2016-06-30
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. How does the theory of evolution coincide with the Vaisnava account of creation?

In brief, here is how creation occurs according to the scripture:

Visnu resides in the "causal ocean," consisting of innumerable jiva souls in seed form, all of whom are under the latent influence of their karmic desires left over from the previous world cycle. At this time, the modes of material nature (gunas) are in a state of equilibrium. At some point, a feeling arises within Visnu, followed by an infinite vibration. This develops into an abstract idea and then into an actual thought, "I shall become many." Thus, the undisturbed equilibrium state of the gunas is activated by Visnu's glance of life, consisting of many jivas. Material nature is then galvanized by time and another world cycle is manifest. This manifestation of the world is not technically a process of evolution in every sense, because the cause of the world itself (Visnu) never undergoes transformation. As matter develops, the jivas develop from gross to refined subtle expressions through 8,400,000 forms beginning with aquatic life and culminating in human life. At the time in this process that humanity makes its appearance on earth, everything is in order for the jiva souls to meet their maker. At this point, the world consisting of the jivas and matter--the marginal and external saktis of Visnu--becomes conscious of itself. Unfortunately, this auspicious moment in cosmic history can take a turn for the worse for some souls. These souls think away their chance for liberation with sophisticated theories that deny their ties to a supreme consciousness, as does Darwinian evolution. There may be some truth to Darwin's theory, but it has done at least as much to obscure the nature of the material reality as it has to reveal it.
Still, we agree with the part of Darwin's theory that says that the material world is a struggle for existence in which one living being is food for another (jivo jivasya jivanam)--survival of the fittest. But there is much more to the picture than this. What about the big bang theory or the idea that the universe is contracting and expanding. Do the scriptures have anything to say about those theories? The Hindu scripturally-based notion of the world expanding and contracting in perpetual cycles, with no beginning or end in time, does not contradict modern scientific thinking. The same observations that support the big bang theory also support the theory that the so-called bang has no beginning in time and results in an expansion of the universe over trillions of years--until it reaches a point of return and contracts, only to be expanded again ad infinitum. The astrophysicist Paul Steinhardt has put forth such a scientifically credible explanation called the cyclical universe theory, which seeks to explain recently uncovered flaws in the current theory of the origin and evolution of all known things. Among other things, the big bang theory does not explain the "beginning of time," the initial conditions of the universe, or what will happen in the far-distant future. In Steinhardt's model, space and time exist forever, and the big bang is not the beginning of time but rather a bridge to a preexisting contracting era. The cyclical universe theory has roots in even more complex ideas like the so-called superstring theory, which suggests there are many spatial dimensions, not just the three we know of. Several theorists believe that the seemingly inexplicable physics of a big bang and a big crunch, or subsequent contraction of the universe, might be explained with the aid of these extra dimensions, which are otherwise invisible to us.

Such scientifically credible speculations about invisible dimensions leave room for rationally legitimizing the ontological reality of persons like Brahma and his lotus birth, who are otherwise thought of as merely mythological. Perhaps his chanting of the Gopala mantra can itself be construed as the big bang. After all, those in the scientific community who have embraced the superstring theory describe the world poetically as a concert of musical vibrations, a song in the mind of God.

Bhagavad-gita asserts that life is everywhere (sarva-gatah) and Vedic literature speaks of demigods and other beings enjoying life on other planets including the moon and Mars. Is there a Vedic explanation as to why science can find no evidence of life on the moon and Mars?

When Vedic scripture speaks of planets on which higher life forms exist, it speaks more of the macrocosmic mental and intellectual planes of experience than it does of the planets we see in the sky with our physical senses. Although the sages did acknowledge some correspondence between the two, when they speak of attaining other planets, they describe a course to do so that is much different than technological means. Just as there is a physical plane of experience in which the senses are predominant, similarly there are planes of experience where the mind or intelligence are predominant (bhur bhuvah svah). On the physical plane, we cannot experience all of our dreams. Here we can see gold and a mountain, but not a golden mountain. In the mental plane, however, we can experience a golden mountain and more. Thus, the mind is a plane of experience that is particularly active at night when the physical plane, our sense experience, shuts down. Thus it is identified with the moon, the light of the night, which is said to preside over the mind and desire, as opposed to reason--chandrama manaso jathah. The moon is also identified with heaven, which in one sense is the land of dreams where all our material desires can be fulfilled. In the heavenly plane of mind, there are possibilities that do not exist on the physical plane, and there one can dwell and enjoy almost unlimited heavenly pleasure. However, it is all a fantasy in one sense because it does not endure.
Our senses are dependent upon aspects of the cosmos in order to function and bring us pleasure. For example, in order to see with our eyes we are dependent on the light of the sun. The senses are not ours in all respects, and by acknowledging their dependence on aspects of nature we live sensually yet mindfully. This in turn enables the self to experience increased material enjoyment in the heavenly mental realm without having to undergo as many negative karmic reactions after leaving one's present material body. Thus the means to go to heavenly realms involves relatively little sense control. All that is required is that while enjoying sense objects one acknowledge the deities and aspects of the cosmos that preside over the senses. In Vedic terms this is called yajna, or sacrifice. To live in this way is to live with a sense of gratitude and understanding of how the universe works. Above the mental plane is the intellectual plane attained by sadhana (spiritual practice). The waning of the moon is the symbol for the waning of the mind, for the flickering of the mind's influence has to be eliminated. All spiritual practice is directed toward this in its beginning stages. Such practice is initially directed by purified intellect derived from saints and scripture. Intellect, as opposed to mind, brings certainty rather than fantasy. Macrocosmically, sages who have controlled minds and senses inhabit the plane of intellect. They live in samadhi awaiting liberation. Such saints have no desire for sense pleasure because of the knowledge and mystic insight they possess. They have controlled their minds and thus their senses as well, and by doing so they have come closer to the self and to God.

Therefore, we should not be concerned if the Mars probe returns to Earth with no evidence of life, for as amazing as it is to have gone there technologically, those involved have not gone to a higher planet in the sense that the Vedic scriptures speak about doing so. As interesting as the prospect of going to other planets or experiencing higher realms of material enjoyment may be, we should always be more concerned with sadhana. Sadhana and the grace of saints is infinitely more important than going to Mars.

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