Monday, September 13, 2010

Science, Religion, Politics, and American Law

 
Here's part of an interview with Richard Dawkins on the Salon website [The flying spaghetti monster]. I stand solidly with Dawkins on this particular issue. He is absolutely correct that the war between rationalism and superstition trumps the local fight with American creationists.
I have to ask you about a letter that I've come across from the intelligent design advocate William Dembski. He thanked you for your outspoken atheism. His letter to you said, "I want to thank you for being such a wonderful foil for theism and for intelligent design more generally. In fact, I regularly tell my colleagues that you and your work are one of God's greatest gifts to the intelligent design movement. So, please, keep at it!" What do you make of that?

Yeah, I get that quite a lot. It is a very difficult political dilemma that we face. In the United States of America at the moment, there's a big battle going on, educationally, over teaching evolution in public schools. Science is definitely under attack. And evolution is in the front-line trench of that battle. So a science defense lobby has sprung up, which in practice largely means an evolution defense lobby. Now, it is true that if you want to win a court case in the United States where it's specifically on the narrow issue of should evolution be taught in the public schools, if somebody like me is called as a witness and the lawyer for the other side says, "Professor Dawkins, is it true that you were led to atheism through the study of Darwinian evolution?" I would have to answer, "Yes." That of course plays into their hands because any jury is likely to have been brought up to believe that atheists are the devil incarnate. And therefore, if Darwin leads to atheism, then obviously we've got to throw out Darwinism. Well, that is exactly what Dembski is getting at. He claims to like the things that I say because I am playing into his hands by allowing people like him to make the equation between Darwinism and atheism.

But it's not just Dembski. I've heard this from various scientists -- hardcore evolutionists -- who wish you would tone down your rhetoric, quite frankly.

That is absolutely true.

They say this hurts the cause of teaching evolution. It just gives fire to the creationists.

Exactly right. And they could be right, in a political sense. It depends on whether you think the real war is over the teaching of evolution, as they do, or whether, as I do, think the real war is between supernaturalism and naturalism, between science and religion. If you think the war is between supernaturalism and naturalism, then the war over the teaching of evolution is just one skirmish, just one battle, in the war. So what the scientists you've been talking to are asking me to do is to shut my mouth. Because for the sake of what I see as the war, I'm in danger of losing this particular battle. And that's a worthwhile political point for them to make.

Well, I think a lot of these scientists really do accept Stephen Jay Gould's idea of non-overlapping magisteria. These are hardcore evolutionists, but they say religion is an entirely different realm. So you, with your inflammatory rhetoric, just muddy the waters and make life more difficult for them.

That is exactly what they say. And I believe that actually is the political reason for Steve Gould to put forward the non-overlapping magisteria in the first place. I think it's nonsense. And I'll continue to say that I think it's nonsense. But I can easily see, politically, why he said that and why other scientists follow it. The politics is very straightforward. The science lobby, which is very important in the United States, wants those sensible religious people -- the theologians, the bishops, the clergymen who believe in evolution -- on their side. And the way to get those sensible religious people on your side is to say there is no conflict between science and religion. We all believe in evolution, whether we're religious or not. Therefore, because we need to get the mainstream orthodox religious people on our side, we've got to concede to them their fundamental belief in God, thereby -- in my view -- losing the war in order to win the battle for evolution. If you're prepared to compromise the war for the sake of the battle, then it's a sensible political strategy.

Throughout the ages, one has resorted to that kind of political compromise. And maybe it would be a good thing for me to do as well. But as it happens, I think the war is more important. I actually do care about the existence of a supreme being. And therefore, I don't think I should say something which I believe to be false, which is that the question of whether God exists is a non-scientific question, and science and religion have no contact with each other, so we can all get along cozily and keep out those lunatic creationists.


34 comments :

  1. I think it is fair to say that Darwinism is a pseudo-religion....like Marxism.

    Christ is replaced with Darwin, and the Bible with the Origin.

