Holistic Science and Human Values. Transactions 3

Theosophy Science Centre. Adyar, Chennai (600 020, India): Theosophical Society, 1997. Paperback, iv + 166 pages.

This is the third in a series of transactions published by the Theosophy Science Center at approximately two-year intervals. It consists of twelve articles. Most are reprinted from elsewhere, although this does not detract from the value of the collection. There are some very good articles but the quality is variable.

As befits the title, the emphasis is on what may generally, though not exclusively, be regarded as soft science, philosophy, religion, and specific Theosophical concepts. Clearly the aim, is for an integrative approach directed toward a Theosophical readership.

In a thought-provoking article, Ramakrishna Rao suggests that paranormal phenomena and revelatory religious experiences may both be examples of direct access to consciousness, independent of sensory processes. K. T. Selvan, in "Scientific Thought and Education towards an Open Society," presents a brief historical perspective on science, stressing that scientific concepts often have to be modified by new information. In discussing Galileo's overthrow of the geocentric model, he asserts that Galileo presented no facts to support a moving earth nor observations to refute the geocentric view. Yet Galileo did observe with his telescope the moons of Jupiter revolving about the planet, which helped to convince him of the falsity of the geocentric theory.

Particularly interesting is a long article of 36 pages in two parts by John Cobb entitled "The Effect of Religion on Science." It consists of two lectures, whose time and location of delivery are not stilted. Cobb, who is a leading exponent of process thought, following Alfred North Whitehead, is emeritus professor of Theology at Claremont Graduate School in California. He argues persuasively that the type of science undertaken in a particular society is strongly governed by what he refers to as "the soul of its culture," which is closely related to its religious beliefs and outlook. For example, modern analytical science could not have developed in a country like India with a more holistic outlook. On the other hand, the Christian culture of medieval Europe was critically apposite for the development of Western science, as we know it today.

At first these notions seem surprising but they are convincingly argued. In Christianity the world is created by God and ruled by God's laws, which are supreme. Newton and his contemporaries were concerned to elucidate God's laws and to express them mathematically Then a later generation found that they could do very well with the fundamental laws and mathematics, without any concept of God.

Further developments in science, especially the evolution of species, have caused considerable tension in the Christian churches between those who wish to seek accommodation with science and the fundamentalists who reject science for a literal interpretation of the Bible. Cobb argues for changes in the attitude of both religion and science to reach a common synthesis, for which he sees process thought as useful. "The world seems to be composed of energy events rather than material substances."

In Cobb's synthesis, "the entities that evolve are purposively acting agents. God is present in each of them influencing them persuasively. God does not control the process or determine the outcome. But it is because of God that the process leads to entities in which purpose plays a larger role. To say all this does not conflict with standard neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory."

The title of Edi Bilimoria's article "Has Science Been Our Greatest Ally?" alludes to a remark in The Mahatma Letters. He argues strongly for a negative answer after reading twelve works by modern scientists, mostly astrophysicists, cosmologists, and theoretical physicists. He specifically excludes scientists such as Capra, Bohm, and Sheldrake, who may lead to the opposite conclusion, on the grounds that they are not sufficiently influential. As he expects that his article will be controversial, I take up the challenge.

It is not surprising that one would reach a negative conclusion on the basis of such an indigestible collection of works. Many of the authors cited (e.g. Hawking) would certainly reinforce that view, but there are influential scientists who can be regarded as at least partial allies, including Paul Davies, whom Bilimoria scorns, perhaps because he skipped over the last chapter of The Mind of God. Bilimoria correctly emphasizes that scientific method may be fine for scientific technology but is unsuitable for "dealing with ultimate verities"; yet he overlooks the fact that this is indeed just what Davies suggests, even indicating that it may be necessary to turn to mysticism to deal with ultimate questions.

Slips are inevitable in a quick read, but there is no reason for a cheap shot at Davies for saying that in Greek philosophy metaphysics originally meant "that which came after physics," while failing to observe that Davies also pointed out that the term was coined because a discussion of "metaphysics" came after that of "physics" in Aristotle's treatise and that its meaning soon became "those topics that lie beyond physics." Bilimoria is justifiably caustic about physicists' attempts to arrive at a "theory of everything" or TOE, yet he fails to notice that Barrow in his book Theories of Everything stresses that no such theory will ever explain the origin of life and consciousness.

I do agree with Bilimoria when he says that while scientists should be free to speculate as they wish, they should be careful to ensure that their untested speculations are not presented as fact. It is the common failure of many scientists to make this distinction clear that leads to much of the angst against scientists apparent in his article. Yet we must not wish to deny them the right to make personal speculative incursions into philosophical or religious questions. When, in discussing concepts of God, Davies indicates that he can believe in "an impersonal creative principle or ground of being which underpins reality," he should be welcomed as an ally.

Bilimoria is scornful of the so-called Big Bang theory, but I must insist, from my base in astrophysics, that the major features of that theory about the evolution of the universe have long since passed beyond the realm of mere speculation. Furthermore, a rapprochement can be reached between the Big Bang theory and the early part of H. P. Blavatsky's major work, The Secret Doctrine.

It is worthy of note that a gathering of leading cosmologists was held recently at the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences at Berkeley, one of whose main issues was how to interpret the birth of the universe in a theistic sense. The magazine New Scientist was criticized by several of its readers for reporting some of the views expressed at this conference, but the editor responded that surely it was of interest that so many scientists at the cutting edge of research in the field hold such views. Information at http://www.ctns.org .

It is important to recognize, as both Bilimoria and Davies point out, each in his own way, that the scientific method of inquiry, based on experimental testing of predictions from. theory, while essential for scientific progress, is not suited for reaching an understanding of ultimate questions. A significant minority of prominent scientists have recognized this, including among others Einstein, Pauli, Schrodinger, Bohm, and Davies. There is thus hope that the prophetic statement of The Mahatma Letters will yet be fulfilled.


July/August 1999