Christianity, Hinduism and Cosmology
by Gopala Rao, Johns Hopkins University
” Love thy neighbor as you love thyself. If any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Judge not, for you shall be judged.”
Powerful commandments like these by Jesus Christ are the foundations for the uniquely impressive manifestation of compassionate love by many devout Christians all over the world today. Many people who claim to be born again Christians declare that it is not due to their personal effort but rather due to the power of the Holy Spirit acting on them that they became compassionate and loving in contrast to the way they were before.
As an open-minded scientist and a student of the historical and psychosomatic aspects of religious beliefs in general, I recognize the uniqueness of the Christian experience with respect to the above. Apart from this however, the fact remains that traditional Christian doctrinal explanations for compassion are hardly in synchrony with contemporary biological perspectives, especially since compassionate behavior exists even among non-human species. Equally difficult it is to reconcile the story of Adam and Eve and the mythological belief that God created the world in six days some six thousand years ago.
Western scientists sympathetic to religion as a rule do not consider it worthwhile to bring Hinduism into discussions on Science and Religion. That is because they regard it as a primitive religion because of its continued practice of polytheistic and idol worship. One can go on debating this issue, just as one can go on arguing about the concept of original sin and fall from God’s grace. Such discussions have considerable relevance to psychology and health, especially emotional health but certainly not to basic science and cosmology.
Having said that, let us look at the following. Many modern historians have documented that according to some ancient Hindu scriptures, the Sun is 108 Sun-diameters away from the earth and the moon is 108 Moon-diameters away from the earth. The modern values for these figures are 107.6 and 110.6 respectively. According to Hindu Cosmology, the Sun revolves around the center of our galaxy once in 325.5 million years. The modern figure for this is in the range of 225 to 270 million years.
Furthermore, according to Hindu Cosmology, Creation of the Universe, its Growth and its eventual Annihilation are cyclical processes without a beginning and without an end. Each cycle, known as a Yuga consists of an active phase and an inactive phase the duration of each of them being 4.32 billion years. Calculations based on published literature in this regard reveal that the age of the Universe according to Hindu Cosmology is 19.252 billion years. Compare this with the still uncertain value of 12 to 19 billion years according to modern astronomy. In addition, according to Hindu Cosmology, the present sub-cycle started 3.893 million years ago, a figure amazingly close to the modern estimates of the time of evolution of the earliest forms of humans on earth.
Unlike Modern Cosmology, ancient Hindu Cosmology relates the rotational speed of our own galaxy to the period of oscillation of the endless cycles of creation, growth and eventual decay. It is said that our own galaxy, knows as Permeshti Mandala rotates around Svayambhu Mandala, the center of all galaxies with a period of 4.32 billion years which is also said to be the period of the endless cycles. This has considerable relevance to the recent return to a cyclical theory of expansion and contraction of our universe by physicists such as Paul Steinhardt (Princeton) and Neil Turok (Cambridege)
Jaume Garriga, a university of Barcelona cosmologist recently declared that there are indications that ” The Universe itself can be born out of nothing due to a quantum fluctuation, after which it starts inflating.” (January 2003 issue of Research News and Opportunities in Science and Theology by Science) Even particle physicists are suggesting that at the most fundamental levels of nature, particles may be constantly going in and out of nothing. These statements also are in tune with what Vedanta and Eastern mystics have always maintained.
The Yuga Chronology of ancient Hinduism also raises some interesting questions with regard to the timing of the continental drifts, the lost continent Atlantis, the time of extinction of the Australopithecines and the occurrence of the Great Flood in the Middle East and Central Asia around 3000 BCE.
The Hindu description of creation, sustenance and eventual decay does not stop at the numbers quoted. It also addresses such issues as the nature of the Ultimate Reality, its expression in the created worlds, matter free consciousness, the law of Karma and the theory of Reincarnation, intent and purpose in creation, evolutionary dynamics, epistemology, information survival beyond biological extinction etc.
For these various reasons, the points I raised are very relevant to any serious attempt to bridging the gap between science and religion, just as important as the emergence of personalities like Jesus amongst us.