    The Gospel of salvation becomes the gospel of natural selection.

    Universal common ancestry of all mankind in Adam becomes a common descent from LUCA.

    The 'tree of life' in Genesis becomes a tree showing the lineage of all organisms.

    But if Darwinism is a religion, then it cannot be taught in public schools, even if it professes to have evidence in support of its claims.

    Even the most honest evolutionist would have to concede that the theory has 'religious /non-religious implications' - something that the NCSE denies.

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  2. How does a pseudoreligion differ from a religion?

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  3. "Hardcore evolutionist"? Steve Paulson, the interviewer, really ought to tone down his rhetoric.

    Hardcore sounds like a political stance in which case Paulson is the one playing into the hands of creationists.

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  4. Reza,

    Regardless of what you think, scientists don't worship Darwin, or consider him some sort of prophet, or whatever it is you imagine. And scientists definitely don't treat On the Origin of Species as any kind of gospel.

    Perhaps the charicature of "Darwinism" that you've constructed in your head could be fairly called a pseudo-religion. But that bears no useful resemblence to what scientists actually believe, so your claim that it can't be taught in public schools is nonsense.

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  5. Re Reza

    I have a flash for Mr. Reza, there is no such thing as Darwinism, any more then there is Newtonism, Maxwellism, Einsteinism, Feynmanism, etc. The theory of evolution has moved far beyond Darwin, just as celestial mechanics has moved beyond Newton.

    To quote Steven Hawking, there is no need of a god to explain the origin of the universe. Therefore, under Mr. Rezas' ridiculous theory, quantum mechanics and relativity are religions and therefore cannot be taught in public schools in the US.

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  6. "Hardcore evolutionist"? Steve Paulson, the interviewer, really ought to tone down his rhetoric.

    The thing that has always most amazed me about the whole "controversy" around Dawkins is how temperate and moderate he actually is. One can say a lot harsher things about religion without saying nothing that's not true, and Dawkins has only scratched the surface of the negative effects of religion when he talks about it, presumably because even he considers diving into the really deep waters of how religion truly affects the future of humanity as a bad strategy.

    If anything, Dawkins is as moderate on religion as one can be without being an intellectually dishonest person. So it tells a lot about the intellectual level of those who accuse him of being some sort of extremist that they do so...

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  7. @SLC

    There is such a thing as Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism. Both terms were coined by evolutionists.

    @ANONYMOUS

    I rest my case with Dawkins. He speaks about Darwin and the Origin with a religious enthusiasm.

    Remember the hype about Ida last year?

    The discoverers called it a "holy grail" and "lost ark" at the time.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6360606.ece

    I have no doubt that Darwinism is a modern cult with religious appeal to many.

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  8. @ REZA
    Where does Dawkins speak about Darwin with religious enthusiasm? Quotes please.

    Because something pertaining tangentially to human evolution was over-hyped in the media this proves that there is something called the cult of Darwin? That makes no sense at all.

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  9. "And the way to get those sensible religious people on your side is to say there is no conflict between science and religion. We all believe in evolution, whether we're religious or not. Therefore, because we need to get the mainstream orthodox religious people on our side, we've got to concede to them their fundamental belief in God, thereby -- in my view -- losing the war in order to win the battle for evolution."

    What nonsense.

    If a religious person believes evolution happened why bother trying to convince him/her that they ought to not believe in the existence of a deity?

    Contrary to his own analysis, one way to ensure losing the war (keeping religious myths out of public educations and preventng other religion-based impediments to science) is to insist on winning every battle, even those that are not necessary.

    If his comments in this interview are correct Dawkins is not just an atheist, he's become a religion-obsessed fanatic and Demski is absolutely right: he's given the IDers and creationists reasons to be anti-evolution and anti-science.

