Home » Intelligent Design » Ulrich Mohrhoff on the Hindu alternative to materialism and ID

Ulrich Mohrhoff on the Hindu alternative to materialism and ID

The editor of the Indian Journal AntiMatters is a German physicist, Ulrich Mohrhoff, a long-time resident of India who has published numerous scientific papers on quantum mechanics. Since he had published an article based on chapter 5 of my new Discovery Institute Press book In the Beginning… in AntiMatters (and also my “Epilogue”), we asked him if he would write an endorsement for the new book. He declined, saying while he appreciated my critiques of Darwinism, “it is preposterous to assert that ID is the alternative to materialism.” (I believe this was specifically referring to the introduction to my chapter 6, where I claim that the strongest argument for ID is to clearly state the alternative view, [materialism].)

I quoted Dr. Mohrhoff in my comment to Denise’s May 15 post, and added that I did not understand what this third alternative was, so rather than speculate further, I asked him to elaborate, and promised to post his reply on UD. Here is his response:

I must admit that if I said “it is preposterous to assert that ID is the alternative to materialism,” it was probably said without sufficient context. (I take it that it was said in regard to explaining how evolution works, for otherwise idealism would be the obvious alternative to materialism.)

My philosophical background is close to the original Vedanta of the Upanishads, and more specifically to its detailed and deeply experience-backed exposition and further development by Sri Aurobindo. The attempt to present it in a nutshell is likely to produce a caricature, but I’ll try nonetheless to spell out some of its fundamental tenets. (For a more detailed exposition, see my article Beyond Natural Selection and Intelligent Design: Sri Aurobindo s Theory of Evolution in AntiMatters vol 2 no 2.)

Read more…

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

33 Responses to Ulrich Mohrhoff on the Hindu alternative to materialism and ID

  1. I must admit that if I said …

    Do “I” not know what “I” said?

    (I take it that it was said …)

    Unless this is a parenthetical insertion by Mr Sewell, on must wonder, do “I” not know what “I” meant when “I” may have said what “I” said?

  2. In a tertiary poise, the multiple concentration of consciousness that led to the secondary poise becomes exclusive. There now exist a multitude of selves that have lost sight of their identity with each other and with the one self of the primary poise.

    Which is to say, when translated into English: We are not real.

  3. 3
    Granville Sewell

    Ilion,

    The quote was from an e-mail, Mohrhoff simply did not remember making this exact statement.

  4. For those not following the link, Dr Mohrhoff’s conclusion is,

    The way I see it, the straightforward definition of evolution is descent with modification. This allows for multiple explanations of (or dogmas about) the way it works. There is certainly more than one alternative to the reductionism of the materialist. Intelligent Design is one of them. As people (at least in the West) understand it, ID is tied up with the notion of an extracosmic Creator, a notion of design modeled after the methods of a human engineer, and a notion of intelligence that all too closely resembles the intelligence of a mental consciousness. If the notion of an extracosmic Creator is replaced by an Ultimate Reality constituting the world and being in the process of manifesting the means of expressing and experiencing its inherent infinite bliss/quality/value, and if the original creative consciousness is acknowledged to be supramental rather than mental, a different explanation of how descent with modification works becomes possible. At the very least, if there is an element of design, it will only be the external aspect of a spontaneous creativity, and if there is an aspect of intelligence, it will not be the rational process characteristic of mind but a suprarational creative vision.

    I have to admit that a lot of what Dr Mohrhoff wrote, I don’t understand. Or not in any way that makes sense to me. Be that as it may, it seems to boil down to the idea that his alternative to intelligent design is supraintelligent supradesign; consciousness that is not conscious in the way we understand consciousness. Mohrhoff claims that Sri Aurobindo’s basis for his ideas is “deeply experience-backed,” but it’s hard to imagine what sort of scientific experience could verify a consciousness that is not conscious.

    That doesn’t mean his alternative is false, but at least ID has the distinction of being empirically-based: we all experience our own consciousness every day and see evidence of it in others. Sure, the Designer’s intelligence or consciousness may be (must be) greater than our own, but what experience tells us is that the category of consciousness / intelligence that we ourselves have is the only known source of the IC and SCI found in nature.

    On a spiritual level, ID’s implications boil down to an inference that the designer resembles us (or rather vice versa) at least in some ways; whereas the Hindu version says that there is no ‘we’ and no ‘designer’. IIUC?

  5. Be that as it may, it seems to boil down to the idea that his alternative to intelligent design is supraintelligent supradesign; consciousness that is not conscious in the way we understand consciousness.

    When New-Agey people use words such as ‘intelligence’ and ‘consciousness,’ they are using the words to refer to literally nothing: some sort of free-floating “intelligence” which is not an intelligence, not an intelligent being; some sort of vapor-ware “consciousness” which is not a conscious entity.

  6. This sure sounds familiar…

    If the notion of an extracosmic Creator is replaced by an Ultimate Reality constituting the world and being in the process of manifesting the means of expressing and experiencing its inherent infinite bliss/quality/value, and if the original creative consciousness is acknowledged to be supramental rather than mental, a different explanation of how descent with modification works becomes possible. At the very least, if there is an element of design, it will only be the external aspect of a spontaneous creativity, and if there is an aspect of intelligence, it will not be the rational process characteristic of mind but a suprarational creative vision.

    In his famous book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes Quality as the Ultimate Reality that is preintellectual creator of subject and object. Quality is the continuing stimulus our environment places upon us to create the world around us. It is ineffable, like Tao.

    In Lila, he goes on to show how, in the Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ), this dynamic cosmic creativity needs to latch itself into 4 stable static Quality patterns: inorganic, organic, cultural, and intellectual.

  7. I forgot to say that in his MoQ, Pirsig sees Dynamic Quality as evolutionary.

    It begins growing out of static inorganic patterns into life, then cultural patterns evolve (pack, fanily, church, state), and finally intellectual patterns (things that represent something – information, music, language, law, math).

