Science on Religion


Sean Carroll: <Some people have as their primary goal advocating for some sort of cause, whereas others are simply devoted to the truth. But an organization advocating for science needs to take both into consideration.>

I agree with this, in principle.
However, we need to be very clear about what one means by Truth.
There is <theoretical truth> and there is experiential truth.> It is the latter that Gandhi had in mind when he wrote about his <Experiments with Truth.>
People advocating a cause often have a certain type of truth in mind.
Science itself is an enterprise that is working for a cause: the quest for truths about the phenomenal world.
It seems to me that it would be in the best interest of science if  scientists qua scientists keep silent on religious truths. But as thinking people and as citizens they have every right and obligation to speak on such issues.
But it could be inappropriate for  scientific organizations to take a position on religious matters, exactly as (in enlightened frameworks) governments and governmental leaders refrain from advocating one religion or another.

January 20, 2010

On Grace


Among the many in intriguing aspects of the human experience is the fact that we have achieved different levels of understanding, awakening, and sensibilities. At the simplest level we may attribute this to different guiding factors, educational opportunities, healthy influences. Biologically one may trace aspects of them to genes and other biochemical influences.

But, as with God, one may still ask wherefrom are these salutary sources for individual lives? Why should I get the positives and someone else on the planet be subjected to less enriching or even the most awful mangling in life?

Some have tried to bring in stars and planets to account for such discrepancies.

Others speak of good karma, and yet others invoke terms like blessing and good luck.

It is equally fulfilling to speak of grace in this context: as a special favor granted by the unfathomable mystery that flings its favors in apparently random modes.

I recognize that these are but conceptual, sometimes even verbal, artifacts to explain away what is in essence a Grand Mystery.

So, for my part, I am as content with attributing my unsought bio-brownies to good luck as to Gemini, blessings, good karma or grace.

Whatever the source, even if it is only stochastic serendipity, as a  culturally  conditioned reflecting human, I express my gratitude to It. That way I avoid being an ungrateful wretch.

January 20, 2010

Sharon Begley of Newsweek and Sacred Values


Begley wrote:  ” Sacred values are ideals so transcendent they have no equivalent in anything material,” and insinuating that a sacred value such as sovereignty over Jerusalem can be denominated in anything so crass as money is deeply offensive.”

Let me first say that I have the greatest respect and sympathy for the leigitimate demand of the people of Palenstine for a free and sovereign homeland.
However, by referring to any idea as described above as sacred, one unwittingly adds moral and spiritual weight to every belief, rational, irrational, valid, or fanatical, whether related to politics, religion, or to any human values.
In other words, one needs to make a distinction between what some people regard as sacred (the criterion mentioned in the article) and what can be genuinely and nobly sacred. There are both necessary and sufficient conditions for sacredness. The willingness to die for a cause, a belief, or a principle, may be a necessary condition for believing something to be sacred, but it is not a sufficient condition for it to be so.
Respect for fellow members of a group, devotion to one’s own holy books, and loyalty to one’s religious tradition may be sacred, but not if and when they include disrespect and hatred for other groups and a contemptuous disregard for the beliefs and visions of God that inspire others.
Thus, it is important to distinguish between what is truly sacred, and what should be regarded as undeservedly so when it crosses certain boundary lines. This criterion for distinguishing between what is genuinely sacred and what is misguidedly imagined to be so is applicable to the practitioners of all religions: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity,Islam, Atheism, or whatever. And it has nothing to do with the legitimate political aspirations of a people.

January 12, 2010

Michael Shermer: <To find out whether an action is right or wrong, ask first.


Shermer wrote: <The moral doer should ask the moral receiver whether the behavior in question is moral or immoral. If you aren’t sure that the potential recipient of your action will react in the same manner you would react to the moral behavior in question, then ask. You will almost always receive your moral answer swiftly and without equivocation. And, as often as not, you do not actually have to ask the question to know the answer. The thought experiment alone should give you a strong sense of what is right and wrong.>

The challenge to skeptics/materialists is not how to define or determine what is right and what is wrong without reference to God (as Shermer has very well done), but why, knowing what is morally right  and what is immoral or wrong, we should choose the right from the wrong when we ourselves will not be adversely affected. This is what I call the <ethical hard problem.>

I am not saying we should appeal to God or religion or scriptures for this, but I am wondering  what other possible source there  is to induce or urge us to CHOOSE right from wrong as the preferred mode. THAT is the problem, not a definition of right and wrong or a strategy for determining them.

Not hurting others would be one of the most ethical rules to follow. But why should we engage in such behavior on moral grounds alone? That is the question.

January 12, 2010

Truth and Tension in Science and Religion: Some Reviews and Reactions


1. Truth and tension in science and religion.  Beech River Books, 2009.  390p bibl index afp ISBN 0979377862 pbk, $24.00; ISBN 9780979377860 pbk, $24.00. Reviewed in 2009dec CHOICE.
This is not just another entry in what seems an endless stream of books examining the interconnectedness of science and religion. Raman (emer., RIT), a physicist and philosopher, approaches his theme from two perspectives seldom seen in other books: one from the view of science as a whole and not just the author’s fields of specialization, the other from the view of all the world’s great religions, not just Christianity. Even more unique is Raman’s obvious open-minded approach to all value systems, so seldom seen in most books. “Truth in its totality,” he writes, “is beyond our grasp.” Chapters discuss cosmogony, belief systems from the deeply devout to the atheistic along with their spiritual, ethical, and mystical aspects, and the dissimilar approaches of science and religion to common themes. Particularly intriguing is the topic of consciousness, where Raman touches on the “New Age” concept of the universe as a conscious entity. The book, despite its forbidding theme, is understandable and enjoyable to read while sacrificing nothing in intellectual rigor. An extensive reference section adds to its value. This work will be valuable to readers interested in studying the science-religion debate from a fresh perspective. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels of undergraduate students and general readers. — C. G. Wood, formerly, Eastern Maine Community College

2. Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

Varadaraja V. Raman

“All other men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.”

Sherlock Holmes commenting to Dr. Watson about his brother Mycroft

in “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” from His Las Bow

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

While reading Professor VV Raman’s 2009 book Truth and Tension in Science and Religion one begins to feel as if Watson’s observation about Holmes could also be applied to Professor Raman. He seems to know (about) everything! And this is a welcome relief to readers and explorers in the science and religion arena. The arena is in fact a very large one; it is truly global, but the great majority of writers and other vocal participants tend to be so local in their opinions as to appear parochial. They only “know” one religion or one science or one method or one ideology or one culture. Thus, the perceptive reader is a little bit aghast when one writer or the other makes an overarching or definitive statement about science, religion, and human existence as seen from their narrow and unchallenged perspective. It does not behoove anyone to give a complete explanation of anything, much less of the world, when it is patently obvious how small their own world is. In fact, given the predominance of publications by educated, self-certain, and volatile white males in the science-religion debate, one wonders whether this is not a new form of Occidental imperialism or perhaps simply a delayed expansion of the old one.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort is to be found in Truth and Tension in Science and Religion. For Raman, a Bengali Tamil, comes to the table with certain cultural advantages unavailable (and perhaps undesired) by his more labile colleagues. First, he hails from a culture that has a great appreciation of history and, in particular, history expressed as poetry. In other words, growing up in India, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) and oldest societies on the planet, he is aware of the world as being something grandly diverse, inherently multicultural, and sustainably multi-religious. This allows him to see validity in multiple interpretations of human reality. Second, as someone who has lived in several cultures, most notably those of France and the United States, he is also writing with an awareness that Occidental culture is not as homogenous or monolithic (or Protestant) as some of his peers would have us believe. Third, as a physicist, given his work in theoretical physics, particularly on the mathematics underlying quantum theory, he knows that the indeterminacy of science lies within science itself. For quantum theory is a part of the hardest of the hard sciences—namely, physics, and yet it is a world of paradoxes, strangeness, and “spookiness”. The quantum world, as we currently understand it, is a constant reminder that even in science speaking as if one had absolute knowledge of anything is both injudicious and downright funny.

