International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Science and Mysticism: A Comparative Study of Western Natural Science, Theravada Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta

by Richard H. Jones

Introductory Essay by Job Kozhamthadam

Thanks to recent developments in science, particularly Relativity and Quantum Theory, there has been a surge of interest in the relationship between science and mysticism. Noticing certain striking similarities between the findings of contemporary science and the intuitive insights of ancient sages, some authors venture to conclude that contemporary science, in a way, is going back to the view of reality espoused by the ancient masters. This conclusion has been subjected to severe criticism by other scholars who argue that any perceived parallel or similarity between the ideas of contemporary science and those of the ancient sages is only accidental, and so no serious significance should be attributed to it. Science and Mysticism by Richard H. Jones is an admirable attempt to strike a balance between the extremes.

Jones attempts to unravel the relationship between science and mysticism by examining the role each plays in helping us understand the true nature of reality. The strategy employed is a critical comparative study of the claims about reality made by western natural science and two Indian traditions, Theravada Buddhism and Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta. After a long and well-informed discussion, he concludes that “neither science nor mysticism [alone] provides self-evident insights into the actual nature of reality” [213]. On the other hand, together they have a definite, complementary role to play in putting us in touch with true reality. According to Jones, “both mysticism and science give cognitive insights into the nature of reality” [214]. This complementarity arises because “both are accepted as separate but necessary for a fuller understanding of reality” [211].

The first part of the book prepares the reader by presenting a critical assessment of the basic frameworks of science and mysticism. The second part engages the reader in a critical study of the nature of scientific and mystical claims by means of comparisons and contrasts. It reveals that the relationship between science and mysticism is a highly complex one, rather than a simple, straightforward matter of logic and experience. The third part examines whether “selected claims themselves that are advanced in specific scientific and mystical systems are the same or not” [169]. The fourth and final part focuses on bringing about a reconciliation of mysticism and science. It concludes by pointing out that “mysticism and science can be reconciled if neither is taken to be the only source of knowledge about the world” [218]. The book ends with a very informative and highly relevant Appendix involving a critical assessment of the relationship between natural scientific studies of mysticism and the truth of mystical knowledge-claims.

This book is for serious and informed readers since it presupposes a good knowledge of recent developments in the philosophy of science and the current literature on mysticism. As the author declares at the outset, “this project is a work in metaphysics in the sense of encompassing diverse areas of human experience” [13].

The importance of a critical study of this type cannot be overemphasized. A healthy partnership between science and mysticism is the best course of action for any serious, in-depth apprehension of reality. Science and Mysticism has done a great service to bring this message home to us.