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Historical Overview Of The Development Of Modern Science

The worldview of modern science is based on the belief that living beings are simple arrangements of matter.

Thus modern educators and scientists do not accept the fact that living beings are non-physical spiritual sparks (atmas residing within physical bodies) and therefore they believe that we are the physical bodies we live in, that all of our feelings and perceptions can be explained as electro-chemical reactions within our bodies, and when these bodies stop functioning, the living being is finished.

Furthermore, they believe that matter organized itself into simple living organisms which later evolved into all the life forms of earth today -- hence they do not believe that the physical bodies were designed by God, essentially they do not believe that God exists at all. Hence in their worldview everything is matter, there is no atma, and there is no ultimate purpose to life.

     How did such distaste come about in which the authorities of our modern human civilization (the scientists) are teaching millions of people the false doctrine that there is no God and there is no atma. In order to answer this question, we will have to sketch out the history of the development of modern science in Europe. Before we launch into this subject, it is necessary to point out that the devotees of Lord Krsna are not against science -- on the contrary, they are the most meticulous and expert scientists because they recognize the most significant aspects of reality, the atma, and Krsna.

Science really mean to understand all aspects of reality, and in this respect the science of Krsna consciousness is supreme in its explanation of both spiritual and material phenomena. Devotees object to modern science because it can not explain all phenomena and because it dogmatically ignores the most significant aspects of reality.

     From the time of the fall of Rome until the renaissance period the prevailing philosophy was that of the Christian church. This philosophy recognized that the material world was created by the power of God and that living beings are more than just systems of chemicals. Thus the universe was seen as an organism, and matter was seen as being secondary to life.

     In the post-renaissance rise of science the Greek writings were rediscovered and the Pythagorean approach of understanding all aspects of reality in terms of numbers and mathematics was revived. Around this time there was also great interest in occultism which meant witchcraft, ghosts, and other psychic phenomena. The mechanistic philosophies (those which attempt to describe all of reality in terms of numbers and mathematical equations) arose partly as an attempt by the Christians to invalidate occult phenomena. This resulted in a shift from seeing the world as a living creation of God containing other living things as its main part, to seeing it as a machine made of dead matter.

By the time the early 1600's had rolled around, this movement was well underway with the work of the famous scientists Kepler and Galileo. Yet, despite his contribution in this development, Kepler still regarded the earth planet as living organism with soul. Later, with the work of the prominent scientists, Descartes, Leibniz and Newton, God was pushed further and further towards the outer limits of the universe and finally excluded altogether. It is interesting to note that these scientists actually believed in God, yet nevertheless the result of their work was to displace God. It is hard to find a place for God, or the atma in a mechanistic universe consisting of only dead material particles governed by mathematical laws. But God was still seen as the ultimate creator of life and the universe. This is known as the "clockwork universe in which God created the universe, started it up, and left it alone to function according to natural laws.”

     In the middle of the nineteenth century the prevailing view of God as the creator changed with Darwin's introduction of a quasi-mechanistic theory of evolution. The idea of evolution was not new, but it only became widely accepted when Darwin presented mechanism based apparently on mathematical laws. This completely eliminated the need for God in the scientist's picture of reality. Up to this point in time, the leading intellectuals in the West still acknowledged an intelligent original creator. Since that time, this idea has been rejected in leading intellectual circles.

     Now let's take closer look at astronomy. In the Middle Ages the universe was seen as a relatively small sphere surrounded by a shell. Outside this shell was the empyreal realm where God and His angels dwelled. The earth was in the center, and the sun and other planets were thought to revolve around the earth. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy had provided mathematical descriptions of planetary movements. In the 1500's Copernicus introduced the idea that all the planets revolve around the sun (this is known as the heliocentric model), and this idea was also familiar to some ancient Greek astronomers. After Copernicus, the universe was not seen as residing within small spherical shell, but as infinitely extended in three-dimensional space. This view prevailed until the time of Einstein (early 20th century).