These factors give Raman the capacity to cover—to analyze and then synthesize—a great deal of information in Truth and Tension in Science and Religion. He starts first by defining his terms. This is a most courteous and uncommon thing to do, but it is a necessity if there is ever to be any productive discussion among the interlocutors of the science and religion debate. His delineation of how we know, and the kinds of realities we come to know, as found in chapter three, “Epistemological Aspects,” should be required reading for anyone interested in joining in the science and religion dialogue, particularly before they start writing and publishing, since much confusion is caused by the (perhaps deliberate?) misunderstanding of those two words: “know” and “real”. Consider the almost ubiquitous question: “How do we really know what is really real?” and I think you’ll see the point. Another “must read” chapter is chapter four, on the various types of explanations found in science as well as their explanatory power and the limits thereof.

As a writer, Prof. Raman approaches his project with a deftness and sureness of hand that is reassuring. He takes on the “big” questions (determinism, anthropic uniqueness) and subjects (magic, the supernatural) and personalities (Dawkins, Hitchens) with humble aplomb and gentle humor. Because of this, there is a lightness in his handling of his subject matter that results in what American pragmaticist CS Peirce would call the play or “musement” of ideas. Moreover, the breadth of his knowledge allows him to introduce into the “usual” science and religion discussion topics like economics, anthropology, and art; such topics as these, usually considered as ancillary, have a central role for Raman in the science and religion debate, because they also play a central role in humanity’s search for truth and meaning, just as science and religion do.

As mentioned above, Professor Raman brings to the science-religion debate a truly multi-cultural perspective; moreover, it is a nuanced and complex perspective. There are none (or, at least, very few) of those egregious phrases like “Islam says…” or “In Buddhism, they…”. Rather, there are specific quotations with references, something that is often lacking in more recent science and religion literature of a certain type. As a matter of fact, the detail and thoroughness of Raman’s research, as reflected in his compendium of references (literature cited), would make it well worth purchasing the book just to get at that reference list.

Professor Raman is even-handed; he takes no sides; he ridicules no one, and he has written a book that will annoy almost all participants in the science and religion debate. Some will ask: why doesn’t he take a stand? He does, for mutual human understanding. Others will moan: why doesn’t he tell us what he really thinks? But he does, only not in the black-and-white, winner-take-all fashion that has become the current custom in the science and religion arena. He is aware that other factors, such as the disparity between the rich and the poor, play a larger role in what is considered “religious fundamentalism” than any particular dogma or creed. In fact, one is left suspecting that Professor Raman does not believe the “problem” of science versus religion is the true source of humanity’s current struggles and apparent unhappiness on the planet; rather, it is we, ourselves.

Stacey E. Ake, PhD (Biology) PhD (Philosophy)

Drexel University

Dept. of English and Philosophy

Philadelphia, PA 19193 USA

3. Dear V.V.,
Your Truth and Tension in Science and Religion just arrived this afternoon, and I have been reading through it since it came. I congratulate you deeply. In your conclusions and in your prose, you are combining wisdom and beauty. As you know, therein lies truth.
I hope this non-dogmatic and irenic treatment of the field will garner much attention and have much influence. Lord knows we need it. If your book helps scientists and religionists learn how to be partners, so that they can work together to reduce religiously motivated warfare and to turn the tide on global warming and other global problems, it will have played a mighty role indeed.
With my respects, congratulations, and best wishes,
Philip Clayton

4. Report on ‘Truth and Tension in Science and Religion’ by Varadaraja V. Raman

“Does God exist? Progress in Science, is it incompatible with religious values?” Such questions baffle many persons. We grope about looking for satisfactory answers. Now, at last, we have a book which discusses answers to a number of such questions, thanks to the erudite scholar Professor V. V. Raman. There are experts in scientific subjects and there are scholars who specialize in religious studies. But it is quite rare to find a scientist who is also well-versed in the religions of the world.

Such an exception is Professor Raman, who has written many articles on the History of Science in reputed journals and published books  and articles on both scientific theories and on religious topics.

The present book is a collection of essays that “are commentaries from the perspective of one whose mind has been enriched by science, and who has derived fulfillment from religious associations.” Spread over ten chapters Raman expounds in mellifluous prose on generalities between science and religion, epistemological aspects, explanatory dimensions, belief systems and God, spiritual aspects, ethical aspects, dissimilar visions on common themes, origins and ends, and valedictory thoughts. A nice feature of the book is that one does not have to read from cover to cover; just open and start reading, or if you wish to consult on a particular topic, look for it in the index and turn to the relevant page. You will find a logical discussion of the issues involved with copious allusions from literatures in different languages as well as quotations from scriptures. Take, for example, the problem of evil. In about three pages, we find a enlightening discussion on, among other things, how a merciful God can allow natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis in which many innocent people perish. Are you agnostic having serious doubts about God and the attention He gets? Raman writes on atheism and negative religious views in the chapter on belief systems.

Thus the book presents a good examination of the frameworks of science and religion that provides a multi-cultural view of how they affect our perception of the truth.

I agree with Dr Jerome Stone, who writes in his Foreword to the book, “the book should be of interest to adherents of any faith or none…. As a Christian theologian who has pondered over these questions for many years, I find this to be a wise and balanced book. Anyone with an open mind will find in it many pleasures, food for thought and important insights.”

Dr. S. Swaminathan

Professor of Mathematics

Delhousie University, Halifax

5. Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

Varadaraja V. Raman

TRUTH AND TENSION is a tremendous achievement: a beautiful fusion of the learning of East and West, with an argument both timely and incontrovertible.  With  style, verve,  and delectable humor,  Dr. Raman has given us a book of central importance for our age.

— X. J. Kennedy

6. Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

Varadaraja V. Raman

Professor emeritus Raman deals with the title theme in 10 chapters: Introduction, On science and religion, Epistemological aspects, Explanatory dimensions, Belief systems and God, Spiritual aspects, Ethical aspects, Dissimilar visions on common themes, Origins and ends, Concluding thoughts. Practically all of these issues are dealt with elsewhere.  So, why should anybody read this book?

The answer is because of the overarching, encompassing, balanced, knowledgeable approach of the author, his sure, differentiating discernment, and his positive attitude. It is no secret that discussions of science and religion give rise to controversies, and (too) often to sterile confrontations. The present volume is a guidepost for better, more fruitful ways to go about difficult (controversial) issues. Raman describes himself as “one whose mind has been enriched by science and who has derived fulfillment from religious associations” (p. 7). He wishes to foster readers’ similar experiences. The volume is dedicated to “all men and women of goodwill who recognize whatever is ennobling and enhancing in both religion and science, and choose to discard what is not” (p. v).

What are characteristics of this volume? First, Raman looks at a given issue from a historical and a current viewpoint. He brings to bear his extensive knowledge of science, in particular of physics, and of various religions both Abrahamitic and Eastern. He uses prose as well as poetry in his presentation and argumen­tation, quotes other authors through the ages and across continents in a number of languages including Latin and Sanskrit. Second, he points out the respective strong points and expresses his doubts about less convincing aspects. Third, all this is always done in a caring way, never with arguments ad hominem. Fourth, throughout Raman stays understandable and brings something to both beginners and old hands.