    Each higher static level is supported by the one that came before, and it is at battle with it (life fights its dissolution back to mere chemicals, cultures value altruism and so try to overcome selfish survival, etc.)

    You can read more at http://www.MoQ.org

  8. BTW

    I think IDers will get a lot from reading the two essays

    The Function of Form and The Levels Undressed

    There is a lot here relevant to the sciences and evolution.

  9. The idea of involution is problematical, discussed here:

    http://darwiniana.com/2010/05/17/involution/

  10. I’ve already made a general statement about Hinduism in my comment on the May 15 post by Denyse, so I won’t repeat it here.

    Regarding Mr. Mohrhoff’s explication of the relationship of Hinduism to evolution, I find it muddy.

    One of the problems is that discussions of evolution in a Hindu context often employ the term “evolution” equivocally. Sometimes it means something like “self-development” or “expression over time of an implicit nature”, and sometimes it refers to the psychological or biological development of the individual, rather than a cosmological or macroevolutionary process, and at other times several meanings overlap in unclear ways.

    The problem goes back to the original meaning of “evolution” in English, which prior to the fusion of Darwin’s ideas with Spencer’s vocabulary (Darwin hardly used the term “evolution” in his earlier writings) meant something different from what it does today.

    Thus, older translations of the Hindu texts may use the word “evolution” in a way that misleads the modern reader. Even modern expositions of Hinduism (like the one attempted by Mr. Mohrhoff) may do this.

    I think the point that Mohrhoff is making is that the kind of self-unfolding of the physical and organic universe may be conceived in a way that is neither the random chance of Darwinism nor the intelligent design of Paley, but more like the development of an oak tree from an acorn. Thus, there is a design or plan, but not necessarily proceeding from a conscious intelligence, but more like an implicit intelligence. So later life forms might “evolve” from earlier life forms neither due to chance nor due to conscious steering by a man-like Deity, but due to an inner necessity. Of course, that inner necessity would ultimately be traceable back to the ultimate divine source of all being, Brahman, but Brahman does not stand to nature as a Creator-god does in Western religion. That is why he is distancing his Hindu solution from intelligent design. At least, that is my guess about his meaning.

    Of course, one could argue that the unfolding or “evolution” of an acorn into an oak testifies to an implicit intelligent design, a kind of packed-in plan. Thus, if the evolution of the cosmos and life is like the development of an oak tree, or of a human embryo, etc., this “Hindu” solution could be thought of as an indirect form of intelligent design. But I don’t think Mohrhoff would accept that interpretation.

    Generally speaking, I distrust discussions of evolution in relation to Eastern religions. Almost always I find they involve some distortion, because the writers or speakers have an inadequate understanding of modern evolutionary theory, or of Eastern religion, or of both, and frequently they are so eager to find connections that their scholarship is sloppy. I do not know of a first-rate *scholarly* treatment of Hinduism and evolutionary theory, and I think the lack of authoritative scholarly handling has allowed a lot of amateurs and dilettantes into the discussion. And while Mr. Mohrhoff may be a bright individual, I don’t think a German physicist is the right man to put together Sanskrit studies of the Upanishads with modern evolutionary biology. Nor does the editorial board of his journal strike me as filled with people who are highly qualified for such a project.

    T.

  11. There is an affinity between atheism and Hinduism (at least as understood pantheistically) in terms of rejecting ID. It flows from the simple fact that both belief systems reject the maxim: “There is a God, and you are not Him”.

  12. One of the problems is that discussions of evolution in a Hindu context often employ the term “evolution” equivocally. Sometimes it means something like “self-development” or “expression over time of an implicit nature”, and sometimes it refers to the psychological or biological development of the individual, rather than a cosmological or macroevolutionary process, and at other times several meanings overlap in unclear ways.

    In other words, Hindus use the word ‘evolution’ in much the same ways, including equivocally, as non-Hindus, including Darwinists, do.

  13. Timaeus:The problem [of equivocal use of the term 'evolution'] goes back to the original meaning of “evolution” in English, which prior to the fusion of Darwin’s ideas with Spencer’s vocabulary (Darwin hardly used the term “evolution” in his earlier writings) meant something different from what it does today. …

    The term ‘evolution’ was coined for use in embryology. It referred to the structured development (one might even think it “scripted”) by which all normal/healthy embryos develop from a single-celled organism into a multi-celled, independently-living specimen of their species.

    Timaeus:Of course, one could argue that the unfolding or “evolution” of an acorn into an oak testifies to an implicit intelligent design, a kind of packed-in plan. …

    Which is precisely why Darwin avoided use of the term until Huxley and others had been able to equivocally fudge the public’s understanding of the term’s meaning.

  14. Matteo:There is an affinity between atheism and Hinduism (at least as understood pantheistically) in terms of rejecting ID. It flows from the simple fact that both belief systems reject the maxim: “There is a God, and you are not Him”.

    That same affinity exists between *most* “paganisms” and what we might call “christian-atheism” (that is, western-atheism which is parasitical upon Christianity).

    Consider the paganism of the classical world (or of the Norse/Germanic world) … the pagan gods were not the cause of the world/Cosmos, but rather were an effect of a Cosmos which ultimately is an effect of Chaos. The pagan gods “arose” out of mindless matter, and “evolved” (in just the way that Darwinists use the term) in intelligence and power and refinement over a number of generations.

    The pagan conception of “the gods” was no different in principle from Darwinistic/atheistic claims about us. The pagan conception of “the world” was no different in principle from Darwinistic/atheistic claims about the world.

    Is it any wonder that when one examines the silly little arguments atheists trot out against the Living God, one sees that they’re really trying to argue against Zeus? And, given their commitments about human beings, they can’t even honestly argue against Zeus.

  15. Matteo @ 11:

    I won’t try to unpack your aphoristic statement.

