By Abhijit Toley
Can scientists accept God?
Many modern scientific-minded people find it hard to accept that God exists. The scientific method consists of conducting physical experiments and verifying the results, and God just doesn’t seem to fit in: He can’t be produced or studied in a laboratory, His behavior can’t be analyzed, His interactions with elements can’t be plotted on a graph. But throughout history the realm of science has expanded, with newer tools and methods enhancing the power of experimentation and perception. It’s about time we expand it more.
God and the Scientific Method
Spirituality is as scientific and logical as any branch of science. To understand how, we need to first understand the general definition of the scientific method. In principle, the scientific method consists of collecting data through observation and experimentation, and then formulating and testing a hypothesis. Subsequent experiments then try to prove or disprove the hypothesis. If the results of the experiments match the predictions of the hypothesis, the hypothesis gains credence. Otherwise, ideally at least, the hypothesis is discarded. (Unfortunately, hypotheses are often prematurely accepted as truth. The Big Bang theory and black holes are examples of this.)
We can quite easily apply the scientific method in our quest for spiritual truths. Around us in nature we see laws, design, beauty, majesty, symmetry, intricacy, and so on. We can surely hypothesize the existence of a supremely intelligent being who is the source of all that exists. Many of the most celebrated scientists and thinkers have expressed such views. For example, Isaac Newton said, “The wonderful arrangement and harmony of the cosmos would only originate in the plan of an almighty omniscient being. This is, and remains, my greatest comprehension.”
The scriptures of most major religions have always asserted the existence of God. Along with assertions, they detail processes by which one can perceive God in lesser or greater degrees. For example, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.9.31) Lord Vishnu says, “Knowledge about Me as described in the scriptures is very confidential, and it has to be realized in conjunction with devotional service. The necessary paraphernalia for that process is being explained by Me. You may take it up carefully.”
Following scriptures and sincere devotees of God is not blind faith. It is accepting the existence of God as a sound hypothesis, and then experimenting, by following the prescribed process, to establish or disprove the hypothesis. By sincere effort on a well-documented path revealed in the scriptures, one can perceive God.
Initially, a little bit of reasonable faith (hypothesis) is required to start off (experiment) on a path suggested by the scriptures and the devotees of God. A systematic understanding of the science of God fortifies one’s faith, which strengthens even more when one sees that the results of following the process match the theory. And the fortified faith, in turn, inspires one to follow the process even more sincerely, leading to even deeper experiences of God.
As with any other form of learning, the student requires a teacher advanced in the practice of the science. The student can take practical instructions from the teacher, ask him deep questions, and study the scriptures under his guidance. Of course, the teacher must be a devotee of God; otherwise how can he guide his students toward direct perception of God? As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34), “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
Even though God is beyond the perception of the common man, He appreciates the sincerity of the seeker’s efforts and responds accordingly. To the degree that God reciprocates, the internal world (essentially the desires) of the seeker transforms. Although direct audience with God is difficult to achieve quickly, one can reap many other tangible results in a short time, and thereby gain confidence in the scriptural instructions.
A sincere seeker’s realizations are in line with the principles of the scriptures, and therefore are not hallucinations. Powerful transcendentalists in all spiritual traditions have spoken or written about their experiences with God. To discard all their experiences as irrelevant is presumptuous. Furthermore, realization of spiritual truths helps the practitioner lead a better, more meaningful life, and to have better control of his life than others.
While results of material processes can be verified in a laboratory, the results of spiritual ones can be verified in the laboratory of one’s own heart. Lust, greed, anger, and other dirty things in the heart reduce drastically and quickly when one practices spiritual processes. The practitioner can easily verify these internal transformations, which manifest externally in the form of positive changes in one’s life. A person progressing spiritually will give up bad habits like intoxication, increase spiritual activities like prayer and meditation, and improve in qualities like patience, mercy, cleanliness, and tolerance.
Along with these changes comes the lasting joy of spiritual happiness. The practitioner discovers a positive energy driven by the lofty goal of spiritual progress and enjoys the process itself. Spiritual activities are natural to the soul, and consequently the most joyful.
These tangible results inspire the practitioner to continue following the process, leading to more results, all of which are tangible. In fact, what was abstract and theoretical yesterday becomes practical and tangible today. What was once just the word of scripture becomes the reality of one’s own life. What more proof could one ask for?
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.2) Lord Sri Krishna summarizes this point succinctly: “This knowledge [spiritual knowledge] is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.”
It’s a Science
Following a spiritual process as described above is as scientific as the modern scientific method. Spirituality is a verifiable science, and moreover, it is genuinely helpful to everyone who practices it. The tools and methods for practicing this science might not be prevalent in the scientific world today, but surely the ancient wisdom traditions suffered from no such handicap. Their system of logic and reasoning did not exclude God from its domain; on the contrary, all their logic was used to eventually establish the existence of God as an undeniable fact. Indeed, theirs was the God logic.