In believing our senses, how far do we go?
“Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!”
The atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God on judgment day and God asked him, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell replied, “I would say ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”
When philosophers or scientists complain about lack of evidence, they mean empirical evidence or evidence that can be interpreted by their senses. They would like to subject God to various tests exactly as they put their objects on a slide under a microscope. The Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev had remarked that their space hero Yuri Gagarin had been in outer space and did not see any God there.
The inference is very clear. God has to subject Himself to the tests of science or else He risks being found guilty of not providing enough evidence about His existence. However, as we begin to explore what “science” means and what science cannot do, things become clearer.
Here are two statements from a body of scientists– the first defines the scope of science and the second its limitations.
“Science presumes that the things and events in the universe occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic study. Scientists believe that through the use of the intellect, and with the aid of instruments that extend the senses, people can discover patterns in all of nature.”*
Pretty clear, isn’t it? Science today is built on the foundation of a ‘presumption’ – and a very simple one too. Events in our universe occur in a series of consistent patterns. And with the use of human intellect (aided by instruments manufactured by it) all of nature’s secrets could be discovered.
Alright, what about events beyond the scope of nature’s patterns?
They candidly admit that science cannot provide complete answers to all questions. Secondly they state, “There are many matters that cannot usefully be examined in a scientific way. There are, for instance, beliefs that by their very nature cannot be proved or disproved (such as the existence of supernatural powers and beings, or the true purposes of life).”*
If God, by definition, is a supernatural being then how can science even begin to gather evidence to test His existence? The very word evidence brings with it a baggage of terms like proof, facts, data, demonstration, verification etc. No wonder that scientists today feel utterly frustrated in their attempts to decode the secrets of God. At this juncture it would be worthwhile to listen to the advice of Nobel-prize-winning physicist, Erwin Schrodinger, who said, “Western thought needs a blood transfusion from Eastern wisdom in order to save it from moral anemia.”
How exactly does Eastern wisdom, or more specifically, Vedic literature deal with the issue of lack of evidence? The Vedas state that there are three main types of evidences:
1. Direct perception
2. Logic or intelligent guesswork
3.Hearing from bona fide authorities
Of the above three modern science mostly depends upon direct perception and guesswork. This lopsided dependence makes it very difficult to make any kind of headway in understanding God. The reasons are simple. Direct perception depends on five knowledge-gathering senses – eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin; and five working senses – voice, legs, hands, anus and genitals. These ten senses combined with the mind and intellect are the only tools available for the scientist. Thus a scientist has to painstakingly gather evidence and then evaluate it. But the main problem with the senses is that they are imperfect and the mind is subject to illusion, commits mistakes due to that illusion, and ultimately cheats by pretending to know when we really are in ignorance. Additionally, every so called expert on philosophical matters tends to arrive at a diametrically opposite conclusion on fundamental issues. In fact, the Vedas warn that among mundane wranglers one cannot be successful unless one disagrees with others.
Hearing from the right authorities
This is an all-important philosophical point. In order to receive information about God, who is beyond that range of the imperfect senses and mind we have to hear submissively from authorities. Atheists and agnostics may try to argue that such hearing is dogmatic but truth be told, all learning requires one to hear from authority. As for Vedas, the authority is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, and the student hears from the direct representatives of Lord Krishna coming in disciplic succession.
Srila Prabhupada summarized the process in one discourse, “Of all forms of learning, the first class perception is to receive knowledge from direct authorities. According to Vedic literature, hearing from authority is perfect knowledge. Direct sensory perception is imperfect. For example, if a motorman sees a car, he knows what it is, but if a child sees it, he can’t know. Simply by use of the senses, we can’t know anything certainly. The child is not an expert, as the motorman is. In medicine, if you wish to be a doctor, you must study with a doctor. So, if in material things authority is necessary, how can we learn of God on our own? The Vedic recommendation is that, if you wish to have transcendental knowledge, you must go to a spiritual master.”
But whom shall I accept for my spiritual master? There are two qualifications to look for: first, he must be one who has heard perfectly from his master. And, secondly he lives fully in that knowledge which he has received. Bhagavad-gita is the science of God. In other scriptures, there is a concept of God. But, take this example: We can see that the flower is red, and the leaf is green. But a botanist will give you far more perfect and subtle knowledge.
Scientists today are searching for evidence but are not looking for it. You can see a particular event but if you are not exactly trained in the science of investigation you may never find it. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, understood this well. In one of his adventures Holmes and a police inspector are both investigating the death of a man. His critically wounded wife was found lying next to his dead body. This is how Doyle describes the event: “The study proved to be a small chamber, lined on three sides with books, and with a writing-table facing an ordinary window, which looked out upon the garden. Our first attention was given to the body of the unfortunate squire, whose huge frame lay stretched across the room. His disordered dress showed that he had been hastily aroused from sleep.
“The bullet had been fired at him from the front, and had remained in his body, after penetrating the heart. His death had certainly been instantaneous and painless. There was no powder marking either upon his dressing gown or on his hands. According to the country surgeon, the lady had stains upon her face, but none upon her hand.”
“The absence of the latter means nothing, though its presence may mean everything,” said Holmes. “Unless the powder from a badly fitting cartridge happens to spurt backward, one may fire many shots without leaving a sign. I would suggest that Mr. Cubitt’s body may now be removed. I suppose, Doctor, you have not recovered the bullet that wounded the lady?”
“A serious operation will be necessary before that can be done. But there are still four cartridges in the revolver. Two have been fired and two wounds inflicted, so that each bullet can be accounted for.”
“So it would seem,” said Holmes. “Perhaps you can account also for the bullet which has so obviously struck the edge of the window?”
He had turned suddenly, and his long, thin finger was pointing to a hole which had been drilled right through the lower window-sash, about an inch above the bottom.
“By George!” cried the inspector. “How ever did you see that?”
“Because I looked for it.” (From Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Dancing Men).