    I will simply reiterate my point that “Hinduism” is complex of beliefs and practices, rather than a single, monolithic religious or philosophical system, and it is misleading to speak of “the Hindu teaching” about anything. It would be like speaking of “the Western teaching” about God, where “Western” included Plato, Aristotle, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Norse mythology, etc.

    Mohrhoff is thinking of more impersonal “evolutionary” conceptions with Hindu theology; but theistic, devotional conceptions of God, analogous to those found in Biblical religion, are not unknown in Hindu thought. There are plenty of stories of this or that God, conceived personally, as having created the world. “Hinduism” as such, is not opposed to the idea of a designed universe. However, as already noted, there are Hindu notions of creation which do not involve any conscious design.

    T.

  16. Ilion @ 13:

    I don’t think we are disagreeing. The background to the term “evolution” that I alluded to can be found in Gilson’s *From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again*, which has just been reissued. And I add that Spencer may have been more important in shaping the use of the term than even Huxley.

    T.

  17. Ilion @ 14, and Matteo:

    I’m suspicious of any blanket notion of “paganism”. To speak of “the pagan conception” of this or that can be misleading. The example of the Norse gods is a good one. The Norse conception is reminiscent of certain elements found in the early Vedic poems, but it is not all like the notion of divinity found in the Upanishads. To call it all “paganism” obscures a whole range of specific teachings by lumping them all together. And the motivation behind the term “paganism” was never originally intellectual, but polemical. It isn’t really a useful term for understanding religion.

    T.

  18. Timaeus @ 16
    I didn’t say we are disagreeing about the word ‘evolution.’ I furnished more background and explanation of what you had said.

    Timaeus @ 17
    I’m suspicious (and contemptuous, truth be told) of any blanket notion of “theism.” The only commonality between Christianity and classical (or Norse) paganism, or so far as I can see, Hinduism, is the word ‘god.’

    Whether or not Odin was indeed “good,” Odin was not The Creator; Odin was every bit as much an effect as you and I are, or as Zeus was.

    And, I have no idea, and no way to get an idea, whether *you* know what you’re talking about with respect to Hinduism. Your criticism … which is to say, dismissal … of Ulrich Mohrhoff applies just as readily to your claims about “what Hinduism really is.”

    I know what Christianity is.

    I know how to reason. I know how to recognize absurdities, at any rate, the more blatant ones.

    And, interesting though Hinduism might be, I have no known use for it … nor can I *ever* have a use for anything which tells me that I do not exist, or that I am not real.

    So, so much for both Hinduism and Buddhism: they really have nothing to offer me; for, no matter how much truth they may contain, the most central parts of them are falsehoods.

  19. llion @ 18

    Hey there, you stated the following:

    “And, interesting though Hinduism might be, I have no known use for it … nor can I *ever* have a use for anything which tells me that I do not exist, or that I am not real.”

    My Response:

    The type of “hinduism” you are referring to here is but one interpretation amongst a plurality of explanations on the upanishads/vedanta/bhagavad gita etc. It is a rather flawed explanation in light of the texts and in light of logic and good philosophy/science.

    Take this quote for example:

    Therefore, it is said in the Svetasvatara Upanisad (4.9-10):

    asman mayi srjate visvam etat
    /tasmims canyo mayaya sanniruddhah / mayan tu prakrtim vidyan mayinan tu mahesvaram / tasyavaya-bhutais tu vyaptam sarvam idam jagat

    Translation: God is the Lord of the deluding energy, He has created the entire world wherein the living entities are bound in the illusion of material identification. It should be understood that energy is under his control, and thus he controls it. This entire world is pervaded by Him.

    The Vaisnava interpretation of the upanishads, teaches us that the living entities are real, God is real and that we are like sparks emanating from him (such as sparks from a fire). Without connecting with that supreme through unconditional love and surrender, we (the sparks) burn out and continually misidentify our real self as this material body.

    The Universe is also real as it is a transformation of one of the lord’s energies. It is temporary but real. And ultimately god is a person. A transcendental person (much like dr craig’s definition) but that God possesses an immaterial body and also pervades the universe with his energies, which are non different from him.

    Anyways, I’m rambling a little here.
    Hope I cleared a little up my friend.

    Hare Krishna

  20. I’m glad to see UD mention Morhoff, he needs to be given attention by those interested in the ID debate, never mind QM and philosophy. His own interpretation of the Quantum Paradox, the Pondicherry Interpretation (PIQM) is original and important and may account for certain inexplicables in QM that otherwise remain loose ends or at least very much misunderstood. The PIQM is fully explicable and compatible from a religious context/dimension (at least a Hindu one), and Morhoff is explicit on this. In fact what is interesting about Morhoff’s PI is that he considers the whole consciousness problem in QM which has been raging for decades (does consciousness/observation collapse the wave function?) as a pseudo-problem and based on a misunderstanding of the measurement problem in wave mechanics. An irony here is that those of a religious/mystical bent have, based on an extension of the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM, used this notion of consciousness collapsing the wave function – the work of Eugene Wigner and Henry Stapp notably and others – to advance the notion that a religious or a mystical/animist philosophy is justified by findings in QM.

    One sees this in popular books and academic articles on QM where the authors are sympathetic to Oriental mysticism/Buddhism and associated philosophies. Famous popular books would be physicist Fritjof Capra’s'The Tao of Physics’ and Gary Zukov’s ‘The Dancing Wu-Li Masters’, also the late Michael Talbot wrote extensively on this. Plenty others of course. In fact such thinking is a mainstay within parapsychological and mystical circles since it is perceived as offering theoretical underpinnings to parapsychological phenemona such as PK (whether these phenomena exist or not is of course another whole controversy). See for example Evan Walker’s hypthothesis on Quantum Tunnelling and numerous models and hypotheses on the mind/brain from a dualist perspective.

