V.V. Raman’s Truth and Tension in Science and Religion

Book cover, "Truth and Tension"

Professor emeritus Raman deals with the title theme in 10 chapters: Introduction, On science and religion, Epistemological aspects, Explanatory dimensions, Belief systems and God, Spiritual aspects, Ethical aspects, Dissimilar visions on common themes, Origins and ends, Concluding thoughts. All of these issues are dealt with elsewhere. So, why should anybody read this book? The answer is because of the overarching, encompassing, balanced, knowledgeable approach of the author, his sure, differentiating discernment, and his positive attitude. It is no secret that discussions of science and religion give rise to controversies, and (too) often to sterile confrontations. The present volume is a guidepost for better, more fruitful ways to go about difficult (controversial) issues. Raman describes himself as “one whose mind has been enriched by science and who has derived fulfillment from religious associations” (p. 7). He wishes to foster readers’ similar experiences. The volume is dedicated to “all men and women of goodwill who recognize whatever is ennobling and enhancing in both religion and science, and choose to discard what is not” (p. v).

What are the particulars of this volume? First, Raman looks at a given issue from a historical and a current viewpoint. He brings to bear his extensive knowledge of science, in particular of physics, and of various religions both Abrahamitic and Eastern. He uses prose as well as poetry in his presentation and argumen-tation, quotes other authors through the ages and across continents in a number of languages including Latin and Sanskrit. Second, he points out the respective strong points and expresses his doubts about less convincing aspects. Third, all this is always done in a caring way, never with arguments ad hominem. Fourth, throughout Raman stays understandable and brings something to both beginners and old hands. Within the present scope it is not possible to illustrate these statements throughout the book. So let me do it for two chapters, beginning with Epistemological aspects (pp. 57-96). The subchapters are Facts, perspectives and truth, Criteria and truth contents in science and in religion, Why in science and why in religion, Determination and levels of reality, On knowing the future, Prediction: religious and otherwise, Types of faith, Types of doubt, Contextual relevance of faith and doubt, Gnosis and sciencis: apará and pará, On exopotent and endopotent truth. Raman gives encompassing definitions and discusses moult examples, never shying away from controversial, difficult, or lesser-known issues such as that characterized by apará and pará (lower and higher knowledge). Sciencis referring to knowledge gained through the mode, methodology, and framework of (modern) science as an enterprise. With this terminology, science-religion dialogues are deamed exchanges between sciencis and gnosis.

The chapter Dissimilar visions on common themes (pp. 235-299) is my second example. Here the subchapters are titled Common themes, Revelation, Sacredness, Authorities, Numbers in religion and science, Religion and science in the context of sex, Food in religion and science, Magic in religion and science, Poetry in religion and science, Art in in religion and science, Celestial world: religious and scientific perspectives, Politics in religion and science, Technology in religion and science, Music in religion and science, History in religion and science, Philosophy in religion and science, Aesthetics in religion and science. Again, the wide scope and the embracing of controversial issues will be apparent. As to Raman’s basic attitude, it is apparent (among others) form his statement on mysteries: “When we pray or worship, when we light a candle or wave a flame to a divine symbol, when we prostrate, bow down or kneel, when we sing a psalm or chant a mantra or proclaim in faith that God is great, we are acknowledging the Mystery that eludes us” (p. 194). He (rightly in my view) counsels humility: our knowledge and insights are limited and cocksureness is not conducive to better understanding. Another feature of the volume are Raman’s comparisons, for example concerning consciousness: “One might as well ask which view of music is correct: enjoyable melody or superposition of discrete frequencies? (p. 187) or “The religious approach to spirituality is like delighting in a gourmet meal; the scientific approach is like studying the recipes or chemically analyzing the ingredients o the menu” (p. 181).

I hope to have given enough of a flavour for deciding whether or not the book is a desirable read (it is very much so for this reviewer). As is unavoidable with an enterprise of such a scope, there may be here and there details not every expert will agree with. However, if so, in my view this is largely overcompensated by the enlargement of the mental horizon a reader will experience. Let me also add that there are 27 pages of references and a 22-page index.

This review first appeared in the ESSSAT News of Sept. 09, and is republished here by permission.

Varadaraja V. Raman. Truth and Tension in Science and Religion. Center Ossipee, NH: Beech River Books, 2009. xiv + 390 pp. ISBN 978-0-9793778-6-0

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