Within the present scope it is not possible to illustrate these statements throughout the book. So let me do it at least partly for two chapters, beginning with Epistemological aspects (pp. 57-96). The subchapters are Facts, perspectives and truth, Criteria and truth contents in science and in religion, Why in science and why in religion, Determination and levels of reality, On knowing the future, Prediction: religious and otherwise, Types of faith, Types of doubt, Contextual relevance of faith and doubt, Gnosis and sciencis: apará and pará, On exopotent and endopotent truth. Raman gives encompassing definitions and discusses moult examples, never shying away from controversial, difficult, or lesser-known issues such as that characterized by apará and pará (lower and higher knowledge). Sciencis refers to knowledge gained through the mode, methodology, and framework of (modern) science as an enterprise. With this terminology, science-religion dialogues are deemed exchanges between sciencis and gnosis.

The chapter  Dissimilar visions on common themes (pp. 235-299) is my second example. Here the subchapters are titled Common themes, Revelation, Sacredness, Authorities, Numbers in religion and science, Religion and science in the context of sex, Food in religion and science, Magic in religion and science, Poetry in religion and science, Art in religion and science, Celestial world: religious and scientific perspectives, Politics in religion and science, Technology in religion and science, Music in religion and science, History in religion and science, Philosophy in religion and science, Aesthetics in religion and science. Again, the wide scope and the embracing of controversial issues will be apparent.

As to Raman’s basic attitude, it is apparent (among others) form his statement on mys­te­­ries: “When we pray or worship, when we light a candle or wave a flame to a divine sym­bol, when we prostrate, bow down or kneel, when we sing a psalm or chant a mantra or proclaim in faith that God is great, we are acknowledging the Mystery that eludes us” (p. 194). He (rightly in my view) counsels humility: our knowledge and insights are limited and cocksureness is not conducive to better understanding.

Another feature of the volume are Raman’s comparisons, for example concerning consciousness: “One might as well ask which view of music is correct: enjoyable melody or superposition of discrete frequencies? (p. 187) or “The religious approach to spirituality is like delighting in a gourmet meal; the scientific approach is like studying the recipes or chemically analyzing the ingredients o the menu” (p. 181).

I hope to have given enough of a flavour for deciding whether or not the book is a desirable read (it is very much so for this reviewer). As is unavoidable with an enterprise of such a scope, there may be here and there details not every expert will agree with. However, if so, in my view this is largely overcom­pensated  by the enlargement of the mental horizon a reader will experience. Let me also add that there are 27 pages of references and a 22-page index.

K. Helmut Reich

Professor, Rutherford University

Switzerland

7. Truth and Tension: in science and religion.

Having read several of Professor Raman’s writings, I have come to expect elegant writing, clear thinking and thoughtful analysis.  But as I read this book, I was awed all over again at the way he tackles complex and controversial topics and simplifies it for the reader without condescension.  Not just scientists or philosophers, but everyone can enjoy this book. It provides in-depth overview of religious and scientific perspective.   In addition, Professor Raman is uniquely qualified in that he is primarily a scientist, a physicist, who is also a scholar of religion of both Eastern and Western traditions.  Add to that his elegant writing style and balanced thinking I will boldly assert with near-certainty that no one but him could have written a book of this kind at this time in human history.

Throughout this book, Professor Raman clearly delineates the realms of influence of science and religion and offers solutions so that they may not interfere with each other and flourish in their separate spheres without leading to inevitable clash that we often witness all over the world.  While many of us know these things intuitively, he makes arguments in a logical manner so that we may articulate our thoughts more clearly when challenged with these questions either in our own minds or in a debate with others.  For example he has postulated three different kinds of faith and doubt each dealing with different dimension of experience—all of a sudden all those shrill “science is also faith” or that “religion is for simpletons” arguments that we often hear are put into perspective.

I also found the chapter on ethics and morality especially interesting as many of us struggle with this every day as we need to refine some of our traditional values to make them relevant  in the modern enlightened views of equality.  Even while quoting the best of ethics from various religious traditions from Jaina to Judaism, he also makes it clear that it is modern worldview that has led to our collective moral awakening regarding practices such as racism, slavery or untouchability.

I don’t wish to summarize each chapter here, but I found these chapter divisions and subdivisions very apt and the flow of thought process logical and clear.  Did I mention clarity?—I wish to emphasize it again—I think the strength of this book lies in its clarity without a lot of scientific or religious jargon that can hinder a lay reader’s understanding.  I have read some books by Dawkins and Hitchens and found myself turned off rather quickly even though I consider myself scientifically inclined but I have never been able to pinpoint the reason for my discomfort until I read this book.  I think this book should be required reading for all students.  I would suggest this book to all those who wish to educate their students to think critically and understand the role and impact of science while encouraging empathy towards all people—ordinary believers of all traditions — at the same time identifying aspects of traditional worldviews that needs to be rejected for welfare of all humankind.

Also, surprisingly enough for a book that deals with such grave topics, I found myself chuckling and laughing along with some of his observations and comments—this subtle humor manifests itself continually and unexpectedly, adding to the enjoyment of the reader.  For a book titled Truth and Tension in Science and Religion, this book is quite a page turner as it will keep the reader engaged from the beginning to the end and wishing for more.

Jaishree Gopal, Director

Navyashastra, Detroit, MI

8. Truths about science/religion tensions, July 20, 2009 (Amazon.com Review)

Jerald L. Robertson (Cincinnati, OH) – See all my reviews

Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

This book reads easy but it is in no way trivial as it is a row across deep waters. Raman understands what effective writing is all about. His writing style is lean, to the point, understandable and one needs no dictionary or encyclopedia of philosophy to grasp what he is saying – a joy to read for both layman like me and scholars.

It is cosmopolitan in its critique of today’s science/religion dialogue. Raman is a religious naturalist being a scientist with deep spiritual inclinations. He brings this disposition to the debates between religion and science. He is obviously well read in physics, philosophy, biology, history, religions and ethics and uses this knowledge effectively. He is multi-religious and multi-cultural which gives him an expansive understanding of the issues between the two main ways of interpreting Reality. He is both objective and compassionate to both science and religion when it comes to their shortcomings and easy to praise them where appropriate.

Raman is a man of humor and poetry and he exercises both. His use of warm poetry, both his own and others, to make his points, adds another dimension to his insights. They are flowers on the philosophical plain he is traversing. His humor is subtle and sneaks up on you.

I asked myself as I read, does he believe in God or is he an atheist. It is not easy to determine that. And he paints many pictures of God as offered up by the world religions. One must in addition ask, if he believes in God, which one? Perhaps it is the naturalistic God of Spinoza.
This is a must read for the student of science. There is much wisdom and insight concerning the subject he was taught for over 40 years. It also has much for the student of religion as he relies on his multi-belief history (Catholic, Hindu and naturalism) to show there are basic similarities between most religions. They all have commendable attributes. This leads him to urge tolerance proclaiming that we cannot with moral uprightness or rational legitimacy proclaim one religion as inferior to another. Neither is non-belief the pestilence that fundamentalists say it is. He points out that science is also a form of revelation. It is the superior tool for using Nature to our advantage, not because it is necessarily the truth, but because it is the most persuasive interpretation of Reality.

Raman recognizes the merits of some of the arguments of the new atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, others) but does not jump on their wagon. He addresses dissimilar visions on common themes in religion and science in many areas. He concludes that science without religion can be heartless and not poetic while religion without scientific awakening is a fantasy-based postulate. Science helps fill our natural physical needs, religion our community and spiritual ones. Both attempt to answer the same big question of why, but in different fashions. Both address the same divinity.
This is a major work in the boiling caldron of the science and religion debate. In many areas it is magnificent and in the rest it is great insightful reading. There is more truth in it than tension.

9. Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

Einstein once averred that “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”  Indeed, there are hardly two more noble manifestations of the human spirit, and they should get along, though strident votaries of each constantly try to shove the other to the periphery. In this magisterial survey of the interactions between science and religion, Professor Vardaraja V. Raman – physicist, poet, humanist and Professor Emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology – lays out the entire history of the encounter in an entertaining but thoroughly edifying format.

Delve into this book and you will learn that long before modern science emerged in Europe, an ancient dissident in India known as Charvaka  pooh-poohed Vedic rituals and founded an atheistic school that flourished well into the Mughal era; that in ancient Greece, poets like Epicurus doubted the ability of the gods to intervene in human affairs and proffered some of the first arguments for skepticism.

But it was the entire panoply of scientific achievement in physics and cosmology, biology and evolutionary theory that chipped away at the once adamantine authority religious visions had in shaping human beliefs. In Europe, Copernicus’  discoveries threw the Catholic Church into an existential crisis from which it has not fully recovered. More than a century ago, Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire and Comte daringly predicted that scientific progress would prove religion a primitive afterthought in the history of human achievement.

As Professor Raman shows, nothing could be further from the truth. In most quarters of the world, religion appears to be stronger than ever, accommodating the findings of science into ancient frameworks with little cognitive dissonance. In India, rocket scientists pray to Lord Venkateshwara before launching satellites into orbit. Indeed, some Indian cultural patriots have gone a step beyond accommodation and fully appropriated science, claiming  that Vedic rishis intuited all of its great discoveries, including quantum mechanics,  when the Europeans were swinging with the monkeys in the trees.

According to Professor Raman, religion endures mainly because it provides a framework to live nobly and charitably, to put our travails in perspective, and to face the moment of death with dignity and resolve. It has its own kinds of truths, very different from the tested claims of science, but no less important.

Professor Raman elucidates the most recent findings in the science of religious belief, including the controversial claim that God is an accidental byproduct of other evolutionary developments. He also reflects on the emerging school of “New Atheists” inspired by a pugnacious English zoologist named Richard Dawkins, which sees nothing but darkness and evil in all religions. While Professor Raman sympathizes with the New Atheists, who, according to him, are reacting to the recent horrors afflicted on humankind by religious fanatics, he can never fully side with them. The legacy of religion, with all its magnificent art and literature, its ability to engender awe and moments of unity with creation, will always be central. No less the discoveries of science, which he hopes can temper the religious fanatics and uproot outmoded practices and harmful superstitions.

Vikram Masson, Esq. New York

10. MILTI-FACETED TRUTH

Review of V. V. Raman’s Book

TRUTH & TENSION IN SCIENCE & RELIGION

Beech River Books (2009), 390 pages.

Recent books by militant atheists, such as Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion,” have polarized the science and religion dialogue. V.V. Raman’s voice of reconciliation can lead us to multi-faceted truth. Raman’s understanding of the world’s religions is destined to become increasing relevant in this era of globalization and climate change.

For V. V. Raman, both science and religion are the loftiest expressions of the human spirit. Yet tensions arise from differing faiths, frameworks, and truth claims.

Raman contrasts a single belief, monodoxy, with an anything goes attitude (AGA.) Monodoxy is single truth in which the only acceptable orthodoxy (literally right belief) is such that differing views are dismissed or vilified. For example, scientism asserts that scientific methods are the only valid paths to truth. On the other side, religious fundamentalists believe that the Bible is literally true and even some regard science as atheistic materialism which has lead to such atrocities as the holocaust. Contrary to monodoxy, the anything goes attitude can result in indifference and even anarchy.

Raman enjoins us to replace such extremes by the Jaina doctrine of many perspectives, illustrated in the parable of the blind men and the elephant.  Each blind man examined the elephant from his partial perspective and concluded that it was (1) a snake (squirming trunk), (2) a wall (broad and sturdy side), (3) spear (round and smooth sharp tusk), (4) a tree (the leg), and (5) a rope (swinging tail). When these multi-perspectives are combined, a true representation is achieved.

These multi-perspectives characterize Raman’s well referenced work. He examines in great detail the different criteria of science and of religion for achieving reliable knowledge (ie. epistemology) and truth.

“What is truth?“  “There are no whole truths, all truths are half-truths,” according to philosopher A. N. Whitehead.   For Raman truth is multifaceted.

Raman gives a comprehensive overview of the world’s belief systems and their theology of God, based on logic and reason, similar to that of science. Some branches of Hinduism embrace God while others are atheistic.

Some of us are familiar with Kurt Godel’s proof of the limitations of logical systems: there are true propositions that cannot be proved from axioms.  It is intriguing therefore that Raman includes Godel’s ontological proof of God.  However, Raman concludes:  “The aesthetic beauty and spiritual grandeur of mathematics are like the soul-lifting magnificence of Art, Music, and Poetry. To contrive proofs of God through them is like using the piano to prove a Euclidean proposition.”

From the beginning of civilization, all cultures have had their creation stories which satisfy our human desire to know where we came from. Raman describes stories of the Babylonians (which are similar to Genesis 1), Chinese, Iroquois, Australians, Buddhists, Jainas, and Greeks.

It is only in the last century that science has shown evidence of how our whispering cosmos emerged. The priest George Lemaitre was the first to propose, based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, that the universe originated from a “primeval atom” in a hot big bang explosion of space-time. Lemaitre’s “primeval atom” is surprisingly similar to the Hindu story of the universe’s emergence from a golden egg.

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,” according to physicist Steven Weinberg.  In response V. V. Raman’s notes, “The more we Fourier-analyze a Beethoven symphony, the more it seems music-less.”

Scientific analysis does not always lead to the beauty and meaning we experience in music and story. In his insightful book, Raman shows how ultimate meaning and purpose can be found in spiritual poetry and art, which can articulate the awesome universe revealed by the continuing discoveries of science.

The book has many of Raman’s insightful poems. Could the concluding stanza’s of Raman’s Transcendence be reminiscent of Pope’s epitaph for Isaac Newton?

Transcendence by V. V. Raman.

“…Nature and her laws were occult in the dark,

Till consciousness came, and lit them with its spark.

How did this happen, for what purpose and whence?

Could the answer for this be in Transcendence?

Pope’s Epitaph for Isaac Newton

“Nature and its laws lay hid at night.

God said: ‘Let Newton be.’

And all was light.”

Raman’s multi-cultural and multi-perspective approach is similar to physicist-psychologist Helmut Reich’s relational contextual reasoning, RCR. RCR expands upon the complementary nature of science and religion and recognizes the complexity of interactions, transcends binary logic (either/or), and shares components with dialectical and analogical reasoning.

Medical science has increased our lifespan and advances in agriculture have enabled the earth to support a record breaking population. In the Introduction to biologist E. O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, he wrote a letter to a Southern Baptist minister saying in effect: “I do not agree with you theologically, but we must work together to save our earth.”

V. V. Raman’s book is an appeal to all “the religions of the world to wake up to enlightened visions of tolerance,” which will enable them to work together with scientists and governmental leaders to save “the only spaceship that is ours to share.”

“Just as science without religion is simply heartless and unpoetic information,

religion without scientific awakening could remain fantasy-based fulfillment.”

Reviewed by Paul H. Carr, Ph. D.

11. Dialogue between Science & Religion:

Is it possible? Is it Necessary?

Sehdev Kumar

Though the impulse to understand and discover ‘natural’ causes for natural phenomena is as ancient as man himself, what has come to be called Scientific Revolution is not quite five hundred years old; it is said to have ushered in 1543 with the publication of two remarkable books: Nicolaus Copernicus‘s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres) and Andreas Vesalius‘s De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human body).

