Ask the Swami: Dharma vs. Darwin?

If you're bad enough, will you be reincarnated as an amoeba? Vedic perspectives on evolution, dinosaurs, Mars, and the Big Bang.

BY: Swami B.V. Tripurari (Bio)

 
Darwin's theory seems to make a lot of sense to most people. What are the Gaudiya Vaisnava objections to Darwin's theories regarding the evolution of the human species?

Our main objection to Darwinian evolution is that it sees consciousness as a product of matter. We cannot agree with this proposal, nor does it make much sense in terms of verifiable evidence. Where do we see consciousness arising from inert matter and what scientific experiment can prove that this occurs? Our theory is that matter evolves from consciousness--the supreme consciousness. Otherwise, we acknowledge the evidence for some kind of evolution.

Hindus were evolutionists long before Darwin. Hindu scriptures teach that the various forms of life exist conceptually within God and evolve out of matter in conjunction with the desires of karmically-bound souls. In this way, the material body evolves on the basis of the jiva's [the individual soul or ego] desire or necessity.

For example, when the desire or necessity to see arises in the jiva, the eye is manifest. Brahma is said to be the first soul and the repository of all the other jivas, who under his direction evolve upwards through aquatic life, to plant life, etc. Interestingly, Bhaktivinoda Thakura gave a lecture on the evolution of matter through the material mode of goodness at the British-Indian Society. He also analyzed the Dasavatara Stotram (Ten Incarnations of Visnu) in terms of evolution. In his view, the dasavatara conception almost parallels the Puranic notion of life's evolution from aquatic life upwards: Matsya (fish), Kurma (amphibian), Varaha (land animal), Narasinga (both animal and man), etc.

I was wondering whether any Vedic texts make reference to the existence of dinosaurs on earth. It would seem that the existence of dinosaurs is irrefutable, yet I've never heard of any religious texts that make any mention of them.

The legends and lore of most pre-modern cultures contain descriptions of very large animals, and it seems that there is irrefutable evidence that very large animals did inhabit the earth in the distant past. Vedic scriptures mention this as well. For example, Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.7.18 speaks of large water elephants and whale-swallowing fish, timi-dvipa-graha-timingilakulat. The Bhagavatam also speaks of large birds compared to clouds, yatha meghah syenadayo vayu-vasah.

Once the universe is again created, ...is it possible that souls who have the worst karma would be manifested first at the beginning of creation as single-celled organisms or bacteria and that other souls would be manifest later as suitable bodies were created to facilitate their karma? This would support evolution and scripture at the same time, but I'm not sure if it's right.

This idea may have some merit, as scripture says that souls at the dawn of creation begin at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder and gradually appear over a long period of time until the human form manifests. When humans appear, the world is complete. All these forms of life exist in potential within Maha Visnu and then in the mind of Brahma who puts the world together. But time, as it is conceived of in evolutionary theory, may be a problem here, given the relatively short duration and nature of the yugas (Vedic ages). Therefore, it is difficult to validate or unify both positions in all respects.

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