The Perils of Vedic 'Science'

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

BY: Meera Nanda

 

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

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

Take, for example, the emerging theory of 'Vedic creationism' (which updates the spiritual evolutionary theories of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda). Its chief architects, Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson, claim that Darwinian evolutionary biologists and mainstream biologists have been systematically ignoring and hiding evidence that supports the theory of 'devolution of species' from the Brahman through the mechanism of karma and rebirth. All knowledge, they claim, is a product of interests and biases. On this account, Vedic creationism, explicitly grounded in Vedic cosmology, is as plausible and defensible as Darwinism, grounded on the naturalistic and capitalist assumptions of Western scientists.

Vedic creationism is only one example of 'decolonised science.' More generally, Hindu nationalists routinely insist on the need to develop a science that is organically related to the innate nature, svabhava or chitti of India. India's chitti, they insist, lies in holistic thought, in keeping matter and spirit, nature and god together (as compared to the 'Semitic mind' which separates the two). Hindu nationalists have been using this purported holism of Hinduism as the cornerstone of their argument: any interpretation of modern science that fits in with this spirit-centered holism is declared to be valid Vedic science while naturalistic, mainstream interpretations are discarded as 'Western.' The overwhelming enthusiasm for Rupert Sheldrake's occult biology (which builds upon the failed vitalistic theories of Jagdish Chandra Bose) and the near unanimous recasting of quantum mechanics in mystical terms are examples of the kind of hybridity sanctioned by postmodernists.

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