“Illusion” (SB 2.9.34)
Thompson discusses the subject matter of personality embedded within the potency of maya, the illusory energy of the Supreme Personality, known within the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition as Lord Krishna. The word maya literally means, “that which is not.” Thompson explains how an individual deeply influenced by the illusory potency of maya can become disposed toward a variety of distorted associations, such as “I am God,” or ”I have no connection with God,” or “my sense of conscious self is false.” Influenced in this way, materialistic scientists and philosophers tend to marginalize the potentiality of supernatural causation behind natural phenomena.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 2, Chapter 9, Text 34. “Illusion.” San Diego - 1994-08-03 / (071)
“O Brahma, whatever appears to be of any value, if it is without relation to Me, has no reality. Know it as My illusory energy, that reflection which appears to be in darkness.”
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
In the previous verse, it has already been concluded that in any stage of cosmic manifestation – its appearance, its sustenance, its growth, its interactions of different energies, its deterioration and its disappearance – all has its basic relation with the existence of the Personality of Godhead. And as such, whenever there is forgetfulness of this prime relation with the Lord, and whenever things are accepted as real without being related to the Lord, that conception is called a product of the illusory energy of the Lord. Because nothing can exist without the Lord, it should be known that the illusory energy is also an energy of the Lord. The right conclusion of dovetailing everything in relationship with the Lord is called yoga-maya or the energy of union, and the wrong conception of detaching a thing from this relationship with the Lord, is called the Lord’s daivi maya, or maha-maya. Both the mayas also have connections with the Lord because nothing can exist without being related to Him. As such, the wrong conception of detaching relationships from the Lord is not false, but illusory.
Misconceiving one thing for another thing is called illusion. For example, accepting a rope as a snake is illusion, but the rope is not false. The rope as it exists in front of the illusioned person is not at all false, but the acceptance is illusory. Therefore the wrong conception of accepting this material manifestation as being divorced from the energy of the Lord is illusion, but it is not false. And this illusory conception is called the reflection of the reality in the darkness of ignorance. Anything that appears as apparently not being ‘produced out of My energy’ is called maya. The conception of the living entity is formless or that the Supreme Lord is formless is also illusion.
So this is a long purport, so I’ll just make some observations, from point to point as we go along. So, Srila Prabhupada has been talking about the nature of maya, the illusory potency of the Supreme Lord. So this word maya is interesting. This is the word in Sanskrit used to refer to magic. In fact, a magician would be a mayagi. So, magicians are known for creating illusions. So, a magician, for example, may saw a lady in half. This is a standard thing and is sometimes done on the stage.
A lady gets into a box, in which her head sticks out at one end of the box and her feet stick out the other end. And the magician closes the box, then he takes a huge saw and saws right through the box, cutting it in half. And then each side of the box is on separate rolling platform, so then he rolls the parts of the box apart, and you can see that lady’s head is still sticking out of one side and her feet are sticking out the other side. So he sawed her in half. However, she didn’t really get sawed in half. They say that it’s all done with mirrors. So that’s what they say. I don’t actually know how it’s done. In the fraternity of magicians, there’s the rule that one always has to keep this secret to how these things are done. But it is done with some kind of apparatus. That much we know. Some machinery the magician has on the stage will enable him to produce this illusion of sawing the lady in half.
So the illusory energy of Krsna is similar to that. That energy is actually real, just as the machinery that the magician has is actually real. He couldn’t create the illusion without that real machinery. Likewise, Krsna’s energy of maya is real, and it is used to create illusions. So in that sense Krsna is the ultimate magician.
Another point by the way, is that the machinery used by the magician had to be built and designed by someone. And that required intelligence, intelligent manipulation of energy in order to figure out how to make a machine that would create a particular illusion. So the same thing is true here. This potency of maya is controlled by intelligence, namely, the intelligence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So, all that is required in order for it to be possible for us to be in illusion. Because if maya didn’t exist, then there couldn’t be any illusion either. Actually illusion is not so easy.
So for our homework problem... One thing magicians sometimes do is they cause somebody to levitate. This is sometimes done. In fact, there was one magician who had the following arrangement: He had a fellow on the stage playing a piano, and then the magician very dramatically raised his hands like this. And said some kind of mantra. And the man playing the piano rose into the air, still playing the piano. And the magician took a gigantic hoop, and passed the hoop over the piano so that you could see there were no wires attached to hold it up. So the homework problem is to design a mechanism that will create that illusion.
