On the theory of evolution – Science and Religion

Vishnuby Dr. J. Chakrabarty, Florida State University

The concept of evolution of species, generally attributed to Charles Darwin, actually had its origin thousands of years ago in ancient India, and formed the basis of the illuminating philosophy of the Vedas. Since Darwin lived at a time when the profundity of the Indian wisdom already made an indelible impression on the minds of the western savants, it is hard to imagine how Darwin could possibly have escaped the compelling influence of the Indian thoughts while formulating his theory of evolution. Darwin differed, however, from the Indian views on evolution in several respects, all of which made his theory an intellectually unacceptable proposition. Three of the most conspicuous lines of difference between the two theories will be discussed in what follows:

1. Evolution, according to the Vedas, presupposes involution. This means that distinct attributes which remain dormant within the evolving entity simply unfold when the conditions become favourable for their manifestation. Thus, life evolves in matter just because life is already involved in matter, even as the essence of a tree is involved in the seed that producers it under suitable external conditions Similarly, mind evolves in life because mind is already involved in life, and does not make its appearance from an external source. The Vedic literature is quite emphatic about the facts that a nonexistent entity can never be made to exist in any form whatsoever, and an existing entity can never be put out of existence, though it can be transformed into a variety of other forms. The Vedic theory is therefore fully consistent with the laws of physical science, and the hypothesis of involution ensures compliance with the principles of conservation of mass and energy in the process of evolution;

Darwin’s theory, on the other hand, seems to suggest that the various attributes which characterize the process of evolution are superimposed on the evolving entity, presumably from an external source which the theory fails to identify. The Darwinian theory of evolution therefore suffers from the logical fallacy of certain things coming into existence virtually from nowhere, which is untenable from the scientific point of view. Indeed, no physical event can ever take place as a natural phenomenon without some kind of scientific reason behind it, any more than an apple can fall from the tree without the existence of the gravitational forces. The Darwinian theory of evolution also violates the well established casual law for the occurrence of phenomena.

2, According to the Vedic theory, an orderly process such as the evolution can never take place on its own, but requires the presence of an intelligent principle which is denied in Darwin’s theory. The Vedic seers duly recognized the indispensability of an intelligent principle, designated as Brahman, which forms an immutable substratum of the ever-changing phenomenal existence. The visible changes that take place in the universe could not have been perceived without the existence of an unchanging reality, even as the events that take place in a movie could not have been possible without the presence of a stationary screen. The denial of this dual purpose of the intelligent principle seems to be a bigotry that goes counter the advancement of science.

It is quite unreasonable to suppose, as Darwin’s theory seems to do, that the insentient
Nature that operates on a set of physical principles over which it has no control whatsoever is capable of making crucial decisions and also implementing them in minute details. The idea of natural selection, which is an essential feature of the Darwinian theory, therefore seems to be logically inadmissible. Indeed, any selection that occurs has nothing to do with the insentient Nature, nor with the ill-equipped living entity, but has everything to do with the absolute Brahman, the intelligent Principle, which ensures the evolution to proceed in the appropriate manner. It should be noted that natural instinct and intuition seem to be meaningless expressions from the scientific point of view, since naming is not explaining.

3. The Vedic theory is also emphatic about the fact that the process of evolution applies to the individual living entity, not to the entire species to which it belongs. It is the evolution of the individuals that accounts for the collective process of the evolution. Darwin’s idea of the physical transformation of a lower form of species into a higher form is absurd, not only because such a thing has never been observed in the recorded history of mankind, but also because of the logical impossibility of bringing about the intrinsic changes in living entities, necessary for the attainment of higher states of mind, by means of mere physical changes in them. The Darwinian theory is also incapable of explaining the observed differences between individuals within the same species, since they are simultaneously generated and ought to be identical in all respects.

The Vedic theory, on the other hand, explains the evolution of species with the help of its unique philosophy of rebirth. The overwhelming body of evidence put forward. by eminent psychologists of modern times lends support to the existence of rebirth, which cannot be brushed aside as being a piece of superstition. The acceptance of rebirth is indispensable in a realistic theory of evolution, since it makes a number of issues fall into a consistent pattern. According to the principle of rebirth, a living entity can take birth in a higher form of life when the lower form ceases to be useful for its further evolution, no miraculous metamorphism being necessary for this purpose. According to the theory of rebirth, different living entities belonging to the same species but at different stages of their evolution can easily coexist with different mental levels.
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The admission of rebirth makes the Vedic theory of evolution a much broader one than that of Darwin, since the attainment of human birth need not be considered as the culmination of evolution, Indeed, a single span of life is never enough to get rid of the animal propensities inherited from our subhuman ancestors. The process of evolution therefore continues according to the Vedic law of karma, which is simply the casual law applied to the actions of individual living entity, until the individual attains perfection as a human being and is able to realize the unity of existence. It is such individuals who make real contributions to the advancement of mankind. The Vedic theory is also capable of explaining the reason why certain individuals are found to be exceptionally gifted in certain areas of human accomplishment, Indeed, it is not by a miracle, but with the help of sustained efforts made over the spans of several lives that one could acquire such exceptional qualities. The Darwinian theory is not concerned with such things at all.


