Monday, September 05, 2005

The Bible Mahābhāshya

Conservative Christians of the US believe that life is too complex to have "evolved" and so was created by a Superior Being. They are carrying out a campaign to propagate this theory, known as Creationism, by introducing it in Science textbooks. To this, there have been people crying hoarse in defence of Darwinism by employing elaborate logical arguments.

To these hoarse-cryers (HC's) I have to but quote Scott Adams, that Messiah of all cubicle-dwellers:
By definition, people with bad ideas cannot be swayed by logic. If they were logical, they wouldn't have bad ideas in the first place - unless the ideas were based on bad data. If... the "exhaustive research" option looks good for you [for thwarting an illogical idea], you have way too much time on your hands. Plus, it can only work if you're dealing with [one] who is logical and willing to admit error. (Source: The Dilbert Principle.)
Logic is the wrong weapon to fight the Creationists with. (And why do they think they are always correct? Because they are the right-wingers, that's why. Duh.)

I invite the HC's to abandon their Trinity (the God of Logic, His son Darwin and the Scientific Spirit) for some time and try out the practice we Indians have perfected to reconcile science with religion -- the art of interpretation.

Some examples:
  • Initially physicists thought light waves required a medium for propagation, and required Huygens' idea of an æther "gas" permeating all space. In accordance with this, the Sanskrit ākāśa, one of the pancabhūtas, used to be cleverly translated as "ether." Later, due to Einstein, the existence of æther was disproved. At this cynics would have thought we would be disconcerted, but (ha!) we responded appropriately.

  • The gunas - sattva (purity, goodness), tamas (stolidity, ignorance) and rajas (passion) - correspond to (guess, guess) the three atomic particles, the positively charged proton, the neutron and the negative electron, respectively.

  • According to the theory of evolution, life originated in water and later moved to land. To find evidence of this in Hinduism, we are asked merely to turn to the Daśāvatāra. Starting with the matsya (fish), proceeding to the amphibian kūrma (turtle), next the quadruped varāha (boar) and finally the biped human avatāras.
By a proper interpretation and translation, we can read any scientific theory in our scriptures. I am surprised nobody in America has tried this approach to counter the anti-science elements. "See, friend, it's all there in the Bible. QED."

Though my knowledge of the Christian texts is negligible, I shall try to illustrate the approach with some examples.
  • "The Earth was created by God [only] a few thousand years ago" rather than a few billion years as told by science: When the Bible says a thousand years, it means a thousand divine years, which may not equal the same number of human years. (Just as one Earth year is different from one Moon year.) Actually 1 divine year = 1000,000 human years.

  • In the garden of Eden, note the significant roles played in the apple-eating sequence by the apple and the snake. Which means the plant kingdom and the reptiles were there before humans came. Ergo, evolution. God may have planned out the process of natural selection and other details of evolution, though.
These are probably simplistic, but you get the idea.

The other way is to go back to the "original" Bible to resolve issues. The American right-wingers may be using some derivation of the first English translation (King James'?). Go back to the Hebrew or Aramaic texts. This would give us enormous flexibility, as these are ancient languages and the meaning of words may have morphed over time. Question the current interpretation of the words and argue that the correct ancient meaning actually bears out the scientific fact.

Sanskritists have been doing this all the time. Michael Witzel of Harvard University adopts this approach to counter right-wing historian David Frawley's proposition of a maritime rg-vedic culture. Witzel argues that samudra (translated as ocean by Frawley) is actually sam+udra, the confluence of rivers. That debunks the maritime theory for good.

In conclusion, all ye defenders of Science, look to us Hindus for help. We have perfected the very skill you require. Come to us for enlightenment.

Or better still, outsource the job.


Sunil said...

super post Sri...i'm still smiling :-)

Srikanth said...

Thanks a lot, Sunil!

RamV said...

saar ... right on! right on!

kamesh said...

Nice one there Sri,,,

Vijayanand said...

Excellent post... Nice ideas..Also nice picture in the front page.

This also brings another interesting thing -- Man's intolerance towards apparent contradictions. Why are we always striving to "create" consistency?

Why cant we blissfully stay and accept states of inconsistencies.

Afterall Godel's imcompleteness theorm states that a complete system cannot be consistent.

Even physics has this dual nature of light

Srikanth said...

Hi Ramprasad, Kamesh and Vijayanand,

Thanks a lot!

I am out of town and shall post detailed responses shortly.

Srikanth said...

Hi Vijayanand,
First of all, thanks for the detailed comment!

Your remark about duality is very thought-provoking.

Why cant we blissfully stay and accept states of inconsistencies. Well said - why indeed! Probably because of (what psychologists call) cognitive dissonance - it seem to be our tendency to abhor inconsistency.

Manjunatha said...

Good post! Actually, Indians can even claim that our primitive and illiterate tribals could be really scineific to some extent. Just check out the following mythology of Koya tribes. It's even better than Hinduism.

"According to the Koya mythology, life originated from water. The friction between the fourteen seas resulted in the emergence of moss, toads, fish and saints. The last saint was God and He first created Tuniki and Regu fruits."

Srikanth said...

Hi Manjunatha,
That's an interesting piece of fact!

Generally, it is the tendency of any religion or culture to claim a long scientific tradition. Which is why the attitude of the Creationists is very surprising to me...

By the way, are you into genetics etc. as a profession or is it a hobby? I am amazed at your detailed knowledge about all the castes and tribes and their customs.

Manjunatha said...

By the way, are you into genetics etc. as a profession or is it a hobby?

I'm interested in anthropological studies but it's just a hobby. I'm working in semiconductor industry. Well, my genetics knowledge is primitive. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to go deep into it.

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