So, this is the point that Srila Prabhupada is making here about this wrong conception of detaching relationships from the Lord is not false, but illusory. So maya is not false. It’s actually real. But if you think that it is operating independently of the Supreme Lord, then that is an illusion. Of course, maya is specifically arranged so as to create that illusion. In fact, it’s not easy to create that illusion. Because everything is being directly controlled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He has to make a very clever arrangement so that you’ll think that that is not the case, and this energy of maya is designed to do that.
So let’s see, Srila Prabhupada goes on:
The conception that the living entity is formless or that the Supreme Lord is formless is also an illusion. In the Bhagavad-gita (2.12), it was said by the Lord in the midst of the battlefield that the warriors standing in front of Arjuna, Arjuna himself, and even the Lord had all existed before, they were existing on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, and they would all continue to be individual personalities in the future also, even after the annihilation of the present body and even after being liberated from the bondage of material existence. In all circumstances, the Lord and the living entities are individual personalities and the personal features of both the Lord and the living beings are never abolished; only the influence of the illusory energy, the reflection of light in the darkness, can, by the mercy of the Lord, be removed.
So of course, one important point here is that the individual personalities of the living beings are not part of the illusion. They’re actually real. Because there’s also a philosophy that says that individual personality is a matter of illusion. So this of course creates a problem because if individual personality is a matter of illusion, then what is it that is an illusion? You’re just individual personality. At least normally according to a naive way of thinking, if there is illusion, there’s somebody who’s in illusion. Normally one would think that. If there’s nobody there to be in illusion then there is no illusion.
For example, suppose the magician performs his act on the stage, but there’s nobody there in the audience, the auditorium is simply empty. In that case, will there be an illusion? One would say no. The magician isn’t in illusion. He knows what he’s doing. So, if personal existence is an illusion, then what is it that is in that illusion?
It’s amazing how this idea comes up from time to time. For example, there is a book entitled Consciousness Explained by a fellow named Dennett, a Professor at Tufts University, an exceedingly prestigious university. I believe this professor no doubt holds a distinguished chair, and he’s won quite a number of coveted awards. So anyway, he wrote this exceedingly erudite and distinguished book explaining consciousness. And basically he gave a lot of examples showing how you may think that you’re conscious of something but it’s not really true.
For example, he pointed out the illusion of the moving light. If you have two lights and we make one blink on and the other blink off, then the other blink on, the first to blink on, alternately like that. When you look at it, you’ll get the impression that one light is moving back and forth. But actually it’s not so. Now the interesting thing is if one light is say red and the other light is green and their blinking back and forth, you’ll have the impression that the red light is moving and it turns green in the middle and then moves to the other side and the green light moves back and turns red in the middle and moves to the other side. So he pointed out, well this is an illusion because actually the light isn’t moving at all and it’s certainly not moving and changing colors as it moves. So that’s an illusion. And he gave many other examples of illusions. Finally he came to the conclusion that, well, our idea that we’re conscious is an illusion. There is no consciousness really. That’s just an illusion. So one could say if there is no consciousness really, then what is it that’s in the illusion of being conscious?
So this is sort of the technique of taking a shovel and digging away all the ground that you’re standing on. Till finally you’re just standing in midair cause you’ve dug away the ground. It’s an interesting technique. So this philosophy is found [or flawed].
So there’s the idea that the personality is an illusion. Well, some will say, well, “God is in illusion of being many individual personalities.” This is one concept. In that case, how could God be the Supreme? Because certainly if God can be in illusion of being one of us that doesn’t say much for God. And they’ll say, well, “It’s His pastime. It’s lila.” So we can sort of imagine that this is lila at least certain phases of life, but then during other phases of life, we wonder what kind of lila it is, such as death, disease, old age, things of this nature.
So, in any case, we’ll continue. Let’s see. In the material world . . .” O yes, yes. He’s saying the individual personalities were never abolished.
In the material world, the light of the sun is also not independent nor is that of the moon. The real source of light is the brahmajyoti, which diffuses light from the transcendental body of the Lord and the same light is reflected in varieties of light; the light of the sun, the light of the moon, the light of fire or the light of electricity. So the identity of the self as being unconnected with the Supreme Self, the Lord, is also illusion, and the false claim ‘I am the Supreme’ is the last illusory snare of the same maya, or the external energy of the Lord.
