Friday, 7 February 2014

Hinduism's standpoint on evolution

Question from Bal Vihar student Sapan Shah:

Question:   Swamiji, in my school we discussed the theory of evolution and another theory called creationism. What is Hinduism's standpoint on evolution?

Answer:   Creationism is based on a Biblical story in which God creates the universe in six days. According to this account, God created the Earth with its seas, vegetation, birds, fish, and animals before finally creating the progenitors of the human race, Adam and Eve. Evolution, on the other hand, is based on scientific observations about how living organisms evolve from simpler to more complex forms through a process of random mutation and natural selection. According to evolution, man has evolved from lower life forms over many millions of years.

The ancient rishis (sages) were not like modern scientists. Instead of observing and analyzing the world around them, they were focused on discovering the source from which the world came forth. They taught that God or brahman, the source of the universe, is satyam jnanam anantam, limitless intelligent existence. Since the universe is understood as a manifestation of God, God's intelligence must pervade the universe. Science confirms that we live in an intelligent universe governed by the laws of nature. And those laws of nature, including the principles of random mutation and natural selection upon which evolution is based, are understood as a manifestation of God's intelligence. For these reasons, the theory of evolution is completely consistent with the Hindu world-view.

Creationism, however, seems to possess many logical and scientific flaws. According to the dates mentioned in the Bible, the Earth is only about 4,400 years old. If so, how do we explain million-year-old dinosaur skeletons in the ground? And how do we explain centuries of scientific observations that support the theory of evolution? Christianity clings to creationism in spite of compelling scientific evidence for the theory of evolution. This is similar to the situation 400 years ago when Christianity held to the notion that the Earth was in the center of the solar system, and not the sun. In spite of the mathematical theory of Copernicus and the astronomical observations of Galileo, Christianity clung to their Biblical world view, only to be later proven wrong by science.

When religion and science disagree, it seems that science will eventually prevail. Sooner or later, Christianity will be forced to give up its ideas about creationism. Fortunately for Hindus, none of the basic teachings of the ancient rishis are in conflict with science. Therefore, science and Hinduism will exist side-by-side without conflict for centuries to come.

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