Friday, June 20, 2008

Can intelligence fail to detect God?

These are the days when ‘interesting’ revelations are published about

how intelligent people do not believe in God.

But this is not without a difference.

Because a survey has revealed that this trend is not found among the Indian Intelligentsia.

To the ‘shocking dismay’ of the Indian Press,

most Indian scientists believe in God.

The reasoning seems to be that if one is intelligent,

one must not believe in God,

for, God can not be ‘proved’.

The habit of ISRO scientists to worship at Thirupathy

seems to an anathema to their pursuit of “science”.

The taboo attached to science and IQ is such that

to say that such a person of high IQ and science believes in God,

is against the spirit of Science!!

I felt that Dr Madhavan Nair succumbed to this internal (intellectual?) conflict

when he wrote the “God and I” recently.

Somehow I felt that he didn’t speak straight from his heart

and muffled his inner feelings towards God in that write-up.

This issue came into lime light

when it was reported that people in the West with high IQ

did not believe in God.

In contrast, those in India are believers in God.

At the outset it is not difficult for me to reason out why.

The religion of most people of the West can not be compared with

the religion of most Indians.

While the ‘science’ in the former’s religion is evidently questionable,

the latter’s religion is Science itself.

Anyone who has had a rub with Hindu Thought,

would be astonished at the “vi-gjyana’ and the ‘Mai-gjyana’-

the ‘apra-vidya’ of the material world and

the ‘para- vidya’ on the state of Consciousness blended well

and learnt with awareness of the demarcation between the two.

Anyone born in this religion and

has had some rendezvous with the Thought of this religion

is sure to understand the limits of Intellect

in deciphering the Supreme Consciousness which is God.

But it must be accepted that

God is not an –untouchable concept for most scientists of the world.

Every scientist of repute has 'felt' the presence of God seemingly closer to logic.

Beyond the reach of science,

the musings on God have become inevitable to them,

as they, like vedic rishis have 'felt' God

but unable to 'bring' Him within codes:-)

They think and realize more of God than the so-called religionists

in that, they understand the power of God

while the latter are obsessed with

the power of what He can give them!!

Thinking on how to handle this issue,

I decided to rely on

none other than a mathematician of repute,

Godel in his Incompleteness theorem.

While going through Gödel’s exposition,

I was struck by the parallels in the methodology/logic used by him and Ramanuja.

I find Ramanuja far ahead in logically arriving at correct (more acceptable) assumptions

and derivations from thereon.

My attempt is not about the proof of God.

It is about in what ways He can be 'seen' and 'understood' using His created tools.

In this process I am truly awed by the 'discovery' I make each time,

- that every branch of knowledge

which may look diametrically opposite to God-concept at the outside,

is indeed reflective of some facet of God – which I understand as Brahman.

Ramanuja was an adept in devising such arguments

as I have quoted in this write-up

and he seems to enjoy arriving at conclusions on Him

of His indescribable nature and

I humbly state that I too am enjoying at least a few drops of such ecstasy

in trying to describe God

but finding it difficult to describe Him.

Godel and Ramanuja

One of the criticisms against Gödel’s Incompleteness is that

philosophers can abuse it.

Since Incompleteness is something to expect in all symbolic systems

owing to self-referential paradox contained in them,

it is easily expected of a philosopher to play jugglery with lexicons –

a function that modern day philosophers are fond of doing,

if Hawking were to be agreed with –

that 'the sole remaining task for philosophers is the analysis of language'.

Just as how no mathematician would accept

that the Gödel proof is in the domain of English sentences,

no student of Ramanuja philosophy would submit to the criticism of Hawking

and Gödel detractors as well.

As a student of Sri Ramanujacharya,

I am drawn to compare and contrast Incompleteness,

as both Goedel and Ramanuja were faced with the difficult task of finding peace

with transfinite axioms,

not being able to prove or disprove the 'contentually true' propositions

which contain them.

While Goedel's theorem is on the lines of "liar's paradox'

(the 'I am lying' statement of Eubulides of the 4th century BC

which can neither be proved true nor false),

Ramanuja was faced with the daunting task of

how to reconcile with the dual (bheda) and non-dual (abheda)

passages of the Upanishads in order to establish the Truth

propounded by the Upanishads.

He could not agree with his predecessor, Adi Shankara,

on the non-dual nature of Brahman,

for it was possible to disprove him on the basis of dual scripts

from the Upanishads themselves.