So, Srila Prabhupada is making an analogy here. He’s saying, well, if you think your personality is false, that is an illusion. If you think that your consciousness is identical with consciousness of the Supreme Lord, that’s also an illusion. But if you think that you’re independent or not, connected to the Supreme Lord that’s an illusion. Actually you’re connected, but the connection is not one of identity. You’re different from the Lord, but you’re still connected with the Lord. So the analogy here is provided by light. Because he’s saying, Srila Prabhupada is saying, that light that we see in this world is actually a reflection of the brahmajyoti, which is the supreme light which is emanating from the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So now that’s an interesting concept because he’s saying, well, the light of the sun is the reflection of the brahmajyoti. So then you might think, well does that mean that the sun is like a big mirror up there and it’s reflecting this brahmajyoti light and that’s why we see light from it? He’s saying the light of the moon, the light of fire and the light of electricity, this is also ultimately coming from the brahmajyoti.
So the process of reflection doesn’t have to be a simple reflection in the sense of something bouncing from a mirror. It can be a bit more complex than that. But nonetheless, these different forms of light are actually from a reflection of the brahmajyoti. So light that we see in this world is also connected with the Supreme Lord. But we don’t see it in that way. So when we have a light from an electric light, we think, well, that is due to heating up a wire by passing electricity through it and it becomes hot enough, the atoms are agitated and they jump up to higher energy levels. And then when the electrons go down to lower energy levels they give off photons of light. So that’s the explanation of light.
But perhaps there’s more to that explanation. That’s an explanation, by the way, which completely eliminates the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You can say, well, why bring in the Supreme Personality of Godhead? We’ve explained light: it’s due to the electrons being bumped up to higher energy levels due to the electric current that is flowing and then dropping down emitting photons. It’s simple. And there’s no reference to God in any of that. So why do you have to bring God into the picture? So this is an example of the illusion. This is actually the apparatus that Krsna created.
He’s created this material energy in such a way that it looks as though it’s working without Him. Actually, the material energy is depending on the Lord at every moment, but it looks as though it’s not. Of course, there are a couple of important aspects to this that should be stressed. One can say, well, the material energy looks as though it’s not dependent on the Lord, but, that’s not fully true. To a large extent it looks as though it’s not dependent on the Lord, but things do happen in nature, which to many people convey the impression that there is some connection with some higher power or some higher intelligence. But there’s a way of looking at things and talking about things that tends to minimize that aspect.
So part of the illusion of maya is contributed by the illusioned beings based on how they think about things and how they talk about things. The illusioned beings are participants in maya. In fact, just to give you an illustration of how that works, here is a comment made by Richard Dickerson. Actually, Richard Dickerson is a biochemist who studies protein molecules and other things like that, so he’s quite an eminent scientist. So he says, “Science fundamentally is a game. It is a game with one overriding and defining rule. Rule number one, let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe, in terms of purely physical and material causes without invoking the spirit, the supernatural.” So that’s a pretty straightforward statement. So we’re playing a game. We’re trying to explain everything without invoking the supernatural. Now invoking the supernatural is against the rules of the game.
As long as you play the game of science, you’re not allowed to do that. If you do it, then the umpire will call foul. And if you do it too many times, you’ll be sidelined. You’ll be thrown out of the game. If you do it too many times, then you’ll be expelled from the league and you won’t be allowed to play the game anymore. This is actually a fact. Now, these statements here are being collected by some rather obnoxious and obstinate people who got thrown out of the game a long time ago. And so as a result of sour grapes or something like that, they continue to make their complaints. But, they tend to collect evidence of this.
Here’s one piece of evidence. This one fellow said, “Many years ago when I was an engineering department chairman at Virginia Tech.” [This is Reverend Morris speaking.] “I asked the biology professor there in charge of the doctoral program in that department, whether a creationist student could get a PhD degree in his department. The answer was flat out no. No matter how outstanding his grades or his dissertation or even his knowledge of evolutionary theory might be. If he did not believe in evolution, he could not get the degree. That’s the rule of the game.” So this is what the department chairman had to say.
Now, he then points out. “There were two liberal Iowa professors.” These are professors in Iowa. So let’s see. This is what they said. They said, “As a matter of fact, creationism should be discriminated against.” They are in favor of discrimination. After all, we have to be discriminating. “No advocate of such propaganda should be trusted to teach science classes or administer science programs anywhere or under any circumstances. Moreover, if any are now doing so, they should be dismissed.”
