Sunday, July 23, 2006

Science and Religion

May 2006 – I was awarded a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

For the last four years, I have honed my skills in scientific methodology and understanding. The effect of this training has become very evident during this journey. Science v religion is a debate that persisted for eons. Is there common ground? Angels and Demons explores the convergence of these two, which is why I found the book interesting. If people say there are polar opposites, I say then there must be similarities because if they are opposites, without one you cannot describe the other. For me, science and religion are different ways of understanding the world around us. The untrained human mind cannot fathom, let alone grasp the realities of the universe. Science and religion provide people with means to do so. The differences in the realities the two present and the role of each in my life is what I've become more aware of.

Example number 1: Yamontri

Yamontri is located where the Yamuna River begins (close to at least). The Yamuna is one of the holiest rivers in India. The river is a manifestation of Yamuna Devi, a goddess in Hinduism, who is the daughter of Surya, the Sun God. Now the Yamuna begins high in the mountains, where is it cold. It is said that Surya recognized the challenges that would have to be surmounted and cold that would have to be endured by devotees in order to visit Yamonotri and consequently, created a hot Yamuna at Yamontri for devotees to bathe in, in addition to the cold Yamuna river. Hence in Yamontri, there is a cold and hot Yamuna.

We met a Brahmin family at Yamontri, who informed us that of the prasad that one takes from there. (When one visits a temple, one takes away prasad or something that has been offered to God as a blessing – typically its fruits or nuts, at Vaishnavdevi- another highly frequented mountain top site – money is the prasad one takes away). The prasad of Yamontri – cooked rice. Sachets of rice are placed into the hot Yamuna for 2 minutes. The power of the Yamuna is such, that it will be cooked in this time and is taken as prasad. As the uncle removes his sachets from the Yamuna, he remarks, "See, this is the power of Yamuna, a few feet away from us, she is ice-cold and here, she is capable of cooking this rice." In my mind, the scientist within me responds – it's a sulfur hot spring, something that can be found all over the world.

Countless times, I have observed the interplay between religion and science within me and around me. Ideas and beliefs are explained and/or observed and I find the scientist within me seeking an explanation. Other times, science attempts to explain a phenomenon and I am the one saying that there are some things that science should not even try to explain and that one should simply believe.

Ultimately, it is all about what one wants to believe. A photograph can be simply a picture to one, while it is the presence of God to another. Each person has their own beliefs, which by no means are stagnant. No belief or practice should be accepted or executed simply because another says so, but at the same time none should be outright rejected either. Without active dialogue and an open mind, an understanding of others' perspectives and opinions cannot be obtained.

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