Conflict between science and religion is a popular topic in the west. Hard line fundamentalist Christians go out of their way to challenge scientific findings that are not in agreement with the Bible. The situation is completely different in Indic traditions. There is no conflict between science and Hindu dharma. I will discuss below some of the reasons for this absence of conflict.
Lower and Higher knowledge
There is, in Hinduism, a distinction between 'higher knowledge' and 'lower knowledge' according to the Mundaka Upanishad I.i.4. This distinction is made possible since according to Hindu scripture nature is merely the lower aspect of the Divine. The lower knowledge includes all knowledge that endows a man with the knowledge of the manifested universe. The lower knowledge is obtained by the use of reason. The higher knowledge enables a man to realize the higher aspect of the Divine which is Self or God. The higher knowledge, knowledge of the higher aspect of the Divine, is beyond the realm of logic since God is beyond our senses. Nobody has ever been able to prove or disprove the existence of God using logic. If one can do that then God will come under the purview of science. Thus God can only be "known" in a supersensuous experience (Aporakhsanubhuti). Thus higher knowledge, obtained by meditation, is supersensuous knowledge. There is no conflict between these two types of knowledge since they operate in two distinctly different realms.
The higher knowledge does not contradict logic but introduces us to an alogical realm. Thus a scientist who believes in this scheme of Hindu dharma would be able to ply her trade without any problem since no scientific result can possibly say anything about God. Of course there is also no conflict if a Hindu scientist does not believe in any supersensuous experience!
Scriptural interpretation and science
There is also another safeguard against mixing science and religion in Hindu and Bouddha dharma. Any interpretation of Hindu or Buddhist scriptures must not override any scientific observation. Sri Sankara, the seventh century Advaita Vedanta philosopher, makes this point in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita 18.66:
" …… The appeal to the infallibility of the Vedic injunction is misconceived. The infallibility in question refers only to the unseen force or apurva, and is admissable only in regard to matters not confined to the sphere of direct perceptions etc. ….. Even a hundred statements of sruti to the effect that fire is cold and non-luminous won't prove valid. If it does make such a statement, its import will have to be interpreted differently. Otherwise , validity won't attach to it. Nothing in conflict with the means of valid cognition or with its own statement may be imputed to sruti." (Bhagavad Gita Bhashya of Sri Sankaracharya translated by Dr. A.G. Krishna Warrier).
Sri Vacaspati Misra, another Advaita Vedanta philosopher, says, "Even one thousand scriptural statements cannot transform a jar into a piece of cloth".
According to Yoga Vasishta Ramayan (II-18):
"Though human in origin, an exposition of truth is to be accepted; otherwise even what is regarded as divine revealation is to be rejected. Even a young boy's words are to be accepted if they are words of wisdom; else reject it like straw even if uttered by Brahma the creator." (Vasishta's Yoga translated by Swami Venkatesananda)
Gautama Buddha said in Angutarra iii.653, "This I have said to you O Kalamas, but you may accept it,not because it is a report, not because it is a tradition, not because it is so said in the past, not because it is given from the scriptures, not for the sake of discussion, not for the sake of particular method, not for the sake of careful consideration, not for the sake of forbearing with wrong views, not because it appears to be suitable, not because your preceptor is a recluse, but if you yourselves understand this is so, meritorious and blameless, and, when accepted, is for benefit and happiness, then you may accept it."
So Hindu or Bouddha dharma is not about belief but are experiential in nature.
Different instrument to study lower and higher knowledge
There is another deep reason for any lack of conflict. Hindu scriptures and yogis say that the mind is like a quantum object with seven levels. Most humans, including scientists, operate at the lowest level. At the lowest level human intellect is the only available instrument to study nature. Human intellect is, however, unable to penetrate the veil covering the higher reality. It is only when the mind is at one of the higher levels that the Divine Reality can be glimpsed. Thus the fact that scientific work has not seen any evidence for divinity is not surprising and does not prove the non-existence of any Divine Reality.
More posts by this author:
- Hindu attitude towards scripture
- Role of reason in Hindu dharma
- An outline of Hindu dharma
- Hindu Tradition, Modern Science and the intellectually colonised mind
- Why is Hinduism not a religion but a way of life?
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.