I mention syncretism in Faith versus Fact as one of the many varieties of accommodationism, but don’t devote much space to it because it’s loopy. What I mean by “syncretism” is the argument that there can be no disparity between religious and scientific “truth” (a conviction of some Christian fundamentalists, who see the “truth” of evolution as simply wrong), but also that scripture is a source of scientific truth: that you can find in the Bible or the Qur’an the very same truths that were later revealed by science.
I’ve seen this anticipatory exegesis of scripture before, but mostly among Muslims. Since many Muslims see the Qur’an as literal truth, but also want to be down with science, they simply amalgamate the two. A Muslim cab driver, for instance, once told me that the Qur’anic explanation for the creation of humans is precisely the same as that revealed from studies of human reproduction (you can also see that argument here). I was too tired to argue with him.
I didn’t dwell on syncretism in my book because it’s pretty dumb: you have to stretch scripture into unrecognizable forms to get it to comport with modern science, and it’s mostly the strict fundamentalists who do that.
HOWEVER, PuffHo is not beyond publishing this kind of drivel, as evidenced in a new piece by Samita Sarkar (described as a freelance writer and an animal-rights activist), “How studying science strengthened my faith.” In her case, since she’s a Hindu, she finds in Hindu scripture everything that science described millennia later. I won’t dwell on all her examples, but here are a few.
First, Sarkar’s thesis:
Many people think that science and spirituality will always be at odds, but true religion must be supported by science, and true science must be supported by religion.
Real religion is sanatana dharma, or eternal duty. It is based on universal truth rather than rituals or superstition. Real religion is about truth because God is truth. When religion is true, it is applicable to the material world and can be used to explain natural phenomena.
What are the scientific phenomena that Hinduism anticipated? Here are three (Sarkar’s words are indented):
The Big Bang:
When I started taking science courses a couple of years ago, I began with astronomy. We learned that our universe started with a bang, a sound vibration that expanded and continues to expand to this day. By studying scriptures (BS 5.48, BG 17.23-24), I learned that through Mahavishnu’s exhalation, our universe began to expand with the primeval sound vibration of “om.”
In fact, The Srimad Bhagavatam frequently refers to the universe as “the cosmic ocean,” with the planets as “islands.”
The strong force of physics. Surprise!: it’s Krishna! Physics hasn’t even found that yet!
My astronomy course also discussed the four types of universal forces: the strong force, the electromagnetic force, the weak force, and the gravitational force. The strong force is what binds the protons in the atomic nucleus together despite the fact that positive charges should repel each other. Although without this force, the universe would be chaotic, scientists have yet to explain how the strong force functions. As The Brahma Samhita (5.35) describes, Krishna, the controller of the universe, is responsible for the strong force. He maintains order through His energy, which pervades His material creation: “All the universes exist in Him and He is present in His fullness in every one of the atoms that are scattered throughout the universe, at one and the same time.”
I look forward to the discovery of the K particle.
This brings me to my final point: Newton’s third law, which is also known as the law of karma, states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. What we eat has a direct and profound impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, which is why scriptures encourage an ahimsa (non-violent, vegetarian) diet for those that are serious about their spiritual development. Studying science only strengthened my conviction and commitment to this amazing, spiritual, and delicious diet. It also complimented what I’d been reading in various ancient scriptures and made my faith even stronger.
It’s not really science that’s made Sarkar’s faith stronger, it’s her own confirmation bias, which makes her to see everything as a reflection of Hindu scripture, able to force even the most recalcitrant text into the Procrustean bed of science. She gives other examples of scientific discoveries miraculously anticipated by ancient texts (intermediary metabolism, the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and so on), but I needn’t go on.
Sarkar concludes with her beginning:
Unfortunately, there will always be people who misinterpret data and misquote scriptures. People who do this will always be questioning the validity of “the other side,” but in actuality, science and spirituality must always be aligned. Both are valid because both are based on truth.
It’s a sign of PuffHo‘s willingness to publish any sort of drivel (Sarkar’s post was in the “religion” section), and its unwillingness to pay these contributors for writing, that encourages the publication of this sort of wrongheaded junk. One might as well claim that all scientific discoveries were anticipated in the Beowulf story.