    Morhoff says this is all misguided and wrongheaded, even though he is sympathetic to mysticism and parapsychology. In fact he has been highly critical of Henry Stapp’s ideas here and there has been a fair bit of back and forth on that front – this gets into meaty stuff on probability algorithms, the measurement ‘problem’, mathematical formalism and the debate on whether QM is an epistemic theory or not. The ontological implications of Morhoff’s PIQM are earth-shattering and would shake up more than QM if valid, but other scientific disciplines too, not just religion and philosophy. Like most everybody, I have no adequate competence in this arena (QM) to offer an opinion that matters one way or the other, but it is worth recognising Morhoff’s important contributions to QM and even potentially overhauling much of our supposed “understanding” of what is going on here. His papers on QM and his espousal of the Pondicherry Interpretation are a must-read to anybody interested in Quantum Mechanics and consciousness and the scientific, philosophical and theological implications thereof. Morhoff is very much a physicist apart. One may not agree with him but he is an outstanding physicist, and his work, like that of ID scholars, deserves a wider audience.

    Timeaus brings u some interesting points but several things need to be mentioned, Hindu philosophy like numerous Western religious philosophies and cosmogony itself cannot be summed up or understood in a few comments on a blog thread, without grossly oversimplifying things. It is all very staggeringly complex and one really needs to read up on say the mystic Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy (Morhoff’s religious inspiration in many ways) in order to get where Morhoff is coming from and thus offer a more accurate critique of his philosophy, whether one is sympathetic to his outlook or not. Indeed the journal Anti-Matters features regular expositions by Morhoff and others on the philosophy of the Hindu sage Aurobindo and these expositions need to be read and digested in order to appreciate where Morhoff is coming from. Personally I do not think there is any substantial philosophical and scientific disagreement between Aurobindo’s philosophy and Vedantic philosophy in general and ID, in fact I don’t see any even minor disagreement or contradiction whatsoever.

    I think Morhoff is in error here and this error may be rooted in a misunderstanding and conflation of ID with its contemporary Western religious context and background and general support. Rather than recognising ID for what it is and what ID scientists and scholars say it is, Morhoff appears to confuse the personal philosophies of prominent ID figures for ID per se. There is an irony here (if I am right and of course I may be wrong in my notion on this front), that Morhoff gets caught up perhaps in a similar kind of error that he accuses physicists like Stapp of doing re QM, namely getting caught up in a pseudo-problem, and it is this pseudo-problem that is wrestled with rather than the respective factual matters. I cannot explain what I mean here without getting into nitty gritty details that I do not have the time for, and so will leave it at that. I do want to stress though that I do not see any incompatibility with ID as a scientific programme and Morhoff’s philosophy, Vedanticism and Hinduism in general for that matter, and even animism and shamanism. In fact there are other Hindu scholars, in both the West and the Orient who share my opinion here, this is a whole other topic though.

    On this front though it should be mentioned in passing that a reading of much Western mystical religious philosophy, including Jewish Merkabah mysticism and Hassidic Kabbalah, the philosophy of famous Kabbilists like Moses ben Jacob Cordovera and Isaac Luria is not dissimillar to the independent Oriental philosophy of which Morhoff is enamoured. Note that there are considerable differing strains of thought among Jewish theology and within Kabbilistic theology itself that engendered considerable feuds over the centuries and still do, as is the case with the considerable feuds within Christian theology and within and amongst Catholic and Protestant factions/affiliations themselves, as we all know. Hence why one cannot type out a few quips that sum up what Morhoff is saying and where he is right or wrong on ID, they are both very meaty subjects that cannot be done justice to short of a book-length treatment. Otherwise we are speaking past one another and the noise to signal ratio remains too high.

    As far as the editorial board at the Anti-Matters Journal goes, they include Stephen Braude, one of the most heavy-weight philosophers of our age (at the University of Maryland). He has written extensively and deeply on numerous cutting-edge scientific and philosophical issues that have great bearing on ID, including NDEs and parapsychology and other topics. Also Mae-Wan Ho is a biologist who is preeminent in criticising GMOs from a perspective that is compatible with a religious outlook, that complements either ID or theistic evolution, depending on your own personal philosophy. Indeed anybody interested in the GMO controversy cannot ignore her writings in this regard.

    There is also Roger Nelson who did and continues to do important leading-edge work on cognitive perception and the possibility of a collective unconscious and the necessity of establishing and testing for physical parameters in this regard. Nelson and others are trying to establish what has been universally regarded as an abstraction in psychology (the collective unconscious) on a more solid and falsifiable scientific footing (this isn’t as odd as it may sound, and grew out of the Princeton PEAR lab work, a whole massive controversial topic beyond the scope of my post). Right or wrong he should be commended for going where most fear to tread, IF he is right the implications to ID on this front are considerable. Then there is Benny Shannon at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who is a leading world authority on hallucinogenic drugs esp DMT related and their implications for human consciousness studies and religion. ID as a scholarly endevour is considerably buttressed by taking into consideration the serious ID implications of the work of Morhoff, Shannon, Nelson, Braude and Mae-Wan Ho alone.

    Whatever the personal philosophies of the above mentioned (even if not ID friendly themselves, that is in a personal capacity), their body of work in seperate but overlapping disciplines all have very important implications to ID as a whole that are rather incredibly neglected by the self-described ID community itself, academics and scientists included. I have much to say on this front but this is not the time nor is this thread itself the place for it.

    What I am getting at is that Anti-Matters is an important high-quality journal that should be read by all those interested in the debate over religion and science.

    Btw Morhoff himself has reviewed Berlinski’s ‘The Devil’s Delusion’ and Mike Gene’s ‘The Design Matrix’ in Anti-Matters, and has given favourable reviews to both (available on-line for free). They are worth checking out, and show that Morhoff’s input and critiques are valuable to those interested and sympathetic to ID even if Morhoff does not count himself as an IDist.

  21. Ilion, the idea that our existence in the cosmos is an illusion, that you attribute to Buddhism and Hinduism is in fact a mistaken assumption that appears to come from a Western superficial new-agey take on Oriental philosophy more than anything else. The whole idea of maya as illusion is more complex than your typical Castaneda and Deepak Chropa reading hippie in Berkeley would be aware of. In fact the concept of maya appears largely misunderstood in the West and even in the East.