And then there was another professor, this was also in Iowa. It’s interesting to find these guys in Iowa. Anyway, he said that “Any professor should have the right to fail any student in his class no matter what the grade record indicates if that professor discovers the student is a creationist. Furthermore, the student’s department should have the right of retracting grades and possibly even degrees.” So you can just see, here’s the student, he’s getting straight A’s in his classes and then if the word gets out that he doesn’t believe in evolution, and the professor retracts his grades and he is cast into the outer darkness, there to wail and gnash his teeth. Anyway, so this shows that maya is actually a participatory program.
So Krsna has His illusory energy, but then the illusioned beings also participate, because actually they want to be in illusion. That’s another aspect of the whole thing. You could ask, “Why does Krsna do this? Wait a minute, you’re saying God is creating this illusion, keeping us completely in the dark? Is He evil or what?” But then there’s the point that the illusioned beings want to be in illusion. Hmm. Now why is that?
Well, let’s see. We’ll continue with the purport in any case.
The Vedanta-sutra in the very beginning affirms that everything is born from the Supreme, and thus, as explained in the previous verse, all individual living entities are born from the energy of the supreme living being, the Personality of Godhead. Brahma himself was born from the energy of the Lord and all other living entities are born from the energy of the Lord through the agency of Brahma; none of them has any existence without being dovetailed with the Supreme Lord.
The independence of the living entity is not real independence, but is just a reflection of the real independence existing in the Supreme Being, the Lord. The false claim of supreme independence by the conditioned souls is illusion, and this conclusion is admitted in this verse.
Persons with a poor fund of knowledge become illusioned and therefore the so-called scientists, physiologists, empiric philosophers, etc, become dazzled by the glaring reflection of the sun, moon, electricity, etc, and deny the existence of the Supreme Lord, putting forward theories and different speculations about the creation, maintenance, and annihilation of everything material. The medical practitioner may deny the existence of the soul in the physiological bodily construction of an individual person, but he cannot give life to a dead body even though all the mechanisms of the body exist, even after death. The psychologist makes a serious study of the physiological conditions of the brain as if the construction of the cerebral lump were the machine of the functioning mind, but in the dead body the psychologists, cannot bring back the function of the mind.
Here we have a direct statement the cerebral lump is not the machine of a functioning mind. This brings one to the topic of Cartesian dualism. We are dualists, by the way. There’s a subject in philosophy known as the mind-body problem. Question is, what is the relation between the mind and the body? And so the, the scientists and philosophers have a favorite whipping boy that they always bring out and ceremoniously mash many times, and this is Rene Descartes.
Rene Descartes was a French philosopher who lived back just about after the time of Galileo and before Newton in the early 1600s. So he proposed a theory of mind-body dualism. He said that there are two kinds of substance. There’s the material substance, matter, and the thinking substance. These are two different types of substance. So the mind is made out of the thinking substance, and the body is made out of the material substance, matter. And he said the mind interacts with the body. So the mind will have a thought, and the mind sends a signal to the body. And then the body will carry out the action corresponding, let’s say, to that thought. So this was the theory of Rene Descartes. He even had a specific idea of how it worked. He said the point where the mind links up with the body is the pineal gland, which is directly at the center of the head, at the base of the brain.
And his idea is that the nerves are like a hydraulic brake system. I don’t know if they had hydraulic brake systems in those days, because in those days they went around in stagecoaches and things of this nature. But he said the nerves are like hollow tubes with fluid going through them. And what he said was the mind causes the pineal gland to tilt at different angles. And this causes the fluid to move through the tubes and the tubes go down to the different muscles and causes the muscles to contract, and in this way, the body is operating. So this was his theory.
So ever since that time, scientists have been saying that this was a ridiculous theory. So Cartesian dualism is one of the targets for annihilation in modern philosophy and science. And so students are always warned about the bad example of Descartes. And they’re warned that they should not be Cartesian dualists. That is ruled out. Unfortunately, we are dualists, although not exactly Cartesian dualists, because we say that even materially speaking, there’s an energy called mind, which is different from the cerebral lump as Srila Prabhupada puts it. So mind produces thoughts, and then the thoughts are communicated to the cerebral lump. And then, nervous interactions take place, which result in the body moving and doing various things. So this is very much like the idea of Descartes. However, the details of how the mind does this are a little bit different from what he was thinking of.