His contention was that since all Vedanta (contained in the Upanishads)

speak of the same Absolute,

the contradictory attributes can not depict the real attributes.

This is the same argument he used to denounce the Void theory (nihilism)

of Buddhists that

'it can not be true, because it is impossible for contradictory attributes

to exist at the same time in one and the same thing'.

So either we have to take up the suitable axioms for arguments

or understand the right kind of relationship between the axioms we choose for proof.

To explain the former, he says,

'the theory, which maintains the thing perceived to be distinct and non-distinct

at one and the same time has also been throughout set at naught'.

In the cognition, "This thing is of this nature" (Idham ittham),

how is it possible to get any idea regarding the identity of concepts

denoted by the words 'idham' (this thing) and 'ittham' (of this nature)?

Of these two, 'idham' denotes a particular configuration perceived

and 'iitham' denotes the configurated something else.

It is not possible to equate idham and iitham

without knowing which of ittham is present in idham at a particular time

among it's many other attributes.

Therefore a statement illustrating a notion of unity alone

will be capable of proving an attribute.

For example in a statement " A purple robe",

purpleness is different from the robe,

yet it has an inseparable relation (aprathaksiddhi) with the subject, the robe.

A further expansion of this concept can be traced to Patanjali's

"co-ordinate predication" (samanadhikaranya)

which is defined as ' the signification of an identical entity by several terms

which are applied to that entity on different grounds'.

Applying these two concepts to the Liar's paradox - "I am lying",

it fulfills the notion of inseparable relation,

in that the attribute of lying is related to the subject.

Thus far the statement is true.

But a paradox is built by saying that if this statement is true he can not be lying.

A philosopher of Hindu Thought would not agree with this,

for the build-up of the statement that 'this statement is true'

is not related to or an inseparable part of the subject in the original statement.

In other words, since it is not part of 'co-ordinate predication',

there is no locus standi to apply it to sit judgement on the original statement.

The statement 'if this statement is true' is the assessment of the on-looker

and not part of the subject.

Such an approach would certainly give rise to contradictions

and hence needs to be given up, if truth is to be known.

This brings in the second notion

that the right relationship needs to be established to arrive at the right answer.

According to Ramanuja,

truth can be established when the relationship is between the intent

and the object perceived.

The reference to an object, which has value and certain determined consequences

as an object among the other physical objects alone makes it true or false.

Falsity is that which pertains to the value of a judgement we pass

with regard to an occurrence,

what interpretation we place on the datum given rather than

the existence of the datum itself.

In the Liar's paradox, the statement "I am lying" fulfils notion of unity.

But to say whether it is true or false,

one has to look into the antecedents of the subject and

not sit value judgement of the interpretation of the sentence itself,

which as Ramanuja has said would lead to false conclusions.

But Goedel's paradox is a shred different from Liar's paradox

in that he used the inseparable variables of the theory to highlight the paradox.

(A statement P states 'there is no proof of P'.

If P is true, there is no proof of it.

If P is false, there is a proof that P is true which is a contradiction.

Goedel defined P as necessarily a part of the system).

When he announced for the first time in

the Second Conference on Epistemology of Exact Sciences in September 1930,

that 'of no formal system can we affirm with certainty

that all contentual considerations are representable in it',

he implied that what is contained in a theory can not be proof of the theory.

If we try to justify the induction principle by means of the induction principle,

it would be a kind of vicious circle.

As Richard Kulisz has said, such 'circularity' is to be predicted

and therefore prohibited by moving away from such 'undeciding formulae'.

Therefore another way to look at Incompleteness theorem is that

' the problem domain of mathematics can not be resolved

('decided' suggests that there is a priori right answer)

by a finite set of axioms.'

This is incidentally agreeable to Ramanuja too,

who opined that any cosmological argument using finite objects can only 'infer',

not 'prove' the existence of God and any 'inference' is not proof.

That is why science can never prove the Infinite with finite axioms.

It can never prove the Creator with the things and theories created by Him.

Even the one wanting to disprove the existence of god has to be content

with an atheistic theism of a la Hawing kind –

"If it isn't God, it is 'really' something exotic".

Both Ramanuja and Gödel proved that intelligence can defeat us

in the full glare of knowledge of the Real,

of truth in the theory perceived.

But Ramanuja went a step ahead and declared

that while the finite can not prove the Infinite,

it can perceive the Infinite, if the Infinite chooses to bestow the finite with Intuition.