    One needs to study Oriental philosophy in a serious way if one is going to give a knowledgeable opinion on it, just like everything else. Otherwise knocking down straw-men comes to the fore.

  22. 22
    Granville Sewell

    Zephyr:

    What I am getting at is that Anti-Matters is an important high-quality journal that should be read by all those interested in the debate over religion and science.

    Btw Morhoff himself has reviewed Berlinski’s ‘The Devil’s Delusion’ and Mike Gene’s ‘The Design Matrix’ in Anti-Matters, and has given favourable reviews to both (available on-line for free). They are worth checking out, and show that Morhoff’s input and critiques are valuable to those interested and sympathetic to ID even if Mohrhoff does not count himself as an IDist.

    Thanks for your insightful comments, I agree with your assessments of AntiMatters, and Mohrhoff as a scientist. By the way, Mohrhoff also has a nice review of Beauregard and O’Leary’s “The Spiritual Brain” in AntiMatters, which incudes quotes from Dembski.

  23. What Mohrhoff was presenting is the teachings of his guru, Sri Aurobindo. It is not ‘Hinduism’ per se. Aurobindo was inspired by traditional Hindu teachings, but ultimately his teachings are uniquely his own. Essentially he has merged the two main strains of Hindu thought, which are commonly accepted as being in opposition to each other. He did this because he was one of the main leaders of India’s independence movement, and he wanted to unite the opposing Hindu strains by creating a new philosophy — which is really nothing more then the somewhat clumsy merging of the two main strains, i.e. belief in a personal creator God (Vaishnavism) vs. belief in an impersonal God (Shaivism/Advaita Vedanta) Since they are contradictory philosophies, the attempt to merge them end up being to contradictory to make logical sense. Because of that, even though Aurobindo was a very popular and a leader, his spiritual teachings have a negligible following in India, most of his followers are westerners.

    Intelligent Design is what is taught in Hindu scriptures, i.e. God personally is in absolute control over every atom, every quantum particle, and is the power what gives mass to matter (pradhana is the sanskrit word for matter in it’s subtle state, when it is transformed by the will of God into having mass it is called prakriti). Not only is all life designed and created by God in Hindu scriptures, but also all human inspiration is caused by God because God functions as the universal mind — without which we would be unable to have memory, intellect, and will at our ease of use.

    The original Hindu scriptures teach about a personal creator God. The impersonal strain of Hinduism was a later interpretation of those scriptures by a holy man named Adi Shankara as a response to the Buddhist domination in India. Buddhism had taken over, Hinduism was on the out; to change that Adi Shankara reinterpreted Hindu scriptures to make it palatable to Buddhist sensibilities, i.e. he claimed that whenever the scriptures speak of a personal God, that we need to understand that their is a higher principle — that ultimately the personal creator God exists only as a temporal manifestation of an impersonal divine reality, and that all of us are meant to attain the enlightened state, like nirvana, whereupon we lose our sense of difference from God (Brahman) and experience ourself as fully one with God and the universe (Brahman).

    He was wildly successful, within a very short time Buddhism practically disappeared in India and Adi Shankara’s new interpretation became the new orthodoxy. Hundreds of years later other reformers started to teach that Adi Shankara was wrong, that the Hindu scriptures are really only about one thing – to teach how to know and love and enter into a personal relationship with the supreme person, the all-powerful all-knowing omnipresent supreme being. They were wildly successful. Today 70% of Hindus are Vaishnavas (belief in a personal immanent and transcendent God whom we are meant to ultimately love and directly live with)

  24. Ilion @ 18:

    As you know, for fear of economic and employment repercussions, ID people with unsecured positions have to conceal their identities.

    I did graduate work in Indian philosophy and studied studied with several Indologists, including a Hindu. I studied many of the major texts of the Hindu tradition.

    “I do not exist” and “I am not real” are of course oversimplifications of Indian ideas, of the sort made by Christian apologists. Out of context, they are misleading.

    T.

  25. Zephyr @ 20:

    Perhaps I made a hasty judgment about Mohrhoff and his associates.

    From the description of their academic training given on the web site, it seemed to me that very few of them had any deep exposure to bona fide Indian thought, and that gave me the impression that they were dilettantes of a New Age variety. However, if you can verify that they are all serious scholars in their fields, then perhaps they have also taken the time to read serious works on Indian philosophy. So I’ll suspend judgment.

    Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to say that any public arguments trying to link Indian thought with western science in general, or evolutionary theory in particular, ought to make substantial use of the texts of the Indian tradition. This can be done well or badly. On the related thread to this one, from a few days ago, I pointed out where someone had done it badly.

    Capra, in the Tao of Physics, demonstrates a serious knowledge of Indian tradition. I cannot speak for his interpretation of modern physics, but he appears to understand the basics of Hindu and Buddhist thinking well, and to have consulted well-established secondary literature. If Mohrhoff knows the Indian tradition as well as Capra does, then I would listen to his suggestions with respect.

    T.

  26. I might have done a better job defending my claim that “it is preposterous to assert that ID is the alternative to materialism” if I had simply quoted the following passage from Steve Talbott’s article “Ghosts in the Evolutionary Machinery: The Strange, Disembodied Life of Digital Organisms.” (AntiMatters, vol 3 no 4). It expresses my misgivings about ID very well.

    Here, incidentally, we can recognize the common ground shared by intelligent design advocates and their conventional opponents. Both view the universe as a grand machine. This groundless assumption is the explicit foundation equally of the case for intelligent design (“the machine requires a Designer”) and the case for a materialistic, mindless universe (“a machine is merely a machine – and we learned long ago simply to ignore the question of a Designer or First Cause, or to conceal it behind the obscurity of the Big Bang”). The theists correctly understand that a machine requires an intelligent designer, whether we acknowledge this fact as such or attempt to smuggle the designer into our thinking by obscure bits and pieces. The materialists, in turn, see well enough that a machine-world is no suitable habitation for a human soul and spirit.