All revolutions have a complex and convoluted history; this is certainly true of Scientific Revolution, which continues to this day.  Certainly, it can be easily claimed that – with the insights of such great scientist-philosophers as Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Pasteur, Einstein, Bohr, and many, many more – for better or for worse, we live in an ‘Age of Science’.

As such, today there is no greater blasphemy than to make an observation or hold an assertion that is deemed ‘unscientific’. This is so not only for physical and biological phenomena but also for social and historical events that tell the human story. And thus we have social sciences, political science and historical sciences. The reach of science – as a methodology, and as a way of rejecting anything that may be considered ‘supernatural’, subjective, or irrational – is vast and all powerful.

Naturally thus there have been, and continue to be, strong tensions between Science and Religion; this is especially so when religious scriptures – whether of Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism – claim to explain the natural phenomena – the age of earth, origins of life, relationship between humans and other creatures, nature of consciousness, meaning of life and death, and more – in terms of the authority of the Holy Book, or as Word of God. In America, in particular, rejection of Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory, assertion of Intelligent Design, or of Creationism, and their place in the classroom, are matters of very fierce on-going debate.

Are these debates new, or do they have an historical context? Do such debates arise  elsewhere, say in India, or Iran, or China, or France? If not, why not? If yes, how?

A new book, Truth and Tension: In Science and Religion by Varadaraja V. Raman, addresses many of these questions across nations with probing insights and admirable openness. Dr. Raman is Professor Emeritus of Physics and Humanities at the Rochester Institute of Technology; he has addressed issues concerning the dialogue between Science and Religions(s), through his writings and in his numerous lectures, for many years and in all parts of the world, with deep understanding of the complexity of the issues, and with courage and wisdom. In this book, as in his other writings, Raman does not succumb to chauvinistic claims of scientific achievements of one group or another, nor does he shy away from eluding to many aspects of  the human vision or the longings of the soul that lie beyond the pale of science.

Raman’s admiration for spiritual literature, art and architecture, and music of all religious traditions is witness to his unitary vision of life, in which true science, true religion and true arts blossom forth, without dogma, or narrow-mindedness or exclusivity. In the spirit of Albert Einstein, who said, “Science without religion is lame, a religion without science is blind”, Raman speaks of the mystery of life that can be unraveled with “a mind that reflects, a heart that feels, and a spirit that experiences all aspects of life.”

In the name of religion, or certainly goaded by misguided religious passions, horrors have been committed all over the world. At the time of India’s partition, Raman witnessed the blood of Muslims and Hindus that was spilled in Calcutta. He knows what went on the in the crusades, or in the inquisitions. For so long, so much superstition, exploitation and dogma have marred religious institutions and teachings. Raman bemoans all that. Yet recent spate of ‘religion bashing’ by such writers as Oxford biologist, Richard Dawkins, in his book God Delusion, or by Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, leave him feeling how shallow an understanding they have of the role of religion in the human history. Commenting on Bill Mahler’s film Religulous (2008), Raman writes: “Mahler makes no reference to the great art, glorious music, or grand poetry that have been created by deep religious attitudes. Nor is there any mention of the solace and peace that religions brought to countless millions in moments of despair and sorrow.”

As a prominent physicist and an historian of science, Raman rejects the claims many religions have made in explaining away natural phenomena in supernatural terms. Instead he sees religious impulse and longing at a different level. He sees the ‘why’ in science to be different from the ‘why’ in religion. “Why should one be kind?” he says, is not a scientific question but a religious one. He could as well add to a list of non-scientific ‘why’s’: “Why are so many tormented by the fear of meaninglessness in life?” Or: “Why is love so important to the human blossoming?”  Science may pretend to answer questions like these in a hundred different anthropological or genetic contexts, but only to further muddle the enquiry.

Every religious tradition, to varying degrees, makes a distinction between apara and para vidya: knowledge that can be intellectually grasped, and that can be experienced only at a different level of being. As a comparison, Raman suggests, elucidating the wisdom of Mundaka Upanishad 1:4, that as theoretical physics can be understood only through the knowledge of higher mathematics, the para vidya – higher spiritual knowledge – is accessible to a different kind of initiate.

What is emerging from a lively conversation about Science and Religion that is currently going on all over the world, is this: “Is the debate between these two necessary? Is it possible?”  If not, why not? If yes, how?

If we consider either of them – Science or Religion – superficially or in a reductionist manner, we may proclaim the easy triumph of Science and the certain demise of Religion. But if we see the role of religion – despite its horrors, rigidities and dogmas – as a way to learn to experience the mystery of existence, in all its grandeur and absurdity, then the religious ethos can only dance in harmony with the great insights that Science has revealed to us about the universe.

This unitary role of Science and Religion – with its magnificent expressions, over millennia,  in music, arts, poetry, architecture and dance – in knowing the ‘Truth’ in all its splendour, and thus making us more human, more exalted and ever more creative, is what Professor Raman has very thoughtfully explored in this book.

Towards the end of his extraordinary creative life, Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the father of modern science,  is said to have remarked:  “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

We have every reason to doubt that ‘the great ocean of truth’ that Newton eluded to can be discovered by Science alone – however wide its net; it would forever need the insights that have come down to us over the centuries from our great sages and spiritual masters. In this endeavour, man could never cease to have an enquiring mind, a hungry spirit and a compassionate heart.

This is the message of this fine book by Professor Raman, told with probing scholarship and disarming simplicity.

Dr. Sehdev Kumar is Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo; he now lectures at the University of Toronto on Bioethics and Science/Religion Dialogue.

12. Persuasive Interpretations: A Review of Truth and Tension In Science and Religion by V.V. Raman

By Lawrence W. Belle

V.V. Raman, a physicist with a background in quantum mechanics and a long list of publications in the history, philosophy and culture of science, introduces his most recent volume, Truth and Tension in Science and Religion, by laying his cards on the table: “Truth or falsehood pertaining to ultimate questions are not always easy to establish to the satisfaction of one and all, but one can hope to find some consensus on what is helpful and harmful” (p.6, emphasis added). Raman then might be considered an intellectual utilitarian who is agnostic both with respect to religion and science. He flies under the flag of “By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them.”

Chapter 2 of Truth and Tension begins by introducing science: “More important than discovering unseen aspects of the world, knowledge acquired through science has demolished plague and pestilence, and mindless fears that tormented our ancestors” (p.9). But Raman is not a simple minded true believer in the unalloyed wonders of science: “…science has also brought us to the brink,” he adjures.  He goes on in Chapter 2 to define the operational, institutional and characteristic differences between science and religion in an historical context. Regardless of the country in which it is practiced, science is international. There is one science, while there are many religions. While technology has been part of the human scene since the ax and the arrowhead, from the seventeenth century onward, science and technology have grown evermore productively interactive.
Religious thinking, according to Raman, is often characterized by “monodoxy,” as a single system of ideas representing “the only acceptable orthodoxy… [and] …those holding differing views … are frowned upon or severely punished” (p.16). Traditional religious monodoxies have experienced a significant weakening of their explanatory power among those persons and societies whose thinking has been influenced by the Western scientific mode of inquiry and explanation. Raman is no fan of intolerant monodoxy and certainly not of its benighted relatives—superstition, astrology, and magic mongering. Still, his deep respect for the questions and experiences that religion addresses is evident and expressed throughout the work.

