Survival of the fittest religion 30 Oct, 2007, 0040 hrs IST, Mukul Sharma, economictimes.indiatimes.com
In the west, religion’s running battle with science is well known. In the beginning the natural sciences — astronomy in particular — was its chief foe since that study of the heavens soon began to threaten the established view of humanity’s pivotal role in the universe by way of earth being the centre of all creation. So when the Copernican revolution proved things otherwise, philosopher scientists like Giordano Bruno had to burn at the stake for positing a heliocentric universe. Even a famous astronomer and physicist like Galileo had to publicly recant similar views held by him and undergo house arrest during the last years of his life. Later, after Darwin happened, religion trained its fire on the life sciences and zoology for its new found belief in natural selection and the theory of evolution. For contrary to the established view of humanity’s divine origin, the Origin of Species proposed a common ancestor for both apes and human beings. o great was this antagonism that early in the last century pitched battles were fought in American courts for teaching evolution in schools. That war is still not over and is, in fact, turning insidiously vicious with religiosity using the tools of technology to set its sights on Darwin. It insists that along with evolution, intelligent design and “scientific creationism” too be taught in American schools. Of course we know where this is coming from: an all too literal interpretation of the relevant scriptures. For instance if Bishop Ussher’s Biblical chronology is to be believed then the earth was created on the night preceding October 23, 4004 BC — a flat contraction of geological data. In the east, on the other hand, and as far as Hinduism and Buddhism for example are concerned, the faith versus science face-off is a non-starter. Buddhism doesn’t even have a creation myth, believing the universe to be billions of years old and, in any case, the Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading. How evolutionary can you get? As far as Hinduism is concerned, its emphasis is on the mental and spiritual evolution of life on earth — on the development of the subtle body rather than the gross one. Also, not only does Hinduism not reject evolution, it takes it further by consciously and willingly directing the process through the exercise of intelligence and choice. Thus it looks at evolution in a wider perspective for the continuing development of humanity.