Thursday, September 8, 2011

Science and religion in the non-western world

This post is partly motivated because in October I will be in India co-teaching two courses for the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Details of the course in Kerala are here. It is my second trip to India and I am looking forward to learning more about how the whole science-religion discussion is framed in a non-western context. My wife has started reading the (secular) book, India: a Portrait by Patrick French [There was a helpful review by Aravind Adiga in the Observer (Guardian)].
French claims (p. 368):
Religion and science never went their separate way s in India in the way they did in Europe in the eighteenth century. There was no intellectual division, because Hinduism was too amorphous to be challenged or threatened by any new scientific discovery. If anything, advances in human understanding of the laws of nature might chime with the abstraction of Hindu philosophy, in which time has no beginning and no end.
I wonder whether the last sentence just reflects western liberal sentiment which sometimes  claims harmony between modern physics and eastern religion (e.g. The Tao of Physics), whereas a hard-nosed examination finds conflict (e.g., the universe did have a beginning and time has a definite direction).
That said, I get the impression that non-Westerners are more open to a spiritual dimension and the existence of God (or gods).


  1. All the best for the Kerala conference! I am from Kerala and as a christian, struggled for many years to reconcile my faith and science. I wish you could take a look at this:
    Christian Faith as a Reflection of Nature

  2. Didn't I read in a Hawking book the conjecture that a space traveler could leave on a trip in such a manner as to see himself leaving on the trip?

    What science or religion gives evidence for a beginning to the universe? Quantum mechanics cannot reconcile the first 10^-30 seconds after the Big Bang (or some fraction of a second near that number) and Western religions just side step the issue by saying there was and always will be a God. Hinduism is a beautiful system precisely because of its lack of structure. It embraces the unknown.

    As for shajanm's comment about religion being, "an integral part of the reality we experience." I'd argue that spirituality is a part of humans' reality. Religion is a construct; it's man made and certainly does not have to be integral to life.