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  10. "And the way to get those sensible religious people on your side is to say there is no conflict between science and religion. We all believe in evolution, whether we're religious or not. Therefore, because we need to get the mainstream orthodox religious people on our side, we've got to concede to them their fundamental belief in God, thereby -- in my view -- losing the war in order to win the battle for evolution."

    What nonsense.

    If a religious person believes evolution happened why bother trying to convince him/her that they ought to not believe in the existence of a deity?

    Contrary to his own analysis, one way to ensure losing the war (keeping religious myths out of public educations and preventng other religion-based impediments to science) is to insist on winning every battle, even those that are not necessary.

    If his comments in this interview are correct Dawkins is not just an atheist, he's become a religion-obsessed fanatic and Demski is absolutely right: he's given the IDers and creationists reasons to be anti-evolution and anti-science.

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  11. James: "
    Contrary to his own analysis, one way to ensure losing the war (keeping religious myths out of public educations and preventng other religion-based impediments to science) is to insist on winning every battle, even those that are not necessary."

    I think there may be some misunderstanding here.

    Dawkins isn't against winning every battle, obviously, so it's not contrary to his analysis. He's saying the current BATTLE over evolution being taught in schools is mostly an American one (Dawkins is a Brit) and is not the only battle in the war between supernaturalism and naturalism.

    What battle do you feel aren't necessary?

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  12. James said...

    What nonsense.

    If a religious person believes evolution happened why bother trying to convince him/her that they ought to not believe in the existence of a deity?



    Because the war isn't about keeping creationism out of schools, that's actually a pretty minor issue in the grand scheme of things. The goal is to have everyone (or at least a majority large enough so that society's decision making process changes accordingly) adopt a reality-based approach towards understanding the world.

    Right now we have a very seriously misguided view about our place in the universe and the way the world works, a view that if we do not abandon and replace with a reality-based on has the potential to lead to our premature extinction (and to that of most of life on the planet with us). While it is hard to separate what was cause and what a consequence here, the fact is that religion and its influence on people's thinking is the single most important factor that ensures the preservation of that status quo, which is why it is of utmost importance to destroy religion.

    As I said, these are much deeper issues than creationism, Islamic terrorism or any of the usual topics that are brought up when the negative effects of religion are discussed, and they are so deep and potentially so disturbing to the majority of people (basically, we need a complete rethinking of who and what we are) that even Dawkins isn't going to say them directly. But that's what the real war is about.

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  13. > He is absolutely correct that the war between rationalism and superstition trumps the local fight with American creationists.

    I would agree, but I'm thinking the primary question is what is the truth. Of course, once you're convinced of a view, you may well couch the argument in the above terms, from either side.

    But it's best as a rule to attribute to the person across the table, a motive of sincerity.

    > Georgi: The goal is to have everyone (or at least a majority large enough so that society's decision making process changes accordingly) adopt a reality-based approach towards understanding the world.

    But I don't know anyone who does not claim their view is based on reality. And I'm thinking that science does not address substantially, ultimate questions. Non-overlapping magesteria may be incorrect, but science is not all-encompassing.

    Life is more than quantum physics.

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  14. Lee: "Life is more than quantum physics."

    What do you mean?

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  15. lee_merrill said...

    But I don't know anyone who does not claim their view is based on reality. And I'm thinking that science does not address substantially, ultimate questions. Non-overlapping magesteria may be incorrect, but science is not all-encompassing.

    Life is more than quantum physics.


    Taking things on faith and seeing faith as a virtue is most definitely not a reality-based way of looking at the world.

    Proper reasoning applied to the same data by different people should result in the same answers, or at least the same uncertainties about the truth. Therefore everyone using proper reasoning should be the goal. Faith is the complete opposite.

    P.S. When will people stop parroting the "science can't answer all questions mantra" when this has been answered so many times with "give us an example of a meaningful question that science can't answer and religion can and we'll agree"; hasn't happened yet....

