The Perils of Vedic 'Science'

Hindu nationalists, like U.S. evangelicals, are co-opting their nation's culture and calling bad science good.

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Contemporary Hindu nationalists are carrying on with theneo-Hindu tradition of proclaiming Hinduism as the universal religion of thefuture because of its superior 'holistic science' (as compared to the'reductionist science' of the West). Besides, it is easier to selltraditions and rituals, especially to urban, upwardly mobile men, if theyhave the blessings of English-speaking 'scientific' gurus.

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Presenting India as a source of alternative universals that could heal thereductionism of Western science became the major preoccupation of Indianfollowers of science studies. Vandana Shiva wrote glowingly of Indian viewsof non-dualism as superior to Western reductionism. Ashis Nandy declaredastrology to be the science of the poor and the non-Westernized masses inIndia.

Prayers to smallpox goddesses, menstrual taboos, Hindu nature ethics whichderive from orthodox ideas about prakriti or shakti, and even the varnaorder were defended as rational (evensuperior) solutions to thecultural and ecological crises of modernity.

All this fitted in very well with Western feminist and ecologists' searchfor a kinder and gentler science. The deep investment of these philosophiesin perpetuating superstitions and patriarchy in India was forgotten andforgiven.

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While the Abrahamic religions are wary of relativism out of the fear ofrelativizing the Word of God revealed in the Bible or the Koran, BrahminicalHinduism (and Hindu nationalism) thrives on a hierarchical relativism toevade all challenges to its mystical ways ofknowing. Rather than accept empirical theories ofmodern science as contradicting the Vedantic philosophy--which theyactually do--Hindu nationalists simply declare modern science to be trueonly within its limited materialistic assumptions. They do not reject modernscience (who can?) but treat it as 'merely' one among the many differentpaths to the ultimate truth, known only to Vedic Hinduism.

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They do not deny that modern science has discovered some truths aboutnature. But they declare them to be lower-level truths, because they merelydeal with dead matter, shorn of consciousness. Notwithstanding all piousdeclarations of the 'death' of the Newtonian world view of matter obeyingmechanical laws, the fact is that any number of rigorous, double-blind testshave failed to show any signs of disembodied consciousness or mind-stuff innature: matter obeying mindless laws of physics is all there is. But in theVedic science discourse, the overwhelming evidence for adequacy of matter toexplain the higher functions of mind and life are set aside as a result of'knowledge filtration' by Western-trained scientists.

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