    The only way out of the ill-tempered and lightless debate between the two sides is to recognize that the intelligence we see in the world is not imposed from the outside upon pre-existing material, in the way we impose our design upon a machine. The intelligence in nature works always from within. In the world’s phenomena we see intelligence embodying itself in that visible, significant, aesthetically compelling speech we can’t help recognizing everywhere around us (Talbott 2007). The one thing we can be certain of is that whatever – or whoever – speaks through these phenomena is not doing so in the way we speak through the design of our machines. It is the height of hubris to think that we have become creators in that fundamental sense. Our design of machines does not bring material reality itself into existence as the embodiment of our own expressive powers. It is not both the lawfulness and the substance of things.

    Having quoted this, I read the following in William Dembski’s UD post “Does ID presuppose a mechanistic view of nature?“:

    ID’s critique of naturalism and Darwinism should not be viewed as offering a metaphysics of nature but rather as a subversive strategy for unseating naturalism/Darwinism on their own terms. The Darwinian naturalists have misunderstood nature, along mechanistic lines, but then use this misunderstanding to push for an atheistic worldview.

    ID is willing, arguendo, to consider nature as mechanical and then show that the mechanical principles by which nature is said to operate are incomplete and point to external sources of information…. This is not to presuppose mechanism in the strong sense of regarding it as true. It is simply to grant it for the sake of argument — an argument that is culturally significant and that needs to be prosecuted.

    If this where really all, I would be happy to endorse ID. The trouble is that for most people ID comes associated with notions I repudiate, as pointed out in the original post above. In non-Christian circles where there is no danger of these notions creeping in, I have even defended ID.

  27. zephyr and mentok: Thank you for your helpful clarifications.

  28. Mentok:

    Some of your remarks about Hinduism are correct, for example, that Vaishnavism is personal, devotional religion, and that Hinduism was partly shaped by its reaction to Buddhism, but there is some historical and conceptual jumbling as well.

    Your account does not distinguish adequately between popular and learned religion in India. You convey the notion that there was some kind of conflict between the views of Sankara (not normally called Adi Shankara in scholarly sources) and those of Vaishnavism, and you suggest that Aurobindo tried to harmonized these due to his interests in Indian independence. Well, certainly Aurobindo was involved in the movement for Indian independence, and he may well have tried to bring together aspects of Sankara’s teaching and popular Vaishnavism in his writings. But it is odd to speak of conflict between Sankara and Vaishnavism, because Sankara’s views are addressed to the learned students of the Veda, whereas Vaishnavism is addressed to the masses, many of whom will never have the education or opportunity to study the Veda.

    On the *learned* plane, the opposition to Sankara came from Ramanuja and Madhva. On the popular plane, an alternate form of devotion to Vaishnavism is Saivism. But the popular forms of Hinduism do not “map” one-to-one onto the metaphysical teachings of the learned. Learned theology and popular religion have generally been much more distinct in Hinduism than in Christianity.

    Also, your statement “the original Hindu scriptures teach…” is too broad. The original scriptures, depending on which ones you have mind, display a variety of emphases. I studied the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita in graduate seminars, and other texts for my doctoral comprehensive exams, and I would not say that all of these Scriptures uniformly teach “a personal creator God” in the Western sense. The teachings range from mythological to monotheistic to monistic.

    You suggested that Sankara, in order to combat Buddhism, somehow falsified the spirit of the Hindu texts or distorted their “original teaching”. In fact much of Sankara’s teaching is straight out of the Upanishads and does not deviate much from them at all. I am not arguing that his interpretation of the Upanishads is flawless or beyond debate, but it certainly is a misrepresentation of both the Upanishads and Sankara to suggest that he worked up an inauthentic interpretation merely to combat Buddhism.

    One of the problems with internet dialogue is that one never knows where people are getting their information from. Often I suspect that people’s information about India comes from unreliable web sites put together by hobbyists. For people who want reliable information about Indian thought, I recommend some of these standard scholarly sources: Zimmer’s *Philosophies of India*, Hopkins’s book on the Hindu tradition in the Religious Life of Man series, Conze’s *Buddhism: Its Essence and Development*, and the translation of the Upanishads by Hume and of the Gita by Edgerton.

    I don’t know if these comments will enable me to graduate to Ulrich’s list of people with “helpful clarifications” to offer, but I offer them in good faith.

    T.

  29. zephyr:

    I agree with you entirely about the doctrine of *maya*.

    The popular Western version of this notion is, as you say, superficial. Nonetheless it is held by both admirers and haters of Hinduism. I remember Francis Schaeffer once taking this popular misinterpretation of the doctrine seriously, and attacking Hinduism on the basis of it. Of course, Schaeffer’s evangelical Christian audience, being more than happy to see Hinduism bashed, is not likely to engage in scholarly research and discover that on the topic of Hinduism (as on a number of other topics), Schaeffer simply didn’t know what he was talking about, and should have kept his mouth firmly closed.

    T.

  30. Dr. Mohrhoff

    I am interested in your opinion of the work of Robert Pirsig, a fellow western scientist/philosopher who also studied Hindu metaphysics in India.

    His aim in ZMM and Lila was to demonstrate to the western thinker how the elevation and idol worship of rationality over human ‘being’ has alienated science and technology from its human creators.

    Pirsig observed this rift as a classic vs romantic (rational vs artistic) paradigm of perception. I think ID simply accepts that the west is inexorably locked into the consequent faith/science dualism and then tries to bridge the false gap by using one to prove the other.

  31. Timaeus

    I was speaking of the conflict between Adi Shankara’s (as he is known in India, Adi means first, there are other Shankaras because it is a popular name, so to distinguish between them Adi is used for the founder of Advaita Vedanta) interpretation of the Upanishads (the original Hindu philosophical treatises) v.s. a more literal interpretation which was famously proposed by the men you mentioned — Ramanuja and Madhva.