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  16. I think that is precisely why people like Ken Miller are so valuable, even if we may not agree with them. As Dawkins says, it would unfortunately be easy for a jury to make the erroneous connection between Darwinism and atheism if Dawkins is on the stand. But Ken Miller, a chruch-going Catholic, presents them with a real dilemma which they can't squirm out of.

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  17. where it's specifically on the narrow issue of should evolution be taught in the public schools, if somebody like me is called as a witness and the lawyer for the other side says, "Professor Dawkins, is it true that you were led to atheism through the study of Darwinian evolution?" I would have to answer, "Yes."

    If Dawkins had a lawyer worth his salt, he'd never have to answer the question, since whether he personally was led to non-belief in any religious doctrine by thinking about a scientific theory has nothing whatever to do with whether religious doctrine can be taught in public schools in America. A simple objection on grounds of relevance would be all that was necessary.

    On a related note, I completely agree with Georgi that Dawkins' writings (particularly TGD) and quotes on the matter of religion are quite mild, polite, and often humorous (watch his bit of repartee with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on YouTube re this very subject of possibly giving offense to the religious), in spite of being forthright.

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  18. Dawkins: I actually do care about the existence of a supreme being.

    I think this is key. He's interested in this question, "is there a supreme being?", and his current working hypothesis is "no". For whatever reason, people seem to think "I am interested in this question" is equivalent to "I think the answer is yes". These are very different positions.

    Perhaps it is this interest in the question, which leads Dr. Dawkins to keep bringing it up in conversation, that partly leads to the ridiculous charges of "stridency" and "inappropriate tone" so often leveled against him.

    Just a thought.

    Thanks for putting this up, Dr. Moran.

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  19. As for the bit about Dembski, the questioner makes the mistake of taking Dembski at his word, while the record shows that he is anything but truthful.

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  20. Lee: Life is more than quantum physics.
    Gillt: What do you mean?

    That there is more to life than its physical description. Can we quantify injustice? Or beauty? Or funny jokes?

    Georgi: Proper reasoning applied to the same data by different people should result in the same answers, or at least the same uncertainties about the truth.

    Would you be a logical positivist? But I’m not sure how to apply reasoning to questions of beauty, yet beauty can be real.

    Georgi: Therefore everyone using proper reasoning should be the goal. Faith is the complete opposite.
    “The only way to rectify our reasonings is to make them as tangible as those of the Mathematicians, so that we can find our error at a glance, and when there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: ‘Let us calculate’, without further ado, to see who is right.” (Leibniz)

    But then came Godel, who proved there are propositions even in complete logical systems, in systems that are completely mathematical, that are undecidable.

    But faith is not blind belief, it’s based on an estimate of reliability, as in your having faith in whatever chair you may be sitting in at the moment. And that’s reasonable.

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  21. lee_merrill asks,

    That there is more to life than its physical description. Can we quantify injustice? Or beauty? Or funny jokes?

    Easy.

    Injustice = 11.2 (higher on Sundays)
    Beauty = 42
    Funny Jokes = between 37-42, depending on the amount of tea in China

    But I’m not sure how to apply reasoning to questions of beauty, yet beauty can be real.

    Beauty is real and it's very easy to quantify it. First, you find a beholder. They you cut out his eyes ...

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  23. "Injustice = 11.2 (higher on Sundays)
    Beauty = 42
    Funny Jokes = between 37-42, depending on the amount of tea in China"

    42 I know about, the other numbers might be a little more doubtful!

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  24. lee_merrill:

    Well, beauty ought to be quantifiable in principle. E.g., one might tie the beauty of another person to their reproductive capabilities, hypothetically. [Note: This moves into the as-yet unsatisfyingly charted waters of evolutionary psychology, where many fear to tread. However, I'm quite sure there be no dragons there.]

    One might also quantify the beauty of a parfum by reference to the chemicals and the olfactory receptors, together with the cultural background of the ... er, smeller (?). Or the beauty of a household appliance by its functionality and visual appeal.