     In the 1600's Kepler introduced the idea that the planets travel in elliptical orbits around the sun, then Newton showed that one can explain these orbits using his mathematical law of gravity. Even though Newton himself believed in God, this marked the triumph of the mechanistic conception.

     In the Vedic worldview two different systems were in use. One of these is the cosmology outlined in the 5th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam -- however we should note that this is how the universe would appear to great yogis, rishis, and demigods who's senses can perceive more of reality than those of ordinary human beings. Because space contains many more than just three dimensions, we, as ordinary human beings, can only perceive a small fraction of the total features of reality with our three dimensional senses. We will discuss this point in greater detail later, but we should note here that we should not expect to see the cosmological features described in the 5th canto by examining the heavens with a telescope.

     The other Vedic system present, the universe from the viewpoint of a human observer of earth. This scheme is represented by the Surya-siddhanta, and other works. The Surya-siddhanta, which is similar to the Ptolemaic system, presents the solar system as geocentric (the earth is in the center and the sun and planets revolve around it). As far as describing the motion of the sun and planets as observed from earth is concerned, the Surya-siddhanta yields results which are very similar to those of modern Western astronomy. Actually, the only difference between the geocentric model of the Surya-siddhanta and the heliocentric model of modern Western astronomy is a relative point of view. It is interesting to note that there were several Indian astronomers living around 600 A.D. and one of them, Aryabhatta, introduced the heliocentric system similar to that of Copernicus.

     If there are contradictions between the two different Vedic descriptions (that of the 5th canto and that of the Surya-siddhanta), certainly note they describe what different types of observers equipped with different types of senses would perceive.

     The rise of modern science in Europe led to the rise of various forms of sophisticated mechanical technology. In the Middle Ages the technology of Europe was crude -- blacksmiths fashioned simple metal tools and transportation was by horses and other animals. Later on the building of clocks in the renaissance times had the effect of giving people the idea of the world as a machine. By the time the 19th century had rolled around the steam engine was dominant -- in fact the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century witnessed sharp rise in the rate of technological advancement. The result of this is our modern civilization in which electrical mechanisms and the internal combustion engine are very prominent.

     It is important to note, that despite a lack of knowledge on the part of modern Western historians, this is not the first time such technology had been developed. There is evidence indicating that the ancient Greeks had calculating machines based on gear wheels. There are also references in the Vedic literature to mechanical robots, flying machines, and so forth. When Mayadanava offered Arjuna the benediction of mechanical technology in the Mahabharata, Krsna told Arjuna not to accept it because it would ruin everything. Thus, it would seem that thousands of years ago sophisticated technological knowledge was available.

     The reason the mechanistic view has become so dominant is that there has been great success in describing nature by mathematics. In contrast, there has been a relative absence of methods of attaining tangible spiritual benefit in life. Thus when the relatively successful mechanistic sciences developed in Europe, they had no strong competition from philosophies based on spiritual worldviews. Unfortunately, the spiritual philosophies present in Europe at that time were supported by dogma and tradition and they lacked practical systems capable of giving spiritual results which a person could see directly in his life.

In order for spiritual philosophy to successfully compete with the mechanistic philosophies it must have two important features. First it is necessary to demonstrate successful procedures for directly realizing spiritual knowledge in our lives (such as the chanting of Hare Krsna, as that spiritual knowledge can be based on more than authority and doctrine. Second, it is necessary to clearly see the shortcomings of the mechanistic worldview, as well as its strengths).

     In the next chapter, we will clearly show how the mechanistic worldview of modern science is not able to explain how life came about or what consciousness is. It is therefore unacceptable as philosophy purporting to explain all aspects of reality. Along with this we will show how the philosophy of Krsna consciousness does provide an excellent explanation for all observable phenomena. Unfortunately, the philosophy of Krsna consciousness has only been available to Western thinkers since 1966. Thus, we have seen how lacking suitable competitors the mechanistic worldview of modern science has risen over the last four centuries to its present position of dominance. The purpose of the Krsna Consciousness Movement is to reverse this trend.

 From Gurukula Science Textbook project  1985


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