Science, Metaphysics, Vedanta and Religion
Modern empirical science provides conceptual theories that are compatible with empirical measurements. Its theories are spectacularly accurate over the entire domain of empirical data. Scientific theories have an uncertain, indefinite and impermanent nature, and so no single scientific theory can be said to be the true description of objective reality. This is the state of affairs regarding empirical science, which represents our most rigorous and accurate knowledge of the world.
On the surface Quantum Physics (QP) and Vedanta may look very different. One is part of the scientific tradition and the other in some ways is philosophy, some may even call it religion. Science is trying to understand the universe ‘out there’ and Vedanta is trying to understand the universe ‘inside you’.
In common with most spiritual paths, the proponents of Advaita Vedanta also frequently consider modern science to be irrelevant to spiritual progress. Often it is also declared that science is contradictory to the teachings of Advaita and is a meaningless quest. Advaita has two fundamental tenets: The world is unreal; Brahman at the base of the world is the only Reality.
The approach of science and Vedanta are quite different. Science started out by looking at all the objects ‘out there’ in the universe, how they function, what they are made of. As scientific understanding improved, scientists wanted to learn more about these objects and to understand the building blocks of the universe. They started looking inwards from molecules, and then into atoms, into sub-atomic particles, into quarks, and strings; they are now looking for the unifying force which is the building block of the universe. Science now realizes that there is a unifying force, the ‘The Theory of Everything’ or a Singularity which is the underlying reality of the universe. What could this be? This is where science or quantum physics has reached a stumbling block, Vedanta takes a different approach, it started looking ‘in here’ and the ancient Rishis found that the single unifying force is within themselves. They understood that this single unifying force is also the underlying reality of the universe.
The truths discovered by rishis of science and remember 95% of the greatest discoveries of modern science came from meditation. Are you aware of that? Verifications came long afterwards. Our Indian scientist Dr. Subramanyam Chandrasekhar- he got noble prize in 1983 for the discovery of the Chandrasekhar limit. He just got it through his intuition in 1935 and when he first read out his paper on Chandrasekhar limit – a star dwindles down beyond the limit of 1.44 times the mass of sun and he said that the star will collapse in to a black hole- as early as 1935 when the black hole concept was still in the state of infancy.
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The view that science and Advaita are contradictory began with the Newtonian view of science. It was then believed that the world is absolutely real. The world is composed of atoms at its root which have their own firm reality, and it exists in absolute time and space. The world is thus the only reality and the only truth, and we need not go further than this in our search for the ultimate Truth. Religion and science do not contradict each other. They are both systems which produce theories that some people will have faith in, albeit through different methodologies. Science is concerned with describing and predicting the universe; religion is concerned with explaining it. Believing in some religion is not inherently a sufficient condition to be in conflict with science.
Quantum physics has brought us even closer to the Advaitic viewpoint. The search for the roots of the world goes deeper and deeper into unreality. The absolutely real atoms of the Newtonian world are now seen to be an illusion and their base is quantum particles. Quantum physics implies a paradigm change in physics, there is now no fixed reality to the ultimate building blocks. Physicists universally accept that there is no ontological absolute reality in quantum particles. A physicist of today would have no problems in accepting the tenets of Advaita that the world is not absolutely real.
Werner Heisenberg brought the final discovery, which shattered the science and physics for the first and last time at the feet of Vedanta. He was never forgiven. German physicists did not forgive him. He fled from Germany came to India and became a student of Tagore in Shantiniketan to study Vedanta. This boy Werner Heisenberg he is a last watershed in the world of science. In 1927 he discovered a simple equation by a Gedan-ken experiment. Gedan-ken means thought. Its a German word. He was walking on high mountains and he was imagining how does electron move? If I give an acceleration its mass becomes more. If the acceleration gets less its mass becomes less. Ultimately there must be some equation this is how an electron moves. You know physicists they ultimately come to mathematics, to concretize their thoughts. Otherwise he has to speak like me one whole evening to make you understand this is how an electron moves.