That’s a whole subject. So Srila Prabhupada mentions that point. Let’s see. He says, going on...
These scientific studies of the cosmic manifestation or the bodily construction independent of the Supreme Lord, are different reflective intellectual gymnastics only, but at the end they are all illusion and nothing more.
So another put down of science: “Illusion and nothing more.”
All such advancement of science and knowledge in the present context of material civilization is but an action of the covering influence of the material energy. The illusory energy has two phases of existence, namely the covering influence and the throwing influence. By the throwing influence the illusory energy throws the living entities into the darkness of ignorance, and by the covering influence she covers the eyes of men with a poor fund of knowledge about the existence of the Supreme Person who enlightened the supreme individual living being, Brahma. The identity of Brahma with the Supreme Lord is never claimed herein, and therefore such a foolish claim by a man with a poor fund of knowledge is another display of the illusory energy of the Lord. The Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita (16.18–20), that demoniac persons who deny the existence of the Lord are thrown more and more into the darkness of ignorance, and thus such demoniac persons transmigrate life after life without any knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The sane man, however, is enlightened in the disciplic succession from Brahmaji, who was personally instructed by the Lord, or in the disciplic succession from Arjuna, who was personally instructed by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita. He accepts this statement of the Lord:
aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
budha bhava-samanvitah (Bg. 10.8)
The Lord is the original source of all emanations, and everything that is created, maintained and annihilated exists by the energy of the Lord. The sane man who knows this is actually learned, and therefore, he becomes a pure devotee of the Lord, engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
Let’s see. This goes on for more pages.
Although the reflectory energy of the Lord displays various illusions to the eyes of persons with a poor fund of knowledge, the sane person knows clearly that the Lord can act, even from far, far beyond our vision, by His different energies, just as fire can diffuse heat and light from a distant place. In the medical science of the ancient sages, known as the Ayur-veda, there is definite acceptance of the Lord’s supremacy in the following words:
pumso ’sti prakrtir nitya
akarod visvam akhilam
There is one Supreme Person who is the progenitor of this cosmic manifestation and whose energy acts as prakrti, or the material nature, dazzling like a reflection. By such illusory action of prakrti, even dead matter is caused to move by the cooperation of the living energy of the Lord, and the material world appears like a dramatic performance to the ignorant eyes. The ignorant person therefore, may even be a scientist or physiologist in the drama of prakrti, while the sane person knows prakrti as the illusory energy of the Lord. By such a conclusion, as confirmed by the Bhagavad-gita, it is clear that the living entities are also a display of the Lord’s superior energy (para prakrti), just as the material world is a display of the Lord’s inferior energy (apara prakrti). The superior energy of the Lord cannot be as good as the Lord, although there is very little difference between the energy and the possessor of the energy, or the fire and the heat. Fire is possessed of heat but heat is not fire.
This simple thing is not understood by the man with poor fund of knowledge who falsely claims that the fire and heat are the same. This energy of the fire (namely heat) is explained here as a reflection, and not directly fire. Therefore the living energy, represented by the living entities, is the reflection of the Lord, and never the Lord Himself. Being the reflection of the Lord, the existence of the living entity is dependent on the Supreme Lord, who is the original light. The material energy may be compared to darkness as actually it is darkness, and the activities of the living entities in the darkness are reflections of the original light.
So, these points continue on. I’ll stop here. Are there any questions or comments? Yeah.
Question: My first question is, you raised the issue that if there’s no one there then is there is an illusion, because who is being illusioned. My question is, is it at all within philosophical consideration that an illusion creates some sort of illusioned creature that exists or consciousness that exists within that illusion and therefore when it’s all gone it just void, but in the meantime there is some creation within that illusion?
Answer: Yes, this is an interesting question. Can the apparatus that produces the illusion create that which is experiencing the illusion? One could make this observation: Based on our understanding of how we can be illusioned looking at particular material arrangement, we can understand, how on a larger scale, we’re suffering from much deeper illusions. So we can go from a small example to a more general understanding, and we can go step by step, and at each step we have a sensible argument which a person can understand. So that much is there.
Now if you say that the illusion producing apparatus generates an illusioned entity, what I would propose is that there’s nothing there that can be understood. You’re proposing something in which your own consciousness cannot follow with any understanding. So basically there you just have empty words. So what I’m proposing is in the case where you give the example of how, let us say I can be illusioned by a rope and think that’s a snake and go from there to a more general discussion of illusion within the universe, there you have understanding following from the different points that are made. But if you say these parts go together and they create a being which is illusioned by them, then there is no understanding there.