Raman draws our attention in this chapter to the distinction between explanations of the natural world based on rational, data based scientific knowledge and popular understandings that generally are not.  Even among the recipients of modern Western education, scientific knowledge often remains spotty at best—unexamined religious, and pre- and pseudo-scientific notions can prevail. In a certain sense, one might say, modern scientific knowledge is Gnostic, the special knowledge of an initiated elite.
Nonetheless, as mentioned above, in this chapter, and indeed throughout the entirety of Truth and Tension, Raman remains appreciative, respectful and supportive of mankind’s deeply held, persistent and universal search for transcendent meaning. He has walked the talk by spending a full year personally visiting cathedrals, monasteries and ashrams, and participating in a wide variety of religious rituals: “… religions enable us to perceive or conceive of dimensions of the human experience that transcend logic and rationality….the yearning for spiritual experience is not an abnormal or trivial quirk of the mentally challenged, as some would contend, but a deeply felt component of the healthy human heart” (p.28). It is clear that the fundamental purpose of the wide- ranging, indeed encyclopedic, philosophical, historical and descriptive discussion presented in Truth and Tension is intended to foster an informed and respectful dialogue between religion and science, science and religion.
Chapters 3, “Epistemological Aspects,” and 4, “Explanatory Dimensions,” are the intellectual heart of the book. These chapters are devoted to an extended discussion of science and religion as ways of knowing and determining the truthfulness of the propositions that each presents. Chapter 3 begins with a useful listing of the truth criteria employed respectively by science and religion. Scientific thinking is characterized by: logical consistency, empirical observation, replication, expert consensus, independent confirmation and propositions subject to revision (pp.60-62). In contrast, religious thinking has different characteristics: reliance on authoritative statements, trans-rational conviction, profound personal experiences, doctrines said to have come from an historically important founder and that have been transmitted by successors, willingness to accept apparent contradictions and personally transformative effects ( pp.62-64). “From this perspective,” Raman states, “we may look upon [science and religion as] games that a community of participants agrees to play based on a certain set of rules. One reason for the conflict between science and religion is that the two do not accept the same criteria for ascribing validity to propositions, i.e., [they] do not play by the same rules” (p.65).
Chapter 3 continues with an extended discussion of determinism, that is, the conviction of classic modern science that there are reliably repetitive material causes in nature that can be known. This view of classical post-Enlightenment science, however, is now subject to an expanding domain of unpredictability as the result of contemporary physics, which offers plausible models of multiple universes, both simultaneous and sequential, and particles whose location is ambiguous.1 Raman goes on to describe determinism further as the belief that a knowable material event or series of knowable material events can be used to reliably forecast a subsequent material event or set of material events. This belief, which corresponds to experience and thus far has proven in practice to yield results, is among the most important primary and yet ultimately philosophically indefensible assumptions on which the modern scientific enterprise rests. Of course, religions too make forecasts, in their case based on scared texts and revelations—such as predicting the end of the world as we know it, for which there is no rational justification. In practice the reliability of religious forecasting is subject to greater variation. Nonetheless, Raman makes no bones about his position with respect to the initial assumptions of science—such as, that physical phenomenon can be known and explained and that the universe is ordered and repetitive—which, like religious doctrines, cannot “be proven on logical grounds to be unassailable.”
Another distinction Raman makes that is useful in describing scientific and religious knowledge and knowing are expotent and endopotent. Scientific knowledge is expotent, that is, it yields universal propositions that can be empirically verified and that often have useful material applications. Religious knowledge is endopotent, that is, it consists of propositions that address transcendent and non-material issues that can lead to psychological and emotional satisfaction. And, Raman adds: “The idea that one is loved by one’s family or friends may be a far more significant truth to a person than the fact that the universe is more than ten billion years old” (p.95).

Chapter 4, “Explanatory dimensions,” continues in the same epistemological compare-and-contrast vein. Science is driven by testable theories, which must be shown to explain consistently and reliably the phenomenon they address. In science, “The validity of a hypothesis depends on the verifiability of its consequences as brought out by the theory on which it is based” (p.111). Religion also offers theories, typically at the highest level, such as the reason for creation, but they are not subject to experimental verification in the scientific sense.

In these two chapters and throughout Truth and Tension, Raman’s claims for scientific laws remain intellectually modest and subject to revision. “Are we justified, on the basis of very limited spatio-temporal data, in asserting that these laws have operated all through time and are valid in every nook and corner of the universe?” (p.121). But of course, the entire scientific enterprise must operate on the assumption, dare we say belief, that these initial presuppositions are true. Science, like mathematics, in the last analysis has no justification other than that it works for a given set of observed phenomenon to which we have chosen to apply it.
In Chapter 5, Raman turns to God: “We may look upon theology then, as a sophisticated, rational enterprise that analyzes issues related to those aspects of human existence that touch us profoundly as beings situated in a cultural/religious framework with a history and spiritual sources” (p.135). Theology aims to provide persuasive and rational argumentation for the fundamental doctrines of faith for which the rational and systematic arguments for the existence of God are a classic example, and atheism is the counter-enterprise. Atheism, an anti-theology, has recently enjoyed a certain fashionable prominence in the works of authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Raman has greater sympathy for the aspirations represented by religion—despite religion’s spasmodic episodes of cruelty and intolerance—than he does for atheistic materialism. Though, as always, he is respectful of virtually all human attempts to explain our experience of the universe. In keeping with his fundamental humanistic and human, rather than strictly intellectual approach, that is, his conviction that belief systems are good insofar as they make life better, Raman faults atheism on the grounds that “…unwittingly or otherwise, it deprives people of a mystical sense of hope in despondency, consolation in bereavement, and joy in celebrations” (p.162).
Throughout the book, Raman exhibits, though he never quite says it, an attitude that might be characterized in part as a kind of spiritual utilitarianism, not dissimilar to that of the late John Updike, who wrote: “Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ambiguity, the ingenuity, the humanity (in the Harvard sense) of saying the universe just happened to happen and that when we are dead we are dead?”
Raman’s position is that religion operates on a different level, and is experienced and perceived by humans on different pathways than is science. Accordingly, he has little sympathy for attempts to prove the truth of religion using scientific procedures. Given the fundamental differences, he asserts, such attempts are bound to fail. In fact, a great many scientists are believers, but their belief is not the result of science. It rests on other ways of perceiving and explaining.
Chapter 5 also presents analytic descriptions of theistic (e.g. Christianity) and non-theistic (e.g. Buddhism) religions and the problem of evil. The latter is something that Raman argues is a consequence of anthropomorphizing God. Because as human beings we are given to ethical perceptions of ourselves and others, when God is anthropomorphized in theistic religions, the problem of evil cannot help but follow.
Chapter 6, “Spiritual Aspects,” tackles issues that follow directly from the claims of religion as a way of knowing. Among them are the existence of trans-material reality, and spiritual and mystical experiences. Are they real or simply the results of brain chemistry? Among the most interesting questions of this kind is the question of consciousness: What is it and where does it come from? Is the brain the same as the mind? Raman traces the history of this question from the Hindu sages through to Teilhard de Chardin and Ray Kurzweil, who foresees computer “consciousness” emerging and surpassing human consciousness in the near future. The question is: Does the music of the soul/mind/consciousness exist other than on the radio on which we hear it played?2

Chapter 6 concludes that religion and science differ in profound ways in how they conceive and address mystery. The world religions all hold that the universe contains irreducibly mysterious dimensions that will forever elude our rational understanding and toward which humans in touch with their humanity must stand in awe. Science, in contrast, regards mysteries as currently unsolved scientific puzzles that with sufficient effort can and will be solved. However, as Raman frequently makes clear, this is not to say that scientists and scientific thinking are without an aesthetic appreciation for the apparent beauty, order and regularity of the universe. And for a goodly number of scientists this is not without theological implications.

Chapter 7 is devoted to what is for Raman one of the most important measures, a kind of touchstone for judging the worth of scientific and religious doctrines, theories and thinking: their impact on what we do and how we live our lives, that is, their “Ethical Aspects.”

