It’s either ‘everything scientific was once found in ancient India’, or ‘everything that is science was invented by Muslims’.
There’s this thing I have noticed since I was a child: Whenever scientists make a discovery, men of religion become visibly discomfited; so much so that they felt the need to loudly claim ‘this was already in the Quran’.
When computers were discovered, religious organisations claimed that the machines had already been alluded to in a certain verses of the Quran. The same happened in case of the mobile phone. Even before that, when electricity was invented, it was claimed that Allah had already mentioned it in the holy book. The discovery of numerous planets and stars were similarly attributed. In fact, it’s not as if there are not enough people who similarly claim that answers to everything can be found in the Bible. Just like many Hindus believe in the absolute infallibility of the Vedas.
A while ago, on the occasion of the inauguration of the 105th Indian Science Congress, the Indian minister for science and technology, Harsh Vardhan, had claimed that the knowledge contained in the Vedas was more advanced than that of even Einstein. Speaking about Stephen Hawking, he had remarked: “He also emphatically said on record that our Vedas might have a theory superior to Einstein’s theory of e=mc2.”
When quizzed by journalists as to where and when Hawking had made such an admission, ‘you find the source’, he said.
Perhaps the minister for science had made a mistake. But I have met many educated Hindus who believe in the absolute veracity of everything that is said in the Vedas. Many believe that it was in Vedic and Puranic literature that modern IVF techniques of assisted reproduction were first mentioned; that one can find in the epics the earliest mentions of genetic cloning and plastic surgery. Since Karna was born outside his mother’s body, he must have been a test-tube baby, and the elephant’s head on Ganesh must have been a result of plastic surgery.
A recent trend is the practice of explicating religious fables using science. Many scholars of the Vedas in India believe that it is not the right attitude to dismiss ideas presumably found in the religious literature simply because they have not yet been scientifically proven. Previously, in the 2015 edition of the Science Congress, some of them had claimed that the pushpak vimana mentioned in the Ramayana was an ancient prototype of modern aviation technology.
Most educated people in this country will admit that without the discovery of the zero, there would have been no mathematics. That the zero was born here, in this land; and that without mathematics there would have been no science. Such claims cause a fair amount of anxiety. One cannot help but feel that such people are not really educated.
It’s either ‘everything scientific was once found in ancient India’, or ‘everything that is science was invented by Muslims’, or ‘everything came from the West’. Perhaps it would be more productive for everyone to concentrate on actual science than quibble over who has dominion over its finding. Many self-declared experts, conversant in perhaps the barest scientific knowledge, are working day and night these days to trace modern science back to the texts which are thousands of years old. Many believe that if science decries religion then the latter might not survive. But hasn’t religion survived all these years with scant support from the sciences? So, why the sudden fear?
Some read religious texts and produce their own interpretations in order to reveal to the world the science hidden behind them. This serves a dual purpose – it proves the existence of the divine while simultaneously elevating God, or religion, over science. Why does the search for a miraculous fact in religious texts commence only after the scientists have already come to that conclusion? Why does no one ever reach into the verses first to tell us about God’s amazing inventions?
Many devout Muslims, perhaps having not managed to find a verse foretelling man’s journey to the moon, have begun denying the moon landing.
On the other hand, a section of Hindus says that the ‘Vishwaroopdarshan’ episode between Krishna and Arjun in the Mahabharata was nothing but the Big Bang. Mrinal Dasgupta was a scientist in the Indian National Science Academy. He had claimed that all new theories and latest information being produced daily by modern science had all been originally propounded by ancient sages, all very clearly documented in the Vedas. According to him, even a renowned scientist like Robert Oppenheimer had been so moved by the ‘Vishwaroopdarshan’ episode that on seeing the power of nuclear energy in the laboratory, he had recited from the Gita: ‘If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One and I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.’
Some have even claimed that the Kurukshetra war was a nuclear war and that the Patriot missiles used in the Gulf War owe their origin to the mythical varun baan and agni baan of the Hindu puranas.
Nobel Prize winning physicist Abdus Salam used to repeatedly ask people not to conflate the Big Bang of astrophysics with some verses from the Quran. He used to say: “The most recent commentary on the Big Bang theory has provided us the best explanation yet for the origin and creation of the universe. If tomorrow an even better explanation is found then what will happen? Will verses have to be changed to make them match the new scientific outlook?”
When the Pope in 1951 had talked about the similarities between the Big Bang and the creation myth of the Bible, astronomer Georges Henri Lemaître had vociferously disagreed with him.
On the other hand, Frank Tipler, despite being a physicist himself, has feverishly applied himself to the task of making Christianity science-friendly. Even scientists can go astray and behave like narrow-minded bigots.
Many Muslims have claimed that certain verses of the Quran are direct proof of the theory of evolution. The word ‘khalaka’ has been used in the Quran to signify creation; the dictionary meaning of the term is ‘slow change’.
One good thing in all this is that religious fanatics no longer denounce science like they once used to. Perhaps they now understand that science is the truth and their losses would outweigh their gains if they went against it. The young are studying science in schools and colleges in the hopes of securing good jobs. If religion and science become completely contradictory, then they might express their doubts about the former. It is perhaps due to this reason that the religious are on a quest to find science in religion.
But I feel compelled to state that true religion is not the one found in the holy books but in the observance of humanity. The ones who can inculcate the latter within themselves are the true believers, the ones who do not need to resort to fabricated explanations of the verses in order to prove the existence of the divine.
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator. Translated from the Bengali by Maharghya Chakraborty.