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Making A “Case” for the Reconstitution of Srila Prabhupada’s “Mission”

Is Bhakti A Science? 

By Kundali Dasa in 2004. 

Segment 2: Subjectivity/Objectivity. 

Religion, unlike science, is not based on observation and experimentation, but on belief, on faith—specifically, blind faith. 

Science does not entail blind faith.  It starts with doubt and proceeds to faith based on direct perception; that is to say, on experience. 

Bhakti starts with faith, not with experience.  Indeed, bhakti insists on faith; demands it.  Moreover, many people assume that such faith can only be blind. 

Bhakti says,

“One who doubts is doomed”.

Science says,

“Doubt is essential to the discovery of truth.”

In addition, whereas the truths of science are objective[1], the truth of bhakti, if there is any truth in it, is subjective[2] ; hence, to consider it science is a misnomer; thus, the criticism of bhakti as a science. 

First, we must consider that the key issue in defining “science” is not objectivity versus subjectivity as such, but rather, uniformity of method, and uniformity of results, under the right controlled conditions.  Under scrutiny, it turns out a contradiction of science that it insists on extreme objectivity the way it does.  Science tries to describe reality while ruling out subjectivity, but is not subjective experience a real, and unavoidable part of reality?  Knowledge is also to some extent, personal knowledge — i.e., subjective knowledge.   

We see that both Kepler and Einstein approached nature with intellectual passions, and with beliefs inherent in these passions, which then led them to their triumphs, and misguided them to their errors.  These passions and beliefs were theirs, personally, even though they held them in the conviction that they were valid universally.  I believe they were competent to follow these impulses, even though they risked being misled by them.  Again, what I accept of their work today, I accept personally, guided by passions and beliefs similar to theirs, holding in my turn that my impulses are valid universally.  However, I do not feel that there is a risk of being mistaken, because I endeavor very hard to make sure that I am repeating what Vaisnava Scripture reveal or instruct. 

Therefore, despite popular belief, scientific knowledge is personal and not “out there”, having nothing to do with the individual who discovered it.  Rather it is personal; it is “committed knowledge”, and a subjective experience is the bases of the commitment. 

Religion has unproven assertions, dogmas, while science, being totally objective, is supposedly dogma-free.  Science, it is widely believed, is only after provable claims.  If there is recognition of errors, corrections follow soon.  Nevertheless, this belief itself turns out to be dogma, and like all dogmas, science’s dogmas can be in error.

In the past, if an idea was contrary to religion; silencing of the idea was common.  Theology was the greatest single source of fallacies.  Today, when any human thought can be made invalid by branding it unscientific, the power previously exercised by theology has been passed over to science; hence science has become in its turn, the greatest single source of error. 

One such error was that in response to theology; science went too far in stressing objectivity over and against subjectivity.  However, trying to rule out subjectivity from science, simply because it introduces a marked degree of difficulty, in the pursuit of certainty and truth, is like saying,

“Because of the degree of difficulty in mapping the Florida Everglades, let us define cartography in such a way that all swamplands are excluded.  And if people mention the existence of swamplands, we will accuse them of not being objective, of being unscientific.”

FOOT NOTES:

[1] Objective – having actual existence or reality, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices.

[2] Subjectiveproceeding from or taking place within a person’s mind.

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