    The Upanishads posit both an impersonal and personal aspect to Brahman. A good analogy would be the relationship between a human person and his body. The body is impersonal in the sense that it functions without oversight by the person in the body, it’s a machine, i.e. you don’t have to try to breath, or try to make your heart beat, etc. The personal aspect is the consciousness and mind.

    The Upanishads try to teach about all aspects of God. Adi Shankara claimed that the parts of the Upanishads that were about the personal side of God, were only temporal manifestations, that ultimately God was impersonal. That was shown by Ramanuja and Madhva and countless others to be a misinterpretation of the Upanishads. Nowhere in those scriptures is God spoken of as wholly impersonal, or that God as a person only exists in the temporal world with a higher impersonal reality. Instead the Upanishads speak of a creator God who is eternal and who created every living thing, and that the goal of life is to attain enlightenment so that you can live with God in a one to one situation.

    From the Svetasvatara Upanishad

    V-1: Ignorance leads to the perishable. Wisdom leads to immortality. Entirely different from these is he, the imperishable, infinite, secret, Supreme Brahman, in whom exists wisdom as well as ignorance, and who governs them both.

    V-2: He alone presides over Nature in all aspect, and controls every form and every cause of production. He witnesses the birth of the first born seer of golden colour and nourishes him with wisdom.

    V-3: Differentiating each genus into its species, and each species into its members, the Supreme Being withdraws them once more into their own ground. Again, bringing forth the agents of creation, the Great Self holds sway over them all.

    V-4: Just as the sun shines lighting up all space above, below and across, even so does that one adorable God, the repository of all goodness and greatness, preside over everything that has the nature of a cause.

    V-5: He who is the one source of the world brings out everything out of His own Nature, and leads creatures to perfection according to their deserts, and endows each being with its distinguishing characteristic. Thus he presides over the whole universe.

    —–

    VI-1: Some deluded thinkers speak of Nature, and others of time, as the force that revolves this wheel of Brahman. But really all this is only the glory of God manifested in the world.

    VI-2: It should be known that energy assumes various forms such as earth, water, light, air and ether at the command of Him who is the master of Gunas and the maker of time, who is omniscient, who is Pure consciousness itself, and by whom all this is ever enveloped.

    VI-3: After setting the creation in motion and withdrawing Himself from it, He unites the principle of Spirit with the principle of Matter – with one, with two, with three and with eight – through the mere instrumentality of time and their own inherent properties.

    VI-4: He gives the start to the creation associated with the three Gunas of Nature, and others all things. Again, in the absence of the Gunas, He destroys all created objects, and after destruction, remains aloof in His essence.

    VI-5: By previously meditating as seated in one’s own heart, on that Adorable Being who appears as the universe, and who is the true source of all creatures, He can be perceived even though He is the primeval cause of the union (of Spirit with Matter), as well as the partless entity transcending the three divisions of time.

    VI-6: Knowing Him who is the origin and dissolution of the universe – the source of all virtue, the destroyer of all sins, the master of all good qualities, the immortal, and the abode of the universe – as seated in one’s own self, He is perceived as different from, and transcending, the tree of Samsara as well as time and form.

    VI-7: May we realize Him – the transcendent and adorable master of the universe – who is the supreme lord over all the lords, the supreme God above all the gods, and the supreme ruler over all the rulers.

    VI-8: His has nothing to achieve for Himself, nor has He any organ of action. No one is seen equal or superior to Him. His great power alone is described in the Vedas to be of various kinds, and His knowledge, strength and action are described as inherent in Him.

    VI-9: No one in the world is His master, nor has anybody any control over Him. There is no sign by which He can be inferred. He is the cause of all, and the ruler of individual souls. He has no parent, nor is there any one who is His lord.

    VI-10: May the Supreme Being, who spontaneously covers Himself with the products of Nature, just as a spider does with the threads drawn from its own navel, grant us absorption in Brahman !

    VI-11: God, who is one only, is hidden in all beings. He is all-pervading, and is the inner self of all creatures. He presides over all actions, and all beings reside in Him. He is the witness, and He is the Pure Consciousness free from the three Gunas of Nature.

    VI-12: Those wise men, who ever feel in their own hearts the presence of Him who is the one ruler of the inactive many, and who makes the one seed manifold – to them belongs eternal happiness, and to none else.

    VI-13: He is the eternal among the eternal and the intelligent among all that are intelligent. Though one, He grants the desires of the many. One is released from all fetters on realizing Him, the cause of all, who is comprehensible through philosophy and religious discipline.

    VI-14: The sun does not shine there; neither the moon, nor the stars. There these lightnings shine not – how then this fire ? Because He shines, everything shines after Him. By His light all this shines.

    VI-15: The one destroyer of ignorance in the midst of this universe, He alone is the fire which is stationed in water. Realizing Him alone one overcomes death. There is no other path for emancipation.

    VI-16: He is the creator of everything as well as the knower of everything. He is His own source, He is all-knowing, and He is the destroyer of time. He is the repository of all good qualities, and the master of all sciences. He is the controller of Matter and Spirit, and the lord of the Gunas. He is the cause of liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and of bondage which results in its continuance.

    VI-17: He is the soul of the universe, He is immortal, and His is the rulership. He is the all knowing, the all-pervading, the protector of the universe, the eternal ruler. None else is there efficient to govern the world eternally.

    VI-18-19: He who at the beginning of creation projected Brahma (Universal Consciousness), who delivered the Vedas unto him, who constitutes the supreme bridge of immortality, who is the partless, free from actions, tranquil, faultless, taintless and resembles the fire that has consumed its fuel – seeking liberation I go for refuge to that Effulgent One, whose light turns the understanding towards the Atman.

    VI-20: Only when men shall roll up the sky like a skin, will there be an end of misery for them without realizing God.