('Whom He chooses, by him He is perceived', says Kathopanishad.)

(Was Einstein a chosen one?)

A proof of this might perhaps require a different model of Creation or Universe

with different sets of laws governing them.

Why we can't perceive such a state might perhaps be replied by

borrowing Hawking's wisdom –

'if we have to perceive it, 'we would not be here'


News report on the survey.

June 15, 2008 15:49 IST

Indian scientists are making rapid advances in their respective fields but when it comes to God, one in four are firm believers and many more accept existence of a 'higher power'.

A survey of 1,100 scientists across 130 universities and research institutes across the country threw up interesting results as 29 per cent believed in the philosophy of 'karma', 26 per cent accepted the principle of life after death and seven per cent researchers gave credence to existence of ghosts.

A survey, by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut and Hyderabad-based Centre for Inquiry, found that religion and faith had deep roots in the minds of Indian scientists.

An amazing 64 per cent scientists said they would refuse to design biological weapons because of their moral and religious beliefs, while 54 per cent said they will not work on nuclear weapons for the same reasons.

As many as 93 per cent researchers defined secularism as tolerance for various religions and philosophies, while only a minority of scientists said it meant atheism.

Forty one per cent scientists approved in some form or the other religious endorsement of a space project by space scientists. In 2005, space scientists had travelled to Tirupati to seek blessing of Lord Venkateswara before launching the rocket and satellite.

However, the level of disapproval of the act was more intense with as many as 33 per cent scientists disapproving it strongly. Only 14 per cent strongly approved of the action.

A plurality of scientists (44 per cent) was willing to criticise and confront religions where they think they contradict accepted scientific theories but a sizeable minority (23 per cent) is opposed to it.

The scientists are most likely to regard their personal outlook as 'secular' (59 per cent) or 'somewhat secular' (16 per cent). Secularism, according to a majority of them, is tolerance for various religions and philosophies.

One fourth of the total scientists surveyed were firm believers while another fourth took an atheist or agnostic position about belief in the divine.

Twenty six per cent scientists said they knew God really exists and they had no doubts about it, while 30 per cent did not believe in personal God but believed in a higher power.

Twelve per cent scientists said they did not believe in God while another 13 per cent said they neither knew about the existence of God nor did they believed there was any way to find it out.

A majority of scientists thought of themselves as being spiritual, which according to two thirds of them is either 'commitment to higher human ideals, such as peace, harmony or well being' (34 per cent), or 'a higher level of human consciousness or awareness' (31 per cent).

A majority of the Indian scientists were Hindus (66 per cent) and 10 per cent identified themselves as atheists or having no religion.

Muslims and Christians formed three per cent each of the scientists surveyed, four per cent were Sikhs, Buddhists and other religions while 14 per cent did not report their religion.

Editorial in Deccan Chronicle

June 19, 2008


God and science

For millennia, humankind comfortably believed that God had created the world and was up there in the heavens guiding its destiny. Then Copernicus “uncentred” the earth and Charles Darwin argued that humans had evolved from lower animals through millions of years. Other men of science also started chipping away at the edifice of institutionalised religion until everything came under a cloud of doubt. We could no longer comfortably sing with the poet that, “God is up in heaven and all is right with the world.” But that is just one version of the story. A closer look would reveal that not all scientists had denied God. The great ones had just redefined him. Johannes Kepler, for instance, believed that God was the creative “Geometer,” while Sir Isaac Newton in his Principia stated “the most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” Albert Einstein did not believe in a personal god but spoke in ecstasy about a God who revealed himself in the wonderful harmony of the universe, and the genius Stephen Hawking has described his whole scientific venture as an attempt to read the mind of God.

So one need not be wonderstruck at the results of a recent survey which proved that majority of Indian scientists believe in God. But here too a closer look is needed, for the faith of most Indian scientists seem to be guided by tradition rather than the insights provided by their disciplines. According to the survey, a majority of them subscribe to the beliefs of the general populace on karma, destiny and rebirth. Some even believe in ghosts and evil spirits. A large percentage believes in the efficacy of prayer (as is evident from Isro scientists praying at Tirumala before launching space vehicles). They wear their faith on their sleeves (and on their foreheads), unlike their Western counterparts who are more nuanced and combative. Indian scientists are probably more comfortable with God because of the absence of furious controversies such as the “creationist-evolutionist” debate in the United States, where scientists and theologians are attacking each other in the vilest of terms. Thank God for that.

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