    Thus, beauty is in principle quantifiable, even if we don't have the right parameters and measures yet. I suspect that in 50 or 100 years the picture will look differently. The only thing unquantifiable about "beauty" is the word itself. [Well, it has six letters; A, B, E, T, U, Y. (-:] Better, the decision to apply it in a specific context.

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  25. > One might also quantify the beauty of a parfum by reference to the chemicals and the olfactory receptors, together with the cultural background of the ... er, smeller (?). Or the beauty of a household appliance by its functionality and visual appeal.

    So if I want a smoothie, the blender is more beautiful! But I meant objective beauty more than subjective beauty. If we put the Mona Lisa in another universe, on a desolate planet, is it still beautiful? Can we evaluate this scientifically? Um, no.

    Science is about nature, about physical measurements and so forth.

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  26. lee_merrill says,

    But I meant objective beauty more than subjective beauty. If we put the Mona Lisa in another universe, on a desolate planet, is it still beautiful? Can we evaluate this scientifically? Um, no.

    Science is about nature, about physical measurements and so forth.


    We've been over this many times. Science is a way of knowing and the knowledge it produces is "truth," not personal opinion. Some of us are attracted to particular paintings and artists but it doesn't require much effort to find out which ones you prefer.

    Is that "knowledge"? No, not by any reasonable criteria.

    But there's a bigger question that we could ask. We could wonder why humans value beauty and why all humans share some common perception of beauty. We could also ask why individuals differ so markedly in what they find beautiful.

    These questions are very similar to those we could ask about other animals, such as why do peahens get all excited about the large colorful tails of peacocks?

    I think the scientific way of knowing can address these questions and provide answers. Do you know of any other way of knowing that might work?

    Do you honestly believe that your perception of beauty is so mysterious that it could never be explained by scientific investigation? What a strange thing to believe!

    I can tell you right now that if you like the Mona Lisa then it's a pretty good bet that you didn't grow up in the Australian outback, the Amazon jungle, or even Saudi Arabia. How could I possibly know this without thinking scientifically? Did a little birdie whisper it in my ear?

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  27. lee_merrill writes:

    But I meant objective beauty more than subjective beauty. If we put the Mona Lisa in another universe, on a desolate planet, is it still beautiful? Can we evaluate this scientifically?

    Not necessary to go to any other universe. Put the Mona Lisa and a Milkbone in front of a dog and see which it chooses. The attraction of the object is entirely dependent on the brain of the chooser. Brain functions can be (and are being, intensively) studied, including the functions that result in us liking what we like.

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  28. " .. false, which is that the question of whether God exists is a non-scientific question, and science and religion have no contact with each other, so we can all get along cozily and keep out those lunatic creationists.

    However, many (if not most) scientist hold the position that Dawkins calls false. That is a philosophically sound position.

    Moreover, many scientists are completely indifferent about the existence of a supreme being, and are irritated by Dawkins when he says: " I actually do care about the existence of a supreme being, because they just don't think this is important. Teaching evolution is important, however.

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  29. Heleen says,

    However, many (if not most) scientist hold the position that Dawkins calls false. That is a philosophically sound position.

    What you're saying is that many scientists believe that the question of the existence or non-existence of supernatural beings cannot be addressed by using science as a way of knowing.

    I agree with you that many scientists think this. I can't imagine what other way of knowing they might use to decide whether to believe in Thor or Gitche Manitou, can you? I wonder how they go about deciding whether the tooth fairy exists, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Do they use a Ouija board?

    I think you're wrong about that being a philosophically sound position. The accommodationists have dominated this issue for several decades and they have convinced themselves that science needs to be restricted to a specific magisterium. According to them, science is forbidden to deal with questions about the supernatural.