All religions carry along with their theology and cosmology doctrines regarding a set of behavioral injunctions such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the Sharia, the observance of which or lack thereof are said to have consequences for life after death. But clearly, secular thinkers like Confucius and Hobbes have developed coherent ethical systems independent of religion. Indeed, like so much that is explained in traditional cultures by religion, “… like the other long-held prerogatives of religions, ethics began to be usurped by the onward rush of science” in anthropological, psychological, sociological and, most recently, neurobiological explanations. However, there is no more agreement among the secular-scientific theorists on the origins of human ethical behavior than there is agreement among religious believers as to what constitutes the one true religion.
Raman cycles through matters of ethics and morality, compassion and altruism, love and stewardship of the earth, and acknowledges that evolutionary biology and neuroscience can account for a good deal of what is regarded as ethical behavior—but certainly not all. There is, he posits, in the end a persistently mysterious and transcendent dimension to human behavior that extends beyond the explanatory powers of science.
Chapter 8, “Dissimilar Visions and Common Themes,” is delightful miscellany, a kind of museum of religious and scientific artifacts offered for consideration quite independent of their truthfulness. “If we consider religion and science not from a philosophical or epistemological point of view but instead as different modes of expression of the human spirit, they become quite interesting” (p.235). Among those modes of expression Raman explores from this point of view are: the sacred, the role of numbers in religious and scientific belief systems ( “…the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in natural science…” for which there is no satisfactory explanation) sex, food, magic, (“…both magic and science accept the existence of fundamental entities in the universe that are ultimately responsible for our world of experience”) poetry, art, politics, technology (which of course existed for most of human history quite independently of science) music, history and aesthetics.
Chapter 9 of Truth and Tension, entitled “Origins and Ends,” deals with beginnings and ends, beginning with various teleological (and anti-teleological) formulations of origins, including religious and scientific cosmography, the anthropic principle (that is, isn’t it interesting that the fundamental constants are perfectly calibrated to produce carbon based life forms, of which we are one?), God as the creator, biogenesis, evolution and so forth. To my mind, regardless of the particular explanatory approach, the root question is simply: “Is the universe (or are the universes) intentional or accidental?” Raman uses the terms “goal” and “purpose.” Metaphysically speaking, neither position is subject to verification, though one can argue that starting with the assumption—it can never be more than an assumption—that the universe is intentional and ultimately meaningful allows for more interesting and creative explanations, among these are religions. Of course the trouble starts when believers are convinced that they have a lock on the truth instead of a tentative formulation. This creates a sense of entitlement to bring others to their truth by any means possible, including the destruction of non-believers.
The penultimate chapter ends with ends: the end of the world, at least for us, via a crashing asteroid; the end of civilization with planetary ecological collapse brought on by global overpopulation and unrestrained consumption; and of course death, a sure thing, for which Raman offers a prayer for the believer and atheist alike: “…what matters now is not if we will live disembodied forever, or if we will become unrecognizable bits scattered on the earth’s mantel, but how we spread joy, alleviate suffering, serve others, and strive to make this a better world while we are alive” (p.326).
Truth and Tension concludes in Chapter 10, “Conflicting Thought,” with a stirring peroration in which Raman presents the deeply held core values that pervade his description and analysis of that lively, sometimes contentious intersection where science and religion cross, giving each their due. Religion, whose pedigree precedes science’s by several millenniums “provides humanity with a rich backdrop which transforms mechanical existence into meaningful life” (p.332)[…]And despite the persistence of dogmatism …there is still hope that the hate and intolerance lurking in traditional religions maybe subdued, tamed and transformed” (p.336).

While he is unsympathetic to the monomaniacal scientific materialists in that their “…absolute certainty is no less religious than the one which affirms that sooner or later we will all be saved,” Raman express an abundant and authentic respect for science as a powerful explanatory mode and for its material achievements: “…it has contributed immeasurably to the quality of life of countless people all over the world, increased physical health, extended longevity, produced more food, made communication and transportation unimaginably easy, and accomplished a thousand other things that were only in the fantasy world of our distant ancestors”(p.335).
Raman ends as he begins. He is clearly an agnostic and a utilitarian in these matters, reluctant to endorse the transcendent truth or certainty of either religion or science. He frequently discusses religion in terms of it its social, psychological and aesthetic utility without endorsing it wholesale. So too in the last analysis, he emphasizes science’s observational and logical coherence and material utility rather than its truthfulness. “When it comes to explaining any aspect of the perceived reality in the phenomenal world, one will have to embrace the scientific mode, not because this is truth, but because, based on the weight of all available evidence at a given time, it is the most persuasive interpretation.”

The spirit and perspective that pervade Truth and Tension can aptly be described in just those words that Raman has used in his recent review of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History (Penguin Press, 2009). Raman displays an unfailing and commodious respect for that persistent and variegated human search for meaning that is among the most enviable aspects of the Hindu tradition in which he was raised: “…the Hindu capacity to entertain contradictory views…enables one to see both sides of an argument. Perhaps this springs from the recognition that this finite world of ours is replete with dualities which are sometimes contradictory, sometimes complementary.”3


Endnotes

1For a well written, accessible and comprehensive account of the decline of scientific certainties, see Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds. New York, N Y: Doubleday, 2005.

2Like much of mainstream scientific thinking, Raman does not chose to explore the possibility of interaction and causation between consciousness and what are considered non-material forces (e.g., prayer) and material events. For an interesting and informed example of discussions and publications along these lines, see Charles Tart’s work at http://www.paradigm-sys.com/.

3https://acharyavidyasagar.wordpress.com/2009/04/17/reflections-on-wendy-doniger-the-hindus-an-alternative-history-the-penguin-press-2009/

13. Dear V.V.,

I’m not sure how often Webster’s Dictionary gets revised, but I’m going to do what I can to make a major improvement in the next edition.  That is to insist, for maximum accuracy, that the words Scholarship, Knowledge, Wisdom, Insight, Understanding, Integration, Imagination, and Enrichment have The common simple entry: “See V.V. Raman.”

I’ve finished reading your book, V.V.  Having had the privilege of getting to know you, in the all-too-short- time we spent together, I knew your book would be good, but not that good!  It is magnificent!  To say you are cut from the same cloth as Aristotle, embroidered with thread from a half-dozen of the greatest prophets, plus another half-dozen of the most outstanding scientists, might be considered an exaggeration, but not much of an exaggeration.  With books like yours, one needs only a small library of others.

Frank Rizzo

Professor of Applied Mathematics

Iowa State University

14. TRUTH AND TENSION IN SCIENCE AND RELIGION Varadaraja V.  Raman
Centre Ossipee, NH: Beech River Books (2009) xvi = 390 pp.ISBN 978-0-9793778-6-0 $ 24.00
(Jeff Dahms)

V.V. Raman’s new book ‘Truth And Tension In Science And Religion’ is a godsend – at last a book for religious atheists. Appeal to the span of larger mind is the standout feature, and it’s equally a bedside book for theists. This is the book to be seen with, under your arm, at church or at a meeting of the Skeptics Society. The author has ‘street cred’ in spades for a work of such height and breadth and compass.

VV (as he is affectionately known to his friends of every philosophic persuasion) is a scientific polymath with an encyclopaedic grasp of world religion.

In the introduction he goes directly to the heart of the matter. ‘The human mind is tossed between truth claims by science as well as religion. Each is persuasive in its own milieu, but when brought to an open arena there is more tension than harmony between the two.’
From the outset this suggests a very different kind of book to the crowded mainstream of texts on science and religion.