Now just to carry this a bit further to show why one should say that there’s no understanding, because sometimes people have such murky understanding that they don’t understand when they don’t understand. Because even when they do understand, they don’t understand very well, so there’s not so much difference between understanding and not understanding if you’re understanding is not clear understanding. So, anyway, you can consider the question of whether by putting together some parts, you could build a machine that would be conscious of something.
Now, this fellow, oh what’s his name? I forget his name now at the moment. But there’s a professor at UC Berkeley, who with his Chinese room example has made...
A: Yeah, John Searle has made . . . back to Leibniz, back in the 17th century. So Leibniz’s version was like this. He said, well, let’s say you compare the person’s brain to a mill. Because in those days, the mill was the most advanced machine that they had. Today one always uses the computer. So you imagine an incredible mill with all kinds of cogs, and gears, and shafts, and pulleys and so forth, which is the equivalent of a person’s mind, so the mill is actually generating thoughts. Well, if you go inside the mill, you can look at each cog. All a cog does is it meshes with another cog, and they rotate. And all a shaft does is it turns and so forth. And this is going on. So where’s the thinking? Where is the consciousness? Each cog is not conscious. Each shaft is unconscious. So how do you get consciousness out of the whole thing? Umpteen different unconscious parts should just be a bunch of unconscious parts, that’s all.
So if you want to say, well the whole is more than the sum of the parts, which is always a nice phrase to use, if you say it very fast people will think that you said something really good. So you just say that really quickly and they’ll think, “Yeah, the whole thing is conscious.” But there’s no understanding of how you get consciousness out of all the separate cogs and shafts and so forth that are in this mill. So that would be the basic response. There’s no real basis there for concluding anything. Yeah.
Q: I have a question sort of related to what you’re saying people who have poor understanding don’t know if they are understanding or not understanding. So we take the situation of a person who claims he knows there is a God or something beyond this material illusion. Yet actually he’s still fully participating in the illusion and he doesn’t really understand it’s an illusion. So what is his position? Is he in illusion or not in illusion? Or why is he in illusion?
A: Well, many people who will say that they believe in God are thoroughly in illusion and their understanding of God is not actually correct, because in fact, undoubtedly it’s true that there are more ways of misunderstanding God than understanding God. So many concepts of God that are propounded even by very learned philosophers and so on are thoroughly incorrect to the extent that these people are practically atheists. Unfortunately, this tends to be especially true of people in, for example, theological seminaries and places of that nature. They may have a very elaborate and detailed concept of God that is so thoroughly wrong that it would be better to be a simple atheist. So, this indeed can happen. So it’s important to get a correct understanding from it. So, that much can be said. Yeah.
Q: Why in the game that they play about science you can’t understand, you can’t think of God, or they can’t have God in it, like the light example, of molecules, and you can’t have no God in it?
A: Why you can’t have God in science? Well, it’s the basic rule. It’s like saying in baseball, why do you have to hit the ball with a bat? Why not catch the ball with a net and then throw it? Well, it’s just not the rules of the game. Actually, it’s a fact, people sometimes don’t quite comprehend this point. Within science, it’s just not allowed to bring in the supernatural.
One point that is sometimes made is there’s no evidence for anything supernatural. Well, that’s because it’s just not allowed to bring in evidence of the supernatural. You can’t do that. If you do that then it’s not science anymore. Then it becomes religion or something of this nature, but it’s not science. So then the scientists will turn around and say, well, if the supernatural did exist we would have evidence for it. But this is really a double standard because they’re saying, if the supernatural existed we’d have evidence for it, but since we don’t obviously have evidence, therefore, it doesn’t exist. But the very rules by which they operate are that you can’t bring in evidence for such a thing. It’s not permitted. Yeah.
Q: We see that in the scientific community there are religionists, priests, etc. So how do they reconcile the rule that says you can’t bring God in, and what happens to their religion when they have to reconcile...?
A: Well, the standard method of reconciling religion and science is to emphasize that God, after all, is transcendental. And we’ll agree with that right? Who here will deny that God is transcendental? In fact, God is so transcendental that God doesn’t have anything to do with what goes on in this world. So there are no supernatural phenomena that occur in this world because God is completely transcendental. He has nothing to do with this world. Therefore, everything in this world can be explained in terms of the laws of science.
