Faith and Science
By Niscala Dasi
My article “Romeo, Rama and the Rebellious Riff-Raff” (referred to hereafter as 5R) raised an even more vital issue than whether stories need to be true in order to have effect, the theme of that article. It raised the important issue of whether Krsna consciousness is a science or a faith. We preach that it is a science- indeed it is a favorite preaching topic, but is that simply propaganda? Is it really a science? How is it a science?
It is not that science is without faith – actually, faith is a vital component of science. For example, to account for the results of experiments, some scientist developed the atomic model of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. On the basis of that model, the periodic table was created that accounted for the properties of various elements. It is completely reasonable to accept the atomic model, as it explains many observations. Thus, despite the fact that it cannot be proved, chemists accept it anyway, and through using it, they have developed further discoveries into the structure of matter and can even predict how matter will act under certain conditions.
Just say you have a chemist who is a die-hard cynic. He knows that the atomic model is accepted on reasonable faith, but he thinks that maybe the actions of matter can be explained another way. Rather than build upon the accepted model, he dismantles it and tries to start over again. While other chemists are making progress in their chemical research, he is questioning premise 1, though premise 1 has not yet proved faulty. If all chemists were like this, no progress in the science would be made. So science is based on reasonable faith.
Conversely, reasonable faith is based on the scientific method. There is a hypothesis, an experiment, observations noted and a conclusion. The hypothesis is the statements given in the sastra about various means of self-realization. The experiment is on our own consciousness- we are the guinea-pigs! And exactly like the experiment in a lab, certain conditions must be kept stable and constant in order for it to be fruitful. In our case, those conditions include living in the mode of goodness and eradicating one’s anarthas, symptomized by falsity, distraction and ambition- the conditions required in the sastric premise. Observation is then made on one’s state of consciousness, and the conclusion follows.
Like in science, in this spiritual path, complete cynicism in the face of favorable results is a setback and places one struggling with the first premise, though it has not yet been proven faulty. Thus, while other scientists in the field are progressing onward in their research into higher states of consciousness, the cynic is left simply struggling with irrational doubt. The rational result from a favorable outcome is a conclusion- faith in the original premise.
In the sastra, we have a premise that chanting brings relief from material suffering. We may experience this, but not always, so we can easily jump to the conclusion that the premise is wrong- except that we haven’t kept the conditions for the experiment stable and constant- we haven’t lived in the mode of goodness or we haven’t yet eradicated our anarthas. The closer we come to goodness, and the more we work on our anarthas, the better- and more accurate and consistent- are the results of the experiment. That is our experience, and from that we can conclude that the premise is accurate. We can have rational faith that is scientific.
Yet the scientific method itself is not reliant on our faith- this is the point of contention that the 5R article brought about. Devotees, at least some devotees, believe that faith will change the results of the experiment. If this is the case, then Krsna consciousness is not really a science, and we better stop preaching about it as such. It is not that faith changes the result of any experiment, either in the field of consciousness or of matter. Rather, faith helps one move on to the next level- it changes how we act as scientists, not how the experiment acts on us. Through faith, one gains the enthusiasm to move on and experiment with more chanting, and more remembering of the pastimes of the Lord, more focus, more time spent in focusing. The same thing happens in the lab- a scientist who has made a breakthrough and sees it as such, is far more enthusiastic than a cynic who always doubts in the results of an experiment. This is because the cynic sees that though the results consistently confirm the premise, such can always possibly be explained in another way.
In the discussion of the 5R article, some devotees said that one must believe the stories as true, for them to have their effect on consciousness. This is unscientific, but it is also contradicted by the fact that internalized stories have a demonstrably powerful effect on consciousness, even completely transforming the character of whole societies, whether or not they are known to be fact or fiction. That is the central theme of Rollo May’s book “The Cry for Myth”, about which the 5R article was written. So it gives further evidence that Krsna consciousness, in every way, works as a science.
Such discovery naturally increases our faith, not only in the process of hearing about the pastimes of the Lord, but in the reality of those pastimes, which is the final goal of the experiment- prayojana. When we see that the process works, regardless of faith, paradoxically our faith in it increases, much as a chemist who sees that a drug works, regardless of the placebo (faith) effect, develops conviction (faith) in the true efficacy of the drug. As our faith in it increases, we trust more and more the scientists who have taken the experiment to its final stages, and realized within their hearts the pastimes of the Lord enacted, or who have taken part in those pastimes. This happens in much the same way as a person starting the study of physics, has faith in Einstein, though he is a long way from being able to understand his equations…the original premises Einstein worked with, the basic laws of physics, the beginner can prove as true, giving him faith that is reasonable. It gives him faith in those conclusions which, the conditions of his intelligence not being in constancy with Einstein’s, are beyond the possibilities of his present experimentation…