Many religiously slanted works claim a completely unproblematic science religion simpatico, often relying on idiosyncratic accounts of the miscible relationship.

On the other side of the bookshop aisle are the equally confident naysayers, offering ‘God and religion are silly and dangerous’ works often incongruously referred to as the new atheist collection.
Chapter two gets down to detail of the good the bad and downright ugly – the deepest inspiration and rankest superstition in religion, and lofty unity of vision and blind flatland hubris in science. The squabbling children of mind are alternately praised and chastised. But one continuously senses deep parental understanding behind both the stern and encouraging words, and always the admonishment – be gentle with each other.

Chapters three and four on epistemology and explanation will please or surprise or challenge or drive to distraction the hard core philosophic reader. Suffice to say VV touches all the bases and in the final paragraph of chapter four – “ To assert either that reductionism alone leads to understanding, that it is mistaken in it its efforts to understand, would be a slanted view. Likewise, it would be a distortion to claim either that holism is what brings true awareness or that it is merely old-fashioned metaphysical poetry.’

Chapters five through seven deals with hardcore religious, belief and god, the spiritual and the ethical. For my part it seemed that, in the broadbrush treatment, VV’s big heart is overly generous to the regularly religious. Then again in the desert of my atheistic mind I thought Richard Dawkins an ‘ole softee’ in his treatment of religion, so there may be a tiny bias on my part in the above  judgment.

Chapters eight through ten, ‘Dissimilar visions, Origins and Ends, Conclusion’ return to the sweeping concatenations – revelation, sacredness, authorities, numbers, sex, food, magic, poetry, art, celestial worlds, politics, technology, music, history, philosophy, aesthetics, cosmogenesis, the anthropic principle, Laplace, biogenesis, anthropogenesis,  evolution, creation……. This is the all and everything of science religion works.

But what’s going on? Systematically, painstakingly, VV Raman goes to every corner and crossroads of the great science religion debate. He nails two theses to the wall. Science and religion are deep to the human condition. But in ten chapters he undermines most every bulwark that usually underpins our comforting understand of science and religion and how they may coexist in mind – and always with a twist, that quiet refrain…. be tolerant, be gentle.

‘Truth And Tension…’ is not a book from the science religion genre that has been blossoming for the last half century. This is not a book seeking a ‘fair and balanced’ fantasy mid point, the lowest  common denominator between seeming irreconcilables. It is a new kind of book, a new way. It is a book that allows for everything, and takes most everything away. It is full of debate but it is not a book of justification or argument. It reminds one of something else, something much older, something essentially  religious or utterly irreligious depending on a smile ….. a 390 page koan.



What Is the Difference Between Pantheism and Panentheism?


Perspectives on Pantheism and Panentheism

Inbam inbam jagam engum Iyarkkai ânandam pongum

Joy, joy, all over the world, Nature brimming with bliss!   (From a Tamil song.)

Theism is the belief in a Transcendental Principle managing and manipulating the world here below. This Supreme Principle is personified as God.

But where is God located? One ancient view was that there is a glorious region up  there in the depths of space (Heaven) which is the Kingdom where He resides and reigns.

Centuries ago Vedic sage-poets on India, like their counterparts in other cultures, saw divinity in sun and moon, in sky and dawn. Countless thinkers in many cultures, traditions, and ages, from Parmenides and Confucius and Lucretius to Thoreau, Tagore, and Einstein, have seen God’s presence in the natural world.

The term pantheism has been popular among philosophers and theologians for more than three centuries now. In its broad meaning it sees an impersonal God’s presence everywhere in the created world.  Baruch Spinoza is sometimes regarded as one of the first to popularize pantheistic ideas in the post-Galilean Western world.

The word panentheism made its entry into the language in early decades of the twentieth century. Here the idea of God permeating the universe may be interpreted in two different ways. One is that everything is in God. This implies that every quark, lepton and boson, every plant, animal, and star is embedded in the Divine just as every land animal is immersed in an ocean of air. Another view of panentheism is that God is in everything, just as electric charge is in every ordinary material substance.

In either interpretation, panentheism makes the universe sacred and worthy of reverence, for everything is linked one way or another to God.

Another view is that every element in the universe, simple or complex, is an aspect of God, i.e. everything in the universe is God. This may also be regarded as a key idea of pantheism. In the Hindu vision, for example, Brahman (Cosmic Consciousness) is undergirding the universe. We find this  idea in the terrestrial context in Urabe-no-Kanekuni of  the Shinto tradition: “Even in a single leaf of a tree, or a tender blade of grass, the awe-inspiring Deity manifests Itself.”

Eighteenth century German thinkers like Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven resonated with some Hindu (Upanishadic) metaphysical views, and were drawn to pantheism. Nature poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge don’t differentiate between pantheism and panentheism.  Recall Walt Whitman’s lines:

I hear and behold God in every object.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?

This is pure pantheism. But it is panentheism when he says in the same poem,

I see something of God each hour of the twenty four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass.
I find letters from God dropped in the street – and everyone is signed by God’s name,
I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come forever and ever.

Goethe expressed a similar idea when he asked rhetorically,

Wär’ nicht in uns des Gottes eigne Kraft,

Wie könnt’ uns Göttliches entzücken?

If  God’s power is not in us,

How could the God-like delight us?

These are echoes of the Upanishadic aphorism: tat tvam asi: Thou art That, i.e. one can experience God in oneself and in every human face. We are, one and all, sparks of the Divine. If  internalized, this view can instill respect and regard, even reverence, for fellow-humans.

One may also look upon pantheism as saying that the Creator is the Creation. In other words, the orbiting electron and the blossoming flower, the rain, the river, and the mountain, the sun and the galaxy are themselves Divine. As Margaret Atwood put it, “god is not the voice in the whirlwind, god is the whirlwind.”

Both pantheism and panentheism are compatible with any God-believing system: After all, panentheism simply says that the Creator is present one way or another in all of His Creation. Is not the poet present in every poem she wrote, the composer in every glorious music, and the artist in every painted canvas? We may not always think consciously of the poet, the composer, and the painter: but who can deny their presence in what we experience from their created work?

But one may ask, how can the poet actually be the poem, the symphony actually be the composer or the sculpture the sculptor?  This does seem impossible with human beings. But not with God, if we choose not to accept a personal (anthropomorphic) God.

In so far as theism generally attributes to God immanence  and omnipresence, it also has a pantheistic aspect.  However, pantheism can be non-theistic when it concerns itself only with manifested Nature, and is indifferent to what may be behind it all, as when the pantheistic Taoist said: “Do not let man destroy Nature. Do not let cleverness destroy the natural order.” Indeed, many modern pantheists are not so much interested in the theology of pantheism as in its relevance to life and living. They see the Divine in the microcosm and in the Milky Way, and are struck by the majesty of the universe, of course. But more importantly, they revere rivers and rain-forests, whales and woodpeckers and such, not so much as manifestations of an unfathomable God, but as His precious products that must be preserved and protected. Saving the biosphere is, to them, more important than building churches and synagogues, singing psalms and bhajans, or repeatedly proclaiming that God is great.

There may be a grain of truth in suspicions to the effect that pantheism is atheism in a theistic garb, materialism with mystical mantras, and paganism  picturesquely painted. Yet, pantheism can also serve as bridge between traditional theism and science-based materialism.  It is prompted by the recognition that our existence depends on the laws, constraints, and parameters of Nature (Grace of God). It sees Divinity in the order, beauty, and grandeur of the world. In the face of Mystery it experiences humility. If anything is sacred, pantheism says, Nature is sacred for there is no loftier manifestation of Cosmic splendor. As Dante put it, La natura è l’arte di Dio:  Nature is the art of God.

January 8, 2010