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The Philosophy of Science — Letters


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Dear Sadaputa dasa:

I would like first of all to express my appreciation for your articles in BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol.16, No.3-4 and No.5. The arguments you have presented against the general theory of evolution and the accepted scientific view of the origin of life are both lucid and sound.

The theory of evolution, however, is only a reflection of a much broader philosophy—the philosophy of materialistic science. It is this philosophy that is the cause of many people’s rejection of any theistic religion and that must therefore be exposed as inferior to belief in God. In other words, faith in God, as a prelude to love of God (Krsna), must be shown to be more rational than faith in materialistic science.

Refutations of the theory of evolution, when presented within a scientific frame-work, are useful to a certain extent. Predictions that follow from the theory can be shown to be inconsistent with the evidence, and certain assumptions of the theory can be shown to be highly improbable. But a person who has accepted the scientific framework would conclude from these arguments only that the theory of evolution is in need of further modification and refinement, analogous to physics before the advent of Einstein. You would not have convinced him to believe in a God who is the creator and maintainer of the universe.

Faith in God, therefore, must be shown to be more rational than faith in science. How is this to be accomplished? In your article “Evolution: A Doctrine in Search of a Theory,” you briefly discussed the role of faith in both science and sanatana-dharma. Your discussion implies that both types of faith are equally rational and verifiable. According to science, however, faith in sanatana-dharma is not based on verifiable observations; depending on the scientist, the existence of God remains either a delusion, a psychological wish, or simply a subjective belief. No matter how much one’s faith grows, sanatana-dharma remains a subjective, psychological belief akin to faith in an alternative world based on one’s continual use of peyote.

What must be propagated instead are logical arguments for faith in God. In other words, the philosophy of theism must be shown to be superior to the philosophy of materialistic science. This can be accomplished through a critical analysis of the assumptions which underlie science, with a view toward exposing their limitations, e.g., the dependence on the senses and the reliance on inductive reasoning, which requires faith of the highest order. Complementing this analysis should be an in-depth examination of the role of deductive reasoning—Just what does a proof actually prove?—followed by a study of various proofs for the existence of God. (Not to say that a proof for the existence of God could actually place God before our senses, but it could demonstrate that faith in God is logical, given a certain set of postulates.) Special attention could be paid to Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’s argument for an unmoved mover, and the argument from design, which was a favorite of His Divine Grace Swami Prabhupada’s. ** (“The ontological proof,” discovered by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), in effect argues that if you think that God might not exist, then you are not really thinking about God. But since you can conceive of God, God exists, without even the possibility of not existing. This argument, however, is less a proof for God’s existence than a revelation of it. St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274) rejected the ontological argument, but advanced five others. One held that motion is inexplicable without an ultimate, unmoved mover. Another argument held that an ultimate intelligence is necessary to explain the regularity, order, and direction found in nature. This ever-popular argument is commonly called “the argument from design.”-Editor) A discussion of epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, would also be fruitful, for it would delineate the role of logic, the role of the senses, and the role of faith. In summary, I think what is needed is a science of God sharpened by Western philosophy.

Note: Concerning epistemology, Hume’s statement (as presented by you in your article on evolution) that no amount of finite observation of the things of this world could ever justify conclusions concerning an infinite, transcendental being is fallacious. From the finite one can never know the infinite in full, but one can still know certain characteristics of the infinite, just as one can know that the set of whole numbers is infinite.

I would appreciate learning your thoughts on these matters.

Yours, Brad Berquist

Minneapolis, Minn.

Dear Brad Berquist:

Hare Krsna! Thank you very much for your letter about my articles in BACK TO GODHEAD.

I certainly agree that we must show faith in God to be more rational than faith in modern science. I would suggest, however, that we can ultimately accomplish this by demonstrating that there are scientific methods available whereby the individual can actually come to know God in a direct, personal way. It is quite true that at present people will tend to suppose that no such methods exist, and that the realizations of great souls are subjective beliefs, hallucinations, etc. What we have to do, then, is show that there really is a rational basis for an objective science of God consciousness.

In the articles you mentioned, I have not undertaken this task but have mainly concentrated on the unavoidable negative work of clearing away the obstacles to spiritual life that have been thrown up by materialistic scientists. However, I am now writing a book on the science of God consciousness, and when it is finished I would be interested in hearing your comments.

I agree that logical arguments can play an important role in building people’s faith in God, but logic alone is not enough. The problem is that a logical argument is no better than its premises, and these, by definition, are not proven. Now, what premises are sufficient to establish the existence of God? In many arguments purporting to prove the existence of God, a preconceived idea of God is covertly inserted at some point, thus conveying the impression that the argument proves something it really does not prove at all. This was one of Hume’s complaints about the design argument. Proponents of this argument want to conclude from it that an infinite, beneficent being created the world, but Hume pointed out that the creator could just as well have been a finite being of moderate intelligence and questionable character. Another example is provided by Aquinas’s argument for an unmoved mover. Aquinas concludes that “this is what men call God,” but why does an unmoved mover have to be anything like the God of religion, who takes a personal interest in people’s lives? An unmoved mover might be something completely impersonal, and, indeed, many logical arguments for the existence of God tend to arrive at an abstract, impersonal conception of God that is practically atheistic.

By the way, in what sense do whole numbers exist? Can you prove that there are infinitely many of them? Modern mathematics has not done this. For example, in Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory the axiom of infinity postulates that there are infinitely many integers. These could “exist” only in a model of set theory, but mathematicians never try to show that such models exist in any real sense of the word.

In one of my monographs, I present a version of the design argument for the existence of God. There the logical and empirical arguments indicate that absolute information specifying the structural plans of organisms must exist (in a real sense). I conclude that this fact is inconsistent with the idea of evolution, but that it is consistent with revealed knowledge about God. The argument does not prove that the absolute information resides in the mind of God—it might exist in some sort of utterly impersonal Platonic realm of ideal forms. Yet for a pious person the argument opens up the possibilities that God may really exist and that we may be able to communicate with Him directly.

These possibilities are confirmed by the Vedic (and other) scriptures, which provide revealed information about God and prescribe specific methods by which the individual can come into direct contact with Him.

As far as I can understand, real knowledge of God can come only by revelation and can be proven true only on an individual basis by personal revelation. (A logical argument for this statement can be derived from the discussion of information compression in the “Chance and Unity” article in BACK TO GODHEAD: incompressible information cannot be generated by deduction from postulates occupying less space [in “bits”] than the information itself, and thus to obtain the information, some information source is necessary . . .) The problem is this: by what criteria can we distinguish between genuine and spurious revelation, and between genuine God consciousness and hallucinations? It seems to me that one of the contributions of the literature of Krsna consciousness, as presented by Srila Prabhupada, is that it does give us valid criteria for making these distinctions. What do you think about this?

Sincerely yours.

Sadaputa dasa

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