Tusar Nath Mohapatra

Some ideas from Sri Aurobindo’s “The Life Divine”

Posted on: June 22, 2011

Science and Atheism | SpeakingTree By: Prabir Bhattacharjee on Jun 22, 2011

In popular perception science and God are two mutually inimical and warring concepts where the victory of one means a defeat of the other. As science advances, the kingdom of God shrinks and someday when the Theory of Everything, the ultimate goal of science, is found, the idea of God will be totally redundant. This dichotomy between human endeavor and Divine will is so ancient and deep-seated that in Biblical literature man covenants with God promising loyalty in return for divine protection.

Are the two concepts so inherently antagonistic and exclusive, or are they two complementary opposites that merge into an ultimate whole? Or, in plainer language, are they not two different ways of looking at the same entity ? To cite an instance, my neighbor and I were one day trying to save an injured bird from a preying kite. The more we tried to scare the kite away, the more the bird moved towards its aggressor. Ultimately both of us gave up the mission; my neighbor left the bird to the care of Nature and I to God. Were we not both referring to the same dispenser of destiny?
Is scientific attitude necessarily inconsistent with or antithetical to the belief in God? The question, in my view, centers round how we define God. If you ask a theist what is it that he believes in or, for that matter, if you ask an atheist what is it that he does not believe in, both of them will not be able to come up with a convincing reply. Newton was not only a great scientist but was also a devout christian. The same law that makes an apple fall to the ground keeps the planets in their orbits round the sun. Where is the objection if we call this universal law a Divine law instead of a natural law?
Einstein did not believe in a personal God that rewarded and punished but, none the less, he was religious in the sense that he found in the workings of the universe an order and discipline, a method and harmony that lent themselves to logical analysis and interpretation. His famous statement that “the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible” sums up this feeling. The universe could have gone on in an entirely erratic and irrational way, but that it has not done so points to some underlying scheme and purpose that is waiting to unfold.
Coming to naturalists, they have a dismissive way of answering almost anything. To the believer, creation of life on earth is one of the manifestations of God in nature. To a naturalist, this is nothing but an accident of evolutionary processes; life simply evolved out of matter. But, as Sri Aurobindo pointed out, if the naturalists were asked how life could evolve out of matter or why evolutionary processes acted this way instead of any other, they would be in difficulty. A satisfactory answer is possible only if we accept the Upanishadic view that life is already present in matter in a dormant or veiled form. In the Geeta, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “Basudevah sarbamiti”, that is, everything in the universe is impregnated with divinity.
The presence of life in the inanimate will not escape the notice of a perceptive observer. In natural sciences there is a principle which says, “Whenever a constraint is applied to a system in equilibrium then, as far as it can, the system adjusts itself in a manner so as to oppose the constraint”. Is this behavior of the inanimate systems in any way different from how a living being will avoid an attack or dodge a blow? Sir J.C. Bose, after discovering that plants responded to external stimuli just the same way as living organisms did, extended the ambit of his inquiry and speculated on the existence of the same vital force permeating throughout the universe, starting from the inanimate objects where it is in a muted (a-byakta) and latent form to the plant and the animal world where it is more active and articulate.
As regards the why part of evolution, we cannot explain the order and harmony that evolution always leads to unless we accept that there is a design and purpose that guides and directs the whole process. It is this design and purpose that endows matter with life and life with consciousness.
Our acquaintance with the external world is ultimately through the senses . However precise and powerful the instrument we may use, its utility is at the most limited to bringing the external stimuli within the perceptive range of our senses. There is no knowing whether the experience so gained corresponds to reality or is entirely illusory or hallucinatory. But one thing is certain; the information provided by our senses are quite often deceptive. To cite a common example of optical illusion: the rail tracks appear to merge at some distance, but however long we may walk down the tracks, they still remain parallel. So, seeing is not always believing.
Over and above the faulty nature of the sensory tools we have to rely on, there are fundamental and theoretical limitations imposed on our ability to fine-tune our knowledge. Science, as a result, has shed some of its old cockiness and has become more tentative; instead of being stubbornly assertive, its forecasts now are more probabilistic.
Science, as it is said, is the art of the soluble. Natural phenomena are so complex and our abilities so limited that, in order to solve a problem and to bring it within the straitjacket of a mathematical model, we have to make a lot of compromise and approximation. The outcome of an exercise based on such compromise and approximation will naturally be way off the mark and a poor representation of the reality. As things move now, more imperfections in our scientific methods are likely to come to the surface and science itself is likely to become more modest and flexible to realize that, at our present level of understanding, we are not equipped enough to grasp the full subtleties of creation.
To hold that simply because we have not been able to develop and perfect the necessary sense organs to appreciate and comprehend these subtleties, the subtleties themselves cannot or do not exist will be presumptuous. There is no reason to believe that man has reached the limit of his possibilities and the evolutionary processes, which ceaselessly work towards unfolding the latent divinity in everything, have come to a sudden stop. It will therefore be more consistent with the universal trend to hope, as Sri Aurobindo did, that the same process that planted life in matter and mind in life will some day develop higher and higher levels of consciousness in us to realize, or should we say to be one with, God.
Finally, to end this brief reverie, evolution is a long-drawn-out process. To reassure those who are impatient and are not prepared to wait that long, it can be said that they can attain within their life-time the same goal by their revolutionary individual efforts, as Lord Buddha did. So, there is no reason for despair. [The above is based, in parts, on some ideas taken from Sri Aurobindo’s “The Life Divine”]


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Tusar N. Mohapatra

Director, Savitri Era Learning Forum
SRA-102-C, Shipra Riviera, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad - 201014 (UP) India + 91 96500-65636
Aadhaar No. 3628 2075 7337
SELF posits a model of counselling and communicative action as an instrument in order to stimulate the public sphere. The model aims at supplementing the individual’s struggle for a successful social adjustment with more aspirational inputs so as to help one take an informed and balanced attitude towards life as well as society.
Savitri Era of those who adore,
Om Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

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