When scripture seems unbelievable

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On reading that the Bhagavad-gita was spoken to the solar deity (04.01), we may get the question, “How can any being live in the sun’s heat?”

This question rests on an unquestioned acceptance of uniformitarianism: the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. Though much of science functions based on an implicit acceptance of uniformitarianism, such acceptance isn’t grounded in any scientific proof. 

Believing in uniformitarianism, we presume that all life forms are essentially like ours: that they can survive only in temperature ranges that the life-forms known to us can survive in. However, scientific research itself has revealed that some life-forms are extremophiles: they live, even thrive, in extreme temperatures, either too high or too cold, that would be fatal for other life-forms. When we have observed such diversions from the norm on the earth itself, isn’t it possible, even reasonable, that diverse universal locales may feature far greater diversions from the norm? Stressing the possibility of life in any material conditions, the Gita explains that the soul, the nonmaterial source of life, isn’t affected by any material conditions (02.23-24). 

Why might uniformity be present in some parts of existence and absent in others? Gita wisdom explains that everything striking in existence reflects God’s glory (10.41). That the gravity which determines how a marble falls on the ground also determines how the planets orbit around the sun is remarkable. And so is the subatomic realm where particle motion defies gravity. Similarly remarkable are the unbelievable-seeming scriptural descriptions that challenge our uniformitarian conceptions. 

Rather than uncritically believing uniformitarianism and deeming the nonuniform unbelievable, the Gita invites us to see in both the uniform and the nonuniform the glory of the Divine who manifests and sustains all existence (10.41). 

One-sentence summer: 

Both the uniformity of existence that we find remarkable and the nonuniformity of existence that we find unbelievable point us to God’s glory. 

Think it over:

  • What is uniformitarianism? 
  • What’s wrong with uniformitarianism?
  • How can we see divine glory throughout existence?
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What we see depends on what we want to see

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