And of course you may say, if you like, that God set the whole thing in motion in the beginning when scientists weren’t there to observe it. But, as for things happening after that, it all occurs according to the laws of science. Actually God created those laws, but He doesn’t interfere. So therefore, science is on the right track, and the scientists are saying, we’ll try to explain everything without recourse to the supernatural. This is a very appropriate way to proceed, because in fact, God doesn’t do anything in this world. There is no supernatural phenomenon.
Q: God doesn’t or can’t?
A: Oh, God could do anything by definition. But God is supremely patient. Actually, there’s one theoretical physicist named John Polkinghorne at Cambridge University... [break] in the material world. Now “work through process” means you just let the material processes go on. In due course, they produce whatever it is that’s going to be produced in the material world. Well of course, God, in his wisdom, knows the material processes will produce through evolution all the different species and they will produce the human beings and so on and so forth.
So God is exceedingly patient, and he never intervenes or interferes, except on certain occasions, namely when Jesus Christ performs miracles. Those can be accounted for as exceptions to the general rule. And he says that, well, science after all can only discover general rules. Science cannot say anything about the exceptions. So when Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, that’s an exception. This is the way they do it.
So the problem with that, by the way, is that there’s no truth in this; actually, God is running everything moment to moment. However, this creates problems with the laws of physics, which don’t have any terms in them, allowing for God to intervene and run things from moment to moment. So this leads to a question who is right? The physicists with their equations or people who will say that God is running things from moment or moment.
Well, in the main religious denominations in the world today, mainstream Christianity and Judaism, the wise theologians avoid this conflict because they know who’s likely to win if it really comes down to any kind of confrontation. So they make God completely transcendental and avoid the difficultly. But then there’s the question of “what is the truth?” So, one more question.
Q: So, this obviously has some ramifications for our own understanding when we look at simple, what we can describe as, scientific phenomena. Let’s say for example, that water... hydrogen and oxygen can be combined to make water. Simple, straight forward, at least from a layperson’s point of view, simple, straight forward. Now where is God in that? I mean everything is there. So maybe some words of caution or reminding us exactly how we should see even those items. You used the example of light, the light bulb, those items that appear to be very empirically explainable so that we don’t lose sight of the fact that everything is in fact dependent on the Lord’s energy or the Lord’s action.
A: Well, concerning hydrogen and oxygen forming water, of course, you can do this experiment. Probably I should do it over at the gurukula there. Let’s get some test tubes and a battery, two wires and do the whole thing. The hydrogen, I forget which one it is, will bubble on the anode and the oxygen over the cathode or the other way around. So, yes, this works. I would suggest that the basic point one can consider is that there’s more to water than is understood by our theories.
We have theories that say something about water, and the theories work to a certain extent. In fact, they work quite well. But we can ask, does the theory enable us to answer all questions even about water. Now this is not in fact the case. In fact, when I was going to school, Cornell University, we were studying how gases condense to form liquids. And we had mathematical models of this. Now when gas condenses to form a liquid, supposedly in a gas, the molecules are just bouncing against each other, moving fairly long distances. When they form a liquid, they bunch together in little clumps, and they tend to stick to one another and revolve around. And when they become a solid, they stop even moving around one another, but they become more rigidly fixed. So we had various simple models in which we represented a molecule by just like a little arrow that pointed in different directions.
I won’t go into the details because it’s getting pretty late, but simple models. So this one scientist named Robert Griffiths, in fact, in one of our seminars said, “Well now, let’s talk about some real physics. Let’s talk about water. You’re talking about these simple models.” And he pointed out, we can’t understand water. It’s totally beyond us. He pointed out the H2O molecule is polar, so it has a positive charge and a negative charge. So chains of them tend to form with positive and negative linking up, and they tend to fork into trees and the trees are constantly forming and breaking apart, and so forth, within water.
This is according to theoretical understanding and that process is so complicated that you just can’t deal with it mathematically. So that means, we’re completely at a loss to understand water. Now what about getting more complicated things like water with benzene mixed with it, or something like that? Well, then it becomes completely ridiculous. So the fact is we don’t fully understand even a simple substance like water.
So if we make the statement, well, the things going on in water can be completely understood without reference to God, then we’re just talking. It’s a totally unrealistic statement because the theories are such that we can’t even do calculations to say what water is going to do. Anyway, I better stop there. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.