(Dr. J. Chakrabarty, Florida State University)

At the outset, I would like to apologize to the discerning reader for using an absurd title, which implies that science and religion are mutually exclusive areas, while in actual fact they are two different aspects of one and the same reality. In modern times, there is a common tendency to regard physical science as constituting the entire field of scientific knowledge, and to dismiss anything that falls outside its limited domain as unscientific. This deplorable tendency of identifying a part for the whole betrays a frame of mind that is contrary to what is considered as scientific The main purpose of writing this article is to point out the need to include spiritual science as an integral part of a much broader field of scientific knowledge, and to indicate an appropriate means of achieving possible reconciliation between the two conflicting schools of thought.

According to the spiritually rich Vedic tradition, which is also the oldest religious and cultural tradition of mankind, every aspect of the secular or spiritual knowledge is one
of numerous manifestations of an eternal and omnipotent reality which the ancient seers designated as Brahman, our aim of life being to realize our oneness with this reality. It is therefore essential for us to make use of our secular knowledge in a manner that will help us to move toward this goal without hindrances. The spectacular advancement of physical science, which has helped us to understand the mode of working of Nature, offers us a unique opportunity to achieve this, provided we choose to utilize the results of physical science for the benefit of mankind. This is precisely where the spiritual science comes in to our rescue. The object of a genuine religion is therefore to complement the knowledge of physical science by providing it with a spiritual counterpart, to enable us to make the right decision and act accordingly. Consequently, a true religion must be equipped with all the essential features of being thoroughly scientific on spiritual matters, and should not be based on a mere faith that cannot be justified by critical reasoning. Similarly, a worthy follower of physical science should have a frame of mind that is ready to accept the idea of spiritual science, which has been vindicated by the teachings of a number of
spiritually enlightened beings who came to this world to show us the way to achieve spiritual perfection. A religion that is opposed to the concept of critical thinking fails to serve any useful purpose, just as an indiscriminate use of the results of physical science with no regard for the moral consequences is always counterproductive;

The ancient religion of the Vedas is exceedingly rich in its philosophical content, and is at the same time completely scientific in its outlook. It is capable of providing a sound basis for a reconciliation between science and religion as perceived by the modern mind. Religion, according to the vedic principles, is essentially a device for making us decent human beings, not an organized institution founded on a set of dogmas that are not open to intellectual scrutiny. Although the ultimate truth, according to the Vedas, cannot be arrived at with the help of reasoning alone, a spiritual truth is considered as one that does not contradict reasoning. There is a strong emphasis, therefore, on the need to purify our intellect with the help of a suitable spiritual discipline, so that we are able to make proper use of the faculty of reasoning. Incidentally, the vedic religion describes the highest state of spiritual perfection as vijnana, which means supreme scientific achievement..
The remarkable achievements in the field of physical science have created a sense
of weakness among people for this important branch of human knowledge. Incidentally, they have also paved the way for a group of pseudo-scientists who are eager to exploit the common sentiment in trying to promote ideas, born of their fertile imagination, as pieces of scientific truth. They seem to succeed in getting what they want not only by using the weight of their authority to the fullest extent, but also by adopting deceptive methods of presenting their views in the garb of science. This deplorable practice has created a mass of superstition, in the name of science, which is more dangerous than some of the known forms of religious superstition, since many of these spurious conclusions are becoming an integral part of the modern education system. The fact that these results fail to satisfy proper intellectual and scientific scrutiny seems to have escaped notice of the modern intelligentsia. One such absurd theory that has received a great deal of publicity in recent times will be briefly discussed in what follow.

The so-called big bang theory of creation imagines a vanishingly small particle with an infinitely large mass as the starting point of creation of the universe, the origin and location of this fantastic particle being considered as immaterial. All of a sudden, an equally fantastic explosion took place to disintegrate this particle, generating innumerable material entities with finite masses and densities, and marking the beginning of time and space. This theory evidently gives rise to several pertinent questions which its proponents are unable to answer. Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, the existence of the extraordinary initial particle, the occurrence of a spontaneous event such as the big bang, which requires an infinitely large supply of external energy, is totally unacceptable to the genuinely scientific mind. In the first place, it is impossible to have an effect without an appropriate cause, thereby violating the well established casual law for the occurrence of natural phenomena. Secondly, an event can be identified only within a pre-existent frame of time and space, and to suggest that it is the other way round is simply absurd. Thirdly, the occurrence of a random explosion can only result in a chaotic state with resonating disorder, and it is hard to imagine how an orderly steady state could emerge without the damping effect of an external agency. These remarks, which are by no means exhaustive, should be sufficient to indicate the pseudo-scientific nature of the theory.

The big bang theory is generally associated with another theory that is based on an extraordinary concept of the universe, which is imagined to have a finite radius, and to contain all the heavenly bodies within its boundary. The universe is also supposed to be radially expanding outward, presumably into another universe of no consequence. Thus, the universe is given a different connotation from its accepted linguistic meaning. The available astronomical data on the motion of distant galaxies, based on the relativistic Doppler principle, seem to suggest that these galaxies are moving away from us with a speed which is comparable with the speed of light. Assuming these observations to have a scientific validity, they seem to suggest a curious fact which needs to be addressed. If the universe had been expanding continuously with such a high speed for a considerable length of time, it could not have remained finite enough for astronomical observations to be possible on certain distant galaxies, thereby rendering the initial assumption invalid. This objection must be resolved in a satisfactory manner before the validity of the theory of expanding universe could be truly established.

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