    Think about what that means. It means scientific thinking (rational, evidence-based, skeptical) is impotent whenever a supernatural explanation is raised. You say that something is a miracle? As an atheist and a scientist I'm unable to challenge your explanation. I can't adopt religion as a way of knowing because I don't believe in it and I can't use science as a way of knowing because you've forbidden me to use that tool.

    This is not a philosophically sound position. More and more people are starting to realize how silly it is to try and draw a line between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism.

    Moreover, many scientists are completely indifferent about the existence of a supreme being, and are irritated by Dawkins when he says: " I actually do care about the existence of a supreme being, because they just don't think this is important. Teaching evolution is important, however.

    I agree that many scientists are non-believers and they simply don't care about religion. I can't for the life of me understand any scientist who would become "irritated" just because some of us care about the fight between science and religion.

    Most scientists don't care about evolution. Do they get "irritated" over those of us who do?

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  30. > Prof. Moran: Do you honestly believe that your perception of beauty is so mysterious that it could never be explained by scientific investigation?

    Certainly not, for subjective beauty (e.g. methinks the Mona Lisa a pretty painting). For objective beauty, it cannot explain this, because this is outside of nature. I would add that peahens and doggies are not ones to contemplate objective beauty.

    Another example, pure mathematics is outside the realm of science. The distribution of primes has nothing to do with nature, and is real enough, but it can't be chased down by a thermometer.

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  31. I can't adopt religion as a way of knowing
    I doubt anybody adopts religion as a way of knowing - that is why it is religion and not science. Even the worst creationists try to pretend they do science, rather than saying religion without elaboration is sufficient as a way of knowing. Describing religion as a way of knowing immediately disposes of religion, by definition.

    .. scientific thinking (rational, evidence-based, skeptical) is impotent whenever a supernatural explanation is raised.
    Definitely not: just explain miracles as they occur, when they occur, and try to find evidence. Just as Uri Geller was debunked. What you might be meaning to say is that many people are irrational or uneducated enough to discount scientific explanations, and prefer magic. Myths and legends cannot be dealt with, by lack of evidence.

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  32. I doubt anybody adopts religion as a way of knowing

    Everybody adopts religions as a way of knowing. There is a God who created the Universe with us in mind (fill in the details according to whatever version of the story you happen to believe in). This is a factual statement about the universe, as are many other factual statements about the way the world works that religion makes even in its most diluted versions (deism doesn't count). Every religion is also a cosmological model.

    And those are cosmological models derived using epistemological methods specific to religion - dogma and revelation. If that's not a "way of knowing", I don't know what is. Of course, you aren't likely to learn much with such a totally discredited methodology, but that doesn't prevent people to claim that you can

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  33. I give Radhasoami Faith view of Creation Theory. In Sar Bachan (Poetry) composed by His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj the August Founder of Radhasoami Faith the details of creation and dissolution has been described very scientifically. It is written in this Holy Book: Only He Himself (Supreme Father)and none else was there. There issued forth a great current of spirituality, love and grace (In scientific terminology we may call this current as gravitational wave). This is called His Mauj (Divine Ordainment). This was the first manifestation of Supreme Being. This Divine Ordainment brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh, and Satnam of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful sound. It brought forth the creation of seven Surats or currents of various shades and colours (in scientific terminology we may call it electromagnetic waves). Here the true Jaman or coagulant was given (in scientific terminology this coagulant may be called as weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force). Surats, among themselves, brought the creation into being.

    These currents descended down further and brought the whole universe/multi verse into being i.e. black holes, galaxies etc. were born.

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  34. Newton said the speed of gravity is infinite but according to Einstein (and some nifty interstellar measurements), it most certainly is not.

    But Newton is right.

    We know that even the light cannot escape black holes. Why? There is only one possibility that gravitational force pulls light with greater speed than the speed of light. The speed of gravitational wave is many times higher than the speed of light at black holes. On Earth gravity is subordinate to electromagnetic wave but on black holes electromagnetic wave is subordinate to gravitational force.

    The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.

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