International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

by Varadaraja V. Raman

Introductory Essay by William Grassie

V.V. Raman’s Truth and Tension avoids religious particularism while presenting a detailed philosophical reflection built from the whole cloth of science and history. He illustrates religious concepts from all of the world’s traditions and touches on multiple scientific disciplines. The book serves not only as an encyclopedic overview of religion and science issues, but also as a citation reference from diverse scriptures, philosophers, scientists, theologians, and poets. Among the scriptural sources are many of Raman’s own translations of Sanskrit texts. And among the poetry are several original poems by Raman himself. All of this is accomplished with great warmth, generosity, and humanity in a prose style that is frequently witty and profound.

The book contains ten chapters exploring different truths and different tensions in the domains of and interaction between religions and sciences – epistemology, explanation, beliefs, ethics, origins and ends, among others. Within these chapters is a dizzying array of subtopics – universality in science, separateness of religions, uncertainty in science, good and bad in religion, religion bashing, science bashing, criteria for truth content, determinism, levels of reality, prediction, types of faith, doubt, instrumentalism, mechanism, the organismic world model, supernature, subnature, logical limitations, reductionism, holism, theology, dogmas, theism, atheism, agnosticism, proofs of God, negative theology, the problem of evil, spirituality, mysticism, neurotheology, consciousness, illusion, the anthropic principle, information theory, compassion and altruism, innate morality, ecological ethics, and global ethics, to name but a few.

Raman, a clever wordsmith, develops several helpful neologisms. His term “monodoxy refers to the belief in a single truth, in contrast with orthodoxy, which is the belief in “sound doctrine.” In Raman’s view monodoxy is never sound.  Similarly, Raman coins the terms “exopotent” and “endopotent” to distinguish between truths that are outwardly true in the world and truths that are inwardly true in the human spirit-mind. These little nuggets of insight and wisdom make Truth and Tension a joy to read.

While Raman’s overall commitment is to a scientific and global worldview, he always affirms religious traditions, holding out a vision of progressive cultural evolution in an age of technoscience and globalization. He presents a laudable overall goal: “History shows that attempts to eradicate religion from society have not met with great success.  More frequently, one religious paradigm replaces another… the challenge is to make them benign... by making them more in tune with enlightened values, and … more consonant with modern scientific worldviews. This is surely a more worthwhile and realistic goal than the eradication of religions from human culture, without sacrificing the enrichment that religions provide.” [11]

This tolerance for and appreciation of many religious traditions does not extend so far as to affirm the many antiquated superstitious beliefs held by people around the world. Raman is quite explicit in criticizing astrology, numerology, miracles, and other credulous beliefs and practices, but he expresses these criticisms with compassion and understanding for our all-too-human frailties and with a deep humanistic faith that we can do better without the demonization offered by the New Atheists (or religious fundamentalists of diverse creeds).  Indeed, Raman suggests that combining the best of science and the best of religions is the key to more truth, more beauty, and more goodness in the world.