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

Vedic creationism is only one example of 'decolonised science.' Moregenerally, Hindu nationalists routinely insist on the need to develop ascience that is organically related to the innate nature, svabhava or chittiof India. India's chitti, they insist, lies in holistic thought, in keepingmatter and spirit, nature and god together (as compared to the 'Semiticmind' which separates the two). Hindu nationalists have been using thispurported holism of Hinduism as the cornerstone of their argument: anyinterpretation of modern science that fits in with this spirit-centeredholism is declared to be valid Vedic science while naturalistic, mainstreaminterpretations are discarded as 'Western.' The overwhelming enthusiasm forRupert Sheldrake's occult biology (which builds upon the failed vitalistictheories of Jagdish Chandra Bose) and the near unanimous recasting ofquantum mechanics in mystical terms are examples of the kind of hybriditysanctioned by postmodernists.


But it gets worse. Hindu nationalists have been keen on proving that thelandmass of India was the original homeland of the 'Aryans,' and thereforethe cradle of all civilization. 'Vedic Aryans,' on this account, were theauthors of all natural sciences which then spread to Greece, Sumeria, Chinaand other major civilizations in antiquity. To substantiate these claims,all kinds of modern scientific discoveries are read back into the Rig Veda,the most ancient of all Vedas.

But such boastful claims raise the questionof methodology. How did our Vedic forebears figure out the speed of light,the distance between the sun and the earth and why did they code it into theshape and size of fire altars? Similar questions arise for the more generalclaims that are basic to Hindu metaphysics, namely that there is a higherrealm of ultimate reality (Brahman) that cannot be assessed through sensorymeans. How did our Vedic forbears know it exists and that it actuallydetermines the course of evolution of species, and makes the matter that weall are made of? How can you experience what is beyond all sensoryknowledge? But even more important for the claims of scientificity of theVedas, how do you test the empirical claims based upon that experience?

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