- Why are we conscious?
- Why are we moral?
Well, one may turn the questions around: What is the bhakta’s answer? One might give answers like this:
- Physical laws have always existed because the material world has always existed; so there is no question of their having ‘come from’ somewhere. [eternality is not a testable hypothesis.]
- Matter always existed, so something came out of something. [Not a testable hypothesis.]
- Consciousness is the ātmā’s energy. [Not a scientific hypothesis.]
- Morality is because human society received moral codes from God. [Not a testable hypothesis.]
These answers cannot be verified scientifically. And although some of these answers are valid answers from scripture, do they have superior explanatory value to answers from science?
Scientific answers to such questions are based on whatever evidence is available. If one were honest, one would seek to understand one’s own tradition and practice it diligently. Clearly the Bhāgavatam explains things that do not match physical reality. For example,
- The universe is observably much larger than what is described in the Bhāgavatam
- There were no humans on earth till about a few million years ago
- The fourteen lokas of the Bhāgavatam do not correspond to real objects in the sky
- There is no gigantic Lokāloka mountain on earth.
There is ample reason for science bashers to be humble.
The goal of bhakti is not hating science and scientists, but attaining bhāva for Kṛṣṇa. The purpose of the scriptures is not to teach science, but to teach bhakti. Devotees neither need fear science, nor worship it. Science is merely describing material reality as best as the methods of science allow it.
Beware the modern science bashers.