    VI-21: Himself realizing Brahman by the power of self-control and concentration of mind, as well as by the grace of God, the sage Svetasvatara expounded well to the highest order of Sannyasins, the truth of that supremely holy Brahman resorted to by all the seers.

    VI-22: This highest mysticism, expounded in the Vedanta in a former age, should not be taught to one whose passions have not been subdued, nor to one who is not a worthy son, nor to an unworthy disciple.

    VI-23: These truths, when taught, shine forth only in that high-souled one who has supreme devotion to God, and an equal degree of devotion to the spiritual teacher. They shine forth in that high-souled one only.

    As for you statement:

    You suggested that Sankara, in order to combat Buddhism, somehow falsified the spirit of the Hindu texts or distorted their “original teaching”. In fact much of Sankara’s teaching is straight out of the Upanishads and does not deviate much from them at all. I am not arguing that his interpretation of the Upanishads is flawless or beyond debate, but it certainly is a misrepresentation of both the Upanishads and Sankara to suggest that he worked up an inauthentic interpretation merely to combat Buddhism.

    In the Puranas the story is told that Adi Shankara was an avatar of Shiva, sent by Vishnu (God) whose mission it was to fool the Buddhists into accepting a Hindu version of Buddhism in order to set the stage for the full restoration of the original version of Hinduism, as taught in the Upanishads. That is widely known and a matter of doctrine for Vaishnavas.

  32. Mentok:

    Thanks for the explanation for the term “Adi Sankara”. I can understand the rationale you give for this version of the name, and I have no objection to it. However, may I make a common-sense point?

    Bach had many sons who were good musicians, and some of them went on to become excellent composers in their own right. Yet when we say “Bach” without qualification, everyone knows that we mean J. S. Bach. Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, had a crude notion of transformism, but when we speak of “Darwin’s” theory of evolution, no one supposes that we mean Erasmus Darwin. In Indian philosophy, when we speak of Sankara without qualification, everyone assumes that it is the great Sankara, the arch-proponent of Advaita Vedanta, that is meant. During three degree programs in Religion, I never heard the phrase “Adi Sankara” from any teacher’s lips (including one who was a Hindu raised in India); nor do I remember seeing the phrase in standard secondary scholarship. So while I don’t object to it, I find it unnecessary.

    It was not necessary for you to quote a huge block of one of the Upanishads to me. I have multiple translations here, and I know what is in them. I am well aware that there are many passages which can be given a theistic interpretation without too much difficulty. If you have studied several of the Upanishads, you should also be aware that many passages can be given a monistic interpretation without too much difficulty.

    You make an obviously partisan statement:

    “That was *shown* by Ramanuja and Madhva and countless others to be a misinterpretation of the Upanishads.”

    I would have said: “Ramanuja and Madhva *argued* that this was a misinterpretation of the Upanishads”. What you have written is the equivalent of: “Calvin and Luther *showed* that the Catholic doctrine of Church authority was false.” But of course, to a Catholic, Calvin and Luther have “shown” no such thing. All such statements about religious traditions (unless one is speaking about one’s own faith-tradition, in which case a certain bias is understandable) should be framed with the proper level of detachment.

    As for the Puranas, they are popular works, and the sort of fanciful explanation you have related is the sort of thing we can expect of them. Such legendary material has little value in interpreting Sankara’s texts or motivations, any more than the legends of King Arthur are a reliable guide to the kingdoms of Celtic Britain.

    I don’t doubt that Sankara’s philosophy had the *effect* of enabling Hinduism to “compete”, so to speak, on the intellectual level with Buddhism. But to imply that Sankara was twisting the texts for the Machiavellian reason of overcoming Buddhism, rather than giving his own considered interpretation of them, is to me to step outside of responsible historical and textual interpretation. If one does not think Sankara’s interpretation is as good as that of others, that is fine; but there is no need to explain that by any other means than that of accusing him of faulty interpretation.

    I do not deny that some intelligent Vaishnavas may interpret Sankara’s relation to Buddhism in your way. But the Vaishnavite tradition is the devotional home of tens of millions of Hindus, most of whom are not scholars of ancient Hindu texts and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the arguments of Ramanuja, Sankara, etc. They are bus drivers, farmers, merchants, barbers, housewives, druggists, tailors, schoolteachers, nurses, midwives, laborers, etc. The Vaishnavite devotional traditions will carry on no matter what discussions the upper 5% of the educated Vaishnavites are having about Sankara. That is why I’m having trouble following the point about Sankara “versus” the Vaishnavite tradition. The Hindu kissing an idol in a marketplace is not interested in arguments over whether the Absolute is personal or impersonal; he just takes it for granted that his god is personal, without knowing or caring how to fit that into the metaphysical thought of the Upanishads, just as the man who has been rescued from alcoholism by Christian faith know that his God is real, without being able to explain the mysteries of the Trinity or predestination.

    T.

  33. 33
    Granville Sewell

    Ulrich:

    I could be wrong, but I still think you DO believe in intelligent design, you just object to the term because it has become too associated with a particular view of design.

    Let’s look at an example of irreducible complexity such as the carnivorous bladderworts, whose bladder-like traps have “trigger hairs attached to a valve-like door which normally keeps the trap tightly closed. The sides of the trap are compressed under tension, but when a small form of animal life touches one of the trigger hairs the valve opens, the bladder suddendly expands, and the animal is sucked into the trap. The door closes at once, and in about 20 minutes the trap is set ready for another victim.”

    I know we both agree that a gradual Darwinist explanation for such a mechanism is absurd. But what else besides intelligence could put together trigger hairs, air-tight doors, digestive systems, and so on, to form a functioning trap? I think you agree that it had to be intelligence, you just have a different idea of what this intelligence is like, am I wrong?

    If you agree that only intelligence could explain such a trap, you are an IDer whether you like the term or not. If you don’t, then how do you explain such mechanisms?

Leave a Reply