Metaphysics and science try to explain what there is in the world. How are they related? Traditionally metaphysics is “a priory” whereas science is “a posteriori” i.e. metaphysics is non-empiric while science is empiric. While science deals with specific situations, metaphysics deals with general matters. There are probably things in nature that escape our logic and understanding. Our problem here is to understand the relation between these two things – between our inner and outer life, between consciousness and its objects, between the vulnerable self and the world it has to deal with. This is not a physical problem. It is a problem about how to understand and face life as a whole. And it is not about to go away.
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Some people acknowledge that science and religion should not be regarded as foes, but nonetheless they do not think that they should be considered friends either. They say that science and religion are mutually irrelevant, that they represent two non-over-lapping domains. To talk about the implications of science for theology at a scientific meeting seems to break a taboo. But those who think so are out of date. During the last 15 years, this taboo has been remove.
Religion includes not just abstract intellectual facts but also issues of the heart, of intimacy, and meaning, and destiny. This may be one of the reasons that religion can unfortunately become so contentious: It requires submitting all of our mental faculties to be truly understood.
The rise of the Internet has enabled scientific results to be publicized more rapidly than ever before possible. Journal articles are often made available online even before they are printed. This swift distribution of information can speed the pace of science since the latest studies can be scrutinized, replicated, and/or built upon with very little lag time.
Science and religion have been at divisive odds during Earth’s entire existence… until recently, that is. The scientific phenomenon known as Quantum Physics has been discovered and is being widely embraced by many scientific leaders
Materialism is an atheistic philosophy that says that all of reality is reducible to matter and its interactions. It has gained ground because many people think that it’s supported by science. They think that physics has shown the material world to be a closed system of cause and effect, sealed off from the influence of any non-physical realities — if any there be. Since our minds and thoughts obviously do affect the physical world, it would follow that they are themselves merely physical phenomena.
Is belief in God compatible with quantum physics? Quantum physics, also known as quantum mechanics, is an application of mathematics used to describe the behavior of matter and energy at an unimaginably tiny scale. Even more than other specialized fields within the sciences, it is extraordinarily difficult to explain quantum theories in layman’s terms. Not only does quantum mechanics involve higher-level physics, but much of what happens at the quantum level is counterintuitive. That is, it does not follow the same flow of cause and effect we see at larger scales. Merely expressing what occurs at the quantum level sometimes requires an exceptional grasp of mathematics and physics.
What can science tell us? It can identify, aggregate, and synthesize evidence indicating that the finitude of past time in the universe as we currently know it to be and conceive it could be. Science can also identify the exceedingly high improbability of the random occurrence of conditions necessary to sustain life in the universe as we currently know it to be and conceive it could be. Even though scientific conclusions are subject to modification in the light of new data, we should not let this possibility cause us to unnecessarily discount the validity of long-standing, persistent, rigorously established theories. If we did this, we might discount the majority of our scientific theories. Thus, it is reasonable and responsible to attribute qualified truth value to such theories until such time as new data requires them to be modified.
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Asking whether or not religion conflicts with science is too broad a question. Of course there are certain religions that conflict with science; Christian fundamentalism, with its claims of God creating the world in six days and the human race springing from a woman tempted by a talking snake, obviously conflicts with well-established science. Yet there are many other religions which do not conflict with science.
Religion and science have many similarities. Unless God comes down from Heaven to kindly prove his existence for us, religious beliefs cannot be proven to be true; they are taken on faith. Some scientists may find this laughable, but science has the identical characteristic, which is also its greatest strength. By and large, scientific theories can never be proven to be correct. Evidence can be gathered in support of it, but we can never know with 100 percent certainty if gravity actually works the way we think. Sure, general relativity describes it well, but as so many professors emphasize here, our scientific theories are models. We continuously refine those models as new information comes to light. Less commonly known is that religions do the same thing.