Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Primitive Science Of The Vedas - Garbha Upanishad

The source that I use for this article is this translation by Subhash Kak. Kak is well respected in the Hindu apologist circles, so I think I’m using the “right interpretation” of the original text. The Garbha Upanishad has some valid observations about the human body. I’m not contesting that. What I’m interested in is the things it gets wrong. To see why, read the introduction for the primitive science series.

The source doesn’t have verse numbers for me to refer to, but the text is small in size and it is easy to see which part I’m referring to. I’ll put the what the text says in italics followed by my comments on it in normal typeface.

Matter is made up of five elements. I don’t think I need to explain how primitive this is. A glance at the periodic table should suffice.

Heart is the source of fire, which can be interpreted as to mean that the heart generates body heat. The people who wrote the text must have known that the heart pumps blood and hence may have concluded that heat is generated in the heart and carried to other parts of the body by blood. Today we know that heat is also generated in other organs of the body like in the brain, liver and in the muscles. Our skin also plays an important role in maintaining body heat. For example, when the outside temperature is hot, the skin sweats the evaporation of which cools the body. More on body heat here.

Males are born if father's seed is strong. Females are born if mother's seed is strong. If strengths are equal, intersexuals are born. Thanks to science, today we know the actual processes involved in sex determination. It is the male who primarily decides the sex of the offspring. Females have XX chromosome pair and males have XY chromosome pair. If the male contributes X chromosome to the embryo, the baby will be a female. And if the male contributes Y chromosome, the baby will be male.

If [at the time of impregnation] the parents are agitated, the child will be blind, crippled, hunch-backed or stunted. Such things are congenital disorders which occur due to a number of reasons. They have little to do with the how agitated the parents are at the time of sex.

If the vital air moves around, the seed enters in two parts, resulting in twins. Again through science we know that there are two cases for twins - fraternal twins are born when two eggs are fertilized by two different sperm cells and identical twins are born when a fertilized embryo splits into two. There is no “vital air” which splits the seed.

In the ninth month, the baby is reminded of previous birth. Also the baby is born into grief. It has to accept the path of Samkya Yoga to achieve liberation. This is mere speculation. There is zero evidence for past births.

Inside the womb, the baby knows about previous births. Once the baby comes out, maya engulfs the baby. The text views the baby coming out of the vagina as breaking of some sort of a barrier. From the time of fertilization, the baby is always tied to the natural world that Vedic followers love to deride as being merely material. The barrier of maya is imaginary. An interesting thing to note is the barrier exists in a different sense. It is where the baby acquires its bacterial microbiome which will play a vital role throughout the baby’s life.

If you read through the whole text, you will see that the Vedic seers haven't even expressed the possibility that what they say can be wrong. Since they are "enlightened souls", whatever they say has to be true. Such arrogance is truly the domain of religion. Contrast this with science, which doesn't make such absolutist statements. When something is true according to science, the implicit assumption is that it remains true only as long as evidence supports it. Should new evidence which contradicts it turn up, science humbly accepts that it was wrong and updates its knowledge. So much for the "scientific nature" of the Vedas.

The Primitive Science of The Vedas - Introduction

Ask the average Hindu about why they think the Vedic scriptures need to revered and they will tell you that the scriptures are scientific and have all the knowledge that there ever is. But ask them specific questions on science - like why is the human genome littered with viral DNA or even a simple question like why is the Sun hot and where in the Vedic scriptures does one find answers for these, they will tell you that the answers are there, but one just needs to be "enlightened" to know them.

But what these people don’t realize is that they are deeply immersed in the maya of slavish adherence to authority and hence can’t know the real truth - that the Vedic literature contains primitive science. Sure, they were scientific at the time of their writing. But unlike Sanatana Dharma, science makes no arrogant claims that it is eternal or infallible. It constantly updates itself in light of new evidence and leads us to a more accurate picture of the Universe. So Vedic knowledge, stuck in a black hole of reification and reverence, is horribly out dated.

And yet Vedic apologists perform such feats of intellectual masturbation to paint scientific legitimacy on Vedic scriptures, that it would be hard not to laugh at if it were not for the sad fact that many people actually believe such nonsense. The main reason for such gullibility is ignorance about science. These people have no qualms in beatifically pontificating about how the true goal in life is the attaining of knowledge while at the same time willfully choosing not to make any effort to learn about science which is the best tool we have to know about the Universe.

For example, they point to some verse which says that the Earth attracts bodies to itself and jump up in joy proclaiming that the Vedas knew about gravity. But the Vedas before which they prostate themselves cannot tell anything beyond the observation that something attracts bodies to Earth. They can’t tell how strength of the force varies based on mass of the bodies and distance between them, and how the force causes the planets to go around the Sun and how gravity is just a manifestation of the warping of space-time by mass. And yet such primitive sources of knowledge are deemed “eternal”.

The blame doesn’t entirely lie with the Vedic apologists. Science as it is taught today does very little to endear itself to its learners. And the science presented by mainstream media isn’t any better. For example, to the average person the word evolution conjures up the image of man coming from monkeys, but not the beautiful dance of nature that transformed a replicator molecule to the wide variety of life we see today.

And hence this series, where I will show how primitive the science of Vedas is while at the same time presenting the current state of the art in that field of science. I will also show that even the metaphysics of the Vedic scriptures is primitive as it is ignorant of the latest developments in science.

It is not my intention to belittle the achievements of ancient Indians. They did some really great stuff. But my intent is to show how stupid it is to show some outdated science in ancient texts and use it to make broad sweeping claims like Vedic scriptures knew everything about everything or about how scientific they are.

Debunking of this sort is important because over the past few decades, Hindu apologists have succeeded in their propaganda of Vedic authority by muddling modern day science with the Vedas. This has led to India remaining the land of superstitions, where in the year 2011, the Chief Minister of one state thinks black magic will kill him. Any criticism of Hinduism is countered with “our scriptures are scientific and hence are perfect. Which also means Hinduism is the perfect way of life”.

Finally, I have to thank the various Hindu apologists for translating ancient texts to English so that they are accessible to more people. Though their intention was to show the beauty of the scriptures, it also serves the opposite purpose - to show how primitive the knowledge in them is. Somebody once said of the Bible that a person who has read it completely cannot help but be repulsed by it. Religious texts when fully understood by a person who hasn’t been brainwashed into being servile to authority figures, makes it easy for them to see religions for what they really are - ignorance masquerading as knowledge.