During the last five years a number of best selling books ridiculing religion havecome on the market. The most well known among them are The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett. All of these books are excellent critiques of religion. They all have one drawback, however. Their criticism is directed almost entirely at the three Abrahamic faiths. I believe the eastern religions (primarily Hinduism and Buddhism) are equally deserving of criticism. I am offering here a critique of Hinduism which may be developed further by others.
The beginnings of Hinduism are contained in the Vedas, especially the Rig Veda, the earliest of the four Vedas. A fundamental tenet of Hinduism is that the Vedas are infallible. So, if these books are truly infallible, why do they contain nothing about bacteria and viruses? Books which are infallible should surely contain information about medically significant facts! There is also nothing about elementary particles, chemical elements, neuroscience or any other useful information an infallible text should have.
Another central tenet of traditional Hinduism is the caste system in conjunction with the Law of Karma. The Law of Karma posits favorable consequences for the individual in a future life for morally meritorious deeds performed in this life. Any member of a lower caste is supposedly suffering punishment for misdeeds committed during a previous life! Such a doctrine is quite clearly a fiendishly clever doctrine designed to buttress the power of the Brahmins, the traditional priestly caste. Aside from the moral defects of the caste system, such a doctrine clearly discourages the striving for excellence and creativity necessary for the advancement of knowledge. Needless to say, absolutely no evidence has ever been adduced for the belief in reincarnation or for an afterlife of any kind. All of the "near death experiences" reported to date can be easily explained as hallucinations caused by extreme stress or trauma.
While the Bible claims the earth has existed for only six thousand years, the Vedas claim the earth , including Indian civilization, has existed for 1.9 billion years! Both time scales clearly contradict the painstakingly unearthed findings of modern science. Similarly, neither the Vedas nor the Bible mention the theory of evolution through natural selection. Fundamentalist Hindus, like their fundamentalist Christian counterparts, therefore reject evolution. Finally, the Vedas claim intelligent beings exist on other planets as well as the sun! Another claim rubbished by scientific research.
Many intellectuals would agree with the criticisms I have leveled so far but will maintain that the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded in the Upanishads is a deep and subtle system of thought. Such is not the case. As with other idealist philosophies, it cannot stand any scrutiny by modern neuroscience. We now know how injury or deformity in specific regions of the brain lead to specific personality or mental disorders. Our mental faculties are clearly a function of chemical and electrical reactions in the brain. While the details of the interactions are still not completely understood, one can be certain that mental processes are an epiphenomenon of physical processes in the brain. No consciousness has ever been observed outside a brain!
A full discussion of these issues would require considerably more space than is available here. However, one can definitely surmise that a philosophy which considers the material world to be an illusion and material comfort to be unimportant is not likely to lead to material progress.
I will be discussing these issues further in future blogs. Until then, I invite readers to offer their comments and criticisms!