International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Science and Beyond: Cosmology, Consciousness and Technology in the Indic Traditions

edited by Sangeetha Menon , B. V. Sreekantan , Anindya Sinha , Philip Clayton

Introductory Essay by David L. Gosling

This is a collection of presentations made at a symposium held in 2003 in Bangalore, on the theme ‘Science and Beyond: Cosmology, Consciousness and Technology in the Indic Traditions’. The purpose was to promote dialogue among leading scientists on connections between their scientific work and their religious or spiritual beliefs.

The book’s thirty-three contributions cover a vast array of topics, with inevitable overlap but with good coverage of the implications of vast and rapid advances in technology, the extent of the intellectual reach of science (as distinct from technology), and whether or not science’s reach embraces human consciousness, religion and spirituality. Finally, they address the question; how do these influence ethics, morality and human action? Particular attention is paid throughout the presentations to the implications for, and the context of, the Indic tradition. It is regrettable that contributions covering such a vast area are not accompanied by an index.

Within the current interdisciplinary field that comprises science and religion, the book partially fills a major gap by locating itself within what it calls the Indic traditions – which is largely taken to mean the non-dualism of Shankara’s advaita Vedānta, plus a single contribution dealing with Islam. As Philip Clayton points out in his concluding overview, the contributors avoid simplistic comparisons between western dualism and monism. However there is much more pluralism – polycentrism for example, in the Hindu component of the Indic tradition than is acknowledged, and dalit theologians would be uncomfortable with the philosophical connotations of Hindu spirituality as it is presented here. It is good to see a recognition that ‘new schools of thought in the West (e.g. panentheism and religious naturalism) – often under the influence of Indian thinkers – have made major progress toward overcoming the sharp dualisms that once characterized Western thought’ (p. 332).

Roger Penrose’s views on consciousness and the related zoological discoveries by Jane Goodall seem to carry the dialogical aspect of the symposium in very profitable directions. Their contributions are followed by an interesting synthesis by a contributor from South Africa, George Ellis, on neural Darwinism and affective neuroscience. According to him, each developing brain region adapts to the body in which it finds itself through signals provided by primitive emotional functions developed by evolutionary processes in the animal ancestors of humans. Such an idea appears to bring aspects of psychology and ethology within the framework of Darwinian theory. It is encouraging to note that there appears to be no mention anywhere of ‘Creationism’ or ‘Intelligent Design’ in relation to the Indic traditions.

A greater cross-fertilisation of ideas might have been achieved had some of the Jesuits based in Pune or at the Institute of Science and Religion at Aluva in Kerala been included (or their works referenced). But the book as a whole is an important addition to the inter-faith understanding from an Indic perspective of issues between science and religion, some of which (e.g. consciousness) it addresses at a profound level.